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Days Away From Leaving Office, O'Malley Defends His Record

Gov. Martin O’Malley spent his last Friday in office talking with reporters, reflecting on his achievements and his future. Keen to set the record straight, he pointed to his own fiscal stewardship over the last eight years and said the numerous pieces of progressive legislation he signed are in line with  young people's values. He did not, however, say whether or not he’ll be running for president in 2016, though he reiterated that he’s “seriously considering” a run.

Before he sat down to talk to reporters, the governor toured the old senate chamber in the state house. The room where George Washington resigned his military commission as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army is being restored to replicate its Revolutionary-era design.

“It’s hard to imagine these guys talking like that, like ‘where’d you get your kitchen done?” O’Malley joked. “Like, ‘You got a tile guy?’”

Reflecting on his last days in office, standing in a room rife with history, he feels gratitude. “It makes me grateful for all of those people who came before us. It makes me grateful for having such a strong state and country and neighbors in the present,” O’Malley said.

Upstairs in his reception room, he spent more than an hour talking with reporters. The governor said  he’s proud of his work to reduce crime and expand health care.  And he shared some regrets; for example, he wishes he’d increased the gas tax sooner so he could have funded more infrastructure projects. But over his eight years in office, the governor signed a slew of progressive measures,  a track record he called practical, and forward looking.

“If you talk to people under 40 to get a sense for where our country is headed, issues like civil marriage equality, immigration reform, sensible gun safety legislation, I mean, these are pretty mainstream issues with the vast majority of Americans under 40,” the governor said. “I’ve never met a climate denier under 40, you know?”

O’Malley has long pondered running for president in 2016 – and says he remains undecided. He dodged questions about what his calculus might look like, but said his track record has national appeal, even if it leaves pundits under-whelmed.

“We have in our state the fourth lowest tax burden as a share of personal income than any state in the union. I know it runs counter to the 'truthiness' that we wallow in sometimes. But people around the country are pretty impressed with making your schools number one, five years in a row, with passing marriage equality, passing the DREAM Act, the character we demonstrated as a people in caring for the refugee children from Central American when others were talking about them like a jack rabbit invasion,” O’Malley said. “We’re a good and generous people and we’ve made a lot of progress in the toughest of times. And people all around the country are pretty impressed with that progress, I’ve found.”

O’Malley leaves office following a rough election year for Democrats. Republicans control both houses of Congress and flipped state houses and governorships across the country. Here in Maryland, his own lieutenant governor lost a bid to succeed him. O’Malley said people feel they’re falling behind economically, and Democrats failed to articulate a plan fix that.

“That’s what we need to do as a party, that’s what people expect us to do as a party. They expect us to solve problems.  And right now the biggest problem on the table, how do we get our middle class to grow again, how do we get wages to go up again after years of stagnation or decline. That’s what people want to hear from us,” O’Malley said.

As for his own Republican replacement, the governor says he’s had several cordial conversations with Gov.-elect Larry Hogan. He said he offered this advice:

“That the things that get watched are the things that get done. Surround yourself with the best people you can possibly find, and know whether the graphs are moving in the right direction or the wrong direction,” O’Malley said.

Outside the State House, moving  trucks were being loaded up. The O’Malleys  are moving back to Baltimore, which pleases him. The governor will take up a part-time gig at Johns Hopkins University and speak around the country. He’s shopping around his book, trying to find a publisher, and he says he’ll know soon if it’s time to run for office again.

Christopher Connelly is a political reporter for WYPR, covering the day-to-day movement and machinations in Annapolis. He comes to WYPR from NPR, where he was a Joan B. Kroc Fellow, produced for weekend All Things Considered and worked as a rundown editor for All Things Considered. Chris has a master’s degree in journalism from UC Berkeley. He’s reported for KALW (San Francisco), KUSP (Santa Cruz, Calif.) and KJZZ (Phoenix), and worked at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s filed stories on a range of topics, from a shortage of dog blood in canine blood banks to heroin addicts in Tanzania. He got his start in public radio at WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, when he was a student at Antioch College.