It’s full steam ahead as advocates for D.C. voting rights push both major political parties ahead of their national conventions. Activists in Maryland gear up for the wave of ballot initiatives coming down the tracks in the fall. And federal authorities give the green light to a new voter identification law in Virginia. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
President and CEO, NAACP
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Politics Hour Video
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous talked about the organization’s agenda at the Republican National Convention next week in Tampa, Fla. Jealous said criminal justice issues, such as voting rights for felons, get the most traction with Republicans. “We seek to really make visible the fact that there are Republican leaders who care about civil rights,” Jealous 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 who has reinvented himself on an expert on everything Washington Nationals. So where shall we start? Which controversy shall we start with, the -- should Stephen...
MR. TOM SHERWOODShould Strasburg be iced?
NNAMDIWe did that. Last week, you said he should not. He should not be shut down, and now, Mayor Gray disagrees with you and Councilmember Jack...
SHERWOODOh, that's a shock.
NNAMDICouncilmember Jack Evans agrees with you. Have you changed or altered your stance in any way?
SHERWOODWell, first -- actually, I respect whatever the Nationals want to do to maintain their start pitcher into the future.
SHERWOODI do think, though, you play the game to win, and you -- and they're playing for long term, not necessarily to win now. They say they can win without him, but I think people want to see him pitch. And I know that if you ice him for a few weeks or let him pitch every sixth or seventh game instead of every five, there's an issue with him being ready. But I don't know. They did so well this year.
SHERWOODI just want them to do well. And if they decide they can do it without Strasburg, fine. But if they lose some close games here at the end of the season, and then I'm not going to forgive them.
NNAMDIIt's a closed issue. He's going to be shut down. And in our recent tradition of including our guests in all of the conversations that we have...
NNAMDI...allow me to introduce our first guest. He is Benjamin Jealous, president of the -- president and CEO of the NAACP. Ben Jealous, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. BENJAMIN JEALOUSThanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, we're discussing the crucial issues of the day. Should Strasburg be shut down or not?
JEALOUSI'm going to plead the Fifth on that one.
NNAMDIOK. Then the next issue is whether or not the taxpayers of the District of Columbia should pay for the Metro to open late when the Washington Nationals, if and when, but now clearly is when, make the playoffs. The Nationals seem to think that the city should pick up the tab. The city seems to be suggesting that it should not. What say you?
SHERWOODWell, the city administrator has been meeting with the team since late July about what to do if all these big crowds come in for the playoff games and the best case the World Series. One of the things they're going to discuss, I'm told -- this is from the city administrator's office this -- last night -- is the Metro -- we had that situation where a late game...
NNAMDIRain delayed, then the game on extra innings, both.
SHERWOODThere was rain delay or something, whatever it was. There were many people depending on Metro it closed at midnight. The fact is the mayor has pretty strongly suggested he's not going to pay this $30,000 amount of money. He says we built an $800,000...
SHERWOOD...eight million. How much? Eight hundred million. In fact, I can't even say that figure so big.
SHERWOODStadium. Eight hundred million dollar stadium. And the team should pay it. The Redskins pay it. The Caps have paid it. I suspect the Nats should pay it too.
JEALOUSThat's right. And, you know, when you plan a huge protest here that we've done on occasion, they actually charge us for the extra cars and so forth to run on the Metro. So the NAACP is paying for it. The Nationals should pay for it.
NNAMDII suspect that the Nationals would be paying for it also.
SHERWOODBut there are other things they want to. They want, you know, they want to get some of the land outside the stadium to put their own vendors up so they can make some money. I'll tell you because it's a very -- the fairgrounds outside the stadium is very popular, and there are other vendors who have a lottery to get spaces out there. So I think the Nats are trying to maximize whatever they can for this playoff run, which is great to see, but I just hope it doesn't -- we have a bunch of snarling fights all the way through it.
NNAMDIWe have an election coming up in the District, and there's an initiative that folks wanted on the ballot. It's known as Initiative 70, which would ban direct corporate contributions from D.C. political races.
NNAMDIThe Board of Elections said that they didn't have enough signatures, disqualified a lot of signatures, and now the backers of Initiative 70 said basically, according to Loose Lips and City Paper, that the board can't count, that they have counted, and they have more than enough signatures. So Bryan Weaver and other activists who lead this are now going to challenge this in D.C. Superior Court. What do you think of that?
SHERWOODThey have filed. They have the filed the case in Superior Court. And I think this shows that there are some problems with the voting rules in the District of Columbia, or at least the ability to read them, because you look at the list and the D.C. Public Trust group says that there are people clearly registered who are miscounted. There are people who -- maybe the name is Matthew, and they wrote maybe Matt. And there's -- they are counted. That there maybe it was apartment 102, it appears to be 105.
SHERWOODSo they weren't counted. Those types of small errors. And so they're into the court, hoping to get a quick judgment because, you know, the ballot is going to printed pretty soon, and they wanted adjustment in court. We'll just see how it plays out. The Board of Elections, of course, because it's a procedural matter, it's not saying anything.
NNAMDIAre they going to be able to figure out how to print ballots without the name Vincent Orange on them? You'll...
SHERWOODYou know, I told you if I ever ran for office, my first bill to be introduced as a councilmember or whatever would be to put his name on every ballot for everything. That way, we wouldn't have to worry about it.
NNAMDIV.O., I hope you didn't -- you noticed that it was Tom Sherwood who said that and not me.
SHERWOODI said it directly to him. He's not -- this is not anything to...
NNAMDIBen Jealous, how do you feel about an Initiative 70, the initiative that would ban corporate contributions?
SHERWOODHe doesn't live in the District, but he lives in...
NNAMDIThat's fine, but he has...
SHERWOODHe lives in Maryland.
NNAMDIHe has opinions about these things.
