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Martin O'Malley

Out of the running Last modified: February 1, 2016

Martin O’Malley, former governor of Maryland, announced his 2016 campaign in Baltimore on May 30, 2015. While largely unknown outside of his state, the Democrat has built a reputation as a technocratic and competent executive with a commitment to liberal policy priorities.

O’Malley raised taxes dozens of times in the eight years he served as governor while spending soared from $29 billion to $38.5 billion. Because previously authorized and scheduled spending was expected to be even higher, O’Malley touts himself as a budget cutter. He also staked out an aggressive environmental agenda, signing Maryland up for a regional cap-and-trade program and imposing severe regulations on fracking, farming and coal power. He has made reforming Wall Street and breaking up big banks a major focus of his campaign.

O’Malley does have a reputation for capable management, and as mayor of Baltimore he relied heavily on the data-driven style of policing that was first popularized (and successful) in New York City.

O’Malley’s presidential ambition was given two prized speaking slots at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic national conventions, neither of which seem to have done anything to raise his national profile. Despite being the most explicit about his presidential ambitions leading up to his announcement, O’Malley lags in the early polls.

One of the more accomplished Democratic governors around, O’Malley still remains a longshot to capture the Democratic nomination. He has failed to generate much support either through fundraising or in the polls. As a liberal Democrat with a progressive policy agenda he could potentially appeal to the party’s base if the frontrunner were to seriously stumble, similar to John Kerry’s capturing the nomination after Howard Dean’s support collapsed in 2004. But being the “break-in-case-of-emergency” candidate may be O’Malley’s only viable route to the nomination.

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Martin Joseph O’Malley was born in Washington, D.C., on January 18, 1963, the son of Barbara Suelzer O’Malley and Thomas Martin O’Malley.

O’Malley, a Roman Catholic, attended Our Lady of Lourdes School in Bethesda and Gonzaga College High School, a Jesuit school for boys in Washington, D.C. He enrolled at the Catholic University of America, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1985. Following graduation, O’Malley attended the University of Maryland Law School. He graduated with his Juris Doctor in 1988, and was admitted to the Maryland Bar later that year.

His first political experience came as a college student. O’Malley went to Iowa to assist Sen. Gary Hart’s (D-Colo.) presidential campaign in 1984. While in law school, he joined Congresswoman Barbara Mikulski’s successful campaign for U.S. Senate as a field director, and later served as a legislative fellow for Mikulski in 1987 and 1988. He departed Mikulski’s office when he was named assistant state’s attorney for the city of Baltimore, a position he held until 1990.

In 1990, O’Malley launched his first campaign for political office, seeking a seat in the Maryland state senate. He would ultimately fall just 44 votes short of knocking off incumbent Republican state Sen. John A. Pica.

The following year, O’Malley was elected to the Baltimore City Council, serving until 1999.

When incumbent Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke opted not to seek re-election in 1999, O’Malley surprised many by declared his candidacy for the office. O’Malley won the Democratic primary, capturing 53 percent of the vote. He easily won the general election against Republican David Tufaro with 90 percent of the vote.

O’Malley declared his candidacy for governor of Maryland in 2005. After his only opponent dropped out of the race, O’Malley ran unopposed for the Democratic nomination. In 2006, O’Malley defeated incumbent Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich 53-46 percent.

Ehrlich returned to challenge O’Malley in the 2010 election. O’Malley defeated Ehrlich a second time, 56-42 percent, becoming one of the few major Democratic victories in a year of major losses for Democrats.

Term limits prevented O’Malley from seeking a third term as Maryland governor in 2014.

O’Malley has been married to Catherine “Katie” Curran since 1990. The couple has four children together: Grace, Tara, William and Jack.

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O’Malley faced a number of controversies during his tenures as mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland.

