In 2016 the African American vote is not a lock for the Democrats or the Republicans. NBCBLK is running a series of articles posing practical questions towards each candidates running for office: Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bernie Sanders, Scott Walker, John Kasich and Carly Fiorina for starters.
We don’t presume an “African American” political agenda, (something that may or may not exist for that matter). Instead this series looks at policy and home turf issues, and evaluates how those factors would specifically impact African American voters. We will look at existing policy, statements and legislation, and ask questions based on what the candidate has already laid forth and hopefully their campaigns will feel compelled to respond.
On paper Martin O’Malley is a fantasy candidate for a Democratic Primary voter in 2016. The white city council member managed to get elected, then re-elected as mayor of Baltimore (1999-2007) where 63 percent of the population is black. He then served two terms as governor of Maryland (2007-2015) at time when many Democratic states were flipping to Republican governors (Chris Christie (R-NJ), Scott Walker (R-WI) and Scott Snyder (R-MI) for example).
Like many of his Republican counterparts O’Malley was pretty revolutionary, implementing policies from his party’s wish lists. Comprehensive Healthcare? Check. Ending the Death Penalty? Check. Legalizing Gay marriage? Check. He didn’t turn Maryland into a shining utopia (or Baltimore for that matter). Problems exist, but compared to his Democratic rivals for the party nomination in 2016 O’Malley’s record of government management and accomplishments is far deeper and more visible.
However, he has never polled higher than 10 percent in the race despite only facing 4 other candidates. O’Malley’s legislative past has probably had the most direct impact on African Americans—of any candidate on either side, so there are several key questions he should be willing to answer about his record.
1. How do you propose to lower Infant Mortality Nationally?
Martin O’Malley lists 15 Goals to Rebuild the American Dream on his campaign website, and number 12 is a 10 percent reduction in the U.S. infant mortality rate by 2020. This is a laudable goal, considering the fact that the United States is ranked an embarrassingly low 56th in infant mortality across the globe.
This issue is of particular importance to the African American community since black infant mortality is three times the rate of whites and twice the rate of Latinos even when socioeconomic status is accounted for.
O’Malley’s track record tackling the issue of infant mortality as governor in Maryland is impressive. In 2007, as a first term governor, he specifically set out to lower African American infant mortality by 10 percent in a decade. By 2012, five years before his policy benchmark, African American infant mortality in Maryland had dropped by 14 percent to 10.3 deaths per 1,000 births.
In fact the overall infant mortality rate in Maryland dropped by 21 percent from 2008 to 2012. To put this in context, GOP candidate John Kasich’s state of Ohio is ranked first in the nation in African American infant mortality.
Much of what O’Malley accomplished was through increased funding for targeted healthcare programs and education in the poorest areas of the state, with the help of a friendly Democratic legislature. African American voters should ask O’Malley how he plans to accomplish the same infant mortality goals on a national scale when he will likely have a Republican controlled House and Senate opposed to federal healthcare spending.
2. What will you do about Mass Incarceration and Criminal Justice reform?
Martin O’Malley has a very mixed record when it comes to criminal justice reform policy. On the one hand as governor he ended the death penalty and restored voting rights to some felons. On the other hand as Mayor of Baltimore he implemented “Zero Tolerance” policing and Compstat, a statistics based crime enforcement program, which often caused as many problems as it solved.
While crime dropped in Baltimore, police corruption and fraud went up. Under CompStat officers were notorious for ‘juking the numbers’, for example, downgrading rapes to ‘assaults’ and underreporting other crimes to hit their benchmarks.
The process got so bad there was an entire storyline on the Wire dedicated to officers fixing crime stats. In 2007 the state settled with the ACLU and NAACP after they filed a joint suit charging that O’Malley’s CompStat policy unfairly targeted African Americans, led to illegal arrests and discriminatory sentencing .
After an embarrassing experience with #BlackLivesMatter protesters at this past summer, O’Malley was the first Democratic candidate to lay out a comprehensivecriminal justice reform white paper. He’s proposed ways to reduce crime, incarnation rates, and hold police more accountable. The question for African Americans voters is quite clear. What is Martin O’Malley’s real plan for criminal justice reform, the new rhetoric he’s used during the campaign or the 20 years of policy he showed in Maryland?
3. How will you protect Civil Liberties and Privacy Rights?
Martin O’Malley’s signature management style is a focus on “Big Data”. As mayor he first used CompStat, then created CityStat and then implemented StateStat as data collection and policy implementation systems.
These policies have won him mostly praise, but what happens if he becomes president? Data mining to figure out which state agencies have chronic absenteeism in the name of “good government” is one thing, but what happens when he’s president and employs the same data mining in the name of ‘security’ or ‘efficiency’?
Wikileaks and Edward Snowden have already shown how recent administrations have collected personal data from phone companies and social media networks on American citizens. What happens if a president is elected whose whole career is based on collecting as much data on people as possible?
“Big Data” has been used to justify horrible discrimination in government service and the private market. African Americans should ask how Martin O’Malley will use Big Data and avoid discriminatory policies and violations of civil rights.
This article first appeared online at NBC BLK.