JEALOUSOf course, you know, I've lived in Maryland for a few months. I've lived in every quadrant of the city over the last 16 years. You know, the -- look, I think that anything that we can do to push big money out of politics should be actively considered. The reality is that people in this country feel like their politicians have been bought, and oftentimes, the race itself has been bought before they even go out to vote. And the best way to combat that cynicism is for us to get back to a democracy that is not just of and for and by the people but truly own by the people as well.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, this is "The Politics Hour" starring Tom Sherwood. Our guest is Benjamin Jealous. He is president and CEO of the NAACP. If you have questions or comments for Ben Jealous, call us at 800-433-8850, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet, @kojoshow, or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Ben Jealous, this show is about to head out on the road for both the Republican and Democratic national conventions coming up in the next two weeks.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that the NAACP plans to be represented at both of those conventions as well. What is your main mission at the Republican National Convention?
JEALOUSYou know, at the Republican National Convention, we, of course, will be focused on pushing our full agenda. We, you know, believe that civil rights should be a bipartisan concern, and we have matters in health and education, the economy, criminal justice. Places where we tend to find most traction with Republicans these days is actually criminal justice issues, and we'll be raising a very particular issue.
JEALOUSIt's important to Florida which is the need to re-enfranchise formerly incarcerated people. You might recall that Gov. Bush and Gov. Crist, there was a commission that Crist inherited from Gov. Bush after...
NNAMDIJeb Bush, that is.
JEALOUSJeb Bush after the...
SHERWOODRight, just to be clear.
JEALOUSYeah. After the 2000 debacle. And what came out of that was that they re-enfranchised about 80,000 formerly incarcerated people. Well, things didn't break their way in 2008, and Scott got in there. And he didn't -- he re-disenfranchised all those folks and many more. And so we'll be releasing billboards that say simply like, for instance, there's one of Kemba Smith from Virginia who now, by the way, Kojo, is in her second clemency proceeding over the same charges.
JEALOUSYou know, Pres. Clinton, you might recall, gave her clemency, but now, she's seeking clemency from Bob McDonnell so that she can vote 'cause she's moving home to Virginia, and so it says, straight up. You know, she made a mistake. She did her time. She deserves to vote. It looks like we'll have some prominent Republicans joining us for the release of these billboards in Florida. And we, you know, seek to really make visible the fact that there are Republican leaders who care about civil rights and want to make sure that we're fair in our democracy.
SHERWOODCan you name one of them that support because...
JEALOUSMichael Steele, the former chairman.
SHERWOODOK. All right.
JEALOUSYou know, Ken Mehlman is squarely focused on marriage equality, but he's sensitive to this issue, concerned about it as well. You might recall Ken came to our convention, I think, back in 2007, actually apologized for the southern strategy, and they wrote a letter that said that Republicans can win on ideas. They don't need to win on voter suppression or voter fraud. And then you have, you know, the kind of -- the old line folks, you know, Chris Shays, you know, Colin Powell, you know, folks who are just good commonsense Republicans, the type of folks that Jack Kemp used to hang out with.
NNAMDIDoes that mean you are likely to be downplaying the issues that I know of -- are great concern -- are of great...
NNAMDI...concern to the NAACP...
NNAMDI...like voter identification laws. We talked for a while about the wave of new voter identification laws that states have put in place -- 33 states -- on the books requiring identification for voting. You said earlier this summer that you think more laws are pushing people out of the ballot that at any time since Jim Crow. What do you feel is driving this push, and what can you say about that at the Republican National Convention that won't get you booted out of the premises?
JEALOUSWell, you know, I mean, I'm persona non grata with a good chunk of the Tea Party, but the reality...
JEALOUS...is that the, you know, we will bring the same message to the DNC that we bring to the RNC and vice versa. There is this aspect of voter suppression which is a big deal. You've got to remember we have like 5 million people in this country who can't vote because they were once in prison, and there are states still have bans.
JEALOUSYes. In Virginia, it's 400,000 alone. Virginia and this part is a little bit personal to me because I have my grandma's grandfather and my granddad's great-grandfather were both reconstruction black statesmen in Virginia. And in 1902, they actually put in a constitutional amendment that's blocking Kemba Smith from voting right now. And that was the Jim Crow constitutional convention.
JEALOUSIt undid the one that my great-great-granddad signed which was the reconstruction Constitution. They put in place the Jim Crow Constitution in Virginia. And the plan that included the amendment that to this day bans formerly incarcerated people from voting, a delegate to that 1902 convention said plainly, because of this plan, the (word?) will be eliminated as a factor in our state's politics within five years.
JEALOUSSo the goal of voter suppression in the context of the country which at the time was practicing racial profiling at epic rates, trying to control black men in the wake of the end of slavery and continues that practice to this day. You know, it's sort of like the conversation on its face today be about ex-felon disenfranchised, but at the heart, it's always been about suppressing the black vote.
JEALOUSWe will talk at the RNC about our other concerns. We're releasing a video next week that makes that very clear. You know, we -- you start with this five million base of the formerly incarcerated folks. When you throw in voter ID, when you throw in the restrictions on early voting and same-day registration and everything, you get to about 23 million people being excluded from the process this year who should be able to vote.
SHERWOODDo you really anticipate getting even with some of the names that you've mentioned here a fair or even hearing loud enough for other to hear you given what is a 35-, 50,000 Republicans and these various other people going to Tampa for this convention?
JEALOUSYeah. My experience...
SHERWOODIs it receptive? You said you've had problems with the Tea Party people. They're pretty much in charge of a lot of -- part of the Republican Party. Whether people like that or not, I think it's a great thing.
