The Stump

What Mitt and Tommy Carcetti Have In Common

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Martin O'Malley, the Maryland governor who is now head of the Democratic Governors Association, is occasionally mentioned as a prospect for a national ticket and is the model for Tommy Carcetti on "The Wire," is now sparking fierce Republican opposition in Maryland with his push to limit sprawl development. From today's Washington Post:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) on Monday signed an executive order that is intended to curb sprawl and that could affect every facet of growth, from where schools are placed to which roads are built to whether rural landowners are permitted to develop their property.

Over vehement objections from Republicans, farmers and some city and county governments, O’Malley invoked a 37-year-old law allowing his administration to draft a master plan for Maryland development.

To enforce the guidelines, O’Malley said his administration in coming years would leverage billions of dollars in annual state aid. Local governments that encourage dense development in existing towns and cities will be rewarded with continued funding while jurisdictions that do not limit development of farmland and open space may see their state aid reduced.

That's pretty aggressive, huh? The state interfering with property rights and commercial business to goad development into certain areas to conform with progressive notions of how we should live and what our communities should look like. Well, as I reported a few weeks ago, O'Malley has a model in this area -- and it's not a Democrat.

Romney’s liberal heresies on health care, gay rights, and abortion are well established. Less well known is that, as governor of Massachusetts, he was a smart-growth acolyte. He hinted at this predilection during the campaign in 2002. “Smart growth, or purposeful planning, is a concept that will be in the governor’s office if I’m elected,” he said. After winning, he created a new “Office for Commonwealth Development” to oversee the transportation, environment, and housing departmentsand named as its chief Douglas Foy. It was a brash decision for a business-oriented politician: Foy was the head of the state’s Conservation Law Foundation and an ardent environmentalist who often commuted 20 miles by bike. “He was the bane of the business and development community,” Benjamin Fierro, the lobbyist for the state homebuilders’ association, told me. “My clients were very concerned about that.”

Romney and Foy wasted little time in putting smart-growth policies to work. The state, they declared, would take a “fix-it-first” approach to highway spendingrepairing existing roads instead of building new ones. They also pledged to cut the number of SUVs in the state fleet. In addition, the state put out a new highway-design manual intended to make towns more pedestrian-friendly, with narrower streets designed for slower driving speeds. “It was all really woolly, totally green, new-urbanist stuffand it was state policy,” says Anthony Flint, who covered land-use issues for The Boston Globe and went on to join Foy’s office in 2005. The biggest move came in 2004, when Romney signed legislation, dubbed Chapter 40R, providing funds to towns and cities that agreed to allow more high-density, multi-family housing. “It was fundamentally anti-sprawl. It was saying that the days of having a developer buy a Christmas tree farm and throw up a bunch of single-family homes on half-acre lots were over,” Flint recalls. “It was a real awakening.”

Of course, Romney edged away from all this later in his term as governor, as he began preparing for a presidential run. But maybe sometime he can get together with O'Malley in Baltimore -- a beer for O'Malley, a chocolate milk for Romney -- and they can get in some furtive talk about porches, bicycle lanes and walkable downtowns.

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