O’Malley challenges McDonnell to debate, pushup contest

Mark Segraves, wtop.com

WASHINGTON – Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley took aim at his Republican counterpart from Virginia Monday, saying Gov. Bob McDonnell’s budget surplus was the result of “gimmicks” and accusing McDonnell of “suppressing” votes.

O’Malley, a Democrat, went on to challenge Virginia’s governor to a debate, followed by a test of personal strength.

“We can have a discussion about how we can work together to create jobs and opportunity now and it can be followed immediately by a pushup contest,” O’Malley quipped.

Appearing on WTOP’s “Ask The Governor” program, O’Malley used the show to take several shots at McDonnell.

When asked why Virginia is able to report a surplus each year under McDonnell without raising taxes, O’Malley referred to McDonnell’s borrowing of $620 million from the Virginia Retirement System – an amount to be paid back over time.

“He’s … done it by a number of other gimmicks, including sometimes short-funding their pension obligations,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley went on to criticize McDonnell for his reluctance to raise income taxes on the wealthy.

“Gov. McDonnell is a sworn opponent of asking millionaires to pay anything more for anything,” O’Malley said.

“When you see some of the short-funding of education and higher education that’s happening in Virginia, that some of those decisions that have been made recently while they have not come home to roost, are not in the best long-term interest of expanding opportunity or improving opportunity for children in Virginia,” he said.

On Virginia’s new voter ID law, O’Malley fired another shot at McDonnell.

“We don’t discourage people from voting in Maryland,” he said. “We don’t have those sort of voter suppression laws in our state that would be over in Virginia.”

Asked for a response, McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said “O’Malley just can’t stop talking about Virginia.”

“The commonwealth seems to infatuate him,” Martin said in an email. “Maybe it’s because so many Marylanders have recently moved here.”

“We welcome comparisons between our two states,” Martin added. “Gov. O’Malley keeps encouraging them, so we will keep on highlighting them. Maryland keeps raising taxes, and people and businesses keep leaving. Virginia keeps taxes low, and people and businesses keep moving in.”

Martin also provided a list of statistical comparisons between the states, including their respective unemployment rates.

“The unemployment rate in Maryland is 7.1 percent. In Virginia, it is 5.9 percent. That is the biggest difference between our two states in over a decade,” Martin said. “Traditionally, Maryland and Virginia have had very similar unemployment rates. But recently the states have been diverging greatly. The higher Maryland’s unemployment rate goes, the more we seem to hear from Gov. O’Malley. But the fact is, unemployment rates speak for themselves.”

O’Malley said a debate between the two governors – who are also the leaders of their parties’ respective governors associations – before the November election would be good for voters to see.

“We should have Gov. McDonnell and me in together for an hour so we can have a conversation, because really I think in a sort of microcosm it plays out a debate that’s happening nationally,” O’Malley said.

Martin tells WTOP McDonnell’s schedule is too busy for a debate. But he said one isn’t needed.

“We don’t need a debate to note the empirical evidence that Virginia has a lower unemployment rate, by far, and a much stronger economy,” Martin wrote. “And while Gov. O’Malley may want to bring this all down to pushups, there’s no need.

“Governors have their own, more gubernatorial, version of a pushup contest. It’s called the state unemployment rates. And Virginia wins.”

Follow Mark Segraves and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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