JEALOUSYeah. You know, the -- they tend to add volume to whatever we do. You know, I mean, the reality is that we will show up. We will have a high visibility press conference. We will have billboards. We will have, you know, prominent Republicans joining us. And that will encourage some, and media will show up. And then I suspect it will also rile up some others, and, you know, and the combination of support and controversy, I think, will generate a fair amount of potential.
SHERWOODCan we go to a more local issue?
NNAMDIWell, I'd like to go to a telephone phone call first. Please, don your headphones, gentlemen, because Joe in Richmond, Va., would like to address the issue of voting rights and felons. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEGood afternoon. Yeah. I've got a question in regards to that. What is the maximum severity of the crime that a person could commit that you all would agree to that once they served their time they should be allowed to get their voting rights reinstated? And the reason I asked that is, is because I've always considered the privilege to vote, you know, the carrot that's hung over your head. A person said to make sure that, hey, you know, I don't want to lose my voting rights. So maybe I shouldn't hang out with certain people getting certain trouble, yada, yada, yada.
JEALOUSWell, the, you know, I appreciate where that's coming from. But the reality is in our country, and there was a debate about this at the very founding. Voting is not a privilege. It's a right. It's actually the foundational right of our democracy. We're a country that believes in second chances, and the reality is -- and we also understand that people getting involved in civic life helps them to rehabilitate.
JEALOUSSo we simply believe that no one should be banned from voting because they've once committed a crime. You did your time. You paid the price. You should be able get back and vote. If you look at states that have very small, if you will, minimal black populations, like Maine and New -- and I believe it's Vermont -- either Vermont or New Hampshire or Maine and Vermont -- inmates can vote from jail.
JEALOUSAnd the reason why, you know, given the racial origin in Virginia and New York State and other places, these ex-felon bans, I would offer that, you know, it's never really been a concern in Maine or Vermont because there's no real black voters to disqualify.
SHERWOODSo you -- to be clear, do you believe that persons who are in prison should be allowed to vote. They should not lose their right to vote.
JEALOUSWell, we certainly agree that people when they're out of prison, and we actually do run a voter registration drive. And I would point out that the Republican Party was the only party in Maine to send people to recruit these voters inside the prison. There's about an equal number of whites and blacks in most places, and obviously, Maine has far more whites. You know, and that's a common practice throughout western countries. But certainly, if somebody's paid their price, done their time, they should be able to come home and vote. Absolutely.
SHERWOODA local big issue in Maryland and -- NAACP is still headquartered in Baltimore. Is that correct?
SHERWOODSorry, you guys you didn't move down here when (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIWhen the opportunity seemed to be presenting itself.
SHERWOODWell, there was a trouble selling the property.
JEALOUSBut you got to have opportunity plus cash.
SHERWOODYou got to -- also, you had to sell the property in Baltimore.
SHERWOODBut gambling is a big issue in Maryland now, your home state headquarters. In Dallas, the Dallas NAACP has urged the state of Texas to drop even the lottery because it preys on poor people. It's an addiction, it said. And it really undermines the economic well-being of poor people, although that's aggressively disputed by some people in the gambling industry. But now we're facing an all-in situation where you'll have six casinos, full-fledge casinos in the state of Maryland. Does NAACP have a position on this?
JEALOUSNational has not taken a position, and I'm not sure if the state has. You know...
SHERWOODDo you have one?
JEALOUSWell, what I would say is this. I do think that we need to consider all the impact. You know, my mom grew up in the McCulloh Home housing projects in Baltimore for half her childhood and then on Pulaski Street for the other half. And I got families stretched across West Baltimore. And the reality is that gambling does tend to be regressive tax on the poor. So those sorts of considerations need to be, you know, debated. But we don't have a position at National.
JEALOUSWhat we're focused on in our home state, if you will, our headquarter state is the DREAM Act and marriage equality, and those two things that I plan to be very active.
NNAMDITwo issues I wanted to ask you.
SHERWOODOK. But just to be -- the African-American leaders of Montgomery and Prince George's County are all in on the gambling thing too.
JEALOUSYeah. I know. I know. And, again, we haven't taken a position. I do hope that they're really looking at the social impact.
SHERWOODWill you, do you think? Will you?
JEALOUSNo. I think it's unlikely. We're -- you know, we try to be focused. And the DREAM Act and marriage equality are two very big issues.
SHERWOODOK. Let's go to those.
NNAMDIAnd when Ben Jealous said national as opposed to local, once you know that the NAACP is a national organization, but its body is made up of local chapters all around the country that...
JEALOUSTwelve hundred of them are active ones.
NNAMDI...that often take their positions on issues. But getting back to Maryland, you mentioned the two-ballot measures on the DREAM Act and the other on...
NNAMDI...on marriage equality. What does the NAACP feel about those?
JEALOUSYou know, on the DREAM Act, it's just quite simple. You know, a kid who's grown up in this country, done the right thing, gone to school, deserves to stay in this country. And quite frankly, this country needs that child to invest -- we invested in their education. We need them now to invest their education in the country. So we're all for the DREAM Act.
JEALOUSWe think that kids who -- whose parents crossed the border without papers, you know, her parents are undocumented, that was no fault to that child. A child should not be punished. The country invested in them. We now need them to invest in this country. With regards to...
NNAMDIWell, that issue is controversial but maybe less so in the African-American community than the issue of same-sex marriage which has created some riffs in the African-American community. Do you see this as a civil rights issue?
JEALOUSIt's absolutely a civil rights issue. We're talking about civil marriage, and civil marriage is a civil right no matter of civil law, you know, period, end of story. What we're talking about is, you know, whether folks can visit their loved one in the hospital, whether they can inherit property and so forth. And the reality is that we're talking about rights, R-I-G-H-T-S. The rights say in the Constitution, the Fourteenth Amendment, for instance, is all people should be treated equally by the state, as oppose to rites, R-I-T-E-S, religious ritual.
