We explore the history of gatherings and protests on the Mall, including how the space was re-designed at the turn 20th century expressly to accommodate large crowds.
The region’s residents, and its politics, are slammed by a “derecho.” Lawmakers are striking back by lashing out at the area’s utility companies. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Jim Vance Anchor, NBC 4
- Douglas Nazarian Chairman, Maryland Public Service Commission
- Eleanor Holmes Norton Delegate, U.S. House of Representatives (D-DC)
- Isiah Leggett Montgomery County Executive (D)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Politics Hour Video
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has proposed a series of amendments that would relax gun laws and permanently ban the use of city funds on abortions. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she has attemped to contact Paul to discuss the issues, which she says are contrary to his tea party values, but he has not returned her phone calls. “He has not educated himself about this city. He just sees us as his props,” Norton said about Paul’s inititatives. “The notion of democracy does not cross his mind.” Norton added that Washington, D.C., is making “remarkable progress” on budget autonomy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Jim Vance is our guest analyst today. He's an anchor at NBC 4 and a well-known Harley Davidson enthusiast. Jim, good to see you.
MR. JIM VANCEIt's always good to be with you, man.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Eleanor Holmes Norton. She's a member of the United States House of Representatives. She's a Democrat and a delegate who represents the District of Columbia. Congresswoman Norton, thank you for joining us.
REP. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTONMy pleasure, Kojo.
NNAMDIThere are two ways to describe the team we have assembled in the studio today. One of them is Tom Sherwood likes it because it gives him the opportunity to claim to be the youngest person in the room, which for him is a unique experience. Another way of describing it, well, the music expresses it better.
NNAMDIIt's the dream team, baby.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYes.
VANCEEleanor and I were looking at each other.
SHERWOODWhat is that?
VANCEWhat is that?
NNAMDIWe have assembled the A-team...
VANCEWe just don't get it.
SHERWOODWe should play some Chuck Brown or something.
NNAMDIThis is our A-team that we have assembled here today. And if you have questions or comments for us, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Remember to use the tech -- "The Politics Hour" hashtag, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Credit card machines coming to D.C. taxicabs. What a concept.
NNAMDIThe city is preparing to ink a $35 million deal with VeriFone Systems to install new smart meters in all licensed D.C. cabs that, according to Mayor Vincent Gray, those devices will have credit card machines, panic buttons, GPS technology, even video screens that will play a short PSA and feature content for passengers from NBC. Did you have anything to do with this at all?
SHERWOODI have no comment about any corporate activities that may involve money-making schemes.
SHERWOODI only spend money for the company.
SHERWOODI will tell you about that they don't -- the taxi commission does not want you to call it a panic button. That sounds horrible. It's an emergency button, and it's available only if -- the driver or the passengers may push this button and summon a police officer. But, please, don't call it a panic button, although that's exactly what it is.
NNAMDIDoes this mean we've finally acknowledged that this is the 21st century here in Washington, D.C. taxicabs?
SHERWOODWell, you know, just a few short years ago, Adrian Fenty proposed and got -- changed the -- got rid of the zone system, and we have meters. And this is the next big leap forward, and it is, you know, a remarkable thing. These systems are already in New York, and it does provide certainty to the passenger. You can even see a map where you're going. You could -- there will be some commercials on there.
SHERWOODYes, there will be. But you'll have electronic payment for credit cards, and there will be a GPS system which is very important. The drivers really hated this where the taxicab commission can collect all the data where cabs are operating and see where they go in the city. And then you'll find out whether the cabs, in fact, don't go to far southeast and whether they take circuitous routes to drive up the fare. So there will be some empirical data which we've never had before.
VANCEI think -- I'm sorry.
NNAMDI...go ahead, Jim. But I was...
SHERWOODYou know, even...
NNAMDI...just going to say for those of us...
SHERWOODYou can jump right in.
VANCEIt's that kind of a gathering here.
NNAMDIYeah, yes, yes.
VANCEOK, cool. You know, this is worth celebrating on the show, but I only do it with some measure of hesitation and caution or whatever. This is old technology, and this is stuff that's been around for a long time. They've been doing this in New York for years and doing it in other cities as well.
VANCEWhat took us so long is -- one of my problems with this whole thing to get to this -- the fight over the -- putting meters in cabs. For God's sake, we were in the dark ages for the longest time here in Washington, D.C. and completely at the mercy of sometimes unscrupulous cab drivers. And so the fact that the meters went in, the fact that this new technology is now going in is a wonderful thing, but it should have been done a long time ago as far as I'm concerned.
SHERWOODMs. Norton, the taxicab commission chairman, Ron Linton, says that once the council votes on this on Tuesday as expected to do that they'll start doing the changes on August 28. And by the end of the year, 6,500 cabs will have this technology. You live on Capitol Hill. I'm sure you don't have to get a cab. But do you? And do you have trouble getting cabs in town?
NORTONYou always have trouble getting cabs, yes, but...
SHERWOODAre you happy with this change?
NORTONYes. But I think I like -- I hope residents are happy with it. I can see why tourists would welcome it. The old system left much to be desired, as Jim said. So I think that they finally get our cabs where cabs of big cities have often already come is a good deal.
SHERWOODWe should note that there's going to be a 50-cent surcharge per taxi trip that will help pay for all of this.
SHERWOODAnd -- but the good thing is more than 50 percent of the cab rides are taken by people from out of the city, so that's a nice way of getting money from people who come here.
NNAMDIFor Eleanor Holmes Norton, who was born in this city, and for people like the rest of us who've been here for a long time, this is really a sea change in how cabs operate in the District of Columbia. As Jim has been pointing out, it's a long overdue sea change, but that it is.
