Candidate Evaluations: Martin O’Malley

by Benjamin Studebaker

We’ve got another name to add to the growing roster of presidential candidates–Martin O’Malley. This means it’s time for another candidate evaluation, where we examine a US presidential candidate’s background, policy history, and explicit statements in an attempt to figure out whether the candidate would actually be any good at being president. We do this instead of focusing on electability or likeability, as is common in the mainstream press.

Here’s the ever-expanding list of previous candidate evaluations, in case there’s someone you’ve missed:

This is Martin O’Malley:

O’Malley has the same sort of background Cruz, Clinton, Rubio, and Santorum have–a BA (in his case, from The Catholic University of America) and a law degree (in his case, from the University of Maryland). He worked for the State Attorney in Baltimore for a couple years before jumping to the city council in 1991. He was Mayor of Baltimore from 1999 to 2007, and governor of Maryland from 2007 until earlier this year. He is the only candidate to declare so far with significant experience administering a city.

O’Malley has run a city and a state, so he has a long record we can easily examine. Let’s start by looking at how Baltimore did. Here’s Baltimore’s per capita income against the national average during O’Malley’s tenure:

O'Malley Baltimore Per Capita Income

In 1999, the national average was 88.8% of the Baltimore average. By 2007, the gap had opened up to 83.1%. This means that Baltimore outperformed the nation during O’Malley’s run as mayor by a significant margin.

But Baltimore’s wealth hasn’t translated into other public goods. Baltimore has a lower life expectancy than the nation as a whole:

It’s also one of the least equitable cities in America:

In O’Malley’s defense, Baltimore got much worse on this metric after O’Malley’s tenure as mayor ended:

Baltimore also performs poorly on educational attainment:

Even when we compare Baltimore to other major US cities, it’s not particularly impressive, particularly on college attainment. But there are limits to what mayors are able to achieve. A lot of policy is made at the state and federal levels. Let’s look at Maryland’s performance.

Here’s Maryland’s per capita income against the nation’s:

O'Malley Maryland Per Capita Income

In 2007, the national average was 82.3% of Maryland’s. In 2013 (the last year for which the fed has data), 83.0%. This means that Maryland actually lost ground against the nation while O’Malley was governor, albeit not a lot of ground. This happened even though Maryland was hit significantly less hard by the 2008 crisis, an advantage that should have allowed it to pull further ahead. What went wrong?

The Cato Institute thinks it has the answer. Cato was originally known as the “Charles Koch Institute”–it’s a hard-right libertarian think tank that grades governors exclusively on how much they cut taxes and reduced spending. Cato doesn’t like O’Malley, and it thinks that O’Malley’s tax increases have damaged the state’s economy. To some extent this is fair–increasing taxes during an economic recovery (particularly taxes on consumers) is an anti-growth move. Ideally the government should have run a deficit during the period, or at the very least consigned tax increases to those who can most easily bear the cost of them. O’Malley didn’t do that–many of his taxes hurt those who could least afford them. But what Cato and O’Malley won’t tell you is that O’Malley also revealed himself to be an austerian. In the middle of O’Malley’s run as governor, he decided to take an axe to the budget:

O'Malley Maryland Spending

Today, Maryland spending as a percent of GDP is lower than it was in 2007. And O’Malley isn’t finished–on his way out of office, he recommended that the new republican governor pass a new round of austerity, which will further weaken the state’s economic recovery. Regular readers will recall that the IMF projects a multiplier of “well above 1” for spending cuts and increases during an economic recovery, and that even in ordinary circumstances they are likely to be above 0.7. This means that for every 1% cut in spending O’Malley makes, economic growth will fall by at least 0.7% and possibly as much as 1.5%. With the exception of 2011-2012, Maryland has made no major spending increases since 2009, and it has made substantial cuts since 2012. This suggests that O’Malley left a lot of growth on the table.

O’Malley’s problems go deeper. Inequality has been rising all over the country for decades, but until recently Maryland was one of the better performers. Between 1979 and 2007, 33.6% of Maryland’s economic growth went to the top 1%. This sounds bad, but the national average was far worse–53.9% of income went to the top 1% nationwide.

But under O’Malley, Maryland went from a better than average state to one of the worst states in the country. In the first two years of the recovery (2009-2011), the top 1% in Maryland saw an income gain of 11.1% while the rest saw their incomes fall by 1.2%. Only Arkansas, Arizona, Oregon, Illinois, Florida, and Colorado did worse on inequality. Maryland’s recovery was also weaker than the national average, even with the rich included–taken together, incomes grew 0.5% in Maryland during this period, while they grew by 1.5% nationwide. This data only covers 2009-2011, the period when O’Malley’s spending policies most favored growth. Remember, per capita income growth in Maryland would go on to slump further during 2011-2013:

O'Malley Maryland Per Capita Income

To be fair, O’Malley did raise the Maryland minimum wage to $10.10 from $7.25, a significant increase that will help counterbalance his spending cuts. But he also left out tipped workers and created loopholes and exemptions for a wide array of special interest groups, and the wage hike won’t be completed until 2018, when that $10.10 will most likely have been partially eroded by inflation.

O’Malley talks a big game–he says he wants a $15 minimum wage and wants to reinstate Glass-Steagall. As governor, he supported cap and trade, passed gun control legislation, took action on collective bargaining, and signed gay marriage into law. He backs immigration reform. But this is a guy who endorsed Clinton in 2007 and called her

…a champion for working families…

This should come as no surprise, because when we look at O’Malley’s record, we see what Clinton’s record might have looked like if she had spent the last 8 years serving as governor. The rhetoric outstrips the achievements, and the same negative trends that we saw at the beginning of the term remain at the end of it, in some cases even stronger than they were before. Maryland is a blue state. It should not have been difficult for O’Malley to pass more transformative legislation if he wanted to and had any level of talent. Either he lacks the desire or the capacity. At the federal level, O’Malley would likely get pushed further right. He was probably at his best as governor, and his best wasn’t particularly impressive.


Martin O’Malley is a Clinton clone and a Trojan Horse for the status quo. He uses Sanders-style rhetoric to obscure a record that is mediocre at best. This is a centrist, status-quo candidate masquerading as an innovator. Surely we can do better than this. Would I take him over Pataki or Huckabee? Yes, but I wouldn’t be happy about it. Against Clinton, I’d flip a coin. As far as policy record goes, he’s no competition whatsoever for Bernie Sanders.