JEALOUSThe First Amendment is very clear, and, folks, follow me hear. The First Amendment is very clear that your house of worship can marry whomever they want and not marry whomever they want. But the Fourteenth Amendment is very clear that your county clerk, your judge, shall not be allowed to discriminate against people based on what they are. And so we think this is a real basics of a rights issue.
JEALOUSYou know, my parents' own marriage was illegal at the time in 1966. Dad's white, mom's black. They had to commute from Baltimore down here to Foggy Bottom to get married over at a local Episcopal Church and then drive all the way back to Baltimore for the party. The procession of vehicles heading back from the wedding to the -- in Washington, D.C., where it was legal for blacks and whites to get married at the time, to Baltimore, where it was not legal.
JEALOUSBut parties were -- was mistaken for a funeral procession 'cause people had no idea why all those folks would be -- so there were various Catholic people getting off, doing the sign of the cross, taking off their hat. My parents were like, no, really, really, we're, you know, there's no tragedy here. So we've been for marriage equality for a long time, and I'm proud that our board of directors clarified what (unintelligible).
SHERWOODA conservative friend of mine said if it's OK to have equality of marriage, men and women -- men can marry man and women, why is it that polygamy is not allowed? What is the civil rationale for what is marriage? I mean, some conservatives I know say, look, I don't care what other people do. Why not call it something else, civil unions? All the same rites, et cetera, et cetera. But, you know, don't call it marriage 'cause that's what they say is a man and woman.
SHERWOODBut then somebody said, and also why not -- why can't I have two wives or two husbands?
JEALOUSYou know, that sounds like a personal issue. Yeah, I, you know, I really think that the state has all sorts of interest in assuring marriage is by one person and one other person. But, you know, and if that's the line because we don't allow polygamy, and, quite frankly, I point out that we ban it in most states. Obviously there are some states where it is practiced. We ban it in most states, but we don't just ban it for straight people. We ban it for gay people, too.
SHERWOODIt's universally applied.
JEALOUSRight. It's universal, and that's just it. The law is the law, and it should be the law for all the people, not just the law for some other people based on what they are and what they aren't.
NNAMDIWere you considering taking several spouses, Tom?
SHERWOODNo, I've had one marriage (unintelligible).
JEALOUSWell, you know, I mean, and this is the other thing, right, is that, you know, marriage equality also means divorce equality, too, right? That comes together.
SHERWOODWell, that's true.
NNAMDIOn to Perry in Washington, D.C. Perry, your turn.
PERRYWell, thank you very much, Kojo. And thank you, Mr. Jealous, for directing me to the constitution of the 1902 Virginia convention 'cause I'm reading it now and somewhat amazed that it looks just like today's (unintelligible). Listen, I'm a D.C. resident, and I'm a formally convicted felon who's voted since release from incarceration. Now, I paid my debt to society. I'm demanded to pay taxes (unintelligible), take my grandchildren to school. I'm unemployed. I'm denied employment like 8 percent of the U.S. population. I'm...
NNAMDIWhat do you mean you're denied employment?
SHERWOODDiscrimination, I guess.
JEALOUSYeah, huge discrimination against formerly incarcerated people, especially in this economy. Pepsi-Cola was just fined millions of dollars as using it basically as a proxy for racial discrimination against in particular black men.
NNAMDIGo ahead, please, Perry.
PERRYWell, I've -- yeah, I've been -- and I filed a complaint against this -- the entity that denied me employment in the city, my city. But please explain to me, Mr. Jealous, this -- one contributes to society. In D.C., we allow felons to vote.
PERRYAnd it has not adversely affected our elections here. So, please, explain to me the arguments of those who conscientiously work overtime to disenfranchise (word?) people, males in particular, from voting, whether it be Florida, whether it be Georgia, whether it be wherever. Explain to me (unintelligible)...
NNAMDICharacterize as best as you can the arguments of your opposition and do it fairly.
JEALOUSSays the student of Walter Rodney. The -- what I would say is this: the arguments of the other side in this are truly fallacious. They will try their best to make this about formerly incarcerated people. They will say that voting is a privilege in a country that is defined by voting being a right. They will argue to deny them representation, but they certainly want them to pay, you know, their taxations. And so you really -- if you want the straight scoop, Kojo, you'd got to go to the history.
JEALOUSYou know, when Gov. Scott re-disenfranchised, you know, tens of thousands of formerly incarcerated people down in Florida, we went to a secretary of state. We asked her point blank, and she just kept on swapping the words important and imperative. This is -- why are you doing this? Because it's important. Why is it important? Because it's imperative. She would not say plainly what her argument was.
JEALOUSAnd so we go back to the history books and what you find, whether, you know, is that when these -- the first wave of these laws were passed and dozens of states -- and again, in many of these states, they continue to this day -- Virginia is one of the two worst states in the country. It's been the same -- it's been in the Constitution since 1902. When you go right back, you see these very bald-faced racial reasonings.
JEALOUSIf -- I went through to Virginia's earlier. You look at New York, which is one of the first to write in the wake of the passage of the 15th Amendment, which I would point out. This was the amendment that gave all blacks the right to vote. And New York State, while it was a big abolition state, actually objection to it. The only wanted black property owners to vote. Why? 'Cause they had a huge free black populations since before the war, and they only enfranchised black property owners, and they knew that enfranchising all black would change the balance of power in the state.
JEALOUSAnd so they went right into Albany, and it's right there in the legislative history, they say we are anticipating the implementation of the 15th Amendment, and we need to similarly offset the black vote. And so we are proposing this ex-felon ban. And that -- the Brennan Center has a report called Jim Crow in New York where you can read more about that. And so, unfortunately, folks aren't as free today. Maybe it's a good thing, but people aren't as free today to really speak to their motives.
