It's open season for federal employees as well as many privately-employed people to change their health plan selection for next year. We speak with experts for tips and will take your questions about how to make the right choice for you and your family.
D.C. gears up for a special election to replace a former lawmaker now headed to prison. Maryland braces for a special session to reconcile the state’s budget woes. And new polls suggest Virginia is in store for barn-burning races later this fall. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- David Catania D.C. Councilmember (I-At Large); Chairman of the Committee on Health
- Bobby Scott Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Va., 3rd District)
- Angela Alsobrooks Maryland State's Attorney, Prince George's County
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Same Sex Marriage and the Virginia Vote
In November 2006, Virginia voters approved an amendment to the Commonwealth’s constitution banning gay marriage. Ballot question 1, which amended Virginia’s Bill of Rights, passed with 57% of the vote. This map shows how Virginia voted, broken down by congressional district. Virginia’s 3rd District, currently represented by Bobby Scott (D), was one of only two districts to vote against the amendment:
D.C. council member David Catania talked about the city’s system for issuing medical marijuana licenses:
Alsobrooks said that the ability to gather DNA evidence from people in Maryland who have been charged, but not yet convicted, of crimes can be a “crucial tool” in prosecuting murder and rape cases in the state. Recently, Maryland’s highest court declared the practice unconstitutional, and the matter may later proceed to the U.S. Supreme Court:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Here's why we say "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood.
MR. TOM SHERWOODUh oh.
NNAMDIBecause he's not only our resident analyst and an NBC 4 reporter, but he's the only person who can tell you who all of these people are: Rae Zapata, Ruth Marshall, Drew Hubbard, Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Ron Magnus, John Cheeks, Kenyan McDuffie, Delano Hunter, Frank Wilds, Tim Day. Who are all those people?
SHERWOODThey all want to be not Harry Thomas.
SHERWOODThey want the end of Tuesday's special election in Ward 5 in Northeast Washington to replace the now felon and soon-to-be-going-to-prison Harry Thomas Jr.
NNAMDIThis election takes place, as we told you earlier, on Tuesday, May 15. And with so many candidates and this being the only election occurring on that day, is turnout expected to be really, really low?
SHERWOODWell, generally, special elections are. And with so many candidates -- I mean, The Post did a story, I think, summarizing who they -- it thought was the four most viable candidates, given fundraising and activity seen in the ward. But it's very difficult to cover, for example, a radio station or a TV station to cover 10, 11 legal candidates and give then any kind of air time to -- makes it worthwhile for the people there.
SHERWOODI do hope anyone who has any interest in Ward 5, whether you live there or have friends or family there, they really ought to pay attention. It's been a horrendous time with what's happened to Harry Thomas Jr., whether you liked him or now loathe him for what he did. But the people need to move forward by electing someone they think can lead them out of that wilderness.
NNAMDIAnd do you -- are you handicapping anyone in this race?
SHERWOODNo, because I think it's really unfair. I've avoided saying names because I have been out. I've driven around the ward a few times now to get a sense of it and talk to some people. But I haven't reported on it the way that I'd feel comfortable naming names.
NNAMDIWell, I'm naming names. Here are your choices once again...
SHERWOODYou can name all of them.
NNAMDII will. Rae Zapata, Ruth Marshall, Drew Hubbard, Shelly Gardner, Kathy Henderson, Ron Magnus, John Cheeks, Kenyan McDuffie, Delano Hunter, Frank Wilds and Tim Day. You make your choice Tuesday, May 15.
SHERWOODAnd early voting is -- they had early voting started on Saturday and...
NNAMDIExactly right. So -- well, since our next guest is involved in law enforcement, let's talk about law enforcement for a while because the police chief of the Metropolitan Department of the District of Columbia, Cathy Lanier, got a new five-year contract, which it does not technically give her a raise, does it?
SHERWOODWell, no, it doesn't -- flatly does not give her a raise for the five years, $253,000 a year for five years. She is -- because she will have had 25 years of service, she is eligible for a 5 percent bonus, I think, in 2015, maybe 2016.
NNAMDIBut you also reported on her response to a story that was carried in The Washington Times indicating that she and her partner who is also a sergeant in the Metropolitan Police Department are somehow making more money than they should.
SHERWOODWell, first of all, if I were a sergeant in the police department...
NNAMDIFor 33 years, he's been (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWell, I know. And I would just -- I just think we ought to have them on. I just think it's extraordinary, that if you're a sergeant who's dating the chief of police, I just don't know what kind of pillow talk that would be. But, anyway, get back to the story.
NNAMDIHe may have been her superior at one point.
SHERWOODWell, who knows? But, wait, that might make it even worse for them -- for her.
NNAMDIBecause he's been in the force 10 years longer than she has.
SHERWOODI don't know -- I just -- let's move back to the public policy issue here, if there is.
NNAMDINo, no, let's stay with pillow talk for a while. I like that.
SHERWOODIt's been a rough week, and Lord knows...
NNAMDIOK, go ahead.
SHERWOOD...what I might say.
NNAMDIOK, go. Go ahead, public policy.
SHERWOODThe Washington Times reported that this sergeant has made a great deal of overtime in the special operations division, $34,000 in addition, putting the salary well over $100,000. And together, they make about $400,000 a year. And it's suggested, because they own a house together in suburban Maryland, that the chief lives there with him and not in her legal place of residence in...
NNAMDIIn the District.
SHERWOOD...Fort Lincoln, New Town, in Northeast Washington. And she went on WTOP Radio -- if I can say those call letters -- and pretty well dismissed it all as a personal cheap shot against her. She says she lives in the District. She pays taxes here. She said to us, lots of taxes. And she said it's -- and she just acknowledged that she owns the house in the suburbs, and she refinanced and paid a great deal more in the refinancing cost because she doesn't claim it as her personal residence.