VANCEYeah, it is, and we should welcome it. But there's one other thing, too, Kojo, and I don't want to sound like a grouchy or a negative guy. But one of the problems that this does not address is the fact that if you're a black man and you look a certain way or a cab driver is in a certain mood, you still will not get picked up for a ride, no matter where you're going to. I mean, the assumption will be that you're going to a dangerous part of town. But if you're going to Capitol Hill, it doesn't matter. That is still a problem in this city.
NNAMDIThe late John Wilson after whom the city's building is named used to tell me that he started wearing suits and ties in this city in order to catch a taxi.
VANCECatch a cab.
NORTONI hope it helped him.
NNAMDII hope it did.
NNAMDIIn those days...
SHERWOODWith the gentrification and demographic change in the city, we may not have that problem anymore after about 10 more years (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWe will have to see how the city evolves over the course of the next decade or so. Also this week, former green party presidential candidate Ralph Nader had a group of activists in which he called for a limited general strike in support of D.C. statehood, more specifically pledging to postpone people's arrival at work by 15 minutes on July 9, by 30 minutes on Aug. 1, by 45 minutes on Sept. 2 and by one hour -- Sept. 10, and by one hour on Oct. 1.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, it's often been said that residents of the District of Columbia do not express enough outrage, do not take sufficient action in support of statehood. What do you think about this suggestion?
NORTONWell, we really do need outrage. Whether that means outward and visible outrage, I'm not sure how one accounts for or makes this an accountable protest. How do I know -- first of all, who is it directed at, your own employer?
NORTONIf it is, the last time I looked, that wasn't who was keeping us from getting statehood. What we need is somebody to do something that directly gets in the face of the United States Congress.
SHERWOODYou're being much too polite. This is an idiotic idea. And I know you're a congresswoman. You have, you know, my gentle colleague this and gentle colleague that...
NORTONI'm trying to be analytical about it.
SHERWOODI know you're -- well, you know, who's going to know if you're even 15 minutes late? Who do you tell? And then, a month later, you're going to be 30 minutes late. I mean, I don't understand...
NORTONWhat do you do about the people who are always late?
SHERWOODI tell you what will make bigger...
SHERWOODYou know what will make bigger news? If this man called Ralph Nader -- I think that's his name -- if he would move to the District of Columbia. He's a resident of Connecticut. He's lived in the city. He's not a legal resident of the city. He can make a statement by moving to the city. I've had this conversation with him every time he does something publicly on behalf of us poor people in the District.
NORTONWell, I think he says it's because he doesn't have the right to vote for a senator and the rest.
SHERWOODHe gets the voting right.
NNAMDIThat's what he says about living in the District.
NNAMDIJim, what do you think?
VANCEWell, I don't know. You know, this item appeared on page six of whatever it is of The Post. I remember seeing it somewhere. Maybe it's on a (unintelligible) or something.
SHERWOODYeah, when it was Monday and you're kind of overwhelmed by all the storm.
VANCEIs that what it was, Monday? It gained no traction whatsoever. I haven't heard a single person and on any venue even talk about this. And I'm not surprised at that because I wouldn't go so far as Tom who is -- has no filter whatsoever ...
VANCE...to call it idiot idea. But I don't think it's a very good idea. It's some of that old strategy that, you know, played out many, many years ago. And I do agree with the congresswoman that it does not address those parties that need to be talked with about this particular issue.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, during the course of that meeting, Ralph Nader said that Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is far too proprietary when it comes to statehood issues for the District of Columbia. Did he attempt to consult with you at all about this action?
NORTONI'm amazed that he threw that dagger at me...
NORTON...because it is not until now that I got to opine on this idea, and far from being proprietary on almost everything that has happened here. And we ought to give credit where credit is due. It's due to D.C. vote and to D.C. residents when, in fact, they've begun to respond as they should have. These things -- for example, when the arrest occurred -- when the city council, Nader, or right then even, many residents -- I've paid a big point of not getting arrested because I knew there would be colleagues, particularly Republicans, who would say, you know, Eleanor made him do it.
NORTONSo I think we ought to give credit to where credit is due. D.C. residents have begun to come forward and to demand more and more radical responses to the outrage or multiple outrages at D.C. on the Hill.
VANCEI want to make a point here that I think is important. It's kind of like the elephant in the room. We talked earlier about the demographics of the city changing as it has been significantly over the last couple years. As it continues to change, so nearer will we be to representation in Congress.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton's predecessor used to say we're too -- that's Walter Fauntroy -- we're too urban.
NNAMDIWe're too urban. We're too black.
NORTONYeah. But I remind you all...
NNAMDIWe're too Democratic.
NORTONI remind you all that for the greater part, for almost all of the District's history, this has been a majority white city.
NNAMDIYou grew up in a majority white city.
NORTONI did, and my father before him and my father before me and his father before him. It always had a critical mass of black people. That was too much for Southern Democrats who were chiefly responsible for keeping us from getting our full rights until they, of course, until the Democratic Party finally decided that the Southern Democrats shouldn't get to decide everything, including home rule for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWe've got a lot to talk about, so I want to move on from this. But, you know, when the city got home rule in the '70s, you know, essentially the white leaders of Congress didn't want to give the city, the mayor, the power over the police department 'cause they weren't sure the mayor of Washington, the gentle soul that he was, hard as nails when he needed to be, could, in fact, run the police department.
SHERWOODSo we've -- there's been a lot of change, but I've said on this air -- and I'll say it again -- I think until someone -- and I hate to say it -- if someone has to set himself or herself on fire on the National Mall, I'm not sure we'll get enough attention.
NNAMDIWell, we'd like to continue this conversation for a second because Josh in Washington, D.C. on the phone would like to talk about -- don your headphones, please, ladies and gentlemen, so Josh can be heard. Josh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSHHi. How are you doing, Kojo? Great stuff.