JEALOUSYou look in the history or you look to what their friends say when they disown them like Jim Greer, the disgraced former RNC chair of Florida who says quite plainly, I was in the rooms. And the operatives were saying, we're going to suppress the black vote and this is how we're going to do it, and this was part of that strategy.
SHERWOODAnd on the same subject, we mentioned the Republican convention. In the Democratic convention, there is some concern in a close election that there might be an enthusiasm gap, that young people might not be as enthusiastic as they were in 2008, that Hispanics may not, despite the DREAM Act and other issue, may not be as enthusiastic, that even African-Americans may not be as enthusiastic given the historic turnout of 2008.
SHERWOODHow do you see that? What do the Democrats need to do in Charlotte, N.C., a week from now to make sure the enthusiasm gap for them is as small as possible?
JEALOUSWell, let me be clear. I think both parties actually have gained some (word?) with black voters. On the Republican side, I think if Mitt Romney would talk more like Jack Kemp, if he would actually act like he thought deeply about the issues affecting the black community and spoke with some clarity about what his plan was to turn them around, I think he could pick up some points, you know?
SHERWOODAnd Paul Ryan -- that was one of Paul Ryan's mentors, Mr. Jack Kemp.
JEALOUSYeah. But, you know, I mean, like, you know, to paraphrase somebody, you know, I knew Jack Kemp. I worked with Jack Kemp. Paul Ryan ain't no Jack Kemp, you know.
JEALOUSNow, with regards, you know -- and so but you got to keep in mind, right, McCain got 4 percent of the black vote. Bush got the 11 percent. So there should be seven points in play conceivably. With regards to -- and that was Bush in '04. With regards to the Democrats, look, the Democrats got -- to make really clear to people how they're going to get them jobs.
JEALOUSWe have had entire high school careers of black students over the last four years who have been locked out of summer jobs in cities across this country, who have gone through high school, you know, in total fear about foreclosure, you know, watching their families' economic fortune fall apart. And it's true that that is because of sins committed before this president was in office, and this president has done more than most could, especially given the current situation in Congress to actually move things in the right direction.
JEALOUSBut for many black folks, he simply haven't moved far enough. And so we've got to hear a clear plan. We've got to see some clear passion. The folks are around this president have to free him up to speak plainly to our people in ways like he did back in '08 and '07.
NNAMDIBut the NAACP not only has to look at the current partisan divide in the congress. They also have to look at the current make up of the Supreme Court. The future of the Voting Rights Act look like it's headed for the Supreme Court next year. What concerns do you have about how this particular court is likely to look at this law and its relevance in today's society?
JEALOUSWell, clearly, if you get anti-voting rights act, the president and/or a president who's not going to make that a litmus test where they appoint it to the court and the competition changes, things could go in a very bad direction. Right now, what we know is that this Voting Rights Act was approved with significant bipartisan support in Congress well less than a decade ago. And there was a very extensive legislative history that convinced all those Republicans as well the Democrats to vote for it.
JEALOUSAnd we believe that we'll be able to hold on to Justice Kennedy's vote because he will find that this bill is as valid as originally needed now as it was just, you know, less than a decade ago when it got bipartisan approval in the Congress.
SHERWOODThe -- quick question. The -- Mayor Gray...
JEALOUSAnd I say Kennedy 'cause he is the deciding vote clearly between the two factions.
SHERWOODMayor Vincent Gray here -- the District is, you know, the District voted 93 percent for Obama, but he hasn't really paid much attention to the local city issues, except finding good restaurants here to go to in his motorcade. But now the Democratic Party Platform Committee doesn't have anything about voting rights for District citizens, 600,000 District citizens, nothing about voting rights in the Congress, nothing about statehood. And the mayor says he wants to make a fight about it. Would the NAACP support that?
JEALOUSOh, certainly, certainly, certainly, certainly. And, you know, the -- look, my heart, in many ways, is still very much in this city. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., and we're all, you know, praying for Jesse Jr. to get back and be squarely on his feet. But the -- he said to me when I took this job that voting rights for the District of Columbia should be top of mind. I have made it clear to folks at D.C. Vote, as soon as they're, you know, as soon as they're ready, we're willing to help across the country. We do help from time to time.
JEALOUSBut I think it's time to go on to, frankly, more militant and aggressive pace on this issue. The Democratic Party is leaving power on the table. You know, Tim Cain did it when he was governor down in Virginia. He could have done what Jeb Bush had done just a few years earlier in Florida and issued an executive order and re-franchise 400,000 voters. And he didn't do it. And, you know, that it's 400,000 voters that, you know, I think would've skewed his way.
SHERWOODAll right. Before you go -- time is running out. You think they should be...
NNAMDINo. He's not going any place.
SHERWOODOh, yes. So he's staying for -- oh, good.
NNAMDIWell, he's staying with us. Yes.
SHERWOODBecause I've had discussion with our next guest too about how much -- what can be done more...
JEALOUSSpeak of D.C. Vote and they shall appear, huh?
NNAMDIThat's exactly right.
SHERWOODWhat -- other than polite lobbying and occasional act up is used, what do you mean when you say people ought to be more aggressive?
JEALOUSWell, you know, gee, almost 20 years ago, I was in the end shadow of Sen. Jesse Jackson's backyard talking about civil disobedience across the country on this issue. And, you know, I'm a fan of civil disobedience across the country on righteous civil rights issues. So, you know, I think that we should be having that conversation.
JEALOUSI think that the Republicans in this massive attack on voting rights, the most massive we've seen in a century, using the law to suppress the vote, using the law to restrict, I mean, using state constitutions to restrict rights, really reversing a proud traditional over the last century of using constitutions to expand rights, have shown how when you have a goal, you should go after it. You need to be aggressive. You need to be focused.