SHERWOODAnd she said, as to the overtime issue for the sergeant, he's one of two dozen officers, and he's not even the top-performing person in terms of overtime. And they do things like the demonstrations -- Occupy D.C., presidential things, so she pretty well dismissed the story. And there was no -- in the story itself, there was no smoking gun kind of evidence that she had done something to favor him either where they live or how he does his job.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, always interested in the substance of the issue, but in this particular case, apparently interested in the possible pillow talk as well. Fortunately, we didn't go there.
SHERWOODNo, we did not.
NNAMDIJoining us now in studio is Angela Alsobrooks. She is Maryland state attorney for Prince George's County. Angela Alsobrooks, good to see you again. Thank you for joining us.
MS. ANGELA ALSOBROOKSThank you so much for having me. Good afternoon.
NNAMDIThe highest court in Maryland -- and if you'd like to join this conversation, now is the time to call us, 800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for the Maryland state's attorney for Prince George's County, 800-433-8850. The highest court in Maryland recently declared unconstitutional a Maryland law that allows DNA to be collected from people charged but not yet convicted of violent crimes.
NNAMDIWe talked with Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler earlier this week. He told us that he thinks that it's a crucial tool for law enforcement and that he's hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will look into the matter. It is my understanding you feel the same way. Why?
ALSOBROOKSAbsolutely. We do feel that it really is a crucial tool for us. I'll give you an example. We had a conviction two weeks ago in the case of Billy Joe Simon. This was a cold case, a homicide that occurred about 10 years ago. And we were able to solve the case and then to later earn a conviction in a cold murder case using DNA evidence. We find, especially in homicides and in rape cases, this evidence becomes a critical tool for us. And we agree with the attorney general that we hope that the Supreme Court will take a look at it and reconsider.
NNAMDIWell, let me cut to the chase. The hub of the argument here is that, I guess, you make the argument that there is really no difference between fingerprints and DNA. And we're talking here about people who are arrested and charged for a crime but not necessarily convicted. Other people say the crucial difference is that fingerprints only tell you about the individual.
NNAMDIDNA can also tell you about the relatives of the individual and that, A, what happens to that DNA if the person is not convicted of a crime? And, B, when that DNA is sent to the federal level, there is no Maryland jurisdiction over how it will be used, so it can be used to tell whether my cousin committed a crime someplace. What do you say in response to that?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, I can -- what I can say to that is this: If you are exonerated of a crime that includes DNA evidence that's been collected to you -- from you as an arrestee, you have the right to have your attorney file to have that evidence destroyed, so...
NNAMDIOtherwise you're not going to destroy it, huh?
ALSOBROOKSOtherwise it remains in that database.
SHERWOODJust DNA, or all kinds of evidence?
ALSOBROOKSNo. If you have your DNA sample collected as an arrestee and you are later exonerated, found not guilty of that crime, you can take -- your attorney can then file a request using the certified copy of that not guilty and have that evidence destroyed, and so it is not the case that if you are exonerated, the DNA remains in that database in perpetuity, or it doesn't have to.
NNAMDIIf you do not -- it doesn't have to remain in perpetuity. If you do nothing, it can. You have no control over what happens when it's sent to the federal government, however.
ALSOBROOKSNo. We do not have any control over what happens if or when it's been sent to the federal government.
NNAMDIAnd what happens if the law changes in Maryland at a later date that allows you to hold on to that DNA, even if my attorney tries to get it removed after I'm exonerated?
ALSOBROOKSThen we're able to use it as a tool if your DNA matches a later sample. And so, generally, what happens, even in the case that I mentioned, is if you are later arrested and your DNA is collected and you -- and a match occurs, then it will -- it gives us a way of solving some of the other cases, a rape case, homicide cases, and we are able to use that evidence.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you have questions or comments. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODHow many cases -- how many -- what percentage of cases involve DNA matters now? It's a growing percentage, I'm sure, but I don't get a sense of -- I know it's all over television crime shows. But how big is it in terms of crime fighting?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what? Probably not as often as you think. I can give you these numbers. Since 2009, talking about this DNA where an arrestee has his or her DNA collected, we've had nine such cases. We have charged -- in five of those cases, we have filed charges. And we've only -- we only have one conviction that has resulted in a case where we collected a DNA sample from an arrestee. So it's not as often as you would think.
SHERWOODI'm all for strong law enforcement. I've -- I think I'm part of the crowd that worries that the government is going to, at some point, have our DNA in every imaginable thing. There will be no privacy left in America 'cause everybody in the government will have some piece of you in some data file.
ALSOBROOKSAnd you know what? That's why we respect the court's decision, and we respect the role that the court plays in ensuring that we do not go too far, that the government does not go too far in terms of violating the privacy rights of individuals. And we will ultimately respect the court's, you know, ultimate decision on this.
ALSOBROOKSI can tell you that our chief of police has already ordered that we should stop even though this particular ruling does not take effect until about May 24, I believe, is about 30 days after the date of the ruling. But we have already ceased collecting DNA samples from arrestee individuals in our county.
NNAMDIAnd in order -- and a point of clarification, what crimes does the DNA law apply to? It's my understanding that it's violent crimes.
ALSOBROOKSThese are violent crimes, right. So this would be rape, robbery, assaults. In this particular case, it involved a first- and second-degree assault where the underlying offense is an -- also burglary. So it's not all crimes. It's just crimes of violence as defined.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Please don your headphones, so we can hear what Keith in Silver Spring, Md. has to say. Keith, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEITHYes. My comment is really if you're saying that someone can be asked to give their DNA when they have not been convicted of a crime, you might as well just go ahead and take cord blood samples, DNA samples of every birth in the United States and have your database. That way, you can go ahead and do a run on any crime that you think has been committed, and you can find your person.
