Virginia Republican Party Chair John Whitbeck joins us in studio, and we get an update on Congress and D.C.'s "Death with Dignity" bill from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Maryland rolls the dice on a new plan to expand casino gambling. D.C. petitioners pushing a measure to limit corporate influence on political campaigns come up short. And the presidential campaigns ramp up their game in Virginia. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Bill Bolling Lieutenant Governor of Virginia (R); Republican Candidate for Re-Election
- Matt Bush WAMU Reporter
- Hans Riemer Member, Montgomery County Council (D-At Large)
Politics Hour Video
Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) talked about his candidacy against Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the 2013 governor’s race. Bolling said he and Cuccinelli would both govern Virginia in a conservative way, but his background, experience, qualifications and leadership style differ from Cuccinelli’s. “I think I’m the more electable candidate,” Bolling said.
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, and only he understands, in every single little detail, exactly what has been going on at the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, which has been reducing the 2012 assessments of more than 500 commercial properties through settlements between city officials and property owners.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe taxable value of these commercial properties in the District is somewhere in the vicinity of $2.6 billion. The agreements represent a $48 million reduction in potential revenue for the current tax year, and in most cases, those settlements were made against the initial recommendations of staff appraisers.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhat it seems to be happening here, Tom, is -- at least the logic of it is that it is avoiding the court cost that would be involved if all of these people decided to challenge their tax assessments in court. And somebody somewhere made a decision that it would be best to reach agreements with these developers rather than go through the costly process of going to court.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, this story, frankly, rears its head every few years it seems, and The Post made it the lead story in the front page of the paper this week. I've reviewed some of the story before The Post story and as it's gone along. And we're talking about $48 million out of the hundreds of millions, if not, you know, billions of taxes that are collected. And the story suggested that the FBI was investigating this, but, you know, the FBI investigating was like four or five paragraphs from the lead of the story.
MR. TOM SHERWOODIf I had done this story and I thought the FBI was doing a serious investigation, this -- it would lead -- it would have been the FBI is investigating tax settlement deals in the D.C. Office of Property Tax. That wasn't the story. It was a very complicated story.
SHERWOODThe -- Natwar Gandhi's office, the CFO, responded by saying that the story didn't take into consideration of the reviews that take place and, as you mentioned, the avoidance of legal battles. It's just a big deal. It's an emotional issue. And I think there's been no allegation of criminality or malfeasance. It's just to whether it's the right policy or not. And then Phil Mendelson, the council chairman, who...
NNAMDIWho was proceeding carefully.
SHERWOODProceeding -- is always proceeding carefully.
NNAMDII knew you'd say that.
SHERWOODAnd Jack Evans says, you know, if we get more information worthy of a hearing, we'll hold a hearing on this. But I don't know that this is going to rise above where it is right now.
NNAMDIAs you've said, it's a very complicated story and difficult to understand. We'll see if there are developments in the coming weeks. There has been a development with Initiative 70. For those of you who are unfamiliar what that is, that is the initiative by Bryan Weaver in the D.C. committee to restore public trust that would prohibit businesses and corporations from making direct campaign contributions to candidates for D.C. office on the November ballot.
NNAMDIThe Board of Elections has ruled that there are some 1,726 signatures short of the number of signatures they need to make the ballot. They did submit more than 30,000 signatures. But of those that have been rejected, it seems, Tom, that the issue is that there are addresses that -- or signatures that did not match records and missing addresses. But Elissa Silverman has been making the argument that those people may have moved, that they are registered voters in the District of Columbia and that the city is not apparently quite clear.
NNAMDIThe Board of Elections is not quite clear about what you do when people have been -- don't seem to be living at the same address anymore because it's different in candidate elections apparently than it is in the initiative process, except that what -- how the law is applied in the initiative process isn't clearly spelled out.
SHERWOODCan we go back to the property tax? The other story is less complicated.
NNAMDIThe other story, that's less complicated than this one.
SHERWOODNo. But, actually, this is fairly simple. There is a requirement to get a citizen initiative on the ballot for people to vote. There has to be a certain number of signatures citywide, and they have to be represented from five -- at least five of the eight wards. That's where you're getting a citywide result there. The board looked at these signatures, more than 30,000, and found them wanting by almost 2,000 votes but did note -- and this is the good thing for the D.C. Public Trust Coalition.
SHERWOODThere are 3,000 or so people who are registered but are not registered at the exact same address as they signed on the petitions. It's a Herculean job for the folks to do, and they're doing it right now, is to go through these things and try to find out -- to correct the addresses. They can't collect additional signatures. Somebody said, well, just go out and get more. You can't do that. But -- so they have a 10-day period -- I think it's till Aug. 20 where they can, you know, fix the record.
NNAMDIBut they seem to be unsure of what happens if they, in fact, get the correct addresses.
SHERWOODWell, that's -- they're hoping that maybe if they still don't make it, then they -- maybe they'll be subject to a -- the city would be subject to a legal challenge to force it on the ballot because the people are registered, and that's just a technical thing that the address is wrong. That's another whole chapter to play out.
SHERWOODBut, you know, let's not forget, this is an initiative, which I have questioned whether it will be good or not or will be effective or not, that would ban all corporate contributions to political campaigns, to political candidates, to birthday parties, to inaugural committees, to transition committees, you know, to all kinds of committees, just to take corporate money out of the city's campaigns. It's an important issue. Some people think, well, maybe the council will have another chance to pass it itself, and we won't even need the initiative. But we'll see. That's probably not going to happen.
NNAMDIAnd as both Jack Evans and you have pointed out on this broadcast, these corporations do have a way of -- do find ways of getting around these laws even when they are passed and making contributions anyway. And so Jack Evans and others feel the transparency, that is, knowing exactly what...