JEALOUSAnd I think that, similarly, those of us who've -- who believe in -- and I want to say all Republicans, but, unfortunately, the party -- state party apparatus has been focused on this in too many states, like 33 of them -- I think those of us who believe in civil rights, groups like D.C. Vote, groups like the NAACP, National Urban League and so forth, need to look squarely at the issue of exile and disenfranchisement. You know, again, this was a racial justice issue or racial injustice at its origin, and it's a racial justice issue now.
JEALOUSIt's a civil rights issue now. We look squarely at this issue of the disenfranchisement of D.C. voters. And we needed to have a take no prisoners approach on this issue because it's just been going on far too long. And so, you know, if -- I think that starts with conversations. It starts with lobbying. But in the past, that's where we started and where we stopped. I think that we should be willing to go further.
NNAMDIBenjamin Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP. He joins us in studio, and in his alternative role as of the show, he has indicated that our new guest is also in the show. Ilir Zherka is the executive director of D.C. Vote, an advocacy organization dedicated to securing full representation in Congress for the residents of the District of Columbia. Ilir Zherka, good to see you.
MR. ILIR ZHERKAGreetings. Nice to see you.
NNAMDIYou are also heading for the Republican National Convention next week. The GOP did pay mind to the District when its platform committee was meeting earlier this week but not in a way that you would approve of. They added language to the platform officially opposing statehood for D.C. They also want to expand gun rights in D.C. With this as the backdrop to your trip, what kinds of conversations do you expect to have with Republicans in Tampa?
ZHERKAYeah. So part of the reason we're going down to Tampa is to make sure that Republicans understand that there are Republicans who support full democracy for Washingtonians, right? And I think Ben made this point a moment ago by Republicans. So it's not all Republicans. And certainly that...
NNAMDIThere were Republicans at the convention or going to the convention who tried to get in the platform that they should be at least a vote in the House of Representatives for D.C., and that was shot down.
ZHERKAThat's right. And there was also language about pursuing other alternatives. And so, you know, that effort...
NNAMDIShot down too.
ZHERKA...that effort, I think, is certainly worthwhile. And it's very unfortunate that we had this person, James Bopp, who...
ZHERKAYes. I believe either Illinois or Idaho. But, anyway, so he proposed this language to take it out.
NNAMDIIndiana, I'm sorry.
ZHERKAAnd it was very mean-spirited. Certainly, there have been mean-spirited people within the party who have taken that position against democracy for Americans living in our nation's capital, but it's not uniform. So that's part of our message, Kojo, when we go down to the Republican National Convention, is to get across that message. And we're going to be working with the D.C. GOP to do that.
ZHERKAAnd it's a very important part of our mission because, ultimately, we need to have bipartisan support for anything that will come out of Congress regarding the District of Columbia and its efforts to get full democracy.
SHERWOODIlir, you know that I've been, on this program and others, been critical of DC Vote 'cause I think you're too polite. I'm a Southerner. I understand being polite. But given the episodic arrest in 1993 of Sharon Pratt Kelly as the mayor, and then, in April of 2011, the mayor and six council members and the chairman, apart from some episodic things, it seems the battle for voting rights is waged in an almost genteel way, like you ought to be in Virginia. Genteel -- well, we just really think it's wrong. Where is the passion and the fire to say, stop trampling on me? And, I mean, I don't -- you let these...
ZHERKADon't tread on me.
SHERWOODIf I were a reporter -- and I'm trying to be an analyst here -- but if I were an activist -- I mean, well, I can't even say that. I'll just say -- there would be -- I would do things. I would do things.
ZHERKAWell, let me say that I don't think Speaker Boehner thought we were being polite when we had a rally in front of his house, or Jon Tester thought we were being polite when we had a pray-in in his office. Well, Trent Franks thought we were being polite when we went down to Arizona with a bunch of folks and ridiculed part of his position. So we've had systematic efforts to point out the injustice here.
ZHERKANow, I do agree with Ben, and I agree with your underlying premise. We do need something bigger and more sustaining than the efforts that we've had over the last year-plus. We've been working with members of the D.C. Council, the mayor, to develop that sort of effort, and hopefully in the near future, we'll be able to roll that out.
SHERWOODBut is -- aren't the -- fairly or unfairly -- and I would say unfairly, but still realistically -- the council and the mayor are not particularly good allies because of the aura of corruption that hangs over them. The council chairman, you know, got arrested in your symbolic thing, and then now he's resigned from office. The mayor's under an investigation, presumed innocent until proven guilty.
SHERWOODBut politically, he's been damaged severely. He's not in a position to go down to Charlotte or anywhere else and hammer the voting rights message. You got to be outside -- where is the citizen? You know, Jesse Jackson said it best. He said, until the people of Washington see this as an affront to their dignity, they're not going to do anything.
ZHERKAWell, you know, I think they do. And what we have to do on our side is to create the mechanisms for people to vent that frustration and to express themselves, and we've done that in different times. Let me remind the listeners that, today, there are fewer riders on the District's budget than in any time when Republicans have been -- control of the chamber in the last about 30 years.
ZHERKAThere's a reason for that because advocates have been aggressive in pushing against those riders. Today, we have majority support for budget autonomy, and that hasn't been true in the past, but it is true today. Now we get...
SHERWOODThank Darrell Issa for a lot of that, congressman from California.
ZHERKAWell, I would say thank the advocates and also the people of the District of Columbia who have made this issue important. So, you know, their results and their, you know, benefits to coming out of the work that we've done collectively obviously has not been enough yet, and we love to work more closely with the NAACP to engage people locally and nationally on this.
NNAMDIBefore Ben Jealous leaves, there's at least one caller, maybe two, who'd like to talk with him. Here is Victor at National Airport. Victor, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
VICTORYeah. Thank you for taking my call. I'm very much concerned about disenfranchising those who don't have ID to vote. I'm trying to suggest why can't you have a group just like the NAACP doing, have a group who assist by way of donating money and by way of, you know, driving these guys, all those people, to the precincts to get their ID and even to pay for them so that we could vote instead of just talking and talking about it, complaining about it and then taking this to court. By the time all is done, the voting will be gone.
