We talk with restaurateur Ashok Bajaj about how he keeps his customers coming back and what defines and distinguishes his native Indian cuisine.
Playoff baseball returns to the D.C. region, but most local fans are blacked out from the telecast of a crucial game. A federal judge gives the former chairman of the D.C. Council a curfew. And the presidential candidates swing for the fences 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
- Walter Smith Executive Director, D.C. Appleseed
- Ralph Nader Consumer Advocate; Author, "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future"
- Anthony G. Brown Lieutenant Governor, Maryland
Politics Hour Video
Ralph Nader urged the presidential candidates to hold a debate focused solely on Washington, D.C., issues. Debate topics would include D.C. statehood, budget autonomy and high poverty. Nader said D.C. residents need to be more organized in order for statehood to get traction at the national level.
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 the Baltimore Orioles and the Washington Nationals won last night, and that's the only reason that Tom Sherwood is here today because had the Nationals lost he'd probably be on suicide watch someplace, right?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, I'm trying not to get overly excited, but I'm going to go to the game tonight, and nothing is stopping me. I hope no news breaks.
NNAMDIHow did you get tickets? People were lined up at 3 o'clock...
NNAMDI...this morning for $30 standing.
SHERWOODFor the $30 standing.
NNAMDIHow'd you get tickets? And I bet you're sitting down too.
SHERWOODYou know, I am sitting down, and I paid full price, and I bought them the moment that you can get to them. I went and got them. I paid full price.
NNAMDISo this is a huge game for you.
SHERWOODAnd I took my son on Wednesday, and he say -- he was reminding me. We went to the first game at Camden Yards when he was much younger because what was that? Twenty years ago? And so he was so excited. It was worth every penny if I had to pay for all the tickets to the end just to sit there with him for a ballgame.
NNAMDIDoes this mean you get free beer in his establishments?
SHERWOODIt's not -- no. My son doesn't give me free anything. He's a fine American enterprise businessman in Bethesda.
NNAMDINo free beer from Solly's for you. No free beer from Solly's for you.
SHERWOODNo. It's Kangaroo Boxing Club.
NNAMDIWell, both -- isn't it both Solly's and Kangaroo Boxing Club?
SHERWOODNo. They're two different places.
NNAMDII know, but he's...
SHERWOODNo. But he's full time at Kangaroo Boxing because I can stop this commercial and we move on.
NNAMDIThank you. Enough of this.
SHERWOODIt's Columbia, 11th and Park Road, NW Washington...
SHERWOOD...open seven days a week.
NNAMDI...enough of the Sherwood legacy here. Former Council Chairman Kwame Brown learned the hard way Tuesday that you have got to pay attention to the presentencing release conditions. He apparently failed to report as he was supposed to, I think, twice a week, and he did it weekly. And he did it apparently on three occasions, and in this case, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon not only scolding him, telling him that his mea culpa was coming a little late in the game, but now, he has to have a curfew and a weekly in-person check-in requirement until he's sentenced, which I think takes place next week.
SHERWOODEven the former Chairman Kwame Brown's closest allies were saying, how did he mess this up? He had to just call in once a week, you know, in their cellphones. You can call long distance. You just have to call in. He didn't do it three separate times with three separate poor excuses. So the judge calls him in because he has done it, and he says you don't want -- the judge, Richard Leon, says you don't want to know what his next step is, I mean, if he didn't follow through. Of course, that's -- he could jail him until...
SHERWOOD...the sentencing later this month. So I think Kwame Brown who still thinks he's a victim in this that he's been unfairly treated and aggressively prosecuted has at least gotten the message that no matter how he feels about this case and what he -- he'd better follow the judge's instructions because it is the judge who is going to sentence him, and you don't want to embarrass the judge by disrespecting the judge. I don't care what you think about the judge.
NNAMDIA lot of unfavorable news about people who are either on the D.C. Council, who were on the D.C. Council or running for the D.C. Council this week. Let's talk about who's on the council. Councilmember Jim Graham in a report that came out this week from Metro, a 62-page report said that Councilmember Graham improperly mixed his role as a D.C. councilmember with his role as a Metro board member when he attempted to influence plans to develop a Metro-owned parcel of land on Florida Avenue, Northwest. He has not been accused of any crimes, but this is an issue that for the councilmember won't go away.