NNAMDI...corporations gave -- give and to whom may be a better way to go, but we'll have to see.
SHERWOODBut one benefit would be that if I'm a single person or a group of people and we have 10 separate corporations, we own 10 buildings in Washington, then we can give 10 separate times, even though we're the same two people or the same person. And that's the kind of bundling effect that skews the amount of money that's raised, and that's one of the things that the initiative would block.
SHERWOODSo I think there should be a full vetting and airing of this issue, and it would be -- I think it would be kind of cool if they actually get on the ballot, but it's up to them now to get the signatures in a form that the Board of Elections will accept them.
NNAMDIAnd now that we are all caught up in the excitement of the Olympics, the question is being raised again: Should Washington, D.C. make a bid to host the Olympics in 2024? And you talked to former Mayor Anthony Williams about this because he has some experience in that regard. We wanted these Olympics, these in 2012 to be held right here.
SHERWOODThat's correct. You know, it was a big effort by Baltimore and Washington, of the 2012 committee. Dan Knise, I think is his name, who helped lead the effort, he told the Baltimore Sun recently, well, let's try for the 2024 Olympics. And I think the response to that was a collective gasp, but, oh, can we do it? And even Mayor Gray this week -- and I'll get to Tony Williams in a moment -- said, you know, if this -- we did this, we would have to have a regional agreement from Richmond to Philadelphia and to Annapolis and to get all this done.
SHERWOODIt would be a major undertaking. Tony Williams, who's now the chair -- the head of the Federal City Council, an influential business group, said, you know, it's worth talking about. But then he said, but it is a huge undertaking. A dramatic amount of money and goodwill and effort would have to go into it. He says he's willing to discuss it, but it needs a lot more vetting before they go forward.
SHERWOODAnd I think Barbara Lang, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said the same thing. Jim Dinegar, who runs the Board of Trade, said the same thing. I think everyone says, well, it sounds like maybe we could do it, but there are a lot of hurdles. There are more hurdles than there are in the Olympics.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, you're listening to "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Today, we'll be talking with Hans Riemer of the Montgomery County Council. We'll also be talking with WAMU 88.5 reporter Matt Bush to talk about what's going on in Annapolis over the issue of casino gambling.
NNAMDIAnd the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Bill Bolling, will also be joining us. In the meantime, here is Anne in Washington, D.C., who would like, I think, to talk about D.C. statehood and the Democratic Party platform. What would you like to say about this, Anne?
ANNEWhat I'd like to say is I'm just shocked that our non-voting delegate, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, for the third time in a row, which is 2004, 2008 and 2012, has taken the call for D.C. statehood out of the Democratic platform, which was in there in two -- in 1998, 1992...
NNAMDIWhat do you mean she has taken it out? When she was a guest on this broadcast recently, she said she was doing her best to participate in the process and get it in.
ANNEBecause the D.C. Democratic State Committee had gotten a resolution in September 2011 through the Democratic National Committee that endorsed statehood, and they were trying to use language from that resolution as the plank in the platform. She rewrote that proposed plank at the last moment, and the language that was submitted in the name of the state committee and her name just talks about full and equal congressional voting rights and budget autonomy and not having our laws subject to congressional interference.
ANNEWhat everyone seems to not understand is the only way we can permanently, as opposed to being (unintelligible) as pushing the -- fighting the same fights every time we turn around, have the complete rights that every other American has is to be a state. The problem is Congress is, in effect, our state legislature. So they are not limited by the powers that are in Article 1, the enumerated powers for what they can do federally.
ANNEThey have all the powers a state has, which means that is why we're the jurisdiction where everyone who has a hot-button issue tries to get it applying here so some congressman...
NNAMDISo what is your suggestion, Anne, about what needs to be done to get it in the Democratic Party platform?
ANNEWell, the platform committee is meeting right now in Detroit, and what we need is our delegation to say that we want the platform to say something to the effect that the Democratic Party...
NNAMDIAnd if our delegation does not say that, how do you intend to punish them?
ANNEIt's not a matter of punishing them. It's a matter of getting the issue out there and letting them know that the people of the District of Columbia...
NNAMDIAnd how should people do that?
ANNEWell, they should be contacting every member that's on the platform.
ANNEAnd they should be contacting the press, and they should be saying that what we really want is the same rights as every other American.
ANNEAnd we're not a colony.
NNAMDIHere's the press' response.
SHERWOODWell, part of this problem, as Anne knows, is a House divided. If you have a very strong but fairly small public advocacy for statehood, then there are people who have been pushing simply for voting rights in Congress, and the two sides sometimes pull in the same direction when there's a demonstration or arrests on Capitol Hill. But it seems to me the effort to get any of this moving forward has been undermined by the inability to decide on what the city really wants.
SHERWOODAnd, of course, even though it's unfair, the image of the city with the scandals that have been taking place, it's not fair that the citizens are held to some standard that other Americans are not. But it seems to me that's the issue there. You've got the image of the city, plus the advocates for voting rights and statehood don't type on the same page.
NNAMDIAnne, thank you very much for your call. We do have to move on. In a way, we'll also be moving backward because, Tom, you and I were talking before our current guest arrived about the prospects for the Washington area getting the Olympics in 2024. I don't think it would be considered an ambush question, but it could a litmus test for the next possible governor of Virginia as to whether or not he would agree to having the 2024 Olympics here in the Washington area. What say you, Bill Bolling?
LT. GOV. BILL BOLLINGWell, good afternoon. I'm sorry I missed that earlier. I apologize for running a little bit late. I hit every red light in D.C. trying to get over here to the studio today.
SHERWOODWe hope you got a red light camera and leave some money behind.
