Martin O’Malley on How the Democratic Party Can Make a Comeback in Rural America

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 7:36 pm

Former Democratic Maryland Governor and Presidential Candidate Martin O'Malley says the Democratic Party can make a comeback after last year's election losses so long as the focus is on jobs and wages and not ‘distractions’ from the Trump administration, like alleged ties to Russia or the Paris agreement.

O’Malley speaks Thursday at the Purchase Area Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner in rural, far west Kentucky. He said he wants to help the party at local levels spread the message of “opportunity for all,” an emphasis on jobs and wages in cities and rural areas alike.

"And that's why I'm coming to western Kentucky. We need to win back school boards. We need to win back judges races. We need to win back sheriffs races. We need to rebuild this party from the ground up,” he said.

O'Malley ran against Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in last year's election and suspended his campaign after coming in a distant third in the Iowa caucus. O'Malley was term-limited as governor. Prior to that he served as Mayor of Baltimore.

O’Malley said young people “are the great hope” for the Democratic party and encourages them to run for office like he did at the age of 27. He said no one could stop him from ‘knocking on doors.’ And predicts more young people and women will run for office in the next election. "We need to bring forward new perspectives, new ideas, new leadership, new blood in order to reinvigorate this party,” he said.

On how to make America bipartisan again, he said young people are not as ideological as those who are older and that they feel more connected to ‘the larger system.’ He said in entrepreneurial politics, young people are more focused on ‘what works’ and ‘good policies’ that bring results.

Kentucky’s Jackson Purchase favored Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Primary and they were nearly evenly split in the state. A division in the party emerged in last year’s election with the ‘establishment’ brushing against the ‘outsider.’ Notably, the DNC race between front runners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison echoed this divide (however, Perez and Bernie Sanders have since mounted a ‘unity’ tour).

O’Malley said he doesn’t believe there is a divide in the Democratic Party and said diversity is a strength. "The struggle for the Democratic party right now is that Donald Trump provides so many tempting targets to criticize that it's hard for us to stay focused on the real reason that we even have a party and that is to strengthen and build up the ranks of an upwardly mobile middle class."

He said the Trump administration “reeks of a criminal enterprise” and feels people will turn to leaders who are “clear and sober-minded,” citing Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear as an example of a leader in the Kentucky Democratic Party. He said people feel a “great anxiety” that their children will not enjoy a quality of life afforded to them and their parents generations.

"We can change that, but we're not going to change it by shoving people off of healthcare rolls or by  holding down wages. You can't lift up the cause of the American middle class by holding down American wages with ideological things like 'right to work for less' laws and 'busting up' labor unions," he said, adding that he wanted to keep the minimum wage above the poverty line, make college more affordable and make it easier for people to train for higher wage jobs.

He also said Governor Matt Bevin’s efforts to roll back expanded Medicaid amount to ‘fanning ideological flames’ rather than improve wellbeing. Former Democratic Governor Steve Beshear expanded Medicaid under Obamacare in 2014.

O’Malley said rolling back Obamacare won’t help Kentuckians deal with issues like diabetes and cancer. "Lots of people are for rolling back Obamacare until they understand that that's their healthcare. In Kentucky, your governor has proposed kicking 86,000 people off of healthcare rolls. That's not going to do anything to improve the wellbeing of the people of Kentucky,” he said.

That’s the estimated number of fewer people enrolled in the Kentucky Medicaid program by 2021 if Bevin’s plan is approved. Bevin’s office has said that the program is too expensive. Conservatives, like Kentucky Republican 1st District Congressman James Comer, have argued that the shrinking healthcare market and fewer options due to Obamacare have caused premiums to go up and that repealing Obamacare would bring competition back to the marketplace and thus, lower premiums.

O’Malley agreed that this is a challenge, but said that insurers can’t make a profit if there are changes in Medicaid eligibility. He said Medicaid makes the healthcare market stable and said Governor Bevin’s proposed changes make it harder on the markets. "What businesses hate more than anything else is unpredictability. If you tell insurance companies what the rules are and you stick to them, then we can make it work and make progress," he said.

O’Malley also said as governor he was jealous of Kentucky’s state-run exchange Kynect and said it’s unfortunate that Bevin dismantled the program. Bevin has said Kynect was “redundant” with the federal exchange and “adds no value.”

On the 2016 presidential race, he said, “It was a great honor, a great blessing and a great frustration." He hasn’t made a decision on whether to run for president again, “I just might. It's too early for that." For now, he said he’s enjoying to to places other national Democrats don’t visit as often as they should, like Alaska and Wyoming, to help the Democratic Party at local levels.

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