SHERWOODThis was an $800,000 four-month-long investigation by a highly respected independent law firm that looked at this. That's tough news. The good news for Jim Graham is that while this firm was not charged with to see if there's any illegality didn't suggest in its report that there was some. And a lot of people think this was Jim Graham, unfortunately, throwing his weight around because he had influence on both the contract from Metro and the D.C. lottery contract.
SHERWOODThe bad news for Jim Graham is despite that this is just a criticism by the Metro board because they can't do anything to him -- he's not on the board anymore -- is that the five federal prosecutors had been and are looking into this mixing, conflating of these two unrelated contracts, but more importantly, the prosecutors are also looking at the whole way city officials handle the D.C. lottery contract. So there's still the specter of, a cloud of possible illegality. We just don't know what it is.
NNAMDIAnd in Maryland, Delegate Tiffany Alston was sentenced in misconduct case. She is now suspended from the legislature without pay or benefits. She struck a last-minute deal with state prosecutors this week to avoid going to trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court on charges involving the use of campaign money to pay for some of her wedding expenses back in June. She was found guilty of misconduct in office and of stealing $800 from the General Assembly to pay an employee of her law firm.
NNAMDIShe got a suspended sentence from Judge Paul Harris Jr. of one year in jail for misconduct in office and has been ordered to pay $800,000 in restitution to the General Assembly and complete 300 hours of community service. Yet, she indicates, Tom Sherwood, that she would like to retain her seat in the House of Delegates. And I'm sure there are a lot of people who are saying, no, this -- if you're going to have a political career, it probably needs a restart, not a continuation.
SHERWOODIt would be helpful, I think, if she were to show more contrition of the stupidity of some of the things she did. I mean, I don't quite understand this low-level scarring of your own political career. Now, I've always said to people if you're going to go do something, go big, you know, because you're going to ruin your political life because that's what you're doing. So I just don't -- I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around what she's trying to do, and I think the voters will have the final word on that.
NNAMDIOur guest -- our first guest this hour served in the General Assembly in Maryland. He is now the lieutenant governor of Maryland. Anthony Brown joins us in studio. Mr. Lieutenant Governor, thank you so much for joining us.
LT. GOV. ANTHONY G. BROWNIt's great to be on, Kojo. Nice to see you again, Tom.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect you were up pretty late last night because the Orioles game went to the 13th inning.
BROWNYes, indeed. I've been watching that series closely, and just like with the Nationals, it's been back and forth. Both teams are now looking at their fifth and final game of the series. I'd like nothing more than an I-95 series with the Nationals and the Orioles, although it might put me in a difficult position in terms of where -- who I root for and where I sit during the games, but it certainly would be exciting for this region and for Washington, D.C., as well as Maryland.
SHERWOODWe have to figure out how to call it. I'd like that parkway -- the Baltimore-Washington Parkway Series instead of 95. It's kind of too federal.
SHERWOODBut that's too long. You can't put that in the headlines -- Baltimore, Washington.
BROWNYeah. But I don't like the belt -- when people said the Beltway Series...
BROWN...and what beltway you're talking about.
SHERWOODNo. I don't like the beltway either. I'll avoid the beltway at all costs.
NNAMDICare to comment on the dilemma in which Delegate Tiffany Alston finds herself at this point, Mr. Lieutenant Governor?
BROWNYou know, certainly, the judiciary system has reached a conclusion in terms of the final disposition of the case. It's a -- what we don't want is we don't want it to be a distraction for the General Assembly. We want the residents of the 24th Legislative District to be, you know, fully represented by elected officials that aren't, you know, under a cloud of suspicion or anything else that would distract from their ability to carry out their duties. So, you know, I'm confident that it will be resolved in a way that respects voters and the institution.
NNAMDIOnto national politics -- were you about to say, Tom?
SHERWOODNo. I was just going to say she's suggesting she doesn't have to leave her job. Do you feel like she does, she should or she must?