While running for governor in 2006, O’Malley claimed that during his tenure as Baltimore mayor, crime was reduced by 37 percent. Because the statistic was derived from a crime audit that utilized questionable methodology, both Democratic and Republican rivals accused him of manipulating crime statistics to serve his electoral ambitions.1

In 2008, land developer Edward St. John was fined $55,000 by the state of Maryland for making illegal contributions to O’Malley’s campaign for governor. O’Malley was accused of a quid pro quo deal with St. John after the governor’s office announced a transportation project that created a new $28 million highway interchange from Interstate 795 to one of the properties owned by St. John. O’Malley’s administration denied any impropriety in the deal, stating that this transportation project had been a priority since before O’Malley was elected.2

O’Malley has generally governed consistent with his liberal values. One reversal of note was on decriminalization of marijuana, where O’Malley originally announced his opposition because he was concerned it would be “a gateway to even more harmful behavior.”3 He signed a bill decriminalizing marijuana four months later.4

He also reversed himself on using slot machines to provide for education funding. He had called slots a “morally bankrupt” way to fund education and attacked his opponent in 2006 for supporting slots expansion. By 2007 he had changed positions and endorsed a significant expansion of slot machines across the state to fund education.5

O’Malley has moderately bucked the teachers unions by supporting charter schools6 and by declaring National School Choice Week 2014 in a proclamation.7 He also pushed pension reform that was opposed by unions.8

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O’Malley is not well regarded as an effective political communicator, being considered “a boring, soft-spoken, data-driven, and an unabashedly liberal” politician.9

He was a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, landing a speaking slot in prime time on the convention’s second day. His speech, however, was criticized as “contrived,” “artificial and gimmicky,” and “underwhelming.”10 His performance in the first Democratic presidential debate was generally regarded as mediocre, with one analyst suggesting he had “slipped through the cracks” with a “bland delivery.”11

O’Malley has pulled off some surprising political victories, even in heavily-Democratic Maryland. O’Malley was the lone white candidate in the campaign for Baltimore mayor in 1999. It was widely expected that an African-American candidate would win the election in predominately African-American Baltimore.12 O’Malley campaigned hard and won significant endorsements from African-American lawmakers and church leaders.13 O’Malley went on the win the Democratic primary with 53 percent of the vote.

In his first campaign for Maryland governor, O’Malley defeated Republican incumbent Bob Ehrlich 53-46 percent.

According to Maryland House Minority Leader Nic Kipke, a Republican, O’Malley never reached out to Republicans during his time in office. Kipke added, “He’s ignored Republicans throughout his entire political career, starting back when he was running for mayor. … He’s never needed to deal with Republicans, and he’s not going to start now.”14

O’Malley’s reputation for competent executive leadership took a major hit with the rollout of the state’s Obamacare exchange, widely regarded as disastrous and inept. O’Malley’s lieutenant governor was given the responsibility for overseeing implementation of the exchange website, and investigators are currently exploring charges the O’Malley administration concealed information about the exchange’s problems and wasted tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.15

O’Malley served as Chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, suggesting a degree of confidence in his leadership and political skills by his colleagues.

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During his time as Maryland governor, O’Malley raised taxes and fees and created new taxes and fees numerous times.

Between 2007 and 2014, O’Malley approved 40 new or increased taxes and fees, totaling at least $9.5 billion additional taxes to Maryland taxpayers. These new and increased taxes included an income tax increase on Marylanders earning more than $100,000, an increase in the alcoholic beverage sales tax from 6 to 9 percent, bridge and tunnel toll increases, an increase in the sales tax from 5 to 6 percent, an increase in the state corporate income tax from 7 to 8.25 percent, raising cigarette taxes from $1 to $2 per pack, and a vehicle excise tax increase.16

One of the taxes approved by O’Malley was the so-called “rain tax,” which collected a fee based on the area of a piece of property that was impervious to rain, such as driveways or a house.17


O’Malley signed into law an increase in the minimum wage to $10.10,18 and as Baltimore mayor supported a measure aimed at Walmart requiring it to pay at least 8 percent of its wages toward health benefits or face a hefty tax.19 He recently endorsed a $15/hour federal minimum wage.20

O’Malley unveiled in September 2015 a set of major regulatory proposals affecting employers, including requiring 12 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave and making pay information publicly available.21

With only two months remaining in his term, and after Republican Larry Hogan had been elected to succeed O’Malley as governor, O’Malley introduced more than 30 new regulations,22 including regulations on hydraulic fracturing, nutrient runoff from chicken manure, and power plants using coal.