NNAMDIYou may be, I guess, echoing the dream of a lot of states attorneys in the country, but I'm not sure it is shared by Angela Alsobrooks.
SHERWOODAnd I don't know if he was being critical or if he was saying that's a good idea. I thought I detected a little tone in his voice that that's...
NNAMDIYou were being sarcastic, were you not, Keith?
KEITHThat is totally sarcastic. I (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODThank you. I'm glad it was.
KEITH...that it's illegal and should be. While I think that it's a good thing that we're getting criminals off the street, the whole premise of this is being missed, that you are not guilty until you are proven so in the court of law. And, instead, this is a, well, you're not totally not guilty, so we need evidence from you to prove that you're guilty.
SHERWOODOr prove you're innocent.
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, I thank you, Keith, for your comment, and I understand your sentiments. And, I guess, what I'd say to that is, in all of these cases, there is a balancing act that we remember. We are always careful as prosecutors to care for the constitutional rights of the individuals who are charged in these cases. We also have any number of families whose loved ones have been brutalized and murdered.
ALSOBROOKSAnd many of them go years and years -- or individuals who have been raped without having any justice in their cases as well. And so there is a balancing act that we always remember. And in these cases, we have the ability, through the use of this DNA evidence at times, to bring peace, much needed peace and justice to families whose loved ones have been murdered and raped and otherwise victimized. So we...
NNAMDIHere now is Anthony in Fort Tobacco, (sic) Md. Anthony, your turn.
ANTHONYYes. Thanks, Kojo, Tom. Love to listen to you guys. My question is a concern, is that for many defendants -- you know, just being able to pay for an attorney, a lawyer costs a great deal of money. So if a lawyer -- if someone who's been found innocent has to go back and pay for their attorney to file another claim, to have their DNA disposed of, who's going to pay for that?
ANTHONYSo I have to -- I'm innocent, so I have to pay my lawyer another two grand. Or I have to get the toughest defendant to give me another, you know, time they don't have to file this. I mean, it's an additional burden for somebody's already innocent.
NNAMDIWho pays -- who's supposed to pay for this?
ALSOBROOKSWell, thank you, Anthony, for that comment. You know what? Actually, it does not cost anything. You can file that on your own. You can do so without the assistance of an attorney. You can simply have a certified copy of the judgment in the case or the acquittal, as it were, and you can take that and have it destroyed on your own. You don't need an attorney.
SHERWOODWell, in that case, if a person is found not guilty or said to be innocent legally, why not just simply have the bureaucracy of the justice system do it for you, rather than ask?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? That's a great point. I don't know why that is not in place at this point, but it is not automatic. It does require some action on your part. But the truth remains that you can have -- if you are exonerated, you can have that evidence destroyed.
NNAMDIIt is clear, as that -- as this makes its way through the courts, we will understand a lot more about it and how it can either be upheld or altered. Anthony, thank you for your call. We're talking with Angela Alsobrooks. She is a Maryland -- she's Maryland's state -- state's attorney for Prince George's County and encouraging your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you are about to try your first case yourself as state's attorney, a case that involves a D.C. police officer, Richmond Phillips. He's accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend. Why did you decide to try this case personally?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, domestic violence, I have always said, is an issue that is very close to my heart. And I have to tell you, the truth is that so many of these cases touch me. I could have selected any number of the cases that we've had so far because I have been really affected by many, many of them. This particular case especially because of the domestic violence aspect of it and because a small child, a baby, an infant was murdered as well. This is one that I thought would be appropriate for me to actually handle myself.
SHERWOODHow much time does that take -- given all that your office does, how much time does that take for a trial -- for preparation?
ALSOBROOKSAnd that's a great question. You know what? It takes a lot of time, which is why, I think, traditionally, you do not see the actual elected states attorneys handling a lot of these cases because it is a gargantuan task to manage the office and do all the things that we do, and then also handle a case load is really a tough thing. So it doesn't -- it takes, you know, quite a bit of time, which is why we don't do it as often as the line attorneys.
SHERWOODAnd you're doing this because you want to emphasize that domestic violence is a priority of yours or that's just personally something you just feel compelled to do?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, it's both. I feel very strongly about domestic violence, the impact that it has not only on families but most especially on children. It is -- the effects are devastating and long-lasting. I see so many individuals come back through our court system charged with crimes, who have witnessed domestic violence. This issue is one that is tearing our families apart. But, as I said, there are any number of cases on any given day that I could take and I feel as strongly about. But domestic violence is certainly one that is a deep concern to me.
SHERWOODI'd like to ask about something else you're doing, which is not quite so weighty but is important. This past week, I think it is, you went to the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute in College Park and played firefighter.
SHERWOODDid you actually -- I was trying to get pictures. Did you don a uniform? Did you go into a burning building? Did you carry somebody down the steps?
ALSOBROOKSOh, Lord. Well, you know what? I didn't get to do all of that. But let me tell, I have pictures. And I went home, and I am quite a hero in my daughter's eyes. I have on this firefighter's uniform. And if I never had respect -- and I always have had respect for firefighters -- my respect has grown exponentially. That is hard work. I was exhausted all weekend after wearing the uniform, the 30-pound tank on my back. And even holding a fire hose with the pressure of the water, it's almost impossible to do without support.
NNAMDIWhy did you do this?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? There's nothing like literally getting in the shoes of another person to understand the work that they do, and that is true of firefighters, police officers. You have no idea how brave these men and women are until you put that uniform on and try to hold that hose. And that's without considering a person in a burning fire, the adrenaline that must go through your body as you attempt to save a life or climb a ladder. So it's just, you know, really out of respect for firefighters and in support of what they do that I wanted to honor the invitation.
