By ABBY BROWNBACK
WASHINGTON (December 1, 2010)Gov. Martin O'Malley was elected Wednesday as the next chair of what will be a slightly smaller caucus of Democratic governors when 19 or 20, pending a recount in Minnesota, take or return to office in January.
O'Malley, who will succeed Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as head of the Democratic Governors Association, emphasized the group's success in last month's election, and the need for fiscal responsibility in balancing budgets, for improvements to education, and for harnessing what he calls the new "innovation economy."
"Our country's in a fight for its economic future," O'Malley said. "It is a fight in which every state has a role and an important part to play.
"There is no way we are going to have a strong economy unless we invest in education and innovation."
Markell called O'Malley "absolutely the right man for this job," noting the Maryland governor's victory in what looked to be a tough re-election bid against former Gov. Bob Ehrlich.
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue, who was elected as the DGA's vice chair, echoed O'Malley's positions on education and a new economy that hinges on fields like bioscience, nanotechnology and cybersecurity.
"The new innovation economy requires a new way of thinking," Perdue said. "We all get there the same way—through education."
O'Malley played down the effect his new position would have on his national profile, reminding reporters he has served as vice chair for two years. Rather, it would be more convenient for the DGA chair to be located close to its Washington headquarters—one of Maryland's competitive advantages, and one that fosters a close working relationship between state leaders and the Congressional delegation, O'Malley said.
Laura Hussey, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said the position will allow O'Malley to increase his stature in national politics, to direct political action for Democrats, and to be a more credible advocate on policy issues at the federal level.
"It will increase the esteem in which O'Malley is held by fellow governors and other politicians," Hussey said.
And if other Democrats come to owe their political successes to O'Malley and the DGA, "that strengthens his ability later to fundraise and call in endorsements," said Hussey, who thinks O'Malley will run for president at some point.
A higher profile role for O'Malley could mean more travel outside of the state, but Hussey said O'Malley will stay visible in the state, particularly as he shepherds Maryland through its budget crisis.
"He's going to know he can't fall out of favor with his own citizens," she said.