Md. governor speaks about funding, public safety, politics

May 10, 2008

On Thursday, when Hagerstown was Maryland's Capital for a Day, Gov. Martin O'Malley met with Herald-Mail reporters and editors at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown campus downtown.

The following questions and O'Malley's answers are from that meeting, with editing for clarity and length.

Herald-Mail: Can you explain your role in restoring the funding that was cut from the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown? And did Senator Munson's vote on the computer tax repeal play a part?

O'Malley: Yeah, most probably it did .... Senator (Donald F.) Munson was very, very concerned about the cut and what this would do here. And on the House side, he had a terrific ally in John Donoghue as well. I distinctly remember it being a cause of great concern for them in those final couple of days ....

Herald-Mail: What would you say your role was in restoring the funding?

O'Malley: ... I think we played a big role, and that's why we're proud to be here. It was not an accident that we scheduled one of our stops in Hagerstown for this location. We know that this is not only a center of learning in the Hagerstown area and Western Maryland, but it's also a place of great hope because of what it portends and indicates for the future of Western Maryland and Hagerstown. I'd like to think we played a very major role and for validation of that, I'd ask you to ask Senator Munson and John Donoghue .... A part of the challenge there was kind of a ... titan clash of rural interests. I believe the folks in southern Maryland were anxious to see the same level of investment happen in their area as has happened here.


Herald-Mail: It's been nearly 18 months since the Maryland Court of Appeals forced the state to put a hold on the death penalty. Why haven't you put forward new regulations that would allow the death penalty to be used again?

O'Malley: ... Three reasons. One is the fact that the United States Supreme Court took up the issue sometime, was it last spring? They decided to consider the issue and recently came out with a decision.

Also during that time, and I testified for its repeal on both the House side and the Senate side, there was an active bill for repeal under consideration, which failed to get out of committee, but only failed to get out of committee by one vote.

And then the third reason is that in this latest session, before the Supreme Court ruled on its issue ... both the House and the Senate passed a bill requesting that a commission be appointed to look at the effectiveness of a death penalty, which was one of the main arguments ... in favor of its repeal. I will be signing the bill if I haven't already on the request for a commission on the death penalty and I need to appoint those members ....

I need to figure out if the proper order of moving forward, as the people of laws that we are -- I mean, we choose to be governed by laws and we don't really have an option of choosing which ones we enforce and which ones we don't, especially when we're the chief executive. So, I need to figure out the proper manner forward with regard to the intersection of two things that are happening simultaneously, really, and that is the commission's work and also those regulations. We've already had a couple meetings on it and we're probably going to have a couple more ....

Herald-Mail: One main argument raised in Washington County against a death penalty repeal is that it eliminates a penalty against a prison inmate who murders a correctional officer. How do you defend a repeal in those cases?

O'Malley: That's one argument against it, and I believe that was a reason why there was a compromise floated last session, which I believe would have been a step forward, to have reserved the death penalty, or restricted it only to those cases, and cases involving public safety officers. Again, I think that's a compromise that would have led us forward, but there was not a consensus on the committee or elsewhere to push that.

I'm not sure whether that's born out in the facts. I think the biggest threat that we had in our state to the lives of correctional officers over the last 10 years was the deplorable, horrendous, obsolete place known as the Maryland House of Corrections, which we closed in the first 50 days of this administration. And I believe that by closing it, that we have done something positive for protecting the lives and the safety of our correctional officers.

But I certainly understand and respect those who feel differently on the death penalty than I do. For my part, I do not believe that there's any evidence that the death penalty is a deterrent or has ever been a deterrent to violent crime.

As an example of that, I will point to what is for the first third of this year in Maryland, without the death penalty, a 24 percent reduction in homicides, probably the biggest reduction that you'll find in 30 years, I'm guessing, just off the top of my head, for that one third of the year.

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