BROWNYou know, not speaking from the, you know, legally because I think that's a decision that, you know, legal experts can address, you know, certainly, just from an effective representation, you know, and, you know, you -- it's difficult as it is to represent constituents, particularly in these trying times, you know, tough budget issues, tough policy issues, tough issues that are on the ballot that I know that we're going to talk about later in the program.
BROWNSo you want to be able to do that free of sort of distraction and given the nature of the charges and then the agreement that was reached, it may very well be an insurmountable distraction for her to represent her constituents.
SHERWOODServe the city -- serve the county by stepping aside.
BROWNYou know, I mean, that's a decision that that she'll have to make, and that I'm sure there will be some guidance coming out from the attorney general's office on what she can and cannot do.
NNAMDIOur guest is the lieutenant governor of Maryland, Anthony Brown. If you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. If you have comments or questions, you can also send them by email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. The vice president smiled his way through a pretty heated debate last night with Republican Paul Ryan.
NNAMDIYou put out a statement afterwards, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, that you feel it's clear that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are not being honest about their agenda. What do you feel needs to be corrected for the record?
BROWNYou know, I don't understand how it is that Gov. Romney and his running mate can say that they're going to support the middle class and provide tax relief to the middle class when they haven't put forth details of their budget. But when you look at the independent studies that they referenced in terms of supporting their claim that their budget will save trillions of dollars, in those reports, it shows that the way they do it is by eliminating deductions that the middle class relies on, like home interest mortgage deduction, by privatizing Social Security, voucherizing VA health care and slashing Medicare and Medicaid.
BROWNI mean, those go right to the heart of middle-class Americans. So what the Romney-Ryan plan really calls for is tax cuts for the wealthy that are born or where the burden is placed squarely on the backs of the middle class. So that's what I mean when I say that they're not being forthright and candid with the American people. I think the vice president did a good job last night of exposing that, and I think the vice president was very clear where he and the president stand in stark contrast to Gov. Romney.
SHERWOODDo you agree with a lot of the commentary that Joe Biden did a better job than Barack Obama did in defending and promoting the Obama administration?
BROWNI mean, the, you know...
NNAMDII think even the president would answer yes to that one.
BROWNYeah. I think, you know, look, the president rarely comments on, you know, on things like that. And when he came off, I guess, you know, landed in the White House lawn, he stopped and said to reporters, hey, Joe did a great job. So the vice president did a great job. He was very specific. He called out Romney and Ryan for the contradictory statements, the inconsistencies, and what has been characterized by many as lies.
BROWNAnd that's what folks are looking for in debates. That's why you have a debate. It's one thing giving, you know, you give a speech, and you lay out your position. You're in a debate, and you can go back and forth. And I think Joe went back and forth with Ryan and called him out on things that need to be called out. A lot of people are fighting for the Obama-Biden team and what supporters of President Obama and Vice President Biden wants to see is they want to see both the vice president and the president fighting for themselves.
SHERWOODPaul Ryan's goal -- one of his goals show that he was -- could stay on the stage with the vice president, and whether you agree with what he said in factually, he seemed to stay mostly in control for himself, so he achieved at least that as a goal, the atmospherics of being on a stage.
BROWNSure. I mean, I wouldn't take that away from him. I mean, he was well prepared. He looked a little bit rehearsed, a little bit uncomfortable, not as sort of relaxed and, you know, kind of connected to what he was talking about. But, you know, he certainly -- he doesn't get a failing grade.
NNAMDIYou spend a lot of time running point on health care issues for your administration in Maryland. What's the best simple argument that you can make for the new federal health care law and the approach that Maryland is taking to carry it out?
BROWNThe simplest argument I would make is that it's going to lead to a healthier community and reduce cost and for small businesses and families looking to buy insurance coverage. The Affordable Care Act provides many tools to improve the quality of health throughout this country, getting more and more people under health coverage -- health insurance coverage into a culture of insurance where they'll begin to spend more time with their primary care providers.
BROWNFocusing on wellness and prevention, which is just as a true way, kind of a best practice way of reducing the cost of delivering care by treating it upfront, focusing on wellness and not waiting until you get sick, and you show up in the emergency department. But that starts with health insurance coverage, and then, of course, a big challenge is making sure we have the providers there to deliver that care.