JEALOUSVictor, we couldn't be in more agreement. We have started a process with a number of other civil rights organizations, student organizations, unions, religious organizations in Pennsylvania, for instance. We were hopeful that the courts were going to invalidate the law. We've been successful in invalidating these laws in a number of states, including Wisconsin. The -- but the reality is that we are now shifting.
JEALOUSAnd we have, as we speak right now, dozens of NAACP volunteers and hundreds of volunteers from organizations culling through the list of approximately 150,000 black voters who are registered to vote in Pennsylvania and don't have their IDs. We are accelerating that work every day. We will -- you know, we, right now, can -- you know, are helping people get to the DMV, and we're, frankly, seeking funding to do more.
JEALOUSAnd if there's anybody out there in the listening audience, call me today. I had a guy call me yesterday, but -- you know, saying, look, we're outraged. Here are some resources. Because what it's going to take -- let me tell you, when you use volunteers to register somebody to vote, the whole thing costs about 12 bucks per person. So if we got 150,000 disenfranchised people -- do the math -- it's probably going to cost more in this case because getting an ID is a little bit harder than voting.
JEALOUSAnd so this is a massive effort. We're doing everything we can. We're doing robo calls. We're doing live calls. We're doing mailings. We have people walking in Pennsylvania. We need to be doing more. And if, you know -- as we say, this takes work, this takes wisdom and this takes wealth. We need all three. So if there's anybody out there who can contribute any of those, contact -- for work and wisdom -- contact the Pennsylvania State Conference NAACP in Philadelphia. And for wealth, you can contact them, or you can call me directly.
NNAMDIVictor, thank you very much for your call. And, Benjamin Jealous, thank you so much for joining us and for dropping the name of my own mentor when it comes to participating in the battle of ideas, Walter Rodney. You can look him up. I don't have time to...
SHERWOODWalter -- who is he?
NNAMDII don't have to say all of it here, but I'm sure...
JEALOUSHe was an awesome dude. He was an awesome dude.
NNAMDIYeah, certainly was. Ben Jealous, thank you so much for joining us.
JEALOUSAll right. Thank you.
NNAMDIBenjamin Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. Still with us in studio is Ilir Zherka. He is the executive director of DC Vote, which is dedicated to securing full representation in Congress for the residents of the District of Columbia. We mentioned that both Ben Jealous and Ilir Zherka will be going to the conventions. The team at this show and The Politics Hour is also going to the conventions.
NNAMDITom Sherwood will be there for the second leg of our trip. And today, our production staff is proud to announce that they've recruited a new member to our travel team. He's a distant cousin of the children's book character Flat Stanley, and he goes by the name Flat Kojo. He'll be -- this is embarrassing -- he'll be scoping out all the best sights, meeting the most interesting people. And you can follow photos of his adventures on Facebook, Twitter and on the Instagram account KojoShow.
NNAMDILook out for the FlatKojo hashtag. You can also make your own Flat Kojo and take him on your travels. A printable photo and easy-to-follow assembly instructions are available at facebook.com/kojoshow. We only ask that you take photos of his journeys and share them with us by posting them to our Facebook page, tweeting them to @kojoshow or emailing them to email@example.com.
NNAMDIFlat Kojo is actually hanging out with me in the studio right now, but we're hoping you might be able to take him to your favorite places in the D.C. area or maybe even to watch cricket in the Caribbean or go fly fishing in Alaska. Surprise us there.
ZHERKAI like those Nixonian peace signs.
SHERWOODAre they environmentally -- is that environmentally correct?
SHERWOODIs that plastic or cardboard? What is that?
NNAMDIOh, it's whatever. Ilir Zherka...
NNAMDI...what concerns do you have about how the recent scandals, as Tom pointed out, in local D.C. politics are affecting the city's efforts to push for voting rights?
ZHERKAWell, certainly, they don't help, right? I think part of the point that Tom was making makes it harder for individuals who have issues to make a case for democracy for the District of Columbia and certainly, I think, around the country to the extent that some of this information has gotten out. It makes this a red herring. It makes it an issue that people talk about instead of what's needed here, and that's change and representation and local control and, ultimately, statehood.
ZHERKAAnd so, yes, it's certainly a distraction. The work must continue, and the work must continue down at the conventions, the Republican convention and the Democratic convention.
NNAMDINevertheless, Mayor Gray has stated his intention of raising the issue at the Democratic National Convention of why statehood is not in the platform -- it wasn't last in the platform in 2000. It wasn't there in 2004 and 2008 -- and why D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton does not have a prominent speaking role at the convention. That's likely to cause some, I guess, interest in the convention, maybe some disruption even. What do you say?
ZHERKASo let me clarify, the Democratic platform this year will have language expressing support for full voting representation in Congress, full local control, budget autonomy and all of that, and that's a similar language to the language that was in the 2008 and 2004 platform. I think part of the controversy right now is that the word statehood isn't in this platform, and my understanding is isn't yet and it should be.
ZHERKACertainly, the Democrats and the Democratic National Committee ought to stand for statehood and it has stood for statehood. But statehood is a means to an end. It's not the end. The end is full citizenship for Washingtonians. Full representation in the House...
SHERWOODWouldn't statehood bring you full citizenship?
ZHERKAAbsolutely. That's exactly right.
ZHERKABut the goal is full citizenship, and I think that that's what we want to be talking about. And those are the things that I think...
NNAMDIWhat is your understanding about the apparent reluctance to have the word statehood in the platform? Who is it likely to alienate?
