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Michael Sean WintersDecember 30, 2009

Completing our "Best of 2009" awards, the award for the outstanding Catholic chief executive goes to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. A graduate of two of Washington’s most distinctively Catholic institutions, Gonzaga High School and the Catholic University of America, O’Malley went on to serve as mayor of Baltimore and, in 2006, he was the only challenger to knock off an incumbent governor.

I confess, up front, my bias: I live in Maryland so I see firsthand the improvements in government that O’Malley has achieved in the past three years. But, my anecdotal evidence was confirmed by the more systematic verdict on O’Malley’s tenure rendered by Governing magazine. It, too, named him the outstanding Governor of the year.

O’Malley is most famous for implementing Citistat in Baltimore, a program of statistical oversight of government, which he has now extended to the state level. Working with department heads, O’Malley developed a set of goals and the metrics to measure progress towards the attainment of those goals. I sat in on one of the meetings he held to measure progress and watched him grill his subordinates: The message was loud and clear that they should be prepared to give an accounting of their performance, and that this accountability was being exercised on behalf of the citizenry.

One of the great myths of conservative politics in America is, as Reagan famously put it, government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem. This fallacy may sit well with a Calvinistic appraisal of human nature with its emphasis on our fallen nature, but Catholic social teaching has always held that there is a distinct and positive role for government. It is fine for us writers to write about the power of government for good, but unless citizens experience their government as responsive and effective our words will ring hollow. O’Malley makes our words ring true.

There is another reason to note O’Malley’s tenure. He did what he promised to do in the campaign. He said that he would allow the voters to decide whether or not to allow slots at Maryland’s horse tracks, and he did so, despite pressure from a variety of groups to kill the proposal. He said he would amend Maryland’s previously regressive income tax, and he did so, working out a compromise when his initial proposal met with opposition in the legislature. He said he would take steps to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and he has implemented a comprehensive strategy to preserve this amazing natural resource. And, despite pressure to back gay marriage, O’Malley correctly stuck to his guns and favored a proposal for civil unions instead.

Not everything O’Malley has touched has turned to gold. He signed off on a decades-long proposal to build a light rail system connecting various suburbs of Washington, D.C. even though the proposal failed to reach the poorer suburbs where public transportation was most needed. Additionally, when the Base Realignment and Closure procedure of the federal government decided to vastly enlarge the facilities, and staff, at the Bethesda Naval Hospital, the proposed light rail was not changed to create a terminus at the Hospital but a mile south of it. Some plans, even those that have been in the works for a long time, need to be re-evaluated and changed when circumstances demand.

Yes, yes, yes. O’Malley is pro-choice. But, it is ridiculous to judge his tenure as governor on that issue when it has scarcely come up in a way that a governor could affect it. Judging O’Malley’s performance as governor based on his position on abortion would be like evaluating a football team based solely on the performance of its kick-off return team. They might be great and they might be dreadful, but the fate of the team has more to do with the quality of the quarterback. O’Malley has been a good quarterback for the state of Maryland. Just so, he wins my award for outstanding Catholic chief executive for 2009.

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Joseph Farrell
13 years 9 months ago
This is just awful.  I usually ignore the political posts this site, but to deal with the issue that is killing millions in a flippant statement like "Yes, yes, yes, governor O'Malley is pro-choice" is imprudent in judging the best Catholic chief executive.
The Church teaches that Abortion is murder and yet a man who believes in abortion rights is Mr. Winters choice for outstanding chief executive? By Catholic standards he is arguing that a man who believes in the legalization of murder is the best example of a Catholic politician.  How is this at all logical?
Finally, the comparison to a football team is just ridiculous.  In doing so he equates special teams with one aspect on lesser footing compared to others that are more important like defense and offense.  Are we to conclude then that in judging Mr. O'Malley Abortion = special teams while Citistat = offense or defense?
Pedrhaps I am dense, and I certainly do not mean to speak for the Church.  However, I don't believe I am out on a limb when I say that the Catholic Church, which is the framework in which he is judging the governor, would place a higher emphasis on defending human life than developing metrics for government oversight.
Jeff Bagnell
13 years 9 months ago
Reagan was not against all government, that is the fallacy.  He was against big government, a point of view Clinton came to adopt in order to get re-elected.  
This is an interesting series, and the choices are of course debatable, but the notion of a "best Catholic" civil servant is kind of jarring.  I wonder what JFK would have thought of it.  
As Justice Scalia once said, there is no "Catholic" way to be a Supreme Court Justice, and it's obvious that Scalia is a believing Catholic.  The Catholic legislator or executive or jurist does not oppose abortion on demand because he or she is Catholic but because it's against natural law.  It's not a Catholic principle but a moral one which can be apprehended by basic common sense and conscience. 
Beth Cioffoletti
13 years 9 months ago
It sounds like the time for Marylanders to end the use of the Death Penalty.
All 4 lines of my lineage come from the Catholics who settled on the shores of Maryland during the 1600s, so it seems natural to me that Maryland should be the most "Catholic" of all the states.  I'm not exactly sure what that means any more, but I'm pretty sure it would include not endorsing state sponsored murders.
13 years 9 months ago
Over Bobby Jindal who's state is currently creating jobs in a down economy?  Who is actually re-making the health care delivery system in a way that will lower costs & improve outcomes?  And who is pro-life?
Let me know when Winters DOESN'T opt for the liberal choice.
Michael Liddy
13 years 9 months ago
O'Malley proposed $23 million in Maryland taxpayer dollars for embryonic stem cell research this year. If you are Catholic, you know that embryonic stem cell research involves the killing of human beings for the benefit of other human beings (the ''their going to die anyway'' argument holds no water in the Catholic faith).
Michael Liddy
13 years 9 months ago
Michael Sean Winters said ''But, it is ridiculous to judge his tenure as governor on that issue (abortion) when it has scarcely come up in a way that a governor could affect it''. This is nonsensical. Inaction can be just as effective as action. The reason the issue of abortion has not ''come up in a way that a governor could affect it'' is because O'Malley has chosen to do absolutely nothing about the abortions laws of Maryland, which are among the most permissive of any state in the nation (NARAL A Rating, Abortionist determines if the parent is told, permanent Freedom of Choice, state Medicaid abortions, etc).

