Martin O’Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore and governor of Maryland seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, said his track record of progressive leadership and accomplishments makes him best qualified to be the next president.
O’Malley’s comments came Saturday afternoon in an interview with the Iowa State Daily. He said voters can expect a lot more comparing and contrasting on where Democrats stand on issues, calling out fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton on a wide range of issues, including her ties to Wall Street, record on guns and her position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
At a forum in South Carolina on Friday night that aired on MSNBC, O’Malley also called out Bernie Sanders — a longtime independent — for just now saying he’s a Democrat to get on the ballot in states.
“You’re going to see a lot more comparison and contrasting on different approaches to leadership,” O’Malley said. “Don’t confuse reading polls and being principled and getting things done. I believe there is a big difference between being crafty and actually being a leader.”
O’Malley said Clinton represented Wall Street while she was a U.S. senator and does not want to reinstate tough regulations. He said Clinton “pumps out a smokescreen” to dodge her position on the issue, which O’Malley calls a “pretty fundamental difference” in the 2016 race.
Sanders has been the target of criticism on his past record on gun laws, but O’Malley said Clinton was “pandering” on the gun issue during her first run for president in 2008 when she went after President Obama on the issue.
O’Malley’s campaign called Clinton’s answer on the death penalty — which she said should be left up to states — a “cop-out,” and said Saturday that he supports abolishing the death penalty, as it does not deter crime.
He also said he is not paying attention to polls — which show him stuck around 5 percent in Iowa and nationwide — and that past figures in politics that were polling low have gone on to be successful.
“There were many people that were where I am in the polls and end up being the surprise that comes out of Iowa,” O’Malley said. “That’s the exciting thing about Iowa.”
O’Malley answered a wide range of questions — from student loans and debt to his positions on criminal justice reform and marijuana to why he is the best choice for voters.
O’Malley said Clinton and Sanders can talk about making college affordable, but he actually did it as governor in Maryland.
“We were the only state in the United States that went four years in a row without a penny increase in college tuition,” O’Malley said. “So I know something about this issue.”
O’Malley released a policy paper earlier this fall on specifics for education, including refinancing loans, tying minimum payments to incomes, calling on states to freeze public tuition and increase funding and pell grants.
“We’re the only nation on the planet that now saddles our kids with this sort of crippling college debt,” O’Malley said.
Clinton has released a plan she says will create “debt-free college,” while Sanders has said tuition at public universities should be totally free.
O’Malley said free tuition is not the way to go because only about one-third of the costs are actually tuition. Two-thirds are other things such as housing.
“This is from experience with having worked with universities and a board of regents — if you just start stroking federal checks to cover the total cost of tuition, you're going to touch off ever-escalating tuition costs," O'Malley said. "It’ll just keep going up, and that will drive up private universities, as well.”
On issues that can become bipartisan
O’Malley said he sees a “growing consensus” on a number of issues, including income inequality, gun control legislation and on criminal justice reform.
O’Malley said America is “waking up” on income inequality and many dispute that “trickle-down economics” is good for the economy.
He said that too many are killed in violent crime, and that too many are incarcerated unjustly.
“As governor, I reduced violent crime rate to a 30-year low, and I reduced our incarceration rate to a 20-year low,” O’Malley said. “I did it by doing things that actually work to save and redeem lives.”
Specifically, O’Malley said as governor he decriminalized marijuana and would like to see it reclassified as president. He said America “needs to be open” about a conversation on experiences happening in Colorado and Washington, where single states have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
O’Malley also called for more transparency on policing, and strengthening the relationship between police and communities — a position that arrives amid growing tension between police and communities after shootings and what some call excessive force.
On why he is the best choice
“Here’s my elevator pitch — we’ve come a long way since the recession of 2008,” O’Malley said. “We put forward a new leader in Barack Obama, who has actually made our country better. We’re creating jobs again and not losing them."
But there is a “growing injustice” in the United States, he said.
“We have growing income inequality, we have banks on Wall Street who have grown larger than they were eight years ago that still threaten to wreck our economy,” O’Malley said. “Fixing this sort of injustice is going to require a leader with principle and backbone. It’s going to require a new leader, and I don’t believe we are going to solve our problems as a nation by turning to polarizing figures of our past.”
He also said voters should not count him out based on low polling numbers.
“We’re going to resolve our problems with new leadership and bringing people together,” O’Malley said. He recalled when he was running for mayor of Balitmore, saying he had the support of just 7 percent of voters in a mostly African-American community, but he ended up winning with 54 percent of the vote.
“There are some things I’m not good at like playing guitar and singing,” O’Malley said, eluding to something he often does on the campaign trail. “I’ve won a lot of elections and I know how to govern and get things done.”