SHERWOODNow, County Executive Rushern Baker was scheduled to be there and Ken Ulman from the Howard County. Did they do that?
ALSOBROOKSThey did it as well.
SHERWOODDid you show them up?
NNAMDIShe looks like she's in better shape than Rushern to me.
ALSOBROOKSOh, my gosh. He's in -- look, I can say, I don't think I showed up much of anybody. I did the best I could there. But that is tough work. They were both there, as well as the governor. I saw the governor coming up as well, so...
SHERWOODIn the burning building, in the...
ALSOBROOKSI think he went through the same routine. I know the county executive was there last year as well.
NNAMDIA man was sentenced yesterday to life without parole for murdering a state trooper outside an Applebee's restaurant two years ago. What are your thoughts about that sentence?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? It was a just sentence. He was, of course, as you said, life without parole, but it is no consolation for the life that was lost. The trooper, Wesley Brown, was what all of us hope that our children will be at some point, a totally decent, hardworking young man who gave his life literally in service to our community. And so life without parole was just. It was well deserved, but, you know, no consolation for a life that was snuffed out too soon.
NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks is Maryland's state's attorney for Prince George's County. We're running out of time, but the Trayvon Martin case has triggered a nationwide conversation about race and law enforcement. It's my understanding that you recently hosted a town hall meeting with police in Prince George's County about this. What sense did you get for where people's concerns are on this issue on this front?
ALSOBROOKSYou know, I think that this is an issue that was long overdue for discussion, and it was the beginning of a conversation that we were able to have. I want to thank again the chief of police, Mark Magaw. We share a wonderful partnership for coming. We also had many other community leaders there who joined us in that conversation. It's something that we must discuss. It impacts us in the courtroom. And we wanted to hear from the community. But it was the beginning, and we hope to have more of those discussions moving forward.
SHERWOODOn a practical matter, you said at this forum that people who are distrustful of the judicial system need to be involved in it and that you said too many people escape jury duty and see it as a burden, not as an obligation and don't do it, and that people would serve as jurors that would be more involved in these -- in what the judicial system is.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for the...
SHERWOODDid I summarize it correctly?
ALSOBROOKSYou did. You did, and thank you for allowing me to make that point. It makes my skin crawl. I hear people all the time say, I'm trying to find an excuse to get out jury duty, yet they believe the system...
NNAMDII like jury duty.
ALSOBROOKSWell, thank you. We would love to have you.
SHERWOODYou interrupted a very good sound bite.
SHERWOODWould you say that again, please?
NNAMDIPlease start over again.
ALSOBROOKSNo, no, no. You know what? People...
SHERWOODIt makes your skin crawl.
ALSOBROOKSPeople say the system is corrupt and unfair, and yet they refuse to do their part. I hear so many people, you know, trying to find an excuse to get out of jury duty. How do we serve justice if you refuse to participate? Please come for jury duty. We need you there. This is the way that our system works, and your input and participation is critical to do injustice in these cases.
NNAMDII always like to be elected chairman of the jury when I serve for jury duty.
SHERWOODYeah. Well, I hope you would maintain your silence during the trial and not blurt out in the middle of very strong opinions being expressed.
NNAMDII can't help myself. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIShe is Maryland's state's attorney for Prince George's County. You're listening to "The Politics Hour" with Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst and NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Joining us now by telephone is Congressman Bobby Scott. He is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat. He represents Virginia's 3rd District. Congressman Scott, thank you for joining us.
MR. BOBBY SCOTTKojo, good to see you and good to talk to Tom. I've known Tom a long time.
SHERWOODYou know, I think we knew each other in the early '80s when I was young.
NNAMDIWhen you both were.
SCOTTWhen we were both young.
SHERWOODI can't believe you've been in the Congress 10 terms.
SCOTTYes, 10 terms. And you were following -- you were covering me when I was in the state Senate.
SHERWOODAnd other than being a bit grayer, you've done pretty well for yourself.
SCOTTWell, what happens -- I've been fighting a lot of tough battles. It was a lot of tough battles, writing the budget, crime policy, education. A lot of stuff going on.
NNAMDICongressman Scott, Sherwood hasn't done half battle for himself either. All eyes are on Virginia in the fall. It's a state that the president carried four years ago and a state that appears to be very much up for grabs this year. What do you make of the president's chances to repeat that victory right now?
SCOTTWell, everybody expects this to be a very close race. And I certainly think it'll be close. The state is very closely divided in a partisan basis. We have two good candidates running. It'll be right down to the wire and obviously with the national race a little right down to the wire. We also have Tim Kaine and George Allen on the race. That's going to go right down to the wire.
SCOTTI think both Tim Kaine and President Obama are both slightly ahead right now, but, obviously, it's going to depend a lot on turnout and a lot on the campaign. I think campaigns make a difference as the issues go back and forth. How the candidates perform will make a difference.
SCOTTAnd the real tough part of the campaign hasn't started yet.
SHERWOODCongressman, the enthusiasm gap, though, appears to be on the Democratic side. It may be because 2008 was so extraordinary and historic that he couldn't possibly reach that level again, but he might need it to win.
SCOTTTom, (unintelligible) enthusiasm gap from. They were -- the president showed up at Virginia Commonwealth University, and there were about 10,000 people there. And a couple of days earlier, Mitt Romney came to town. He didn't even get 1,000.
SCOTTI mean, I think the...
NNAMDISo you don't think there's any enthusiasm gap at all?
SCOTTI think Democrats are very much enthused about this election. I mean, it-- and it's -- compared to Romney, I mean, what kind of crowds -- I don't know what he's drawing outside of Virginia, but I'm not aware of any crowd he's attracted in Virginia as much as a thousand, and the president will draw as many as the site will hold.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about the effect that same-sex marriage might have on this election. Voters in North Carolina, another southern state the president carried in 2008, voted this week for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It's my understanding that your district was one of the districts that voted against a similar constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in 2006.