NNAMDIOn to Prince George's County. You're from Prince George's County, and there's a debate there about changing the gaming laws and voting on a new casino project. Proponents say it'll bring new revenue, create jobs. Critics say it'll hurt local residents, only benefit wealthy developers. Where do you see this going, and what do you think is at stake for your home county, and how about the amount of money being spent in ads? On side of this question, it seems to me that Prince George's County could use that revenue that the television stations are raking in from this...
NNAMDI...over $40 million so far. But go ahead.
BROWNWell, it is disappointing that, I mean, the lion's share of the money that's being spent well over $30 million comes from, you know, casinos and gambling operations in West Virginia that would wanna deprive Marylanders of this important revenue so we can fund our schools in Maryland. So it is very disappointing that so much money is being spent to defeat Question 7. Question 7 is important. It's, you know, I've sat down with county executive Rushern Baker, and he's certainly a breath of fresh air, new leadership in Prince George's County.
BROWNHe's got a well thought-out economic development plan for the county, and part of that includes expanded gaming at National Harbor, looking to increase the tax base so that we've got more revenues for schools and other important services in the county, and I support the county executive in that. So I support Question 7. Look, independent studies have shown that it will create jobs, construction in the short term, long-term jobs at the casinos.
BROWNIndependent studies show that it's gonna generate additional revenues, and we have set up a mechanism where those additional revenues from gaming, in fact, do go to education. A lot of people like to talk about the Maryland Lottery, say, hey, promises were made 20 plus years ago that Maryland Lottery dollars would go for education, and they just went into the general fund.
BROWNThis is different. There is an educational trust fund that is established. Revenues from gaming go into that trust fund, and those dollars go to education.
SHERWOODThere's been a dispute about...
NNAMDIBut critics say there's -- go ahead.
SHERWOODI was gonna say there's dispute about that $200 million figures thrown around. But what can you categorically say will be money to education if people were --- 'cause I talked to enough people in Maryland who are not that confident this is gonna pass.
NNAMDIAnd critics of the law say that nothing in the law specifically requires that money to go to education. You say there's a mechanism that has been created. But there is no guarantee, they say.
BROWNWell, look, there's an education trust fund that has been established. And unlike the lottery where there was no mechanism to direct those revenues to education, that's not the case here. There is a trust fund. You know, there -- so that's my first response. In terms of the dollar amount, I mean, what we're forecasting, the Department of Legislative Services looked at it. That's the kind of the independent body at the Maryland General Assembly, and they're forecasting $225 million of additional revenues.
BROWNNow, the lion's share of that goes to education. Some of it goes to local impact aid, some of it goes -- a small percentage goes to increase purses at the race tracks. But the lion's share goes to education through this...
SHERWOODAnd that's by law -- there is a provision in the law that this money will go to education. The trust fund's been set up, but there's a provision the money must go to the trust fund for this.
BROWNYes, absolutely, absolutely. And we wouldn't have been able to get the bill passed. The bill was passed with the slimmest of -- there was really no margin. I mean, you need 71 votes in the House of Delegates to pass a bill. It received 71 votes, and that's because most legislators rightfully so said, look, if we're gonna do this, it's got to go to education. So you got this education trust fund. Without it, the bill wouldn't have passed.
NNAMDIIf you run for governor in 2014, Prince George's County is gonna be a big part, presumably, of your base. Given your support and Gov. O'Malley's support for the gaming bill referendum, how do you expect the politics of this will affect you farther on down the road?
BROWNI think that voters look at the complete record of those who are seeking to represent them either in the legislature or in the governor's office. And when you look at the complete record of the O'Malley-Brown administration, I think we get high marks. I mean, for example, we made a promise to bring the Department of Housing and Community Development to Prince George's County, and that's underway.
BROWNWe've made -- and even more importantly, we've made a long-term commitment to development of world-class hospital in Prince George's County to replace the hospital in Cheverly.
SHERWOODWhat's the timeline for that? That's a huge issue for people and health care issues that you've been dealing with.