He has expressed concern over the so-called “sharing economy,” in which individuals work as independent contractors with companies like Uber, and said he is preparing to announce policies that would provide benefits and protections for those workers.23 He has described himself as a fan of Uber, and said he thinks the company is good for Americans.24

O’Malley has expressed support for net neutrality regulations on the Internet, which interfere with Internet service providers’ ability to manage their networks and market their services.25


In 2013, O’Malley signed legislation that required all public school teachers in Maryland to pay union dues.26 O’Malley also criticized a 2014 Supreme Court decision that stopped some public employees from being legally compelled to pay union dues.27

O’Malley angered organized labor as mayor by privatizing 176 custodial and security jobs, and exploring privatizing hundreds more in his effort to provide better services to city residents.28

Energy & Environment

In June 2015 O’Malley unveiled an ambitious plan to deal with climate change. He advocated the complete elimination of fossil fuels in the U.S. by 2050, utilizing a cap on carbon dioxide emissions to help achieve this goal.29 While governor, he signed an agreement to make Maryland a member of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. This agreement resulted in the implementation of a cap-and-trade program in the state.

Late in his final term as governor, O’Malley struck a deal to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to procure natural gas in Maryland, but only in conjunction with very strict regulations.30 O’Malley opposes the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring crude oil down to Gulf Coast refineries from Canada’s oil sands.31 He also opposes offshore oil drilling,32 and the export of oil and natural gas produced in the U.S.33

In 2014, he supported new EPA rules that required states to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent.34 But O’Malley had previously lobbied for the EPA to ease air-quality regulations that would have negatively impacted Carnival Cruise Lines, after that company threatened to pull its business from the Baltimore area.35

Budget & Spending

Because Maryland has a balanced budget amendment, budgets under O’Malley’s administration were always balanced.36 This, coupled with a reluctance to cut spending, is arguably the impetus for the 40 new and increased taxes and fees O’Malley signed into law during his administration.37

Despite the tax increases, O’Malley left a $1.2 billion budget gap for his successor.38 O’Malley referred to the budget sequester as a “jobs killer”39 and suggested it would damage his state’s economy.40 He also said during the 2012 “fiscal cliff” debate that Republicans should compromise with Obama and raise taxes in order to “shed their sort of Tea Party obstructionist stench.”41

O’Malley’s record on spending and size of government is mixed. He did eliminate 4,200 state jobs. While he touts $9.9 billion in spending cuts during his tenure, the fact is total state spending rose from $29 billion to $38.5 billion under his watch. The “cuts” O’Malley refers to are based on his getting the legislature to alter spending formulas that would have otherwise driven spending up even further.

Health Care

O’Malley is a supporter of Obamacare, and he elected to create a state-based health care exchange called for under the Obamacare law.42 The exchange web site designed by O’Malley’s administration was fraught with problems, leading to the design eventually being scrapped as the state adopted the software system used by the state of Connecticut.43

He is opposed to the idea of block granting Medicaid and giving states more control over the program in exchange for capping federal spending on the program.44

In November 2015 O’Malley released his own health care reform agenda, which would largely enhance Obamacare as it currently is. Key elements of his plan include aggressive anti-trust enforcement regarding hospital and insurer mergers, a ban on what he terms “price gouging profiteering in prescription drugs,” allowing the federal government to set drug prices through Medicare’s buying power, and allowing illegal immigrants to get Medicaid benefits and buy insurance on Obamacare exchanges.45 He has set a goal of getting 95 percent of the public insured,46 above the current level of approximately 88 percent.