BOLLINGNo, I hope I hit them all at the right time. But, well, I haven't seen a lot of details on this proposal. But, you know, any locality that has the opportunity to host the Olympics, it's a great honor. But it's also an incredibly costly venture and requires a tremendous amount of work and preparation. So I'm sure that it's something we'd be glad to sit down and talk with folks about at some point. But right now, it's not -- it hasn't been on our front burner. Let me put it that way.
NNAMDITom said we got to talk to Baltimore and Richmond before this could be accomplished.
SHERWOODYeah, I was going to say Mayor Gray here said, you know, the city obviously couldn't even lead this thing. It would have to be regional. He said from Richmond to Philadelphia would have to be included in this, and Annapolis. So that would be -- you'd at least be willing to discuss it without putting down a marker saying (unintelligible).
BOLLINGOh, I'm always willing to sit down and talk with anybody about anything.
NNAMDIBill Bolling is the lieutenant...
SHERWOODCommuter tax for the city?
NNAMDIHe's the lieutenant governor...
SHERWOODI'm sorry, that was unfair to you.
BOLLINGThere are limitations on my tolerance.
NNAMDIHe's a Republican. He's a candidate for governor in Virginia's 2013 election. Thank you so much for joining us. The Commonwealth is a major battleground in the race for president. Mitt Romney is going to be starting a multi-state bus tour from Virginia tomorrow. You are the Virginia state chairman for the Romney campaign. Before we get into the issues that are shaping the race, what is your sense of where Virginia is leaning right now and why?
BOLLINGWell, I think it's very close. You know, Virginia is a very competitive, two-party state. If you go back over the last decade, we've had a number of elections won by Democratic candidates, including President Obama in 2008, the number of elections won by Republican candidates. So Virginia is a very competitive, two-party state. I think this is a very competitive race in Virginia. I feel pretty good about where Gov. Romney is right now and our chances of winning.
BOLLINGIf you look at the polls -- and polls, of course, are just snapshots in time. But the polls show that the race is very close within the margin of error. But what encourages me is that I think Virginians are very receptive to Gov. Romney's message of getting the economy moving again and creating jobs and dealing with these other important issues at the federal level of getting spending under control and bringing down the debt.
BOLLINGAnd none of the polls has President Obama been able to get above the mid-40s, you know, that 45, 46 percent range. I think the undecided vote will disproportionately break Gov. Romney's way in the final couple of months of the campaign, and the energy is all on our side. Virginia Republicans are energized about the need to win this election. And, again, I think independent voters, who are the key to winning in Virginia, are very open to Gov. Romney's message.
BOLLINGSo, all things considered, I'm very pleased with where we are right now. I think our chances of winning are good, and having the governor here tomorrow for three stops in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia is going to give us a really important boost.
SHERWOODWhat about the tenure of the campaign? In Virginia, there's some pretty tough fights, but there's a respect for the civility of those fights. I think the DNC -- the Democrats are doing something to have a trailing bus behind.
NNAMDIHot on the trail of the Romney campaign.
SHERWOODIs it the Democrat National Committee...
NNAMDIYeah, it's correct.
SHERWOOD...or the state party? I'm not -- couldn't be sure.
SHERWOODWhat about the tenure of the campaign itself both nationally but then in Virginia also? The ads are really ambitious.
BOLLINGWell, we certainly have been treated to all of the TV ads and radio ads on both sides of the campaign. Personally, I always think, these days, I'd like to see a higher tenure out of campaigns. But this is a presidential race. It's very important. It's going to be hard hitting. You got to expect that. I think there is a fundamental difference though. You know, President Obama and some of the ads that other organizations within the Democratic Party have been running against Gov. Romney are very personal in nature.
BOLLINGI think some of them are, frankly, mean-spirited in nature. Now, you know, we play tough, too, but we've tried to talk about issues. We've gone after what we believe is the president's failed record of leadership over the last four years, particularly in jobs and the economy, 42 months with an unemployment rate above 8 percent. So, you know, these things are going to always be hard hitting because there's a lot at stake. But I'd like to see the other side stop doing some of this personal stuff, which is not really becoming and focus a little more in issues.
SHERWOODI'd ask you about the economy, but I think we got a phone call here.
NNAMDIWe have Maureen in Sterling, Va. who would like to question you on the specific issue of the Romney presidency or presidential campaign. Maureen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAUREENThank you. Lieutenant governor, I would like to know what you are doing specifically as the state chair to ensure that Romney gets elected. Thank you.
BOLLINGYeah. Thanks, Maureen. I could talk about -- we've got a large operation up and running in Virginia. I think we've opened up about -- at least, I think it's a couple of dozen, about 25-plus victory centers all across the state. We're working very hard to try to reach out through phone calls and door-to-door campaigns to identify Gov. Romney's supporters, make sure that we mobilize them, particularly on Election Day, to get out and vote.
BOLLINGAnd then just everything we can think of, you know, being on shows, like this one today, trying to get Gov. Romney's message out. I really do believe that if we can just get Gov. Romney's message out and say to folks directly, look, if you think this president has done a good job over the past four year, then you ought to vote for him. But in reality, I think it's awfully hard to look at what this president has done and say that he's done a good job.
BOLLINGWe think he has failed to provide the leadership the state needs. We think Gov. Romney, on the other hand, has the background, knowledge and experience to do that. So by having Gov. Romney here in the state through our victory center efforts, through our own surrogate efforts, either the governor or me or others across the state, we're trying to get that message out. If people hear Gov. Romney's message, I think they're going to be attracted to what he has to say.
NNAMDIMaureen, were you aware of what the lieutenant governor was doing? Did you think it was an entirely possible that he was doing absolutely nothing?
MAUREENNo, I didn't...
