By Erin Cox and Timothy B. Wheeler
Gov. Martin O'Malley delivered his final State of the State address Thursday in a speech that promoted his seven years as governor and argued for policies to help the middle class.
The term-limited O'Malley, who is considering whether to run for president, chronicled what he views as his top accomplishments, including highly ranked schools, approval of same-sex marriage and a reduction in violent crime.
He reflected on his time in the governor's mansion as period of tough choices and progress, saying he left the state better than when he took office. "Not only is Maryland stronger than before-- Maryland is cleaner, smarter, safer, healthier, more entrepreneurial and more competitive," he said.
He also acknowledged the "failure" of Maryland's health care exchange, regarded as one of the worst in the country. O'Malley called it "a great source of frustration," but said his administration would not give up.
His address, which struck an upbeat and valedictory tone, comes in an election year when he is considering his future and a crop of politicians are vying to succeed him. While most fellow Democrats received the speech warmly, Republicans and one Democrat running for governor said O'Malley misrepresented his tenure.
"He is missing the real crisis in Maryland, and there is this overwhelming feeling that people are being overtaxed," said House Minority Leader Nic Kipke of Anne Arundel County, saying O'Malley's legacy is one of tax increases.
While O'Malley portrayed Maryland as a state ahead of many others by some measurements, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler ticked off a list of problems, including the state's achievement gap between poor and wealthy students, transportation congestion and violence.
"We're losing jobs hand over fist," said Gansler, who is running against O'Malley's No. 2, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, in a hotly contested Democratic primary for governor.
O'Malley mentioned Brown's name four times in the speech as he praised the administration's record.
Most of O'Malley's 31-minute address -- delivered to a joint session of the General Assembly and an audience that included two former governors, the ambassador to El Salvador and local government officials -- focused on his record. He spoke of a "fundamentally different" style of governing: setting specific, measurable goals and using data to determine if he met them.
But he also spoke briefly of proposals he's pushing in the current session to expand access to pre-kindergarten classes and strengthen domestic-violence laws. He made a direct pitch to raise Maryland's minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2016, framing his argument as a way to strengthen the middle class, help working mothers and spark economic growth.
"We've lost sight of how our economy works when our economy is actually working," he said. "Prosperity doesn't trickle down from the top. It never has. It's built from the middle out -- and from the middle up."
Legislative leaders say there is broad support to raise the minimum wage for the first time since 2009, but consensus has yet to develop on how high and how quickly it should change. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has twice publicly urged his colleagues to seek compromise and warned that it is unlikely for the General Assembly to set one rate for the entire state.
Former Gov. Parris N. Glendening said some were watching the speech as "a dry run" for a presidential campaign. "But I tell you, a speech like that, based on results, with an attitude that government ought to be effective, measurable and accountable, and a vision about people and the environment, it's a speech that will sell anywhere," Glendening said.
Republican Harford County Executive David Craig, who is running for governor, called the address "more of campaign speech" and said, "He was talking to the media, not to us."
O'Malley concluded his remarks by saying that technology and social changes require a new type of governing, and suggesting he knows how to deliver it.
"We are standing at the threshold of a new era of American progress," O'Malley said. "As our world becomes more complex, it is also becoming more personalized and better connected. And no state is better poised to succeed in this new era than Maryland."
(c)2014 The Baltimore Sun