NNAMDII'm doing well.
JOSHYou know, you should have this subject on at least once a week. I think this is not the A-team. This is the F-team, including you, Kojo. Like I said, you should have this conversation at least once a week. The problem is people in D.C. don't even know what's going on. Half the people don't know that Ms. Norton can't vote and that we don't have a senator. They have no clue. The problem is, I believe, first of all, Ralph Nader, that idea is stupid.
JOSHWhat we need to do is shut the city down, make the whole world see what's going on and have a little D.C. spring like they had in Egypt. And the other thing is, Ms. Norton, I think you're too chill. I think you're too relaxed. I don't think you're doing enough. I don't think -- you know what?
NNAMDIWhat would you suggest specifically?
JOSHYou should -- wait a minute. Hold on, hold on...
NNAMDIJosh, Josh, Josh, we don't have all day. What would you suggest specifically that Ms. Norton knew that she's not doing?
JOSHI know. I know. (unintelligible) I got a suggestion for you. Go to the public schools, educate our kids and tell them that they're not free in this city. You need to make yourself known the congressman of this city, and you need to tell the children that they are not free in this city. I don't see you doing that...
NNAMDIAppearances on "The Colbert Report" are not enough.
NNAMDIYou need to be doing more to expose yourself to people in this city.
SHERWOODWell, there's a children's organization in town that does, in fact, fight and show up. They wear the T-shirts and everything. There are lots of children involved. I'm sorry.
NORTONThey are kids. I must say I should take that as a compliment. It's the first time I've been accused of being too relaxed.
SHERWOODToo chill, that is a...
NNAMDIThat's not a criticism that you will hear a lot. For the time being, it looks like a freshman senator from Kentucky has stopped the bill to give D.C. autonomy over its budget dead in its track. Rand Paul has tried to offer a series of amendments that would ban the use of city funds on abortions, relax the city's gun laws. What do you think is the best strategy for the city from this point forward, and what conversations, if any, have you had with Sen. Paul?
NORTONOh, I called him immediately. I have not had my call returned. I've called him more than once. Particularly since Rand Paul is the Tea Party leader of the Senate, this flies in the face of all the Tea Party's supposed to stand for. They don't want federal government in the federal government's business, much less if you're a federalist getting the big foot of the federal government in a local government's business.
NORTONWhat he wanted to do was very radical. He wanted to make the ban, the abortion ban permanent. That would -- that's never been permanent. That's been put in every year. He wanted concealed carry in the District of Columbia, including reciprocity. If you had a concealed carry, I don't know, in the Wild West, you could come here and bring your gun.
SHERWOODI searched his proposal. There was no provision to allow this concealed carry on the Hill in the halls of Congress. You should have put that amendment in. That would have helped him out.
NORTONYou know, I went on the floor, took out what we call a special order half hour. I said I want to give Rand Paul the benefit of the doubt until I can sit down and talk with him because I cannot believe that a Tea Party leader would so fly in the face of his own principles, which is the government ought to keep out of your affairs. Now, you mentioned budget autonomy.
NORTONHere we had a bill that was historically going to move through the -- through committee and the Senate. Great deal of work had been done. We were prepared to draw it back if there were amendments we couldn't live with. We didn't expect these amendments, plus amendments on the rights of work. I mean, it's as if Rand Paul went down and said, what can I think of? And his justification tells me he has not educated himself about this city.
NORTONHe just sees us as props, we who live here, and therefore, he can do anything he wants to. The notion of democracy doesn't cross his mind if he comes out and wants to reverse law after law after law. So I want the opportunity before I really go at him to sit down -- just to sit down with him 'cause this bill is making...
NNAMDIWhat if he never returns your phone calls?
NORTONWell, you know...
NNAMDIYou going to show up at his office and kind of just sit there?
NORTON...I'm going to call and ask for an appointment. I understand what the context here. We are making remarkable progress on budget autonomy. We have got Darrell Issa, the chairman of the committee, with jurisdiction over the District essentially with a bill that is almost like my own. We have the majority leader of the House, Eric Cantor, coming out for budget autonomy for the District of Columbia.
NORTONThe governor of Virginia has come out for budget autonomy for the District of Columbia, and the Senate had a bipartisan sponsorship. Sen. Collins, Sen. Lieberman, they were set to go. We are so encouraged, frankly, by the Republican support we've received in, of all places, the House that we are, as they say in the street, no ways discouraged. There is more than one way to skin a cat.
NNAMDIOn to Kevin in Washington, D.C. Kevin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KEVINThank you very much. Since President Obama and Mr. Romney have both said they would support statehood for Puerto Rico, and substantial plurality supported it, why not simply put it on the ballot asking the residents of the District if they would want statehood? I don't see what basis either would have to ignore the District in that case.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Congresswoman Norton?
NORTONI think the people of the District have already spoken that they want statehood, but if you want to put it on the ballot again, go ahead and do it. Obviously the only way to get our full rights, so the Congress never interferes with us, is to become the 51st state. That's where we want. However, if we don't get there tomorrow, the real question, especially from the member who represents the District, is, can you at least get us somewhere close? Budget autonomy probably is second only to statehood and voting rights.
NNAMDIWould it help to get us in the Democratic National Committee platform again? There's a convention coming up...
NORTONI certainly intend to do that.
NNAMDI...this year, and it's going to basically anoint President Obama as the party's candidate again.
NORTONAnd every year....
NNAMDICould this be one of the things we put in?
NORTONAnd every year we insist upon being in the platform, and, once again, we are going to go through that process.
SHERWOODYou know, President Obama has never -- he, when he ran for office, he indicated he was supporting voting rights. I don't think he said statehood. I think he said voting rights. But since he's been president, he's only gone to our restaurants. He hasn't gone to our local community to say he supports voting rights or anything else, self-determination for the city. Why has the president been absent without leave on this subject?