Entitlement & Welfare

O’Malley has claimed that, under his leadership, the state of Maryland moved 75,000 welfare recipients into jobs.47 He has endorsed increasing Social Security benefits,48 and increasing the amount of income subject to the FICA taxes that fund Social Security.49 He has rejected the idea of raising the retirement age.50


While governor, O’Malley took several trade mission trips, including visits to Indian and Brazil.51 He opposes the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal negotiated by the Obama administration.52 His campaign unveiled a trade agenda in October 2015 in which he said he would only support free trade agreements “that establish strong and enforceable rules for fair competition,” including requirements that “labor unions, consumer groups, health and environmental advocates” all participate in negotiations,53 which in practice would likely make it very difficult to reach meaningful trade agreements.


O’Malley supports providing a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens currently in the country and has pledged to expand the number protected from deportation under President Obama’s “deferred action” executive order.54 He has also said he would change current regulations to allow illegal immigrants protected by deferred action to qualify for insurance subsidies under Obamacare.55

During a 2010 debate, O’Malley referred to illegal immigrants as “new Americans,” even as he endorsed tougher enforcement against illegal immigration by the federal government. In 2011, O’Malley signed a bill that granted the children of illegal immigrants eligibility for in-state tuition rates at Maryland state universities.56

O’Malley instituted new policy in 2014 that the Baltimore Jail would no longer honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detailers, a policy sometimes called “sanctuary.”57 Also that year, O’Malley halted the “Secure Communities” program in the city of Baltimore that provided information to ICE on illegal immigrants arrested by local police.58


O’Malley has advocated for the federal government to increase funding for dairy farming by $350 million,59 and also signed a letter supporting reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, a key corporate welfare entity.

Corporate Welfare

In his 2012 budget, O’Malley called for spending $175,000 to determine the feasibility of constructing a stadium to house the DC United Major League Soccer team.60

O’Malley signed into law the Maryland film tax credit in 2012.

In December 2014, analysts urged the state to let the tax credit expire in 2016, saying that the state had not benefited enough from the $62.5 million that the tax credit allowed to TV and film companies.61 The report claimed that the state only received between $0.04 and $0.06 return on every dollar in tax credits.62

Banking & Finance

O’Malley was one of several governors who requested billions of dollars in funding from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, typically referred to as the bank bailout, which he hoped to use to stimulate small business loans.63

In a March 2015 op-ed, O’Malley said the Dodd-Frank financial industry regulations “didn’t go far enough” and proposed reinstating Glass-Steagall, the Depression-era regulations separating commercial from investment banking.64 He also said the largest banks should be broken up into smaller banks, called for higher capital reserve requirements for large banks,65 and called for much more aggressive prosecution of banks that break laws.66 In addition he supports banning from working for the financial industry anybody who worked in a federal regulatory or policy role for the federal government.67

O’Malley favors allowing Puerto Rico to enter into bankruptcy in order to deal with the U.S. territory’s massive debt crisis.68

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International Relations

O’Malley has offered relatively little in terms of specific foreign policies he would change. What was billed as a major foreign policy address in June 2015 largely focused on the economy, leading Time magazine to note “O’Malley did not name specific proposals for addressing any major foreign policy issues, instead speaking generally about strengthening U.S. cybersecurity, combating climate change and “degrading” the Islamic State, “not only with military power” but with “political solutions.” During the first Democratic debate, O’Malley identified climate change and Islamic State as the leading threats to national security.69

O’Malley endorsed Obama’s plan to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba and ease the embargo.70

While governor, O’Malley took several trade mission trips, including visits to India and Brazil.71

