O'Malley Says "No" to Private Prisons, Vague on Immigrant Detention

Arnie Alpert on May 31, 2015
Martin O'Malley responded to questions about immigrant detention and nuclear weapons at a house party in Gilford NH.

Had the weather been good, Governor Martin O’Malley’s first New Hampshire house party after officially declaring his candidacy might have been outdoors, looking across the valley at Mount Belknap.    But it was raining hard, so dozens of people were squeezed into a Gilford home when O’Malley arrived.

I was near the door when he walked in, so I introduced myself, praised him for his leadership in abolishing Maryland’s death penalty, and asked for clarification of his views on nuclear weapons.   “A couple weeks ago you were in Manchester and a guy named Curtis asked you a question about nuclear weapons policy, and I thought you told him you support something called ‘nuclear weapons modernization,’ a trillion dollar plan to expand our nuclear weapons capacity.  Did he hear you wrong?” I asked.

“He probably heard me wrong,” O’Malley responded.  But then he added, “I’m always in favor of modernizing our weapons systems.”  We continued on for a bit.  “I think we can save dollars by modernizing our nuclear forces and reducing the number,” he said.  I suggested modernizing our diplomatic efforts instead and offered a briefing on nuclear weapons.  A staffer handed me a card.

As the former Maryland governor worked the room, we crossed paths again in the back corner.  Gail asked him, “How do you feel about Citizens United?”  “We need to overturn it,” O’Malley responded without hesitation.  “Yay,” Gail exclaimed, and proceeded to make sure the governor was familiar with Doris “Granny D” Haddock, a favorite daughter of nearby Laconia and in her elder years a champion for reforming the campaign finance system.

When he had shaken enough hands, Gov. O’Malley climbed on top of a piano bench, where with his head nearly touching the ceiling he launched into his stump speech, a slight variation on the one he had delivered at his Baltimore announcement the day before.  After touching on the threat to the “American dream” from rising inequality, the importance of reforming the immigration system and raising the minimum wage, and the need to expand Social Security, not privatize it, he began to take questions.  

Judy asked another question about the trillion dollar nuclear weapons modernization program, and again O’Malley indicated he thinks it’s a way to save money and reduce the size of the stockpile.  (See report here.)

I was called on during what he called the “lightning round.”

After noting that he addressed immigration reform in his stump speech, I asked, “Can we end the federal mandate that requires 34,000 immigrants to be locked up on a daily basis, mostly in private prisons?”

“I’m not in favor of private prisons,” Gov. O’Malley responded.  “When you pay hospitals according to how many beds they fill up, it’s no wonder health care costs go up.  If you pay prisons according to how many cells they can keep filled, where does that lead?”  Then he talked about his record of closing Maryland prisons and reducing recidivism. 

I’d still like to hear more from him about ending immigrant detention.  

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Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.