NNAMDIHow do you explain that? And how do you think that factors into the dynamic that race plays in this debate about same-sex marriage? Some say the president's position could hurt him among black voters, but how your district voted seems to suggest otherwise.
SCOTTWell, I think, you first have to decide what you -- what are you debating? The first question ought to be whether or not same-sex couples can get a legal right and can get into a legal process that has all the rights and carries all the responsibilities of a marriage.
SCOTTAnd then you have to decide that question first. And if -- and I think that majority of the public believes, yes, they should have access to a legal process that gives them the same rights and responsibilities as others. Now, once you've decided that, the next step is arguing about what you're going to call it. Well, I think most people don't get that upset over what you call it, and I think some would rather not call it a marriage.
SCOTTSome call it a marriage. But that is really the debate, and I think the overwhelming majority, I think, is -- you know, is probably as much as 60, 65 percent support access to that legal process. Now, when you have these referendums, you're debating both at the same time, not only whether you can do it but what you call it. And that confuses the debate. Let's first decide whether or not you can enact a process by which couples want to enjoy the rights and responsibilities of a marriage.
SCOTTAnd if that -- if the answer to that is no, then you best end the debate anyway. But if the answer to that is yes, then the next thing is what you call it. And I think most people don't get bent out of shape over what you call it, but I think that they ought to have access to some process.
NNAMDIBottom line, do you think this will hurt him among African-American voters in Virginia?
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYou did take to the floor of the House a few years ago to talk about the Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that recognized that merits of interracial marriage.
SCOTTAnd I think the Supreme -- I think it'll take a few years. But there's a critical mass of states that are already providing for gay marriage or civil -- or at least civil unions. I think Colorado is about to do it now. And I think you'll get to the point where the Supreme Court will designate it as a right not subject to voting. I mean, Tom, you covered the general assembly. When would we ever have -- you think the Virginia General Assembly would've voted in favor of mixed-race marriages if the Supreme Court...
SHERWOODThen or now?
SCOTTIf the Supreme Court hadn't come in with those activist judges overturning the lifetime-appointed activist judges, overturning the will of the people, you think the Virginia General Assembly would have ever -- you know, they might have. But, you know, sometimes you just get to the point where the Supreme Court has stepped in. And I think you've got several states now.
SCOTTThe trend is that you've got about 30 states that have passed constitutional amendments. But as people, from the states that allow gay marriage, move around, states are going to have to recognize gay marriages anyway. I mean, if a couple from Massachusetts moved to Virginia -- one died -- who gets the property?
SHERWOODWell, let me -- more in the district...
SCOTTWell, what, some cousin in Oregon or the spouse?
SCOTTI mean, there are some things that just don't make any sense unless you start recognizing that.
SHERWOODWell, we've had a one year anniversary of the ending of Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the services. You represent an area that has lots of military people in your district. What's your thoughts about that a year later? And the military has said it's going quite well. There's been very little, if any, disruption.
SCOTTI don't think there was -- I think it was more of a national political issue. I don't think the members of the service -- you see, members of the service are younger. And I think George will describes young people's view of sexual orientation like old people view people that are left-handed. You know, it's different. Okay. But there's no -- you know, so what? And I think that's how most of the members of the service have responded to it...
NNAMDII'm old enough to remember when left-handed was one of the characterizations that people used to describe people who happened to be gay. Do you know that?
SCOTTNo, I did not know that.
NNAMDIYeah. I remember that. Congressman Scott, we're just about out of time. Thank you so much for joining us.
SCOTTWell, thank you.
NNAMDIBobby Scott is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who represents Virginia's 3rd District. You're listening to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our next guest wrote the law that legalized the performance of same-sex marriages in the District, the law which the president now says he supports the idea of same-sex marriage.
NNAMDIOne wonders how David Catania reacted upon hearing the statements of the president this week. David Catania is a member of the D.C. council. He's an independent. He chairs the council's Committee on Health. David Catania, good to see you.
MR. DAVID CATANIAThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIHow did you respond to the president's remarks? What were your sentiments?
CATANIAYou know, it was really quite an extraordinary occasion. We were sitting in a budget discussion at the council, and, you know, my press secretary mentioned that the president just -- or reportedly had just issued a statement on his support for same-sex marriage. And it was really one of those moments where things kind of pixelate. You know, things go to slow motion, and you take a moment and understand immediately the gravity of what it means to have the most powerful man in the world recognize the inherent and fundamental equality of all of his citizens.
SHERWOODVice President Biden went to the Oval Office to apologize to the president for jumping out ahead of him on this. Some people have said, well, this looks awfully orchestrated, that it was going to be this way. Then the education secretary did it also. And it kind of left the president no maneuvering room to -- his evolving had to stop. You think that was precipitous or you think it just -- events occurred?
CATANIAI think that events just occurred. I think that -- you know, I mean, I'm not privy to what's going on at the White House, but it was obvious to me that, given the president's history over the last couple of years, with respect to Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the administration's refusal to enforce DOMA, you know, his champion of Matthew Shepard and on so many other issues, not the least of which are close personal friends of that, the president, you know, was in an evolving posture with respect to marriage quality.
CATANIAAnd I think he actually illustrates what's going on. And what's going on in their household is similar to what's going on in households around the country where people are wrestling with this issue. And it's one that may not affect them directly, and so they're not consumed with it. But it's one that they have to confront, these age-old, you know, stereotypes, and he happened to -- had to do it very publicly. I think that, you know, it was a matter of time, not if, but when. And the president, for whatever reason, selected this week, and I'm just thrilled that he did.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect that when the president selected Joe Biden as his vice president, he understood that along the way that Former Sen. Biden might make statements that would contribute to the president's own evolution on a variety of issues because Vice President Biden has not been known to be -- to hold his tongue.