War on Terror

O’Malley was a consistent and vocal opponent of the Iraq War. He has also stated that be believes Israel has a right to defend itself from attack,72 and said in March 2015 that a nuclear-armed Iran was the greatest threat to U.S. national security.73 He voiced his support for the nuclear arms deal reached with Iran by the Obama administration, saying it “holds a lot of promise.”74

Criticizing the foreign policy of the Obama administration, O’Malley said Obama’s lack of action on ISIS allowed that threat to grow.75 O’Malley added in an interview with The New York Times that “it is at great risk to our national interest and national security to ever become disengaged from the broader world.”76 He has called for the U.S. to welcome up to 65,000 refugees fleeing from war-torn Syria,77 while opposing the establishment of a “no-fly zone” over the country because it could lead to a confrontation with Russia.78

Military Preparedness & Budget

O’Malley unveiled a military personnel and veterans agenda in November 2015 that included a pledge to end unemployment among veterans by 2020, increase the ability of the VA inspector general to investigate problems, apply data analysis to problems facing veterans, and reform the process for “other than honorable” discharges of service members who have post-traumatic stress syndrome or traumatic brain injuries.79

He has supported modernizing the nation’s nuclear forces, in part as a money-saving measure.80

O’Malley was named by Obama as co-chair of a bipartisan panel of state and federal officials focused on defense and homeland security.81

Regarding domestic surveillance to fight terrorism, O’Malley has said he favors requiring law enforcement and intelligence agencies to get a warrant before accessing digital information.82 He has said Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor who leaked classified information related to domestic surveillance programs, should be punished, saying he broke the law and endangered Americans.83

O’Malley has also called for additional emphasis on state fusion centers that allow greater information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies, as well as expanded use of facial recognition software on surveillance cameras in public places.84

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Judiciary & Crime

O’Malley has a record of making liberal and Democrat appointments to the state’s courts.

His appointees to the Maryland courts were overwhelmingly Democrats,85 by a 95 percent to 5 percent ratio. This was a sharp break from his Republican predecessor, whose nominees were 52 percent Republicans and 48 percent Democrats.

Two of O’Malley’s appointments to the Maryland Court of Appeals (equivalent to a state supreme court), Sally Adkins86 and Mary Ellen Barbera87 were considered liberals.

O’Malley has pledged to only appoint judges to the Supreme Court who will overturn Citizens United and rule against corporate personhood.88 O’Malley praised the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell (Obamacare tax credits)89 and also applauded the court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (same-sex marriage).90

O’Malley opposed a bill that would have given judges more discretion on sentencing for non-violent drug offenders.91 When he was mayor of Baltimore, major crime fell by half according to FBI statistics, owing in part to O’Malley’s implementation of the CompStat system of measuring and analyzing crime data – the same system that New York City embraced under Rudy Giuliani.92

More recently, O’Malley called for significant reform of the criminal justice system, including banning companies from asking potential employees about criminal records, abolishing the death penalty, and requiring all police departments to publicly report use of lethal force, deaths of individuals in police custody, excessive force, and “discourtesy.”93

Free Speech & Religious Liberty

O’Malley opposed the Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, seen by many as a victory for religious liberty, tweeting, “No woman should have her health care decisions made by her boss. Period. This decision is wrong and a setback for women’s health.”94

O’Malley has spoken favorably of taxpayer financing for political campaigns95 and said he would appoint judges who would overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and strip corporations of the right to speak on political matters.96


O’Malley has called for federal-state partnerships to address climate change. In an interview, O’Malley suggested that “entrepreneurial, can-do federalism, where the federal government partners with states that are more ready than others, more willing than others, to make progress.97

He has suggested he would favor a constitutional amendment replacing the electoral college with direct election of the president, and signed legislation as governor of Maryland that would award all of Maryland’s electoral votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote instead of whoever won the most votes in his state.98


O’Malley is supportive of charter schools, considering them a part of the bigger plan for public school reform.99 In January 2014, O’Malley signed a proclamation declaring the week of January 30 to be “National School Choice Week” in Maryland.100 However, O’Malley strongly opposed the use of school vouchers during the 1999 race for Baltimore mayor.101