NNAMDIOh, Maureen is not there. But your turn, Tom.
SHERWOODYou talked -- you mentioned Hampton Roads, and you mentioned Northern Virginia, two areas of the state that provide a lot of money to the state coffers through the spending, defense spending, in both areas, the government spending government agencies. Some of the Democrats are making a case -- are trying to make the case that the budget cutting moves that the Republicans talk about in Congress and in the federal government would directly hurt the state of -- the Commonwealth of Virginia.
SHERWOODAnd someone like Paul Ryan or something as a -- helps lead, you'll cut the national budget, and you'll do a lot of things. But Virginia will actually hurt. How do you tell the people in Northern Virginia that your jobs will be safe if Romney is president?
BOLLINGWell, look, our biggest concern right now and I think the biggest economic threat facing Virginia right now is the impact of federal sequestration. There's no question about that. But what we're primarily concerned about is the tremendously disproportionate impact that defense takes in that process. You know, defense makes up 20 percent of the federal budget. It gets 50 percent of the cuts.
BOLLINGAnd when you think about the direct impact of military spending in Virginia, the indirect impact of defense contract spending, that could have a significant impact on our state. But, you know, Gov. Romney has made clear that he doesn't support that disproportionate approach to an impact on defense spending which would not only hurt Virginia's economy, by the way, but we think also leave the country incapable of adequately defending itself.
BOLLINGRepublicans in Congress have, in fact, passed a resolution that would fully fund defense spending. I don't know that it's going to be possible to fully fund defense spending. I think there are going to have to be reductions to deal with, you know, the spending challenges that the country has. But we wanted them to be fair. We wanted them to be smart. We wanted them to be strategic. We wanted them to be targeted. We don't think any of that is really true about this current sequestration problem.
NNAMDIWell, you know what Democrats are saying. We had Democrat Gerry Connolly, congressman, on the show a few weeks ago. He said the cuts are avoidable if Republicans are willing to put taxes for high-income earners on the table. What are you telling members of your delegation about what you think they should do?
BOLLINGWell, I think, first of all, you know, we don't like the approach that President Obama and his colleagues have taken, which is basically trying to blackmail Republicans into supporting higher taxes and then using this sword of Damocles that's hanging over defense agencies in Virginia's economy in the process. So what I think Congress has to do is they have to get back to the table, and they have to talk about how to deal with the issue of spending cuts in a responsible and a strategic way.
NNAMDIWell, a lot of Republicans on the Hill have signed on to a pledge to not raise taxes. Do you think that was a wise thing to do?
BOLLINGWell, I think it's different when you're talking about cutting spending versus raising taxes. The last thing that we need to be doing right now is raising taxes. If we raise taxes right now, we're going to run the very real risk of pushing the economy back into a second recession. You know, what we need to be focusing on is responsible reductions of spending that don't have a disproportionate impact on defense and a devastating impact on Virginia's economy.
NNAMDIBut if Republicans insist on cutting spending and Democrats insist on some kind of balance between cutting spending and raising revenue, how could there possibly be a compromise?
BOLLINGWell, that's what this election is all about, and I think when the voters go to the polls on Nov. 6, they're going to have to answer that question because, look, if you want your taxes to go up, then you ought to vote to reelect President Obama because your taxes are going to go up. If you want to see us focus on trying to reduce the size and the scope of the government and reduce spending in a positive way, in a responsible way, then you ought to be voting for Mitt Romney. So that's what the election's about.
NNAMDIWayne in Richmond, Va. has a question, I think, about sequestration. Wayne, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
WAYNEYes, sir. Lt. Gov. Bolling, in addition to the sequestration, I'm also concerned about poaching of defense assets currently located in Virginia. What do you think should be done at the state level to help kind of prevent the poaching of defense assets such as Florida is always trying to do?
BOLLINGWell, we have a couple of things that we're doing right now to try to better position Virginia to deal with the overall impact of sequestration. One is as it relates to its impact on direct defense spending. You know, the various military installations that we have in our state, the secretary of Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs in Virginia, Terrie Suit, is heading up a group to try to better position Virginia to protect the military assets and installations that we have in our state.
BOLLINGAnd then, secondly, the governor has established a workgroup called the EO39 workgroup. It comes about through Executive Order 39 that I chair which is made up of cabinet secretaries to talk about how we position Virginia to deal with cuts in non-direct defense areas, you know, defense contract spending and alike. So between the work that we're doing in both of those groups, we are trying to develop our own internal strategies to do the best job we can do to deal with this in the best way we can deal with it.
BOLLINGBut, ultimately, there are two realities here. If Congress does nothing -- and Congress is pretty good at doing nothing -- and if they do nothing, then we're going to get the double whammy. Number one, we're going to have the expiration of the federal tax cuts which will mean massive tax increases on families and businesses. And number two is the impact of this really non-targeted sequestration which could have a significant adverse impact on defense and Virginia's economy.
BOLLINGSo it is incumbent upon us to be talking about these things. I think Gov. Romney has been very clear that he doesn't support higher taxes. President Obama does. Gov. Romney supports a more targeted approach to spending cuts that doesn't have a devastating impact on defense directly or indirectly and through it, Virginia's economy. And we've been calling on President Obama to tell us how he feels about this and how he intends to deal with this sequestration challenge. We've yet to really get an answer out of that. So these are important issues front and center in the November election.
SHERWOODLet's go to the big national political story is who is going to be Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate. Do you have a choice? Do you have -- if you were advising the governor, I mean, Mitt Romney, what would you say?
BOLLINGWell, there are a lot of good choices that he has available.
SHERWOODAny ones you wouldn't want?
BOLLINGWell, no. He has a lot of good -- well, there are probably some I wouldn't want. But all the names that are being kicked around out there on the so-called short list, these are all good people that bring, you know, their relative strengths to a national ticket. I...
