Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley, the head of the Democratic Governors Association, was in Miami yesterday for a meet-and-greet with DGA donors and the longshoremen. (First impression: O'Malley could play well on the national stage, with a clear speaking speaking style and blue-collar sensibility from a Mason-Dixon state). We caught up with him, and O'Malley gave a taste of what the national Democratic message will be in the 2012 elections.
In some ways, it's all about Florida Gov. Rick Scott, as well as his fellow conservative Republican freshmen, Chris Christie of New Jersey, John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Their policies have made O'Malley's job a little easier, he said, in selling the Democratic message.
"This new crop of governors, this last class, the tea party governors, are helping to draw distinctions between Democratic and Republican governors that were sometimes a little more difficult to see in the past," O'Malley said. "Whether it’s in how they negotiate with labor unions -- their philosophy about infrastructure -- they live in a make-believe world. I don’t think it’s a Republican or Democratic notion that a modern economy requires modern investments, but these guys would have you believe that the beginning and end of a governor’s job is just to cut."
"They look at labor unions as the enemy," he said. "For some of them, they believe that in this crisis there is an opportunity to break unions and to even scores with political enemies. I’ve never looked at the workforce as the enemy."
O'Malley said he believes the policies of Rick Scott (who returned $2.4 billion in bullet train money to the feds, benefitting Maryland among others) will become campaign issues in the presidential race.
"You look at your own governor’s popularity, you look at Christie you look at Walker, you look at Kasich, there’s a lot of buyer’s remorse....There’s buyers remorse. In a lot of states, a lot of voters were voting for a change, and for a better economy and for more jobs. Instead, what they got was more narrow-minded ideology, and the sort of governance that drives people apart rather than bringing them together to accomplish difficult things," he said.
"They’ve elected people who are even less focused on jobs than the voters apparently thought we were. What the hell does busting unions have to do with creating jobs? Why are you turning back investments in infrastructure if you’re trying to create jobs? How can you be so cavalier about needlessly driving the country into a default if we’re trying to make the economy better and create jobs."
But this is a similar message Democrats gave in 2010, yet they got creamed at the polls. Why?
"They felt, wrongly I think, that we had taken our eye of the main issue, which is jobs and job creation. People had the sense we took our eye off of it," he said. "I think people’s impatience manifested itself in a strange aberration of the Republican Party and let’s hope for all our sakes that the more reasonable members of that party re-emerge."
O'Malley said the current debt talks in Washington aren't much help for either political party, but he said the GOP is in far greater turmoil.
"If you look at the debt ceiling, you see the two wings of the party at war for the soul of the proud party of Lincoln. What they have failed to do so far in their primaries is to generate a better concept for what it takes to get this country out of a recession and into a better economy," he said. "The primary issue is the economy and jobs and the fear in the air that our kids won't enjoy the same quality of life. People are smart enough to know there’s a big change. And they know there are winners and losers."