O’Malley supports the development and implementation of the Common Core standards.102

O’Malley has proposed changes to college financing that would allow students to graduate without debt. The plan includes freezing tuition at public universities and ultimately limiting it to an amount equal to 10 percent of the state’s median income, tying repayment of student loans to income, allowing more former students to refinance their loans at lower rates, and increasing grants to low-income students.103

Social Issues

As governor he proposed and signed into law a bill that banned assault weapons and gun magazines with more than a 10-round capacity,104 and also required eight hours of training, fingerprinting, and a state-issued gun license to buy a handgun.105 He has proposed requiring anybody buying a firearm to be licensed, fingerprinted, and required to have safety training as well as undergo a waiting period.106 O’Malley also proposes to make it illegal for anyone under 21 to own or possess a handgun,107 create a national gun registry, ban assault weapons, and regulate how guns are stored and secured in private homes.108 He has said his administration would not defend in court a law protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.109

O’Malley is pro-choice,110 although it is unclear what if any limits he might support. In 2002 as mayor of Baltimore he said through a spokesperson he supported a 1992 state referendum that would allow limits at time when a fetus could survive outside the womb,111 generally around 23 to 24 weeks after conception at the time. In 2013 he received a perfect 100 percent rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a pro-abortion rights group.112

O’Malley is a supporter of same-sex marriage, sponsoring legislation as governor in 2011 allowing same-sex marriage in Maryland113 that was signed into law in 2012.114 He also welcomed the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision creating a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.115

As mayor of Baltimore, O’Malley defended the city’s affirmative action program setting aside 20 percent of the city’s contracts for minority-owned firms after it was struck down in court.116

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From his time as Maryland governor, O’Malley has a reputation as a high taxer. Between 2007 and 2014, O’Malley approved 40 new and increased taxes and fees, costing Maryland taxpayers more than $9.5 billion.117

O’Malley was criticized during his first campaign for governor for claiming that he had, as Baltimore mayor, reduced crime in the city by 37 percent. It was later revealed that the statistic was derived from questionable methodology, and that there was no clear way to prove that O’Malley’s claim was correct.118

During a 2005 press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with several other Democratic governors denouncing the budget submitted to Congress by Bush, O’Malley made controversial remarks likening the president’s budget to the 9/11 terrorist attacks: “Back on September 11, terrorists attacked our metropolitan cores, two of America’s great cities. They did that because they knew that was where they could do the most damage and weaken us the most. Years later, we are given a budget proposal by our commander in chief, the president of the United States. And with a budget ax, he is attacking America’s cities. He is attacking our metropolitan core.”

O’Malley would later back away from his remarks, saying that he “in no way intended to equate these budget cuts, however bad, to a terrorist attack.” He did not, however, apologize for the comments.

In 2008, a major campaign contributor to O’Malley was fined $55,000 by the state for making illegal contributions to O’Malley’s gubernatorial campaign. It was further alleged that the contributor, Maryland land developer Edward St. John, had benefited from a quid pro quo arrangement when a major transportation project creating a new $28 million highway interchange from Interstate 795 to one of the properties was announced. O’Malley’s office denied any wrongdoing or quid pro quo, stating that the project had been a priority since before he was governor.119

The Maryland state ethics commission is investigating whether O’Malley undervalued the value of furniture bought by taxpayers for the governor’s mansion for $62,000 and then declared “junk” and sold to O’Malley for $9,638 when he left office.120

O’Malley’s reputation for competent executive leadership took twin hits late in his second term, when the implementation of Maryland’s Obamacare exchange was badly botched by his lieutenant governor, who O’Malley had put in charge. O’Malley’s lieutenant governor also was the Democratic nominee for governor to succeed him, but he lost to the Republican candidate in a major election-day upset.

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