SHERWOODDoes he have to reassure the conservative base of the party, or does he have to reach out to broaden the shape of the party?
BOLLINGWell, you know, a lot of people of people get wrapped up in this, how is a particular candidate going to benefit the ticket politically? I really don't think that's going to be the focus that Gov. Romney brings to this issue. You know, knowing him as I do, I think his focus is going to be on picking someone that would be a good teammate, someone that could work with him not just in the campaign but in governing the country for the next four years and then someone that could be president of United States should the need arise.
BOLLINGAnd, look, at the end of the day, folks aren't going to vote for the candidate for president because of who they pick for vice president, you know. So what I think Gov. Romney is going to focus on is getting a good person who he can work with, who can help him lead the country and who could lead the country should the need arise. All of these folks that are on this so-called short list that we talked about, I think, have a good -- have the ability to do that.
SHERWOODBarone, York and some conservative writers have been pointing out that the conservative -- the Republicans are not as unified as the Democrats, that the left part of the Democratic Party has pretty much been solid since they get behind Obama, even though they have major policy issues with him. But on the Republican side, it seems that conservatives -- that most conservatives are snapping at the heels of anyone who seems to be moderately conservative or conservatively moderate.
SHERWOODAnd, in your own case, you know, you're running for governor and your attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli, who tries to position himself as more conservative than you, is trying to jump over you to be governor. He says...
NNAMDIBefore he responds to that...
SHERWOODIs that too long of a question?
NNAMDINo, no, no. There's...
SHERWOODShould I repeat it?
NNAMDINo, no. There's Lance in Chantilly, Va. who wants to ask precisely that. Lance, your turn.
LANCEHi, lieutenant governor. Thank you for coming on the show and taking our calls. I did want to ask pretty much that question about Ken Cuccinelli. But I did want to state beforehand, just so you understand where I'm coming from, that I will be voting for the reelection of Barack Obama because he has done a good job for the Virginians...
NNAMDIOK. But we don't -- we're running out of time, so get back to your Ken Cuccinelli argument.
LANCEKen Cuccinelli is going to run.
BOLLINGI'd rather talk about Barack Obama.
LANCEAs a Tea Party-supported candidate, how were you going to keep him from further embarrassing the state of -- the Commonwealth of Virginia as he has done with his failed lawsuit about the Affordable Care Act?
NNAMDIWell, the question is how you're going to beat Ken Cuccinelli...
BOLLINGWell, let me -- I will...
NNAMDI...especially since he's coming at you from the right, so to speak.
BOLLINGYeah. I will answer that question, but let me also tag under the first part of the question that was previously asked. I would say in Virginia, I think conservatives are totally unified behind Mitt Romney's candidacy for president. I think they -- conservatives in Virginia are very energized about the need to replace President Obama. Gov. Romney is going to be the nominee of the Republican Party. And I think they're all out there rowing the boat in the same direction, so I feel very good.
SHERWOODIs George Allen going to be on the campaign swing? George Allen is a candidate for Senate.
BOLLINGHe will. Tomorrow on our stops in Hampton Roads, Richmond and Northern Virginia, Gov. Romney will be there. Gov. McDonnell will be there. I'll be there.
BOLLINGSen. Allen will be there, absolutely. So I think conservatives in Virginia are very energized around the need to elect Gov. Romney and fully supportive of him. As far as 2013 is concerned, look, you know, there are -- what I'm going to do is try to say to people that while there are similarities between Mr. Cuccinelli and me, you know, we're both conservative guys. I think we both govern the state in a conservative way.
BOLLINGIf you look at the top, you know, 10 or 15 issues facing the state, you wouldn't find a lot of space between us on those big issues, but there are also big differences. I think there are huge differences in our background, our knowledge, our experience, our qualification to serve as the next governor of Virginia. I think I'm uniquely qualified to be Virginia's governor and build on the progress Gov. McDonnell and I have made because I've been such an integral part of his administration over the last three years.
BOLLINGThere are big differences between us when it comes to leadership style and demeanor. I'm a conservative guy. I've got a record of standing up and fighting for conservative values but also understand that governing has to be about more than breaking dishes.
SHERWOODIt sounds like you're saying you're the more of the Virginian -- Virginia gentleman that he is.
BOLLINGWell, we'll quote you on that, but, no, I think you just have to learn to work with Republicans and Democrats to get things done. I think I do that better. I think I'm the more electable candidate. I have made no secret...
NNAMDIWell, one of the occasions on which you did that came in from some scrutiny in an article that ran in The New Republic earlier this summer comparing you to Mitt Romney, saying that he backed off of his own position on health care coverage when has was governor of Massachusetts as compared to now. And the author argued that you -- since you voted to expand Medicaid as a state senator, it seems to be evidenced now that you're being pushed by the right flank of your party against some of your achievements as a lawmaker.
NNAMDIThat has to do with the fact that you're pushing the governor to reject Medicaid funds made available under the new health care law. How do you explain what The New Republic seems to be characterizing as a flip-flop?
BOLLINGWell, they're two very different things. You know, what they're referring to is legislation that I sponsored. It was a bipartisan bill back in the late 1990s to create a children's health insurance program in Virginia. And they're trying to say that's the same thing as this massive national expansion of Medicaid that would take place under Obamacare. They are not the same things. They are very different things.
BOLLINGAnd, you know, our concerns about this massive expansion of Medicaid that's, you know, brought up on states under Obamacare is that it's unaffordable. In Virginia alone, it'll have a $30 billion cost over 10 years. The state cost about $2.2 billion. We can't afford that. It adds 400,000 people to our state's Medicaid roles at a time when we're already having serious financial challenges with Medicaid as well as operational challenges with Medicaid.