NORTONI'm not his proxy, but I will say this (unintelligible) it's true that if he comes into the city, then, of course, people criticize him for using us as a prop. What has been important to me is the support I received in two of his budgets -- budget autonomy. Frankly, our people did the right thing when they sat down in front of the White House and not just the Senate after the president acquiesced, as it were, to putting that abortion amendment in, to get the 2011 budget through.
NORTONBut since then, I must say the president has really been upfront. He, for example, is supporting something that we should be able to get this year. That is a no-shutdown bill for the District of Columbia. Three times last year, the District was threatened with shutdown because the federal government was about to shut down. I have had bill after bill and did amendment after amendment, try to keep the District open.
NORTONThis time, the no-shutdown for the District bill, my bill, is in the Senate appropriation bill. And I think that will forever free us from being shut down because the federal government can't get its act together after we have sent a balanced budget to Congress, where it doesn't belong in the first place.
SHERWOODI wanted to ask you, 'cause we've just gone through this horrendous week of aftermath of the storm and you're on the Homeland Security subcommittee kind of -- I get all your committees kind of...
NORTONNo. I was on three committees including that, yeah, last year...
NNAMDIOK. But you have now moved on.
NORTONI had to go off.
SHERWOODBut you know what I'm talking about.
NORTONYeah, I do.
SHERWOODThis metropolitan region has had snowstorms, debilitating snowstorms. We've had thunderstorms. We've had earthquakes. We've had this most recent storm. And all I hear from the council of governments and from the mayor and from other people is we've got to have a better emergency plan for this region in case of natural disaster or terrorism.
SHERWOODAnd each time, everyone says we're going to plan some more, we're going to meet some more, we're going to think about it, we're going to coordinate, we're going to talk to you and you're going to talk to me. Is this city ready? Jim Dinegar of the Board of Trade says this city is -- this region is not ready for the type of events that we are experiencing. I'd like to know what you think.
NORTONWell, I wouldn't say we're not ready. I think tremendous progress is in place since 9/11. But I agree with you about this region. Look at the earthquake. If you really want -- that was completely unexpected. But that's what a terrorist attack would be, something completely unexpected. I got an amendment in the Homeland Security bill to set up the agency specifically for this region. I haven't heard from that. There's a person appointed to deal with this region. Do you all ever get to interview him? So I can see...
SHERWOODYou haven't heard of him? I mean, heard from him?
NORTONI haven't heard from him in so long. They probably have a new one there by then -- by now.
SHERWOODIsn't there too much planning and not enough doing, is basically what I'm trying to say?
NORTONThere is because what you need is real-time exercises, and we don't do enough of those here. For example, they tried to do one a couple of years ago on the 4th of July just by making sure that the lights shut down at certain point, and then they only went on in another point because we had lots of people in town. That's the kind of thing you have to do in order to make -- prepare people for what you cannot prepare them for.
SHERWOODAnd they had Arlington work with the city so that you don't put people on the 14th Street bridge and they have nowhere to go when they get to Arlington, or go out New York Avenue when you get...
NORTONThat's what got to me at the earthquake that everybody fled for the same essential exit. Then we did get some changes. We cried to, you know, to high heaven on that one --- some essential changes so that now, you're supposed to -- they're supposed to let people go on only a timed base this. And you're supposed to go one way and not the other way. Let's see if it works.
SHERWOODJim Vance, I knew you report these stories from an anchor's chair, and you see the entire region. I mean, do you see any improvement since 9/11 really?
VANCENo. I do not, and I'm not sure -- I agree with the congresswoman in terms of real-time experimentation or whatever the right word might be on that. I don't know how much planning there is that can be done that could be proven to be effective in the event of such -- something like that.
NORTONBefore the fact.
VANCEBefore the fact. Planning is necessary. I'm curious also whether there is any metropolitan jurisdiction in the United States of America that is prepared for the likelihood of a earth-shattering event, like a terrorist attack or something like that. I am not happy that there is no pronouncement of here is what we are going to do and here is how it's going to work. And I wish with all the time and the effort that has been spent so far that there were something that I could have a little bit of confidence in. But at the current time, I don't have any confidence at all that, you know, we'll make...
NORTONAnd I think, you know, I think individual jurisdictions -- and this one ought to be the first to have a way that people feel secure -- I think individual jurisdictions are left to their own. I have a bill that would say that the president will have a commission to give guidance to jurisdictions so that you know what worked in big cities and the rest of it. And I don't like the fact that cities have to figure out on their own what to do when there probably is experience that could be shared that would help us all. For example, New York can teach us a lot.
NNAMDICongresswoman Norton, please, put on your law professor hat. Michael in Annapolis -- in addition to your headphones -- Michael in Annapolis, Md. has a question for you. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes. Thanks. This is for Delegate Norton. I've heard a lot of this discussion about statehood for the District and voting rights and budget authority and so forth. Certainly, I think I understand all of that and can empathize with it to a degree, but I never hear the language of the Constitution mentioned as, you know, either an impediment or the impediment to all of this. And then what would be necessary in a legal or legislative, you know, context to make this work for you guys?
NORTONWell, Constitution, we believe, is not an impediment because states enter the union through a process involving the Congress. They don't enter the union by getting a constitutional amendment, and we don't believe we would have to either. We even believe that the Congress could have given us voting rights because the Congress has full dominion over the District. If it has full dominion, then why it can't it give us the same rights that we believe the framers thought we would have?