CATANIAMay I just say that I think that, you know, a lot of the focus has been on whether or not it will hurt the president and his traditional constituencies. You know, I really think not enough has been made of the fact that this, I think, will help him, not just with independents but also with Republican mothers.
CATANIAI think we're hitting a point in time when, you know, you're going to ask Republican suburban mothers across this country who happen to have gay children or siblings or close personal friends, you know, and you contrast what Mitt Romney stands for versus what the president stands for, and the enthusiasm for Mitt Romney and his position is contrasted with the president's decision, it's really going to weigh on these individuals.
CATANIASo I think too much has been made about whether or not a certain demographic within the Democratic constituency is going to abandon the president. I don't think that's the case. I think, in fact, when you look at where the president stands -- which is, again, I think he took a bold step. I think he demonstrated leadership, and I think it was consistent with American values -- versus where the presumptive Republican nominee is, which is about 1942.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. If you'd like to join this conversation, you can also go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. You can send email to email@example.com. And if you go to our website, kojoshow.org, you'll see a map of how Virginia voted on the amendment, the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.
NNAMDIWhen only two parts of Virginia -- District 3 and district -- which was Bobby Scott's district, and a district closer to Northern Virginia -- voted, how do you explain the state-level losing streak that's taking place despite the polling showing that nationwide attitudes are shifting towards acceptance of same-sex marriage?
CATANIABecause I think this is very much a work in progress. And I think, you know, the -- it's like a -- the difference between, you know, Coca-Cola versus RC, right? You know, Coke out -- has out kind of performed, has out-advertised RC. And so when you -- you know, RC has to spend so much more to catch up with Coke. And I think that's just -- it's a silly analogy. But I think when we are raised with a certain belief that gays and lesbians are second-class citizens, if you are raised with certain stereotypes, and if you don't have that on your radar screen, it's easy to genuflect back into those stereotypes.
CATANIAAnd I think, you know, the opponents of marriage equality have been very effective at playing to people's fears. But I think the reality -- and I think it was mentioned by the congressman -- is that the trajectory is quite the opposite. Here in the District, we have about doubled in the last two years since we recognized marriage equality, the number of licenses in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIHey, we've moved on, same-sex divorce.
CATANIAAbsolutely. So far from damaging the institution, we've actually doubled the number of people entering every year. I just think this is going to be, you know, one of those issues which dissipates over time. The states that have embraced marriage equality, it's not an issue. Other -- you know, we've not seen a spike in divorce. We've not seen families disrupted. We've not seen anything other than, you know, the mainstreaming of all of our families.
CATANIAAnd I think, ultimately, you know, that's the trajectory of human history, and it's going to be advanced considerably by the president and the moral authority and the leadership he's shown on the subject.
SHERWOODThere's been some suggestion that the president's embracing of same-sex marriage creates only an opportunity where African-Americans, who have no reason, in many respects, to vote for the Republican Party, it may not have moved them to the Republican Party, but it may affect the enthusiasm gap. And maybe some will not vote...
CATANIAI think that...
SHERWOOD...maybe simply won't go vote, may be less enthusiastic, and then that might be marginally different in close states.
CATANIAI think that's insulting to African-American voters to suggest that that issue is so important to them that they would be willing to sit out a president that has served their interests and served the country's interests. I think the number one issue for our country is restoring our reputation and improving this economy and, you know, reclaiming the American mantra of opportunity.
CATANIAYou know, it isn't small America, which I believe the presumptive Republican nominee represents, where he would absolutely assume all the benefits associated with hardworking same-sex couples but afford them none of the equality which we are all entitled to as citizens. So I think, you know, frankly, you know, the discussion isn't what's wrong with President Obama in his embracing equality. It's what's wrong with the Republican nominee who refuses to acknowledge his fellow Americans as equals. That's the story.
NNAMDIHere's Allen in Vienna, Va. Allen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALLENYes, a couple of things. I grew up in North Carolina, if you're willing to accept the fact that I've grown up, which may not necessarily be the case. But I was ready to explain, you know, that heritage to a friend of mine in Atlanta by the name of Manuel Patino, (sp?) who is from Venezuela, sent me a YouTube link. And the link is of an African-American minister in Goldsboro, N.C. who makes the most cogent argument in favor of the defeat of Amendment One.
ALLENAnd he pointed out that this is not about gay marriage. It is about equal rights for all people. He points out that the last time North Carolina made a -- an amendment to their constitution concerning marriage was to prohibit interracial marriage and that the African-American community needs to understand that if they can do this and remove these rights from a class of people, they can remove any rights from any class of people.
ALLENThe point out was -- somebody on Diane's show just a little bit earlier made the very important remark that this was an orchestrated election that was...
ALLEN...trying to concur with the Republican primary, which eliminated a lot of interested voters.
NNAMDIAllen, allow me to have Tom Sherwood and David Catania comment. David Catania.
CATANIAWell, look, you know, I happen to think that this issue is much more about socioeconomic level and religious traditions than about race. When we looked at the demographics in the city, when you look at demographics nationally, you know, Baptists are the singularly -- the Christian denomination that is most opposed to marriage equality. And people who are disproportionately low income have -- and of reduced education have a particular point of view. This is not about a predisposition of a particular racial group to be opposed or supportive of.
CATANIAThese are other underlying issues. And so I really think it's time for us to move beyond the notion of blaming one particular constituency for supporting or not supporting or making kind of, you know, prejudicial assumptions based on -- I think there are other issues being in the way. But at the end of the day, you know, I do believe it is a remarkable thing to have the president stand before the American people and to embrace, you know, the fundamental equality of his citizens.
