Governor Martin O’Malley may have taken a step back from the national stage to reflect and teach in suburban Newton, Massachusetts, but he is certainly not shying away from the issues at the heart of current American politics. In a talk entitled “Restoring Integrity to Our Democracy” at Boston College Law School on Tuesday, Gov. O’Malley contemplated the conditions that resulted in President Donald Trump’s election and urged action on a series of fronts in order to protect and revitalize our democratic system of government.
The former Governor of Maryland and Mayor of Baltimore, who just last year shared a debate stage with Democratic Party candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, struck an ominous tone at the outset about the current state of the country. He warned of the dangers of the President’s ideology, which he called “Trumpism,” before rejecting Pope Francis’ recent suggestion that we should “wait and see” what President Trump does before judging him. “Our political institutions are in a state of crisis,” he said. “Now we must ask what each of us will do.”
Among Gov. O’Malley’s calls to action were a Constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote for all Americans and reducing the big-money, corporate influence on politics. Noting to the room full of law students and professors that there is no explicit, fundamental right to vote in the Constitution, he described the United States as the only advanced democracy actively making it harder for people to vote. He proposed encouraging states to automatically enroll voters that use already-existing civic institutions, like the post office and Department of Motor Vehicles. Regarding money in politics, he called for publicly financed election campaigns and overturning the controversial Citizens United decision. Due to the unlimited potential for fundraising, he argued, members of Congress spend upwards of twenty hours per week calling financial contributors, which leaves them with less time to focus on issues that affect constituents.
Gov. O’Malley also harped on reforming the way we approach elections; he specifically targeted gerrymandered districts, which he became increasingly familiar with as Governor of Maryland, and the Electoral College, which he called a “relic of colonial America that no longer serves.” He stated that the current system drives people apart and does not allow for the moderate “Rockefeller Republicans” or “Blue Dog Democrats” of the past. He proposed implementing some form of ranked-choice voting, which “allow[s] for a greater degree of discernment and judgment,” and nonpartisan commissions that would oversee redistricting.
Even his own Democratic Party did not escape criticism. His displeasure with the party’s handling of debates was palpable as he recalled disproportionate speaking times, network-chosen podium positions and non-“prime time” television slots that competed with Christmas specials and the National Football League. He encouraged individuals to step up and transform the party by running for office and getting involved. He took aim at the quality of the media as well, encouraging those present to read and actually pay for news from reputable organizations. “The dissolution of the objective truth from our news coverage today,” he said, “is a very dangerous thing for our country.”
In the end, Gov. O’Malley asked us to strive for world in which we can find common ground and appreciate each other’s differences. He finished his talk with a quote from the oft-cited Judge Learned Hand, which reads, in part: “What is the spirit of moderation? It is the temper which does not press a partisan advantage to its bitter end, which can understand and will respect the other side, which feels a unity between all citizens.” It is clear that Gov. O’Malley feels we are a long way from the spirit and unity Hand identified, but also believes it is achievable if we take action.
Governor Martin O’Malley is the inaugural Rappaport Visiting Professor for the Spring 2017 semester. Thank you to Governor Martin O’Malley for his time and insight on Tuesday and throughout the semester, and thank you to the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy for making this event possible. You can read Gov. O’Malley’s full remarks in writing here.