Martin O'Malley didn't mince words when discussing his immigration reform plan. ANDREW GOMBERT/EPA
He’s not Bernie Sanders, the surging alternative to Hillary Clinton on the Democratic Party left, but something tells you former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley could catch on with Democratic voters once next year’s primaries begin.
On Tuesday O’Malley unveiled the boldest immigration reform plan of any presidential candidate. He ventured into the Clinton stronghold of New York City to do it, and sat with the Daily News for a wide-ranging interview.
And he didn’t mince words.
“The enduring symbol of America is not the barbed wire fence,” O’Malley said. “It is the Statue of Liberty.”
Blasting those who take “Donald Trump-like detours of scapegoating people,” he vowed to go beyond President Obama in using executive power to help the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.
O'Malley has much to do to take on Hillary Clinton, but he could catch on with Democratic voters when the primaries begin. Alex Wong/Getty Images
O'Malley has much to do to take on Hillary Clinton, but he could catch on with Democratic voters when the primaries begin.
He unveiled his plan surrounded by a half dozen activists and pointed to his track record on immigration and other issues affecting low-wage workers.
While he was governor, O’Malley expanded access to driver’s licenses, signed a bill allowing undocumented college students to pay the same in-state tuition as other residents, increased government contracts for Latino businesses and raised the state minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. When opponents forced a statewide referendum on the tuition program, O’Malley waged a successful campaign to make Maryland the first state to pass the DREAM Act through popular vote.
And making college education accessible is personal for him.
“We’ve gone from the GI bill of my dad’s day to the big bill forever of my children,” he told me, noting he and his wife had to take out $300,000 in loans to finance college for their two daughters
Right now, O’Malley is barely known outside his own state.
Martin O'Malley speaks about his immigration reform plan in New York on Tuesday. Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News
But once the televised debates start, that could change.
He is a charismatic speaker, the youngest by far of the major declared Democratic candidates, the only one with experience as both a mayor (of Baltimore) and a governor. And unlike Sanders, he has led a city and a state that mirrors the country’s ethnic and racial diversity.
Clearly to the left of Clinton, in a party that has shifted dramatically in that direction, O’Malley opposes the Keystone XL pipeline and oil drilling in the Arctic and off-shore; he wants the return of the Glass-Steagall Act regulating banks; and he supports a financial transaction tax for Wall Street traders.
His populism is not laced with bitterness toward the wealthy.
“Anger and fear never built a great nation,” he noted.
The man from Maryland is hoping immigration activists will spread the word among the fast-growing Latino electorate of what he’s already done — and how much more he could accomplish with their vote.