CATANIAIt's something that's refreshing and that -- candidly, it's long overdue.
NNAMDIAs I mentioned earlier, you wrote the law that brought same-sex marriage to the District. While we're talking about high-profile bills with your signature on them, The Washington Post ran a story yesterday about the city system, if that's what you want to call it, for issuing licenses to sell medical marijuana. How do you think the system, if that's what you want to call it, has worked so far? And what do you think are the immediate challenges in getting the program off the ground?
CATANIAWell, I think it's moving forward. I think the Department of Health has administered a procurement process. And we have arranged for dispensaries and for cultivation centers to be licensed. The next thing to do is to issue them and begin the process of cultivation and follow that (unintelligible) dispensary.
NNAMDIBut the licensing system, at least as described in that article, seems to be either opaque or so nitpicky that it's very difficult for people who have applied to find out why they have been rejected.
CATANIAWell, again, setting aside, you know, whether or not people were able to look at their scores and whether or not they felt that they were treated fairly, I mean, there is a process with contract review boards and through the judicial system to second-guess a particular process. You know, I believe that we are on track to have medical marijuana available to sick individuals by the first of the year at the latest. And, you know, we intentionally constructed a very conservative, rigid system to avoid the mistakes...
NNAMDIIs it transparent enough, is my question.
CATANIAWell, I mean, I think, you know...
NNAMDIBecause given what's been going on in the District of Columbia recently, involving members of the council, people are very suspicious of anything that is not transparent. They want to know exactly what happens. And so, as happened with online gambling, they want to make sure that the people who will get involved in this are people who somehow or the other were not able to kind of -- to figure out how to get around...
SHERWOODGame the system.
NNAMDITo game the -- thank you.
CATANIAWell, look, I think that that's -- the reason that courts exist are for these types of challenges. Obviously, the council -- and I made a very, very conscious decision to remain 10,000 feet away from anything involving the contracting and procurement of these dispensaries and these cultivation centers. I wanted nothing whatever to do with how these decisions were made. I wrote the bill.
CATANIAIt was a conservative bill that was intended to play defense against some of the excesses we saw in Colorado and California that I thought would invite congressional scrutiny and perhaps a reversal of this important service. Having said that, I think it would be wise to have the mayor's representatives come on and explain the process and put their side of the story on. I'm not in a position, frankly, to defend how the executive executed our laws. At this point, you know, that's for the courts to decide.
NNAMDIBut it's my understanding that you are not so happy that there's not more local representation among the groups clear...
CATANIAWell, it would have been nice, candidly, to have had local ownership of the dispensaries and of the cultivation centers. But, again, I'm not going to second-guess the process put in place. In my view, we have too much interference and some of these contract issues. The council often oversteps its rightful responsibilities, you know, and intrudes into the executive and vice versa, and the less of that, the better.
SHERWOODFor the people who need medical marijuana, there's lots of jokes about it, but you know better than probably most people, the people who need medical marijuana and what it does for them to ease suffering, when will this -- when do you think these sales will begin?
CATANIAWithout question, by the first of the year.
CATANIAThe first of the year. And, again, it is not as quick as we would have liked, but we, you know, we don't live in a perfect environment. We have to understand that...
SHERWOODBut there are people who needed it yesterday, right?
CATANIAAnd that is right, and it's regrettable. But we're playing defense, as I said, against the possibility of congressional interference.
SHERWOODCan -- another major issue that -- and you somewhat have a battle with the mayor at this point in the budget is health care for undocumented residents.
SHERWOODThe mayor initially was proposing a major slash in monies that would be available. You've been fighting back and forth. Without getting too much in the weeds of this, where do we stand now on -- that you guys are about really to vote on the budget?
CATANIASo 7 1/2 years ago, I became the chairman of the committee on health, and I had as an ambition that we would have universal health care in the city. And so I personally authored most of the expansions that have happened during this time period to get us to the point where we have the second lowest rate of uninsured in the nation, and I'm very proud of that. The mayor proposed eliminating acute care and emergency care services for 19,000 members of the alliance, largely undocumented residents.
CATANIAHe did that, and I thought it was unnecessary. This budget next year, over this year, is growing by 3.7 percent, over $402 million. And I did not -- you know, there's this long, sorry and, you know, unfortunate misguided notion that we're living in an era of cuts. The District government is not cutting. We are growing by $400 million, and there is no reason to decrease these benefits for undocumented residents. And so I simply use the authority that I have as a chairman of the committee on health.
CATANIAI identified the $20.5 million to backfill this particular issue to make sure that we stop -- that we wouldn't treat these residents differently just because we could. Once the mayor knew that I was absolutely committed to this, he, at that point, began, through his administration, making certain overtures about how we might, you know, supplement this, maybe do that. In the end, it was a cut and paste. It was a make it up as we go along. And I'm just unwilling to play those games with people's lives.
CATANIAAnd so what I told the executive I would do is I would commit to working with them over the next fiscal year to reengineer the program to alleviate some of their concerns. But I wasn't going to take chances with people's lives. It's just not necessary.
SHERWOODI guess the larger issue is the Council has rejected the mayor's interim midyear budgets or everyone called them -- supplemental is what I think you guys call them. But it seems to me that with the mayor and the Council and among the council members themselves, we have that spate of, you know, profanity earlier this year, and I won't get into that.
SHERWOODBut there are just -- many people ask me what -- that the Council is not working, that the mayor's office is not working, that the city -- while the city itself -- I think Tommy Wells said on this program a couple of weeks ago, the city itself seems to be doing well, that the people seem to be ahead of the government, that the city is not very well led. Do you buy into that?