NORTONDo you really believe, for example, that people from this area, who went to war on the slogan of no taxation without representation, imagined that they would be left as the only Americans who didn't have the same rights everybody else had? Those who go to the framers in the Constitution, I think, are going to be -- are not going to be able to make that case what's -- and then, of course, was politics after the transition to the District of Columbia. And you know what -- where that has left us for over 200 years.
NNAMDICongresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton is a member of the United States House of Representatives. She is a Democrat and the delegate who represents the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIGood to see you in studio. Also in studio with us is Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our guest analyst is Jim Vance, NBC 4 anchor and Harley Davidson enthusiast. Now, I have to say that every time I call Jim.
SHERWOODAre you going to bring that subject up with him? You're, like, you're prepping for him for a question about motorcycles. Are you going to buy one?
NNAMDINo, I'm not.
SHERWOODI recommend that you not.
VANCEI am leaving tomorrow morning for Jackson Hole, Wyo., where I'm going to pick up my bike and riding to Yellowstone and then out to Glacier National Park, and then back across the country, but this time, all on two-lane highways. No...
SHERWOODOh, the back roads of America.
VANCEThe back roads of America.
NNAMDIHow long will you be on your bike?
SHERWOODAre you be tweeting?
VANCEIt'll be five, six, seven, eight, nine days.
SHERWOODWill you tweet while you're on this trip? You hadn't even thought about that, had you?
VANCEI thought about Brooklyn Bridge.
SHERWOODYou had not thought about it at all.
VANCEI don't even know how to tweet.
SHERWOODYou got to learn how to tweet. You could tweet...
VANCENo, I don't.
SHERWOODYou can tweet across America. That would be great.
NNAMDII have heard him say this on television.
SHERWOOD@jimvance, right? And what's your tweet, @jimvance?
VANCEI have no idea what (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYeah, it is. That's what it is. You don't even know what it is.
SHERWOODYou know, Marion Barry was in here, and he could tweet.
VANCEYeah, I know.
SHERWOODHe did it right on this show.
NNAMDISpeaking of tweets, you can send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Remember to use the #PoliticsHour when you do that. Joining us now by phone is Douglas Nazarian. He is the chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. Douglas Nazarian, thank you so much for joining us. Douglas Nazarian, are you there? Can you hear me?
MR. DOUGLAS NAZARIANI am. I am.
NNAMDIThe derecho has unleashed a lot of anger at Pepco in Maryland. But earlier this week, the writer Gregg Easterbrook unleashed a torrent of criticism of your commission, saying that Pepco's unreliability is a byproduct of the inability of regulators to protect consumers. You wrote him back in the comment section of that article. Why did you feel the record had to be corrected?
NAZARIANWell, I thought the record had to be corrected because Mr. Easterbrook failed to mention the significant work this commission has done over the last two years, first of all, to address Pepco's reliability situations specifically and, secondly, to establish statewide electric reliability standards for all of Maryland's electric companies. So his story, which was borne of an understandable frustration and went beyond just electric companies and regulations, but never -- he left out that important part of the story. And I thought that needed to be corrected.
NNAMDIWell, I agree that you would want to correct the story. But one of the things you mentioned in your correction was that we fined -- that is, the Maryland Public Service Commission -- Pepco $1 million, the largest fine in the 102-year history of our commission. When I looked at the CEO Joe Rigby's salary, he earned $8.8 million in the last two years. What you fined Pepco was less than one quarter of his yearly salary. Most people say that probably didn't hurt them one little bit. And my question is, you're saying?
NNAMDIMy question is...
NNAMDI...why was the penalty on Pepco so light?
NAZARIANWell, the penalty reflected the violations that we found of our regulations. And then these were the regulations as they stood before we've updated and amended them. But, no, look, we are a regulatory agency. We are a -- we sit in a quasi-judicial capacity in cases like this. We got a detailed record from all sorts of parties, including the Montgomery County Task Force, including our staff, including the Office of People's Counsel.
NAZARIANWe had a very detailed record. We found a number of violations of our law and our regulations. And we calculated the fine that we thought was appropriate. How that compares to Mr. Rigby's salary or not was not one of the elements of the case that we decided.
SHERWOODMr. Nazarian, it's Tom Sherwood from Channel 4. I went back and looked at the 2004 annual report of the Maryland Public Service Commission in which the -- this was after Hurricane Tropical Storm Isabel.
SHERWOODAnd the Public Service Commission directed Pepco and other utilities to provide status reports to the commission on modifications of their respective outage management systems and directed the utilities to provide updated information on how it would -- they would work with all the governments around the region.
SHERWOODAnd it just seems to me this is a Groundhog Day controversy, that, no matter what the storm is, no matter what happens with Pepco, the commissions or whoever their elected leaders -- we'll talk to one in a moment -- direct them that we've got to do better. Mayor Gray said it this week: Pepco's got to move faster. It just seems to me a churning, and nothing ever comes out of these events.
NAZARIANOh, is there a question there somewhere?
NAZARIANYes. From 2004 on, there's just been -- Pepco has been told to do more, do more, do more. But yet we still have what appears to be an intolerable situation of people without power for lengthy periods of time, or do you think Pepco did a good job this time?
NAZARIANWell, we've been very clear about the storm. We're not happy with anybody being out of power at all, and we're not going to be satisfied until everybody has turned it back on.
SHERWOODYou were asking for a meeting next week for Pepco give an...
NAZARIANNo, no. Here's what happened. So as a regulatory agency, our role is to make sure that the utility companies are staffed and structured properly, that they maintain reliable systems, that their rates are reasonable, and that they have appropriate plans to respond to outage events. We're still restoring customers, and our focus right now is on -- is in getting everybody turned back on.
NAZARIANOnce service is fully restored, all of Maryland's electric companies will be required to file detailed reports with us, which we and our staff will go over with a fine-tooth comb. We'll have not only hearings in our hearing room but we'll have evening public comment hearings so folks can come out and share their experiences with us.