BOLLINGWe've got a lot of health care providers in our state no longer seeing Medicaid patients because Medicaid is only reimbursing them at about 60 percent of their cost. So we're not going to make Medicaid better by making Medicaid bigger. And what the governor and I have both said is that, until we see substantive reform of Medicaid and until we figure out exactly how we're going to pay for this -- I mean, you know, for Pete's sake, the federal government's broke.
BOLLINGEverybody knows it except for the folks here in Washington. You know, where is the federal government going to get 30 billion bucks to pay for their share in Virginia? You know, if we come up with 2 billion bucks, that's about 200, 250 million a year that we don't have for education and public safety and transportation, other health care programs.
BOLLINGSo until we figure out how we're going to pay for it, and until we substantively reform Medicaid, we just don't think that we ought to be increasing the size of our Medicaid population by 50 percent. I think it's substantively different than the very targeted approach we took with children's health care back in the late '90s.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have right now. Bill Bolling is the lieutenant governor of Virginia. He's a Republican and a candidate for governor in Virginia's 2013 election, before which we think we'll be talking to him again. But, anyway, good luck to you, lieutenant governor.
BOLLINGThanks. Good to be with you guys. Sorry I was a little late.
SHERWOODThat's right. Tell me very quick. Where is your home state? What part of the state are you? Where do you live?
BOLLINGWe live in Mechanicsville in Hanover County, one of the stops on the bus tour tomorrow in Ashland.
NNAMDIBig toll road fight there, too, buddy. Thank you so much for joining us. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. And, Tom, is Amazon.com trying to send some kind of message to the District of Columbia about how we enforce our gun laws in this city? Because an individual ordered a flat screen TV from Amazon.com, and when he opened up the package, there was a fully assembled rifle waiting there for him. What's going on?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I looked up UPS' rules about shipping guns and ammo. And if I read it, it would take an hour. This was a monumental mess-up. Somebody orders a television, and they got a gun.
NNAMDIHow does something like that happen?
SHERWOODWell, you know, how many billions of packages do -- you know, does UPS and Federal Express send?
NNAMDII think they're sending D.C. a message. Your gun laws...
SHERWOODWell, you know, you and the conspiratorialists can just chew on this one till the bone is no longer there. But it was just an embarrassing mistake.
SHERWOODAnd somebody said, well, what if this had been sent to the White House by mistake? That would have been horrible. It's a very serious thing when you have somebody gets a gun, with all the horrific shootings we've had recently.
NNAMDIIt was clearly a terrible mistake. Joining us now by telephone is Matt Bush. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He's joining us by phone from Annapolis because what's going on there, Matt Bush, is that it's shaping up to be a whirlwind special session in Annapolis where lawmakers are considering legislation to expand gambling in Maryland. The bill cleared a Senate committee yesterday. Matt, are you there?
MR. MATT BUSHYes, I am, Kojo.
NNAMDIWhat are the key issues that need to be resolved today? And what are you watching most closely?
BUSHWell, the whirlwind has kind of slowed down here a little bit. The Senate is debating it right now. They're going over four amendments to the bill this afternoon. The House committee that will then look at the bill is going to meet today. They may also meet then again tomorrow. But the full House isn't going to vote on this until Monday at the earliest, so it's beginning to slow down right now.
BUSHSo the Senate is going through what's expected to be a very lengthy debate this afternoon over four amendments to the bill and issues. They're still pretty much what they've always been. This morning, they picked up some debate about the requirement that gaming -- their contributions from gaming companies to members of the general assembly be banned.
SHERWOODDo you still expect -- the governor wanted the Senate to vote today. Is that possible, not likely?
BUSHThe Senate vote should come today, but it's not going to come till probably much later in the afternoon, and then the House vote won't come until Monday. And then should the House make any changes to the bill, then they might -- there would be the need for a conference committee, and then the Senate is -- Senate President Mike Miller already told his colleagues he expects to be back Tuesday, even direct everything up. So this...
NNAMDIWhat does he know that we don't know about what's likely to happen in the House, because this bill died in the House earlier this year? Why does the Senate president expect this time to be different?
BUSHWell, I think he's not tipping us in if he knows anything that's going to happen in the House. But I think they wanted also to make sure they gave themselves enough time should the House decide to make any changes to the bill, and also it keeps lawmakers out of Annapolis for the weekend, keeping the cost of the special session down.
SHERWOODThere's some suggestion that one of the things Mike Miller is conveying to the members of the House is that if you have a bill that you want to pass next year, in the next general assembly, then we'll be remembering how you obstruct or move along this gambling measure. Everyone realizes this is a huge all-in for Maryland. It wants to go from slot machines all over the state to casinos all over the state. Is that right?
BUSHYes. So this is -- this will expand gaming and put it on par with the casinos that are allowed in neighboring states. And the governor is of the opinion that this special session can, once and for all, end the debate over expanding gaming and take it off the dock as an issue so that lawmakers next year, when they convene for the regular session, can take up more important issues that the governor believes...
SHERWOODAnd it's still -- and Matt is still trying to put it on the Nov. 6 ballot. That's the reason for the urgency now, right?
BUSHRight. Yes. Absolutely. It has to be passed by Aug. 20 so that the Prince George's casino can be voted on, and then that would allow the casino to be open by 2017, I believe. If they don't vote on it now, then the earliest -- the referendum -- the earliest referendum would be in two years, which would delay the construction of the casino further.
NNAMDIAnd you'll be following this as it goes to the House, and we'll be expecting to hear from Matt Bush as this issue is ultimately decided hopefully by Tuesday. Matt Bush, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODCan I add one quickly?
