In 1988, Martin O’Malley had just graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law. He was, in his words, living out of a cardboard box and waiting for the results of his bar exam. Under those circumstances, he said, the only logical solution was to get into politics and so he went and worked as the Maryland field director for then-governor of Massachusetts Michael Dukakis. Fast forward 26 years, and O’Malley is no longer living in a cardboard box, nor waiting for his bar results (he passed), and has been the governor of Maryland since 2007.
O’Malley (D), the incumbent governor of Maryland, and Steve Kerrigan (D), the lt. governor candidate of Massachusetts running alongside Martha Coakley (D) in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, met on Monday, Oct. 6 with college students from around Boston to discuss the importance of a strong civic engagement and the impact that has on forming a strong economy.
O’Malley made it clear from the beginning of the talk that the position of governor is full of choices. The men and women that are elected are faced with many choices pertaining to the economy, and the choices that are made can determine whether or not the economy succeeds. In recent years, O’Malley said, better choices could have been made. The result has been an economy, that while recovering, has produced fewer jobs, fewer opportunities, and the wealth has been concentrated at the top while wages have been kept low for the majority of the population.
“One of your great sons, John Kennedy, famously said ‘to govern is to choose,’” said O’Malley. “If we expect to achieve better results as a people, we’re going to have to make better choices.”
O’Malley believes that there has been a change in the way that people are looking at leadership, and thinks that it is a generational gap. Leadership in generations past was based off of ideology and hierarchy, whereas today it is fundamentally entrepreneurial. O’Malley explains that today, problems are solved by bringing a diverse group of people around the table and determining the big “what,” without losing sight of the small “how.”
“That is the new way of governing that, as I travel around the country, I’m seeing emerging in every well-run city in America,” O’Malley said.
In addition to the stylistic changes of leadership, the younger generation has also shifted its views on relationships. O’Malley says that the younger generation has more students graduating with multiple majors and studying in multiple disciplines because they recognize that to form a newer and better world, it is important to utilize a holistic way of thinking and recognize the relationships between the relationships. This generation is choosing to live together in large cities like New York City, Los Angeles, and Baltimore, forming clusters and connections that they can draw from.
“Your parents and grandparents grew up in a world where they were told that their greater security and prosperity depended on separating from others,” O’Malley said. “You guys understand the truth. You understand that your future security and prosperity comes from better connections with others.”
At the end of the talk, O’Malley opened the floor up to questions from the 20-odd students and faculty present in the room. Questions ranged from thoughts on education, cyber security, crime, and local infrastructure.
O’Malley emphasized the importance of education and what it can do for a society, and both he and Kerrigan made it clear that education was one of their priorities going forward. They highlighted the fact that they wanted to move away from the ideological view held by former conservatives who thought that higher education should be like a toll: if one takes that route, they should be the ones to pay for it, not the state. But the U.S., they argued, with the world’s highest average cost of education, is not on a sustainable track, and O’Malley and Kerrigan both want to see their respective states assume more responsibility for tuitions.
“I believe, and Steve believes, that education is something that benefits all of us,” O’Malley said. “And that the more a person learns, the more a person learns.”
One student referenced the NSA’s headquarters location in Maryland and asked about O’Malley’s views on the recent scandals involving Edward Snowden and the security leaks. Although Kerrigan laughed and joked that he was glad the headquarters weren’t in Massachusetts, O’Malley said that it is important to balance civil liberties while also protecting ourselves from asymmetrical warfare. National security is just as important as the constitutional rights, and O’Malley said that it is unreasonable to give up either one. Rather, it is essential to find a balance between the two.
Earlier in the speech, O’Malley made a reference to students congregating in cities like New York City and Los Angeles. He said that was due in part because there has been a significant decrease in Part 1 crimes.
People tend to look at crime as a barometric scale, O’Malley explained. When crime is up, sometimes people say to fire the mayor or the police commissioner, but when crime is down, no one praises those who deserve it. One student asked about his views on marijuana, and O’Malley said that the experiment in Colorado is something to keep an eye on. Since marijuana cases are often a distraction on a prosecutor’s docket, he and Kerrigan both agreed that while decriminalization of marijuana is a step in the right direction, full legalization made them “feel a little bit queasy.”
“If you are smarter on reducing crime, you can target more repeat violent offenders with more of your resources more effectively,” O’Malley said, in reference to the decriminalization of marijuana.
According to O’Malley, infrastructure is just as important to a city as education and innovation. While he says that conservatives are opposed to spending $100 million on a bridge, it isn’t possible to spend only a tenth of the total cost and expect the result to be the same. However, he says that this infrastructure is a necessary investment in securing a prosperous future for the next generation. It is irrational to think that either the non-profit or the private sector is capable of financing all the infrastructure expenses, so it’s necessary to find a way to combine them to finance the various projects. O’Malley said that this is even more necessary considering the rising sea levels due to climate change. And to silence those who oppose spending on infrastructure, O’Malley says that for every $1 billion spent on infrastructure, 37,000 jobs are created in the construction industry.
O’Malley and Kerrigan are focused on bringing back a strong economy. In doing so, they are calling upon the younger generation to take up leadership roles and embrace the fact that their relationships with each other have so much to offer.
“We’ve also been able to realize a deeper truth, that sometimes it seems we’ve forgot, and that is our diversity is our strength,” O’Malley said. “That with people from different backgrounds, different ethnic backgrounds, coming together around a problem, you’re far more likely to figure out a better way forward.”
Featured Image – AP Photo / Elise Amendola