SHERWOODAnd this is what was done in 2004?
NAZARIANWell, it's been done -- it's done after every significant storm event. And we do -- the plans have been updated. There's been, like I said, a tremendous amount of work done over the last two years not only to improve the fundamental maintenance of these electric companies' reliability systems, but to put concrete metrics in place to drive their reliability performance and their storm restoration performance. We have held Pepco and all the companies to our standards, and we'll continue to do that. And we'll do whatever we can to improve their performance.
NNAMDIHere's Jim Vance.
VANCEMr. Nazarian, this is Jim Vance, by the way, from Channel 4 news. Pepco is asking for a rate increase. And as the head of the commission, I'm wondering if you think that's a good idea and if you think that they have earned that, or not earned it, but deserve it.
NAZARIANWell, all I can tell you, the case is still pending, and I can't comment on it. I can tell you that the case was filed back in December, that whenever any company seeks to adjust its rates, you know, it triggers a detailed review process and that that has been under way since their request was filed in December. Beyond that, I can't comment on it because it's still a pending matter.
NNAMDIDouglas Nazarian is the chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission. He joined us by telephone. Thank you very much for joining us.
NAZARIANThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIn studio with us is Isiah Leggett. He is the county executive of Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. Ike Leggett, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ISIAH LEGGETTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMontgomery County is still feeling the pain of the derecho. It has the greatest amount of people still without power. Why is the number of outages, in your view, still so high in your county, and what efforts have you made to make sure Montgomery County residents gain back their electricity?
LEGGETTI think you heard in the comments from the commission that the basis on which they made their initial findings was based on a analysis done by Montgomery County some years ago, where we outlined the challenges and the problems: A, lack of attention to the infrastructure, B, post-management after the storm and, C, communications. The plan is there. It is the execution of that plan, I think, where we find the fault.
LEGGETTIt has not been aggressive enough. It has not been timely. And we find that is the -- on the basis for much of the problems that we see today if you do not have the infrastructure in place. Now, Pepco has been responding to that but is not at the pace to resolve the challenges that we see today. It's equivalent to you've been behind in three touchdowns in a football game, and you wait till the last two minute to run the two-minute offense. You need to do that much earlier. And I think that's what we are seeing here.
NNAMDIA little over a year ago, after the storms of 2010 and 2011, when the people of Maryland were upset-hot, you told us that people needed to cool down the rhetoric with Pepco. You seem to be offering the carrot. Now after this recent storm, what do you think Pepco deserves? Are you prepared to offer the stick, and if so, what...
LEGGETTWell, I think we have been applying the stick. I said that their performance is unacceptable. I said that we need to look at how we need to make changes both in and outside of Pepco to make sure that it responds appropriately. I think we need to look at the commission's role because I don't think that they have pushed them hard enough. The question earlier about the $1 million fine, I think, was inadequate. And I think that we need to have a plan that is executed. The plan that we have before -- now is not being properly executed.
VANCEYou really have no power to affect any change, though, do you, Mr. Leggett?
LEGGETTNo. We can bring public attention to it, and I think that's what we've done. And you see and hear the remarks from the commissioners, and you see what Pepco is doing, but we do not have the control at the local level. But I think that we have our own task force report basis for which the commission acted, what we are trying to do now through our general assembly, through the governor and others to try to apply enough pressure on the commission to get them to act even -- much more aggressively than they've done in the past.
SHERWOODYou would have control. One of the issues were the traffic lights go out when the power goes out. To what extent has Montgomery County done anything to have redundancy -- I hate that word -- backup power to make sure the lights work, solar energy or whatever, so that you can move people about during an emergency?
LEGGETTWell, first of all, that would not work because it's too cost-prohibitive. We have 800 intersections in Montgomery County, so you literally cannot do that. All you need is just for a handful of them to fail before you get to the traffic congestion, so that's not a wise investment to do all of those. We have changed all of the traffic signals in Montgomery County. You may recall a few years ago we had the antiquated system.
LEGGETTI had plans at that time to change them. We have changed them. In fact, we completed that about a month or so ago. But you cannot affect that unless you have power. And to try to provide some inadequate source of power that would not provide you the long relief that you want, I don't think, will be helpful.
SHERWOODTake the big picture 'cause when you were on the council, you were a head of the transportation committee. And you maybe heard while you were waiting to come in, we've had all these natural disasters. Whether the earthquake or the snowstorm in February, the snowstorm in January of 2011, it seems that this region does not act in unison well enough despite the Council of Governments, despite the discussions. Is it your -- what is your thought about whether this region is prepared? Mr. Vance said, you know, maybe no region is really prepared for a major event.
LEGGETTIt may come as a shock to you, but I agree with Mr. Vance.
SHERWOODIs it -- maybe we should just tell people, don't think we're going to be able to run things. It's going to be everyone for himself.
LEGGETTNo, no. No, no. No. No. Here's what I -- let me explain. What we need to do is to get an acceptable plan that would allow people to more or less shelter in place. Any plan that you put before us, given the inadequate road situation that we have throughout this region, and the reliance upon people making the decision not to leave because they believe that that is better in terms of their safety, I think, would be preferable than all of those people, at whatever point in time that you suggest, leaving the District of Columbia and going out.
LEGGETTThere is no adequate form of transportation that will allow that to happen in a way that is orderly. There is no jurisdiction in this country that could do that, even New York, someone talked about earlier. You really would have to come up with a plan, in many ways, to allow shelter in place and do that as a means of protecting people rather than to say, we're going to leave in a staggered manner.
