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O'Malley struggles in second year of second term

Sunday - 6/24/2012, 2:05pm  ET

Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - It's been a tough year so far for Maryland's Democratic governor, despite the benefit of strong Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.

Gov. Martin O'Malley's push to develop wind energy is a two-time loser, despite a scaled back version this year. His gas tax proposal stalled. A package of budget legislation unraveled in an embarrassing meltdown in the final hours of this year's legislative session, requiring a special session last month to finish the job.

Frequent appearances on national television news programs to bolster President Barack Obama and trips out of the state as the head of the Democratic Governors Association have some questioning how tuned in O'Malley is on the political home front.

The latest setback happened Wednesday. O'Malley's plans to call another special session to consider expansion of gambling veered off track, just hours after the governor said he believed consensus among lawmakers would come together in a work group.

"It feeds into a narrative that his attention is too divided," said Todd Eberly, an assistant professor of political science at St. Mary's College of Maryland.

Others, however, note that O'Malley must work with highly experienced presiding officers in the Legislature who are well-known for having strong ideas of their own.

Donald Norris, chairman of the Department of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the difficulties over gambling are due more to the dynamics between the Senate president and the House speaker, rather than a sign that O'Malley is not engaged. O'Malley, after all, holds an office with unusually strong budget powers compared to his counterparts in other states.

"This is the strongest gubernatorial office in the country and this particular governor is a strong governor, so my guess is if he wanted this badly enough and he thought the timing was right, he'd pull out all the stops, but I don't think that's the case," Norris said.

The setbacks and high-profile appearances outside of Maryland have Republicans saying O'Malley's national ambitions have led him astray. Delegate Anthony O'Donnell, the House minority leader, said the governor has only himself to blame for this year's problems.

"It's outrageous," O'Donnell said. "He ought to quit running around the country and stay off the Sunday morning news shows. That's why we pay him a salary. He's not leading this state."

Raquel Guillory, O'Malley's spokeswoman, said that's a cheap shot. O'Malley's television appearances often occur on the weekends.

"It's an easy hit for them to attempt to take at him, but it's just wrong," Guillory said. "The vast majority of his time is spent here doing his job as governor."

Still, O'Malley's high-profile political work does take him out of state during the week. He was in New York at the end of last week for DGA duties and an appearance on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," where he backed Obama and shunted aside questions about whether he is considering a run for the White House in 2016.

O'Malley aides are quick to note the governor won significant victories in an ambitious legislative session _ particularly on environmental issues and same-sex marriage. Maryland lawmakers also agreed to share teacher pension costs with counties, a difficult debate that has been boiling for years.

"There was a big focus on how things ended on one particular topic versus what was a good year," said Joe Bryce, O'Malley's chief legislative officer, referring to the budget deal breakdown.

Bryce also argued that the governor is fully engaged.

"I never miss him," Bryce said. "If I need an answer from him, I get an answer from him. If he has something he wants me to do, I know that he has something that he wants me to do. I have a pretty _ and I think this is true of most of his senior people _ I have a very fluid and seamless relationship with him from a communication perspective."

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