ZHERKAYou know, I don't know the answer to that question, Kojo. We are not involved in these platform conversations. Those conversations are most...
SHERWOODI'll tell you who it will alienate. It will alienate the Democratic governor of Maryland, O'Malley. It would alienate Steny Hoyer, the...
NNAMDIBecause it will allow the District to institute a commuter tax.
SHERWOODBecause if the city were a state and had equal footing, there would be a huge shift in the unfair economic disadvantage the city has with neighboring Maryland and Virginia. That's who it would alienate.
ZHERKAPart of what we're going to be doing down there...
SHERWOODBarbara Mikulski wouldn't like it.
ZHERKA...at the Democratic National Convention is focusing on legislation that has a chance in the short term of passing. So we're going to be talking about budget autonomy. And we're going to have a rally on Tuesday of the Democratic convention near the convention site to push for budget freedom and budget autonomy. And so that's part of -- what we're going to do is remind people that there is legislation, there is a way to take a step forward on D.C. democracy, the steps that are needed to achieve statehood. And so we're going to be calling attention to that effort.
SHERWOODThere is woeful ignorance among people I speak to and all the tourists who come to town, and I talk to them all the time and who -- they simply do not know. I think there have been studies in the past -- maybe you already done them -- you have done them, which many people may not know. But if they are explained -- if it's explained to them, will they understand? Of, course, ordinary citizens who live here and are not part of the federal government ought to have a right to vote in Congress like everybody else. But the absence of knowledge seems to me your biggest and -- is your biggest hurdle.
ZHERKAYeah, that's absolutely right, Tom. I mean, it's really shameful that in our country, we don't teach children in the schools about their national capital. That's not true in other countries. But it's true here. And so there's really very little knowledge about this problem. It's hard to educate, you know, as a small entity, 300-plus million people. So we've been targeted in our educational programs but certainly efforts to educate more Americans would be helpful.
SHERWOODOne bitter statehood supporter said to me, well, you know, now that the African-American population has dropped from almost 70 percent to just under just 50 percent with more white people in the city, would that get the message out better? And she's told it might.
ZHERKAYou know, I don't know the answer to that. I know that...
SHERWOODSuggesting, of course, that racism is part of the opposition to the city.
ZHERKAWell, you know, and certainly that has been true historically. It's hard to know what's beating in people's hearts these days. People don't typically express racist thoughts publicly. But, certainly, that was true in the past. What we have seen, Tom, is that this issue has also transcended race to become much more an issue about party affiliation. And that's how we're very unfortunate...
SHERWOODI know a lot of conservative Republican -- conservative African-Americans who would be Republicans if the Republican party would shift just a little on crime, marriage equality and lots of other issues.
NNAMDIOn to Jerry in Washington, D.C. Jerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JERRYThank you very much. Mr. Zherka, I admire the work you do, but you don't stand a snowball's chance in hell unless you do something dramatic to wake up the country. If we could get 10,000 citizens in the District to withhold their taxes, put them in escrow, it would make headlines and also make the rest of the country aware of our plight that's -- it's -- I can't think of another way. All your work is terrific, but nobody knows about it.
JERRYThey will only know about it if you get headlines, if you get on television. The citizens of the District, there are 10,000 who are going to hold their taxes and escrow. The only thing Congress and politicians understand is money.
ZHERKAYeah. Well, you know, certainly they would grab a lot of people's attention, including the U.S. attorney's office. Withholding your taxes is a felony. As an organization, we can't condone an act like that nor can we suggest that people undertake it.
SHERWOODThere's no legal way to put them in escrow, which he suggested.
ZHERKAThere is not. There is not. And actually, one of the things we looked into a couple of years ago, someone suggested, well, what if you withhold a symbolic amount, like $17.76, right, or $51? And the problem with that is that's still submitting a faulty return. In which case, you could be fined up to three to $5,000. And so using the tax code to achieve a protest effort is really difficult. But I...
SHERWOODAnd this we know. It's been suggested in the past. Remember, Walter Fauntroy suggested this. There was a -- I remember going to a press conference. He was there. Maybe Barry was there, but -- and that was the suggestion, the threat to withhold income taxes.
NNAMDISpeaking of the Republican National Convention, House Republicans have repeatedly tried to tie anti-abortion measures for D.C. to different kinds of bills moving forward on Capitol Hill. Now that Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin has waded into such a big controversy over abortion and over women's rights, do you think it would be wise for D.C. advocates to use this moment to call attention to congressional meddling in D.C. as well?
ZHERKAAnd that's part of what we will be doing, certainly, when we're down at the conventions. And we've made efforts to do that, whether it's protest up on Capitol Hill outside of Trent Frank's office or out in Arizona. So whenever those types of attacks occur, it is important, and we try to draw attention to them. And I think that's part of what will happen at the Democratic convention ,that Congresswoman Norton and others will draw attention to efforts to impose restrictions on abortion rights here in the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODAre you going to have floor demonstrations? What am I going to be covering when I'm in the Democratic convention?
ZHERKASo D.C. Vote, as an organization, is not a partisan organization, so we won't be on the floor of the convention. I don't know what the Democratic State Committee...
SHERWOODAnything out in the, you know, the Charlotte Raceway? Are you going to have, like, a D.C. Vote car going around the racetrack, anything like that?
ZHERKAI'd like to drive that car. We're going to have a rally outside of the convention center Tuesday afternoon, and we ask people to visit our website to find out the details. And that rally will be a call for a full budget freedom for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODWhat's the website, quickly?
NNAMDIAnd remember, wherever you go, you can take Flat Kojo with you. Ilir Zherka is the executive director of D.C. Vote. Ilir Zherka, thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOODIt sounds like a bad beer.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our -- remember Billy's Beer?
SHERWOODFlat Kojo sounds like a bad beer.
NNAMDITom 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.
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