SHERWOODI like the idea of shelter-in-place, but the Achilles heel of that is I see -- whenever we have an incident at any school or any public place, particularly in a school, the parents all rush to the school and have to be held back from getting their children. In any kind of a major event, parents are going to want to be with their children. People are going to be with their elderly parents. They want to get home.
SHERWOODThey will -- I have a plan with my son. I said, the last thing you want to do is come towards me. I said, go as far out as possible whatever happens, and we'll hook up later, assuming we can. But it seems to me that this shelter-in-place idea, while it works bureaucratically in the plan, doesn't work 'cause people are not going to stay in their office when they live in Arlington or they live in Rockville.
LEGGETTBut I'm not sure that we've really pushed that as a concept to be followed. I think what we've simply said to people, you need to stagger your departure in a way that is orderly. And we need to convey the message that you may be safer by simply staying in place for an appropriate period of time rather than to rush to the scene and leave the county or leave the city because the system of transportation is not adequate in this region to handle it, nor is it adequate in any place in this entire country.
NNAMDIWell, as Vance pointed out earlier, Sherwood has no filter. He also cannot stay in one place for a very long time.
SHERWOODI'm about to get up right here.
NNAMDIHe assumes that most people are like him. Gentlemen, don your headphones, please, because here's Timothy in Silver Spring, Md. Timothy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TIMOTHYHi. I'm a lineman for different utilities, so that may color how I come off. But I have to say that Pepco, last year, told us that it was going to take five days to get to 90 percent, the year before they told us that it was going to take three days. All I see that they're changing is the expectations they set. And judging by the trailer for the show, Kojo, it feels like you bit on that -- on those lowered expectations 'cause you said they got -- they were ahead of how they were supposed to do it. Well, I don't actually see any difference in reaction time. The other thing I would have to mention is that...
NNAMDIWell, I don't -- I didn't say that they were ahead of what they were expected to do. You must have heard that from someplace else on the station or someplace else.
TIMOTHYThat was from the trailer for the show, the publicity trailer for the show on WAMU.
NNAMDIOK. Got you. OK.
TIMOTHYListen -- I'm sorry. That was a little bit of a -- I respect you a lot, Kojo. I mean, I love your show. But I do think a lot of people bit on those lowered expectations, and I do think that that's a great game they're playing. The other thing I would have to say is every other utility that I've ever been involved with starts crews moving when the storm is forecast.
TIMOTHYWe have several times paid crews to start driving and then paid them to drive back home when the storm turned out not to be so bad. Pepco always says, oh, everybody else got all the crews because they don't ask for the crews early enough. They don't ask for the crews until a day after the damage has been done. That's not the time to start the crews moving.
NNAMDIGregg Easterbrook's piece in The Atlantic said within 48 hours of the storm Dominican had 2,000 out-of-state workers present to assist in restoration. Pepco had just 300. If indeed that is correct, Ike Leggett, isn't that something that you can address?
LEGGETTThat's precisely what I addressed, and that's what I've been claiming. I've said that they did not call the crews in soon enough not only in this storm, in prior storms as well. If they...
SHERWOODThat's a matter of policy, they told you.
LEGGETTYou could determine, one hour after the storm had hit, that we had a catastrophe that required great deal of support from throughout the entire region and beyond. And I'm not sure that they called them in. Now, we'd have to get an answer from them as it relates to that. As it relates to that expectation, that was a pretty low bar to say that you're going to wait until July 6 to get 90 percent of the service. I had criticized and said, at that very time that they made that statement, that that was not accurate and was unacceptable.
VANCEMr. Leggett, would you suggest that, considering the nature of the leadership that's been in place through several different events, that there needs to be a change at the top?
LEGGETTI'm not prepared to say that right now, but I think at some point in time, once we go to the following analysis, I very well will come to that conclusion because I'm not sure that we have the kind of response that we need and the leadership as well as a great deal of confidence. And with that loss of confidence, I think it creates a problem for the entire region.
NNAMDIHere's Nick in Winchester Virginia. Nick, your turn.
NICKHi. I think a lot of my points have already been made. But one result of the Supreme Court's upholding the Obamacare -- I always call it the Affordable Care law -- it seems to me is it should bring on an honest discussion of taxation and cost and cost benefits. One thing that had been proposed was that the electric lines should be placed underground instead of on poles. And the response from the power companies was, this would be simply too expensive. It would cost billions of dollars. What about a cost analysis that would show whether it's any wise or found foolish?
NNAMDIIke Leggett, is that something that you have considered and would be willing to propose?
LEGGETTYes. My task force looked at that and concluded that it is cost-prohibitive because, ultimately, that cost very well may be passed on to the ratepayers. You're talking three to $4 billion. Now, an alternative has been suggested. That is to look strategically at certain lines and bury individual lines as opposed to looking at the entire system. I would love to have all of them in some form of (unintelligible).
LEGGETTBut I am not going to buy into a system that will suggest three to $4 billion added on to the cost of the utility that we have now. That's simply unacceptable. We can look at a plan that would strategically harden and bury those lines in places where we think that it is feasible. And that analysis has been done, and it is costly.
SHERWOODCan we go to some other quick subjects? A couple of quick things here. One, there's not going to be a special session of the legislature for a casino that could go to National Harbor. What's your thought about just the casino business in the state of Maryland? Is it moving about like you would do it if you were in charge? Or do you think Maryland should -- I mean, Prince George's ought to have that casino?
LEGGETTAll right. Let me make sure you're clear to understand that last word, Prince George's in National Harbor (unintelligible).
SHERWOODPrince George's, that's right. I know it's not -- I do know a little bit about...
SHERWOODBut you share a border and you share issues and...
NNAMDIWe've never proposed a casino in Montgomery County. Maybe it's going to start.
SHERWOODWell, I think Rockville, you know, that would give me a reason to go to Rockville or Gaithersburg, on a place called Gaithersburg.