CATANIAWell, I think the question was, you know, whether or not, you know, where we are with this particular issue of the alliance. I happen to have a philosophical belief that, you know, I represent all 620,000 citizens of the city whether, you know, they're here lawfully or not. I'm not an immigration official, and I'm not in the business of treating one neighbor differently than another, especially when it is unnecessary, given all the resources that are at our disposal.
CATANIAI want to see a city -- and I disagree slightly. I think that there are many good public servants who get up every day, first as citizens, trying to do what's best for themselves and their neighbors. And this is an illustration. You have a united Count -- or a nearly united Council on the subject, who has recognized that in years past, this country has fallen short of the mark with respect to one minority group or another, and we have a legacy to show for it.
CATANIAI think there's something very exciting about how we treat immigrants in the city, that we will give you a card, and we will invite you to be full participants, you know, as citizens. And, in fact -- and just to finish this point, Tom -- it's important because, you know, by actually embracing and treating people as humans and not as caricatures, not as illegal aliens -- I don't know what that is. R2D2 who came illegal, I don't know what that is.
CATANIABut actually treating people as people that are here as neighbors, I think we are soliciting and hopefully engendering the kind of loyalty that we would want from this population so that as they approach their American dream, as they raise their children, their children will have a fidelity and a loyalty to the city, and they will stay here. And I got to tell you, you know, there's something about -- there's something ugly and small about the notion that we should treat these people differently because we can.
CATANIAWe entice these individuals to come to this country by advertising the American dream, by saying, come here, you know, create a better life for yourself and your family. We entice them, we use them and then we discard them. I think that is mean-spirited and unnecessary.
SHERWOODYou're trying to do that, and many council members are trying to do other good things. But there is this specter of scandal because of the investigations of the mayor and the chairman. Does that impede the ability to get these things done?
NNAMDII think it does. I think it does.
SHERWOODThat's what I'm...
CATANIAThat's what I think those members -- and I'm sorry for being longwinded, but I feel very strongly about this. I think some members, and in fact, perhaps in the administration itself, you know, when there are these issues of scandal, you have, you know, you have a Watergate effect.
CATANIAThose who have a cloud above them are so fixated on self-preservation that they don't have time to do the people's work and that they have other agenda items, other priorities and other distractions. But in spite of this, I think very positive things are happening for the city in spite of some of the failings of some of its public officials.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk about that in terms of health care because we talked with U.S. Atty. Ron Machen last week. He launched an investigation into Jeffrey Thompson, whose health care firm takes millions and millions of dollars from local funds. His offices were rated by federal agents earlier this year. His financial contributions to city candidates have generated a lot of media attention. But when it comes to his business and what it means for the city's health care landscape, what are the questions you hope are answered here?
CATANIAWell, so I could start by the fact that in 2005, the first year I had -- was chairman of the committee on health, one of the first items I did was put a little over $1 million in the budget to audit our three managed care Medicaid contracts because they had never been audited before. And that led to a 2007 audit of Mr. Thompson's company, which show a good deal of false claims and self dealing, and it led to an enormous settlement in September of 2008.
CATANIAIt was regrettable that last year, one of the first things in the Gray administration was to somehow find a way to make him whole by creating a way or this fictitious notion that he had been underpaid in 2008, and therefore, here's $14 million. And later, it was knocked down to 7.5. You know, there is a lot of unfortunate self dealing, and we give a lot of fodder to these conspiracy theories. I never happen to have been a fan of Mr. Thompson's managed care organization.
CATANIAI thought it was too small to adequately serve the residents of our city. By being a small MCO, it didn't have the IT capacity, the disease management tools, the capitalization, the proper network to meet the needs of our residents, and I always felt that his political influence, you know, helped insulate him, and that one person was privileged while nearly 200, 000 people in Medicaid were not.
SHERWOODAnd that contract is going to be rebid, is that correct?
CATANIAIt's in the process of being rebid. And candidly, you know, I think, you know, Mr. Thompson, to the extent that he was active in this last campaign, was motivated in no small part because he knew, on some level, that Adrian Fenty and I were not fans of him or his company. The fact that he was able to re-up his contract in 2008 was an issue of timing. The settlement of his false claims came after the acknowledgement of the wrongdoing.
CATANIAI think Mr. Thompson knew all full well that if Adrian Fenty was still mayor today that he probably wouldn't have won that contract. And since we're his only customer, he would have lost $330 million a year. And so he had a motivation to see Mr. Fenty run out of town.
NNAMDIWe're just about of time but enough time for Bill in Springfield, Va., to give a brief comment. Bill, your turn.
BILLYeah. How you doing? Thanks for taking my call. I just want to say your guest is incredibly naive, both in terms of the illegal immigrants getting free medical care and the impact on the black churches of president Obama's recent announcement. First of all, I'm a hard-paying citizen like most folks that are citizens, hardworking...
CATANIAOf the District of Columbia?
BILL...and we pay for our medical insurance.
CATANIAI'm sorry. Are you a citizen of the District of Columbia?
BILLI'm in Virginia.
BILLWe pay for our medical insurance.
CATANIAWell, listen, the state of Virginia has a rate of uncompensated care that's galling. The fact is that Northern Virginia, since its pour to the District, in our hospitals and our clinics for care, what the state of Virginia does for health care is an embarrassment. And so if you are a citizen of the city, I would take your concern seriously. But for the residents that I represent, we happen to view that our neighbors are our equals, and we tend to treat them such.
NNAMDII'm afraid we are out of time. David Catania earlier apologized for being longwinded, but hey, that's who he is. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who chairs the Council's committee on health. David Catania, thank you for joining us. Your turn.
SHERWOODYou say thank you.
NNAMDIOr you're welcome or something like that. Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODAll right, Kojo. Welcome back.
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