Completing our "Best of 2009" awards, the award for the outstanding Catholic chief executive goes to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. A graduate of two of Washington’s most distinctively Catholic institutions, Gonzaga High School and the Catholic University of America, O’Malley went on to serve as mayor of Baltimore and, in 2006, he was the only challenger to knock off an incumbent governor.
I confess, up front, my bias: I live in Maryland so I see firsthand the improvements in government that O’Malley has achieved in the past three years. But, my anecdotal evidence was confirmed by the more systematic verdict on O’Malley’s tenure rendered by Governing magazine. It, too, named him the outstanding Governor of the year.
O’Malley is most famous for implementing Citistat in Baltimore, a program of statistical oversight of government, which he has now extended to the state level. Working with department heads, O’Malley developed a set of goals and the metrics to measure progress towards the attainment of those goals. I sat in on one of the meetings he held to measure progress and watched him grill his subordinates: The message was loud and clear that they should be prepared to give an accounting of their performance, and that this accountability was being exercised on behalf of the citizenry.
One of the great myths of conservative politics in America is, as Reagan famously put it, government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem. This fallacy may sit well with a Calvinistic appraisal of human nature with its emphasis on our fallen nature, but Catholic social teaching has always held that there is a distinct and positive role for government. It is fine for us writers to write about the power of government for good, but unless citizens experience their government as responsive and effective our words will ring hollow. O’Malley makes our words ring true.
There is another reason to note O’Malley’s tenure. He did what he promised to do in the campaign. He said that he would allow the voters to decide whether or not to allow slots at Maryland’s horse tracks, and he did so, despite pressure from a variety of groups to kill the proposal. He said he would amend Maryland’s previously regressive income tax, and he did so, working out a compromise when his initial proposal met with opposition in the legislature. He said he would take steps to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and he has implemented a comprehensive strategy to preserve this amazing natural resource. And, despite pressure to back gay marriage, O’Malley correctly stuck to his guns and favored a proposal for civil unions instead.
Not everything O’Malley has touched has turned to gold. He signed off on a decades-long proposal to build a light rail system connecting various suburbs of Washington, D.C. even though the proposal failed to reach the poorer suburbs where public transportation was most needed. Additionally, when the Base Realignment and Closure procedure of the federal government decided to vastly enlarge the facilities, and staff, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, the proposed light rail was not changed to create a terminus at the Hospital but a mile south of it. Some plans, even those that have been in the works for a long time, need to be re-evaluated and changed when circumstances demand.
Yes, yes, yes. O’Malley is pro-choice. But, it is ridiculous to judge his tenure as governor on that issue when it has scarcely come up in a way that a governor could affect it. Judging O’Malley’s performance as governor based on his position on abortion would be like evaluating a football team based solely on the performance of its kick-off return team. They might be great and they might be dreadful, but the fate of the team has more to do with the quality of the quarterback. O’Malley has been a good quarterback for the state of Maryland. Just so, he wins my award for outstanding Catholic chief executive for 2009.