Governors can and do have a great effect on abortion policy in the United States. The work of the late Governor Casey not only affected the laws within the State of Pennsylvania but in each state in our nation (Planned Parenthood v Casey).

It's about time that Governor O'Malley stops disregarding the teachings of the Catholic Church on human life and that Michael Sean Winters stops giving that same teaching lip service. It's time to take this issue as seriously as our Church is asking us to do. Some people in this country are doing just that and they are the ones that deserve the support and recognition of Catholics, not pro-choice leaders.
13 years 9 months ago
"Yes, yes, yes. O’Malley is pro-choice. But, it is ridiculous to judge his tenure as governor on that issue when it has scarcely come up in a way that a governor could affect it".

Is there some sort secret handshake between the Jesuits and its staff that seals the pact to SET MURDER ASIDE? I would be wildly interested to know where the formation of your conscience transpired.
Jeff Bagnell
13 years 9 months ago
Funny.  Substitute "slavery" for "abortion" and you can see how non-progressive that statement is.  
david power
13 years 9 months ago
What a pity that the only writer on America capable of a surprise has fallen into a state of shill.It is really disturbing how easily you dismiss the life of the unborn as something that is more of a nuisance than anything.
It probably disturbs the general manichaen vision a little.That said ,at least I know that when you write there will be more than a sense of limp-wristed victimhood on offer.
It is telling too that those who comment here show their interests as wide ,unlike those who only comment on certain issues written by certain Jesuits which only confirm the truth of what Rosanne Barr said.
Mr Winters has by far the most profound theological vision of all of those working for America,but his peccadillo is democraticism. He is the other side of the coin to George Weigel.Unable to really transcend the boundaries of a stale political dialectic ,very distant from the Gospel and the Holy Truth of Catholicism.
Robert O'Connell
13 years 9 months ago
Once again, Mr. Winters goes out of his way to praise somebody antagonistic to Church teaching.  Would he nominate Judas as the most outstanding apostle?
Sean Enright
13 years 9 months ago
Governor O’Malley is a best-case product of a Catholic education that instructs us across a full spectrum of equally important life issues essential to human dignity and the common good - a just economy, responsible stewardship of the environment, universal access to quality health care – in addition to abortion.
As has been pointed out above, governors have little control over abortion policy.  But generally speaking, the number of abortions actually went up under Republican ''pro-life'' presidents like Reagan and Bush and down under ''pro-choice'' Democratic presidents like Clinton largely because the difficult solution for making abortion as rare as possible lies not in making it illegal, but by ensuring that women and families have adequate pre- and post-natal care, access to quality health care, good jobs and the other social supports that help them make a real choice about carrying a pregnancy to term.  Data shows women in poverty have much higher rates of abortion.
O’Malley’s fearlessness and determination in advancing the interests of the impoverished and the middle-class, while maintaining the necessary balance in encouraging good business and investment in the state, is considerable.  Maryland is not Louisiana, and one can’t compare apples and oranges so easily, without looking at a variety of state-government indices that would prove enormous differences between the two states and between the priorities and difficulties each state government must face.

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