SHERWOODYou know, the governor in the legislature is trying to offer some tax incentives for the existing Ann Arundel County, the Maryland Live! to be Maryland Dead. It's afraid if a big casino opens in Prince George's County. So they're going to get more -- keep more of the money that they make as part of the deal here.
NNAMDIBut they're still objecting. They're still objecting to the expansion even if they get to keep more of their money.
SHERWOODWell, maybe they want more of the more.
NNAMDIMatt Bush is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. Matt, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Hans Riemer. He is a member of the Montgomery County Council. He is a Democrat. He holds an at-large seat. Hans Riemer, thank you for joining us.
MR. HANS RIEMERThank you, Kojo. Great to be here.
SHERWOODYou're for gambling, aren't you?
RIEMERI'm not. I'm not. I think it would be a terrible mistake for the D.C. metropolitan area to get a big casino.
SHERWOODBut you think it's going to be blocked? Why would the governor and the state Senate president, the House speaker call a special session and then be hugely embarrassed...
RIEMERThey think they have the votes. But, you know, I think if one goes into the inner part of the D.C. area and Prince George's, there's going to be one in D.C. very soon. There'll be one in Northern Virginia very soon. And pretty soon we'll be the District of Las Vegas.
NNAMDIAnd so he objects to it. And, of course, Gov. O'Malley was born in Montgomery County, so it looks like he's not going to be getting a lot of -- of course he wouldn't think...
SHERWOODThere will be a casino in...
NNAMDII was about to say he won't think of suggesting a casino in Montgomery County. So I guess we should get to Montgomery County issue. Storms knocked out power for thousands of people again in the Washington region last night. But the sparks were flying at a meeting regulators held earlier this week in Montgomery County about Pepco's reliability and whether it's living up to state regulations.
NNAMDIYou've said repeatedly that Pepco has failed, and the central question from here on out is how they can be held accountable. Where do you think this accountability is going to come from?
RIEMERWell, thank you. You know, we have residents in the county who, when they lose power, they lose their medication, and their insurance won't replace it. They live on a well and a septic system. It needs electricity to run. They can't get clean water when they lose power. We've got mothers who lose their breast milk and can't feed their babies. We got people who can't work. So we are outraged.
RIEMERAnd the company has really operated with impunity. The compensation for the executives has soared. The year after Pepco admitted that it was in the bottom 25 percent of all utilities, they gave the CEO a 100 percent compensation increase. They've continued to have record shareholder returns, and they've continued to get rate increases from the consumers. So the question we have is, who is holding Pepco accountable to improve, and how is that going to happen?
RIEMERThe answer to that is the regulators, the Public Service Commission, and it's the governor. And what we -- the good news is the regulators have outlined an agenda that can work. It will take several years to work. But the trouble is that Pepco is going to fight back aggressively. And if regulators succeed, they may go to the legislature and try to get weaker protections in place.
SHERWOODWhy has there been more anger at the Public Service Commission than there is for Pepco? Pepco operates under the authorities of the Public Service Commission.
RIEMERYou're exactly right.
NNAMDIThere is some anger because it is my understanding that one Hans Riemer has floated a petition pushing for replacements of the Public Service Commission.
RIEMERThat's correct. We -- last year, in the ice storm, a lot of people were, you know, saying to this council and the state government, why aren't you guys doing your job? And what we had to realize was that it was the regulators. It's their job to protect us from the monopoly. And so the purpose of my petition, which is over 5,000 signatures now, is to put the focus on the regulators. That's where it belongs. And I agree with you. The company will get away with...
NNAMDIYou think they've been too soft on Pepco?
RIEMERThey have been. They were out of touch. The state leadership and the regulators were out of touch with what we were suffering through the Montgomery County for years. Seven, eight years into the crisis before they even knew that Pepco was failing in its basic service provision. However, they have now responded. Belatedly, but they have responded. They've put forward a framework they can work, but they're going to have to stick to it. And I'm not sure if they have the mustard to stick to it. So we're going to have to hold their feet to the fire.
SHERWOODAnd that's what happens -- oh, I'm sorry. Go ahead.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you'd like to join the conversation with Hans Riemer. He's a member of the Montgomery County Council. He holds an at-large seat. He is a Democrat. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Here's Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODIsn't that the problem, holding their feet to the fire because these things flare up, and then there's a week -- weeks, maybe a couple of months of gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair and then everything goes back to where it was?
RIEMERThat's right. Everybody hopes that, you know, by the -- it won't happen again. By the next storm...
RIEMER...this problem will be solved. And it never works out that way. And, in fact, the outages get worse every year. That is why, you know, the county residents have to organize, a number of them are. There's a citizen coalition that's coming together to work with elected officials, to work with organizations like the AARP, many others to keep the heat on. There's really, you know, we have to look into the 2014 elections. We have to get clear commitments who want to be governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, legislators. We have to, across the board, keep the pressure on.
NNAMDIA couple of weekends ago, Takoma Park activist Eric Hensel argued for replacing Pepco with an electric system owned and operated by the county itself. What do you feel about that idea?
RIEMERI support that. I think that is a good idea. It would save residents tens of millions of dollars a year that today is being diverted out to shareholders. I think it would operate more efficiently because the interest rates that the company would use are cheaper than what Pepco can get. The problem is it would most likely require legislation through the entire state legislature, not just a local bill. And so that would mean that the leadership in the Senate, in the House would block it most likely because they are, you know, sympathetic to the utility industry.
SHERWOODWould it run better than Metro, which is government run?
RIEMERWell, you know, many people have justifiable complaints about WSSC, about Metro.
RIEMERIt's not a silver bullet. And, I would say, we wouldn't want to buy Pepco out with their infrastructure and terrible condition and then we pay to get it into good condition. They should fix it before we buy it.