BROWNSure. So you may recall, Tom, last year we signed a three-phase memorandum of agreement and we're now in the second phase. And the second phase is to hammer out with much more, you know, detail and specificity the financial commitments for the state, for the county and for the University of Maryland Medical System. And we expect this year for that, you know, phase two to be completed so everyone knows what their share is, what their contribution is, what their commitment is.
BROWNAnd then next year, as we turn to next year, we go to the final phase, which is a certificate of need, and then start selecting a venue and a site. You should also know and your listeners should know that the University of Maryland Medical System, which is a topflight medical school/health delivery system, they're already in the emergency rooms both -- and running and managing the emergency department at Cheverly, Laurel and Bowie. So we're already beginning to see kind of a phase-in of the University of Maryland Medical System here in Prince George's County.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Gentlemen, please put on your headsets because Will in Annapolis, Md., would like to have his say about the gaming initiative. Will, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILLHow are you doing? I've got a few points. One is I lived in Nevada for 10 years. I lived in New Jersey when gaming came to Atlantic City. I am a gambler. I play cards. I play craps. I don't play slots, but I was against -- living in Maryland, I was against it when Ehrlich got voted in, and he was for it and pushed it. I've wrote letters to them. I was -- and then as he got out, immediately, the people that were blocking it in Congress all of a sudden were for gambling, and it changed overnight. It's obviously a political football. They're obviously -- the lobbyists have got the -- our congressmen...
NNAMDIWhy are you against it, Will?
WILLBecause I see what happens. I mean, I've seen mothers with their kids in strollers, you know, and the kids -- the 14-year-olds watching the 2-year-olds outside while mom's in there, putting her last penny in. It's a complete regress of tax. The worse people get hit by gambling. It'll -- yeah, it'll increase funds to the state. It'll also increase bankruptcies. It'll increase the costs of welfare.
NNAMDIWill's argument, Mr. Lieutenant Governor, is the argument that many people who are against this bring that and that it leads to addiction.
BROWNYou know, I think if the question on the ballot was should we have gaming, period, that would be a different question, and that question was asked and answered in 2007 for Maryland, and Marylanders overwhelmingly said, we accept gaming in Maryland.
BROWNI think the gist or let's say the whole -- the question in question number seven is do we want Marylanders to spend their gambling dollars to fund schools in West Virginia, to fund libraries in Delaware, to pay for teachers' salaries in Pennsylvania or do we want to recognize that Marylanders -- and just go to the parking lots in Charlestown, W. Va. Usually, a lot of Maryland license plates go to, you know, shopping center parking lots on the weekend.
BROWNYou see bus loads of Marylanders, you know, getting out of their car, going into buses and driving to West Virginia and Pennsylvania. We wanna capture those dollars. The dollars are being spent, and we'd like for them to be spent in Maryland so that we can use those revenues to fund our schools.
SHERWOODBut the saturation -- there'd be like six casinos now, full-fledged casinos. Is that correct, six casinos in the state of Maryland?
BROWNYeah. There'd be six.
SHERWOODAnd the other casinos are getting tax breaks in order to allow this to happen so they'll stay in business, Maryland Live! It sounds like it's a major business investment by the state of Maryland. And some people say you'll just -- the gambling dollar is being stretched in so many different places that nobody will get any money out of this.
BROWNI'll say one thing...
SHERWOODOr very little money out of it.
BROWNRight. One thing to point out is at our -- I think it's 52 or 53 percent, which will be the tax rate for all of six of the gambling venues. That's one of, if not the highest tax rate in the nation, and that was important to us because if we're gonna fund the educational trust fund and truly put some real dollars -- additional dollars in education, we need to maintain that high tax rate. So it's lower than what was proposed or what was authorized in 2007. But it continues to be one of the highest in the state.
BROWNMaryland is a growing state, and we've got a robust economy that's based on information technology and cyber security and the life sciences. The hospitality industry is the fourth largest industry in Maryland. It continues to grow. So when we introduced the sixth venue, I think the notion that you're going to sort of take away from existing retailers and hospitality venues, restaurants and hotels, that would only be true if Maryland was not a growing economy.
SHERWOODCouldn't digital gambling undercut the profits of these casinos, if you can go online and play...
SHERWOOD…gambling? All the games you'd play in the casino, you can play at home.