LEGGETTWell, you won't be coming to Rockville any time soon.
LEGGETTBut no, no. I...
SHERWOODI know you're from Montgomery County.
LEGGETTAll right. I know. I'm just kidding. I think that Rushern Baker and the officials in Prince George's County has made a very strong case. We have gambling in Maryland. We have gambling all over Maryland. And the idea that we cannot, in some form, accommodate another site in Prince George's County where you have the ability to expand and reach a number of potential clients that the others have not reached as well as provide a continued tax base for the residents of the state of Maryland, I think at this point in time the -- you close the barn if the horses are gone.
LEGGETTI think that he's made a very strong case for it. I was the one who, for a long period of time, did not support this going. And look at the reality of what we face today. Gambling is all around the state of Maryland. It is in the state of Maryland. And if we are going to take advantage of the resources that we have and then not allow them to go outside of the state, I think Prince George's County makes a very strong case...
SHERWOODAnd my -- Excuse me. My last question would be the state party -- you were state party chairman back in 2002, I think, whenever...
SHERWOOD...Maryland state party chairman. The jobs report today was, again, terrible.
SHERWOODPresident Obama is facing reelection. I know Maryland is a strong blue state for the Democrats. You'll be going down to the convention, I believe, as a delegate, right, in Charlotte?
LEGGETTRight. Mm hmm.
SHERWOODWhat's your honest assessment of where this presidential race stands between Obama and Romney?
LEGGETTI think it's a close race, but I think the president has a very good position to be in in terms of the overall situation that he found as he arrived in the office, the performance and the obstruction that he's faced as it relates to where we stand today. We have, in many ways, the impact of the four years prior to this president coming into our office and...
SHERWOODCan you sell that to the people, though? Because, you know, people can't remember yesterday, much less four years ago.
LEGGETTWell, I think that they can remember the policies that got us there. Certainly, we are not in a position that we should be in overall, but let's look at the alternatives in what has been added and what has been suggested...
NNAMDIAnd let me ask a question about something that really gets people upset. Last week, a Howard County man was arrested after he used a slingshot. We're running out of time. He used a slingshot to fire marbles at a mobile speed camera operated by the county, this after he'd been nabbed two times along the same route. He's now been charged with second-degree assault, destruction of property, reckless endangerment. Few pieces of technology have been more polarizing in our region than these devices.
NNAMDIAnd allow me to advance what may seem like a convoluted argument. People say when the speed limits were set, they were set with the understanding that people will always go between five and 10 miles hour above the speed limit. But with these speed cameras, you are enforcing speed limits at the exact speed limit, and people feel that that is a bit unfair to what they have been used to over the past several decades.
LEGGETTIt's 11 miles over the speed limit.
SHERWOODEleven miles over the limit.
NNAMDIFor which you get a ticket on the speed cameras.
SHERWOODYes. You have to get 11...
NNAMDIYeah, you know what the other argument is, of course, that these things are really simply cash cows for local government. You're simply making a lot of money, all of these things -- on all of these things, and the safety advantages of them have not been proven.
LEGGETTThat's incorrect. We are looking at reduced speeds, lower contact for pedestrians. And we have created a better safety environment. This is a safety initiative, Kojo, not a revenue investment.
VANCEMr. Leggett, do you really believe that? 'Cause if you do, I think you might be the only person not only in this room but in the universe...
SHERWOODIsn't it fair -- exactly. This is -- I don't know why you and other people just don't say this is the truth. The fact is people speed. We want to stop them. The way to stop them is to get -- to charge them extra money. We'll use that extra money to fund our programs. I mean, that's what you're doing. It is a revenue raiser, so why don't you say it is? But the point is for safety, but, yes, we're going to make money off of it, and if you don't want to pay the money, don't speed.
LEGGETTWell, we don't make money off of it because the little money that we do, in fact, receive we use it precisely for public safety.
SHERWOODI think the city does. Right.
LEGGETTSo it goes back into the public safety...
SHERWOODAll right. So it is the money. OK.
LEGGETTKojo, if I have enough time to say...
NNAMDIYes, you do. You have...
LEGGETT...once again, please, to -- no filter, Tom -- that the jobs report that just was released was not terrible. It did not meet expectations, but the 300-and-some-odd-thousand people who got jobs since the last report was issued probably would not feel too badly about the economy.
SHERWOODDid not meet expectations. That's not a politician over there. Anyway, his suite is at Jim Vance store. So I guess you guys all hook up with him.
VANCEAnd you will manage it for me, right?
SHERWOODAnd then this trip out West...
NNAMDIDuring the course of these nine days...
LEGGETTI came in (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYou interview all the unemployed people you see out West and you'll see how bad it is.
LEGGETTI came in agreeing with Jim Vance. I'm leaving agreeing with Jim Vance.
NNAMDIWho, during the course of the next nine days, will always be riding his Harley within the speed limit, correct?
VANCEAbsolutely. I never, ever, ever violate the speed limit, no.
SHERWOODOh, wait a minute. That is a challenge, ladies and gentlemen. If you see him, you let me know.
NNAMDIThat won't be the first lie you've heard on The Politics Hour.
VANCEThat's Tom Sherwood.
NNAMDIJim Vance is our guest analyst today. He's an anchor at NBC 4 and, as I've been keeping saying, a Harley Davidson enthusiast. Good luck on your ride and be safe.
VANCEThank you. Looking forward to it, Kojo.
NNAMDIIsaiah Leggett is the county executive of Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. County Executive Leggett, thank you for joining us.
LEGGETTThank you for having me.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst and -- have you been riding a bicycle lately?
SHERWOODYes, I have been, but not in this stupid heat. I'm not an idiot.
NNAMDISome -- I'd reserve an opinion on that.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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