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Preparing for potential presidential bid, O’Malley returns to New Hampshire

Last modified: 5/14/2015 3:17:46 PM
Martin O’Malley – the former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor and a potential Democratic presidential candidate – has a reputation for being a “numbers” guy, a leader who places a high priority on having good data with which to guide policy decisions.

So before he dove into his answer to a question about how to compete with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, particularly given her long-running ties to New Hampshire, his mind went first to the numbers.

“What percentage did she get here last time?” O’Malley wondered aloud, turning to communications staffer Haley Morris to ask, “Google that, would you?”

While Morris started searching for the results on her cell phone, O’Malley got into the crux of his pitch to voters: People in New Hampshire and across the country, he said, are looking for “new leadership” – and he is a guy who has “a track record of getting things done, tackling the biggest challenges and big problems and being able to actually follow through and pull people together.” If he has to make that pitch one voter at a time, in living rooms or at lunch counters, he said, he’s up for that challenge.

“There’s a lot of people who have a lot of respect for President Clinton and Secretary Clinton – I know I do. I have tremendous respect for both of them,” O’Malley said in an interview with the Monitor yesterday afternoon. “But I truly believe that our country is not going to solve problems we confront without new leadership, without talking about our problems and without confronting them. And in my public life, I’ve always been drawn to the biggest challenges and the toughest fights. And I’ve never backed down.”

A few minutes later, Morris signaled that she found the number O’Malley was looking for: “39.1 percent.”

“So she did get 39 percent of the vote here last time,” O’Malley replied. “My guess is she probably still has that 39 percent.”

The governor didn’t elaborate from there, but he had otherwise made it clear that he doesn’t think carving out a path to victory is impossible.

“This is not the first time I’ve gotten into a race with an inevitable front-runner and with very little name recognition,” he said a few moments earlier, with a laugh.

As he continues to lay the groundwork for a likely campaign – he says he’s probably going to have a final decision by the end of May – O’Malley has presented himself as a guy who understands how government works and what communities need on a local level, and who believes that many solutions to the nation’s problems could be found just by looking a little closer at what’s happening in states and counties across the country.

“As down as people are about how our national government and how our national politics work, people generally feel better about how their cities are being managed and led and governed,” O’Malley said.

The former governor said the government might benefit from a kind of “innovation accelerator function” in federal agencies “that puts forward best practices” already being employed across the country. This idea came up, specifically, in the context of O’Malley’s thoughts on how to tackle substance abuse – but he said it could apply in other areas, too.

As with New Hampshire and other states, Maryland has grappled with a growing opioid epidemic in recent years. O’Malley said he tried to tackle the problem early in his tenure as governor – by expanding treatment and placing more emphasis on tracking the effectiveness of treatment programs, among other initiatives – but he said his state was a little behind on implementing a prescription drug monitoring program. As overdose fatalities rose, he realized the state needed to shift its focus “from expanding treatment to reducing overdose deaths, an acknowledgement that we were losing.”

As reported by Kaiser Health News, O’Malley implemented a program called “DrugStat” during his time as Baltimore’s mayor that was meant to evaluate the efficacy of treatment programs, gauging: “the number of people in treatment, length of treatment stay, number of patients who test positive for drugs while in treatment, number of patients who leave treatment with jobs and number of patients arrested after treatment.” As governor, O’Malley made it a priority to bring down overdose deaths and launched several initiatives aimed at alleviating heroin’s toll on his state, according to the Washington Post . According to preliminary data from Maryland’s health department, the state saw 428 heroin-related deaths and 252 prescription opioid-related deaths through the third quarter of 2014. Heroin-related deaths, according to that data, were on track to reach a record high.

“The one issue I’ve been most successful and least successful at tackling as an executive is drug abuse and the death that it causes,” O’Malley said.

At a national level, O’Malley said the Affordable Care Act has been one step in the right direction toward providing more coverage for substance abuse treatment and mental health services. Expanding the availability of Narcan, an overdose reversal drug, and access to other treatments that can be used to wean someone off of an opiate addiction should also be looked into, he said.

Keeping with his numbers-driven tendencies in other policy areas, O’Malley said collecting and analyzing data – on overdose deaths, emergency room visits and other areas – is crucial when it comes to understanding how best to address substance abuse.

“The challenge is to use the information we already have in our emergency rooms, make the connection through better health IT systems, to identify those most at risk,” O’Malley said.

Another issue on which local-level reforms might lay the groundwork for more substantial change at a national level, O’Malley said, is campaign finance. Some cities are already starting to take steps to work on this, he added.

“I think it’s really strange that we put candidate committees in straitjackets in terms of raising and spending money, but for any billionaire that wants to start a super PAC to protect his interest . . . it’s the Wild West and any and all spending is allowable,” said O’Malley (who, like many other would-be candidates, has a PAC supporting his possible bid for the presidency). “It’s a real sad reflection on the state of our democracy that the people who are elected to Congress find themselves immediately shoved in little rooms and turned into telemarketers for 20 hours a week. I don’t think this is the republic our founders envisioned.”

To fix things, O’Malley said, “we have to encourage more of the citizen-financed elections.” He pointed to one bill put forward by Maryland U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, which includes a proposal to provide $25 tax credits to be put toward congressional campaigns and a matching fund “to multiply the influence of” donations of $150 or less, according to a website outlining the proposal.

This week’s visit to New Hampshire marked O’Malley’s third this year. He started the day with a stop at Chez Vachon in Manchester (a destination for plenty of presidential contenders through the years), followed by a visit to Alpha Loft in Manchester and a fundraiser for the House Democratic Caucus at the party’s headquarters in Concord. His day ended in Durham at the home of Dudley Dudley, the state’s first female executive councilor and a former state representative.

The last time he was here, as reported by the Baltimore Sun, O’Malley rounded out his day at an event with the New Hampshire Young Democrats – where he treated the group to a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” singing along while strumming an acoustic guitar. Outside of his day job, the former governor has long performed as the front man for an Irish folk rock band dubbed “O’Malley’s March.”

In Concord yesterday afternoon, O’Malley said there’s probably some crossover between his musical pursuits and his life as a public servant.

“I have found that the skills that allow a person to stand in the center of a band playing different instruments at the same tempo at the same pitch at the same rhythm and hopefully usually according to the same melody line and chord progressions is a discipline that has also helped me to become a good executive,” he said.

Asked if that also translates to the campaign trail, O’Malley took a moment to consider the question. As a musician, he suggested, “you kind of develop a sixth sense for not only the individuals in an audience but the audience as a group.”

“You’ll oftentimes hear musicians talk about after they play, they won’t say so much the band was on or the band was off,” O’Malley said. “They’ll make comments about what a good audience it was. So I think that’s a perception that musicians learn to listen for without ever losing sight of the fact that the audience is composed of individuals with many different tastes and backgrounds.”

Much like the audience a candidate is likely to encounter on the campaign trail.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)


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