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The Last of Gov. Martin O’Malley

Friends and foes, we’ve got a lot to thank him for

The Tax Man. That’s the tag the incoming Republican establishment wants to pin on the back of the governor no more as he walks out the door.
    Former Gov. Martin O’Malley did indeed oversee hikes in the sales tax, the gas tax and taxes on corporations and big earners.  
    But before all we remember of Martin O’Malley is the epithet of the victors, I want to summon a few other images.
    O’Malley didn’t disgrace Marylanders. Leaving office, he moved to Baltimore, not to jail, as has been the path of many another governor in several states. Consider Illinois, where I lived for 14 years before my ascension to Maryland. Of Illinois’ last seven governors, four moved on to prison, most notably Rod Blagojevich. No other state comes close. Maryland has only one jailed governor, and his conviction was overturned.
    (On the other hand, we have Spiro Agnew, who rose to the vice-presidency. So his fall, for evading taxes on bribes paid when he was governor, was farther. Still, it never landed him in prison.)
    Nor did O’Malley embarrass us — or himself. He didn’t, for example, follow in the footsteps of William Donald Schaefer. O’Malley’s predecessor as mayor of Baltimore (two mayors later) and governor (two governors later) grew so irascible that he’d show up at the doors of critics to harangue them at home.
    Not even in his alter egos did O’Malley rival Schaefer’s flamboyance. Schaefer donned an old-fashioned bathing suit and straw bowler to open the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the white and gold-braid uniform of a Naval officer to move from mayor to governor. O’Malley’s alter ego is a Celtic rock musician, leader of O’Malley’s March, dressed in sleeveless T-shirts that showed off his rock-star muscles.
    O’Malley was said to have been more outraged than embarrassed by his surpassing pop culture achievement: Inspiring in good part a character in the television drama The Wire. Wire fans loved his caricature as Tommy Carcetti, the ethnic, boyishly handsome, scheming white guy who beats the racial odds to get elected mayor while dreaming of moving up to the State House.
    (If O’Malley hated the joke, his gubernatorial predecessor Bob Ehrlich relished it. Ehrlich appeared as a State House security guard in an episode that had Carcetti waiting on a governor of the opposed political party — presumably the invisible Ehrlich — who kept him cooling his heels before offering him the devil’s deal.)
    What other politician achieved such on-screen fame — albeit by backhanded compliment — while alive and in office? Even Louisiana’s legendary Huey Long was dead before his appearance in All the King’s Men as novel or movie.
    So, friends or foes, we’ve got a lot to thank Martin O’Malley for.
    I suspect most of us could add a personal benefit to this list, an action of O’Malley’s eight years as governor that made our lives better.
    He got a fair amount done as far as social policy: legalizing same-sex marriage, repealing the death penalty and removing criminal penalties for small amounts of marijuana. These actions made huge differences in the lives of many people and began to redefine the culture of our state.
    For people — and institutions, like Bay Weekly — committed to the environment, O’Malley is the governor whose administration put the stalled Chesapeake Bay cleanup into gear. On a bipartisan note, Ehrlich gave those advances a head start, spending political capital to engineer the environment-friendly flush tax.
       O’Malley demanded new accountability, partnering with the federal government in far-reaching initiatives and putting faith and resources into the restoration of native oysters. Those acts, and many more, give our Bay a fighting chance — and Gov. Larry Hogan a worthy act to follow.


Seed Money Waiting to Be Planted

Apply now for garden grants in Anne Arundel and Calvert

    The Calvert Garden Club is seeding natural resource preservation and conservation in Calvert County with mini-grants of $100 to $1,000. Applicants must be nonprofit organizations, not individuals, and projects must help conserve natural resources and the environment. Deadline Feb. 1: 410-535-6168; www.calvertgardenclub.com.
    Unity Gardens’ 2015 Spring Grant Cycle offers grants up to $1,000 to Anne Arundel County, non-profit organizations in support of greening projects, environmental enhancement and education. Deadline March 15: 410-703-7530; www.unitygardens.org.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com