BROWNYeah, I mean, I think, you know, look, I think we're getting into -- and I'm willing to talk about it, but, I mean, we're talking about kind of like the psychology of gaming. And, you know, people enjoy coming to the venues. I mean...
BROWN…Will -- yeah, socialized gambling, yeah. Will mentioned that he's a gambler. My mother, I know she doesn't mind me saying, I mean, she loves playing the slots. And, you know, and that -- she doesn't wanna play them at home. She likes to get on the bus and go and socialize slots.
NNAMDIOnto another issue, Maryland voters will also go to the post to decide on the fate of same-sex marriage by casting ballots for or against question six. Some opponents of same-sex marriage legislation say it affects their freedom of religion. How do you see it?
BROWNWell, it was -- and that's question six, marriage equality in Maryland. The majority of Marylanders support marriage equality as do I. And certainly, we've seen a trend, a positive trend in Maryland over the years. It was important to us that any bill, and now a referendum, on marriage equality does not impose on religious freedom. So said another way, there's specific provision in the bill that says, look, you can't require a religious institution or a member of a religious faith to perform a marriage.
BROWNSo, you know, I'm Catholic. And I raise my children Catholic. And whether you're Catholic, whether you're Jewish, whether you're Muslim, Hindu or any other faith, nobody can go to that church or that synagogue, the mosque and say, hey, I demand that you marry me, my children, what have you. So we have that religious freedom, that religious protection in there. But on the same token, you -- we can no longer deny, if question six is supported by the voters and I believe it will, we can no longer deny same-sex couples that same opportunity to marry that everyone enjoys.
SHERWOODWhat -- do you believe it will pass 'cause there's been enough change? I believe in every other popular referendum on this, it's failed.
BROWNThat's right. So Maryland, I think, will be the first state to pass a referendum, and we -- it's only on the ballot because it was petitioned to the ballot. But I say -- there are four states that have it on the ballot this November. So I say the first only because we're in the Eastern Time Zone and our polls will close before the rest of them. And we're confident that a few other states, certainly Washington state will pass.
SHERWOODIs this ballot, the Nov. 6 ballot, too unwieldy? I mean, there's a -- we haven't discussed the DREAM Act, which is also in there. It's just an extraordinary ballot. Montgomery County police union is worried about the reduction in its rights to bargain. I mean, this is an extraordinary ballot. I can't recall when...
BROWNYeah, let me use this opportunity to say -- to do a plug for this. Look, first of all...
BROWNYeah, early voting. First of all, if you haven't registered to vote, either in Virginia or Maryland, do so now. I think Virginia's deadline is Monday for voter registration. You can go to vote.barackobama.com to do that. But also, use early voting in Maryland and Virginia, use absentee balloting. In Maryland, we have it on demand. No longer do you have to say, oh, I'm not available because of work or I'm sick.
BROWNIf you wanna vote from your kitchen table and sit down with your ballot and take time to review it, then we make that available in Maryland. And as you are saying, Tom, I mean, I know that -- I've seen the ballot in Anne Arundel County. They have 15 local questions and then there are at least seven statewide questions. There's 22 questions in addition to voting for president and Senate, et cetera. So if you can do it early or you can do it by absentee ballot, I encourage you to do that.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we are just about out of time. I should make note here that Clarence Mitchell III, who helped steer as sweeping desegregation measure through the General Assembly, died Thursday of cancer. He was 72. He had become the nation's youngest black legislator when he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates at the age of 22. If you're a Maryland political official, you know Clarence Mitchell III.
BROWNAbsolutely. Clarence Mitchell III comes from a real iconic civil rights family that not only made contributions in Maryland but, you know, positive ramifications throughout the country. So he'll be missed and, yeah, we certainly -- our thoughts and prayers to the Mitchell family.
NNAMDIAnthony Brown, thank you so much for joining us.
BROWNThanks, Kojo. Thanks, Tom.
SHERWOODRight. Go, Orioles.
NNAMDIAnthony Brown is lieutenant governor of Maryland. He is a Democrat. And, Tom Sherwood, also passing this week was Andrew Brimmer...