NNAMDIWell, back to the present where we're living in a world with privately owned power companies, what do you make of some of the ideas floated to hold Pepco accountable for service? So far, we had State Sen. Jim Rosapepe in the show a few weeks ago. He wanted to sue Pepco to the tune of about $100 million.
RIEMERRight. One hundred, you know, my feeling is that it's not helpful, generally. I support that idea, OK, but I don't think it's necessary for legislator to armchair quarterback their own solutions. The PSC is in charge of getting Pepco to improve. That's their job. And when regulations go to the state legislature, they probably weaken the PSC's power. The PSC has the inherent power to do anything it wants to Pepco. And when legislators get involved -- the Montgomery County delegation is great.
RIEMERBut when the rest of the state gets involved, those powers end up getting diminished. So I think it's most helpful to put the pressure on the people who have the power to improve the situation, and those are the regulators at the PSC.
NNAMDIWell, Gene in Aspen Hill, Md. feels it may not only be Pepco's fault here. Gene, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GENEMr. Riemer, I'm curious why the Montgomery County Park Service keeps planting trees under low-hanging wires.
RIEMERWell, you know, there is certainly responsibility for the trees that the county should accept and must accept. What we have in the County is, 50 years ago, no one foresaw this, and they planted trees all over the place. And now those trees are mature. And we have to spend more to maintain them in order to protect our electrical system. I don't think that's really the fundamental reason. You know, this is not about climate change. Climate change is happening all over.
RIEMERBut Pepco is worse than other utilities around the country. It's not about trees. There are trees all over the country, but Pepco is worse than other utilities in areas that have trees. It's not about the weather. It's about Pepco. Pepco has not managed our utility system properly, and they have to be held accountable.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Gene. We move on to Scott in Garrett Park, Md. Scott, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SCOTTYeah. I think -- and I'm a Democrat, and I like this governor. But the governor needs to take some of the blame because I believe he appoints the regulators for the commission, and if he had different people on the commission that were a little more friendly for the consumer, this might not have happened.
RIEMERWell, you know, that's a good point. The -- only the PSC can change Pepco, and only the governor can change the PSC. The PSC is an independent body, but he appoints the members. You know, the members are lawyers. There's a utility industry person. There is someone who has in -- a background in marketing. We don't have problems that can be solved by lawyers, marketers and utility executives.
RIEMERWe need some Teddy Roosevelt kind of people in there who are willing to go toe to toe with a company that needs to be held accountable. That's what we need.
NNAMDIPepco's CEO said this week that Pepco is going to file another request for a rate increase this fall. How do you think that conversation is going to play out in the coming months?
RIEMERI thought that was very interesting. They are putting forward another one, and they told their shareholders that they're going to keep putting forward new rate requests indefinitely. They see -- they're starting to see a real threat, and it was very interesting. They said if they keep getting denied rate requests, they may go to the legislature. So the legislature is more friendly to them than the regulators in their mind.
RIEMERThat is why we're going to have to continue to be vigilant to fight against these rate increases to keep the pressure on the PSC because they -- regulators are a legitimate threat. And if the shareholders begin to realize that their investment is being jeopardized by a corporate management that is not doing the job, then they may demand some change. It's about time that shareholders got some people to run this company that can provide good service.
SHERWOODBut you're not opposed to the shareholders -- although you mentioned the government running it, you're not opposed to the shareholders making a profit. It's just a matter of running a good company while they make a profit.
RIEMERWell, that's right. I mean, personally, I would be happy to have a municipal utility. It's not uncommon that there's municipal utilities in Maryland.
NNAMDIWell, here's Ann in Easton, Md., who wants to talk about that. Ann, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNYeah. I have no opinion about the other utility companies. I just know in Easton we have a public utility, non-profit, hardly ever lose power, maybe for half an hour occasionally, and it works really well.
RIEMERThat's right. Let me read a quote from the PSC's recent decision on the rate hike. "We recognize that Pepco is a regulated electric distribution company, but it seems backwards to us to reward Pepco’s shareholders and impose increased financial burdens and risks on the company's legitimately aggrieved customers before Pepco corrects its sub-par performance. To the contrary, Pepco's profit should reflect its performance, at least in part. That has been the problem. The company has record compensation, record profits, record poor service. That dynamic needs to change.
NNAMDIAnd in the time we have left -- well, that caller has dropped off, so this is an issue that we will be continuing to watch. Hans Riemer, thank you very much for joining us.
RIEMERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIHans Riemer is a member of the Montgomery County Council. He is a Democrat who holds an at-large seat. Tom Sherwood, we have a received a response to the earlier criticism of Eleanor Holmes Norton. It comes via Anita Bonds. It says, "The congresswoman is out of town on vacation, but it's important to correct the record. She tried this year and has tried every platform year to get the word stated in the platform and she's never been able to get the word stated during her service in the Congress.
NNAMDI"However, this year, she's been more successful than ever because the language she submitted and that has been accepted included every element, from statehood to full congressional voting rights to budget and legislative." That's something I guess we will have to check.
SHERWOODAnd Anita runs the state parting. She'll be providing all the fun down at the convention in Charlotte.
NNAMDIThe D.C. Democratic State Committee. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Lifelong Washingtonian and community advocate Theresa Howe Jones passed away last week at the age of 84. She leaves a legacy of meaningful work in the Anacostia neighborhood and in D.C. as a whole.
A new study explains the effects of rising sea levels in coastal regions, including Maryland's Eastern Shore, and parts of Virginia. What are cities in our region doing to combat these events?
The dining staples you'd expect to find on the street or in diners are becoming more and more upscale in the District of Columbia. What does that signal about the city to its longtime residents?