WASHINGTON -- Gov. Martin O'Malley refuses to stay put.
The Maryland Democrat is barnstorming the country, in the midst of a productive legislative session that culminated in the state legislature's passage of a minimum wage hike and the signing of a marijuana decriminalization bill on Monday.
O'Malley appeared at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in New Hampshire in November. He laced into Wisconsin Republicans during an appearance before the state Democratic Party's Founders Day Gala over the weekend. And he's been booked to address the Clark County Democrats' Jefferson-Jackson dinner on May 2 in Las Vegas.
The foundation is certainly being set for a 2016 presidential run. And O'Malley isn't completely coy about the fact that he has an eye on the White House. In an interview with The Huffington Post on Monday, the governor said that he is preparing for a possible run regardless of whether or not Hillary Clinton -- the prohibitive favorite -- jumps in.
"I don't think it is a matter of my convincing as it is a matter of my preparing," he said, when asked specifically what would convince him to say yes to running for the White House. "The most important thing for anyone considering this is to have a clear understanding of the framework that you offer for the better future that all of us want for our country. And that is the most important work right now: articulating that, formulating that, crystallizing that, talking to others. A lot of that important work happens in meetings and one-on-one conversations. Other aspects happen in other ways."
And yet for all the prep work -- and a resume that should have progressives salivating on a national level (a supporter of the Dream Act, gay marriage legalization, abolition of the death penalty, offshore wind production -- O'Malley can go on...) -- the buzz about O'Malley's prospects has remained relatively muted.
He's recently enjoyed a wave of positive press, both locally and nationally. But the national polls aren't his friend, yet, which seems primarily because he remains largely unknown to those not politically obsessed. At a recent speech celebrating the Center for American Progress' tenth anniversary, his flat delivery surprised reporters and attendees in the crowd.
And then there are the caveats to his policy record.
Maryland's health care exchange had, by O'Malley's own admission, a disastrous launch, suffering from technological glitches that forced consumers to sign up via paper applications. The governor defended his handling of the rollout, arguing that they were right to forge ahead amidst the warning signs of impending tech failure.
"There was fear and trepidation, lots of fingernail biting that this might not work as we had planned and as we had hoped. And some talk by some on our team to delay the launch, and we made a conscious decision not to delay the launch, fix it as we go. We are going to have to change the tires on this rolling car, and that is the way it is," said O'Malley.
Maryland is now bringing in consultants from Connecticut's health care exchange to ensure that, come the next open enrollment period, the site functions properly. O'Malley is also encouraging members of his IT staff to take on a more active role, while the public health officials step back a bit. As for accountability measures, the governor has stated his opposition to a special investigation into what went wrong. But he told HuffPost that he's exploring legal means to recoup money from IBM, whose software was used to build the state's exchange. (IBM has put some of the blame on another contractor, the Baltimore Sun reports.)
"We will likely be going to court to recover funds from our contractors. They promised to deliver a certain product and a certain solution by a certain date, and they failed to deliver it," he said.
For all the hiccups, Maryland was exceeded its enrollment goal of 260,000 by approximately 40,000. And with that benchmark cleared, alongside the healthy national enrollment numbers, O'Malley argues that the politics of Obamacare have hit "a turning point" -- and that the law is viewed favorably enough that Democrats could use it proactively, even in the 2014 campaigns.
"I think in the longer arc of this narrative ... that the people will come around to believing that this has been a positive step forward for our country and not a misstep, as the opponents constantly try to characterize it," he said.
But even if health care reform emerges as a net positive, O'Malley wants to focus on bread-and-butter issues. He ticks off a laundry list of legislative accomplishments and economic data points during his various speeches and cable news appearances, from the raising the earned income tax credit, to living wage legislation, to Maryland's having the highest median income of any state.
His crowning achievement, however, came this past week with a bill to raise the state's minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.
In putting his state on par with Minnesota ($9.50 an hour) and Connecticut ($10.10), O'Malley has steered Maryland to the forefront of progressive governance. Though he takes umbrage with the suggestion that maneuvering this agenda through a Democratic-dominated state was easy.
The minimum wage hike in particular faced skepticism from local businesses and conservative Democrats. And O'Malley was forced to make some trade-offs: The final bill exempts restaurant workers dependent on tip wages and those who work at amusement parks. Perhaps most significantly, however, is that the wage hike is not indexed to inflation, meaning that the state will likely have to revisit the issue again.
"That's true," O'Malley said of the minimum wage law's limitations. "And I think that's what the legislature wanted. It has never been indexed for inflation. It should be. That's what I proposed, as well as the tip wage ... The bills rarely come back to my desk as strong as they fly away from it. But we did get it done and it will be revisited. But in the meantime, I think that the conversation that it advanced is a far more constructive conversation."
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