NNAMDI...who some may remember as the first African-American to sit on the Federal Reserve board. Others may remember more recently that he was the first head of the so-called control board of the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODThe financial authority, if he like to call it his professorial demeanor, drove me crazy. Andrew Brimmer -- I just talked to John Hill, who was the executive director of the control board just yesterday and today about Brimmer. He was professorial. He was maddeningly unable to give a soundbite for television. He would always speak in convoluted or complex sentences, and so he almost never got on the air in any complete thought.
SHERWOODBut he did something very important people should not lose sight of. Whatever the politics of it were, he took over the control board in 1996, and he served there for three years, and he saved the city from a horrific bankruptcy after the administrations of Marion Barry and Sharon Pratt Kelly.
SHERWOODHe came in and he had -- he fought with the unions, he fought with department heads, he changed things around, took away a lot of the rights of the citizens to control their own government. But it was a positive experience, and Andrew Brimmer should be remembered fondly for that even though it was a very difficult job.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Joining us now by telephone is Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, former presidential candidate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future." Ralph Nader, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. RALPH NADERYou're very welcome, Kojo, after all these years. It's a pleasure to be on.
NNAMDIPleasure to have you on. In a few minutes, we'll be talking with someone who's helping to chart a new strategy for the District to get autonomy over its own budget. But you've been part of several efforts lately including one to get the presidential candidates to hold a debate focused solely on D.C. issues. How would you explain the inability of voting rights supporters to gain any traction on the national level, and what do you think -- what purpose do you think this debate would serve?
NADERWell, first in, Mayor Vincent Gray supports it, along with many other organizations who signed that letter recently to the presidential candidates. The idea is to have a presidential debate in the District of Columbia on District of Columbia issues, issues like statehood, budget autonomy, rampant poverty, lack of adequate public services, et cetera. And there's never been a presidential debate in the nation's capital.
NADERThe presidential debate commission is nothing more than a corporation created by the two major parties to get rid of the League of Women Voters sponsorship of the presidential debates in 1987. So I think we'll get some affirmatives from some of the third parties, but we haven't heard from either the Republican or Democratic Party.
NNAMDIMr. Nader, Tom Sherwood from Channel 4 news. Why would you even expect the presidential candidates of the two major parties to take the time where they have to fight over these three debates that they are going to have to do something about the District of Columbia? I don't even know where this idea would take hold in the national political consciousness that this would be something good to do given all the world issues and the national issues. This is important, and I live in the District. But I just find this almost unthinkably not gonna happen.
NADERWell, it's good, Tom, you lower expectations than you should have because this is a colony. There's no capital district in the Western world that strips its people of the right to vote for members of parliament, in this case the members in Congress.
SHERWOODI understand the history. I just don't understand how this could have any traction whatsoever.
NADERWell, it's all a matter of determination. I remember in our history, abolition of slavery didn't have much traction at one time, too. Women's right to vote didn't have much traction. The argument for self-determination by the District of Columbia is overwhelming, and we don't have to go through it because they've been talked about on Kojo's program for a long time.
NNAMDIYeah. Well, let's talk about how we get traction, Ralph Nader. We spoke to the NAACP's Ben Jealous a few weeks ago on this show. He said D.C. supporters need to be a little more militant about their cause. Would you agree, or do you think things like a limited strike where people show up late to work are as far as supporters should go?
NADERNo, they need to be more organized. Obviously, if you had a poll in the District of Columbia on statehood, you know, you would probably win the poll, but they're not organized. It's the same four, 500 people, stalwarts, who are pushing for something like this and not much more. So -- because they have low expectation levels. They think Congress has always dominated the District, and it was -- it isn't gonna change.
NADERA lot of people think it's a -- it requires a constitutional amendment, which is very onerous, obviously. No. When it comes to statehood, other territories have been turned into states by simple legislation in Congress. And it's the only way we're gonna get non-reversible voting representation, control over D.C. laws by D.C. people, D.C. budgets by D.C. people, control over the courts and the judges and district attorney like any other state.
NADERI can show you -- and there's no time for that -- if the rich people in the District of Columbia would contribute $20 million, we would get statehood in less than two years because the strategy behind statehood has always been infected by a sense of futility, a sense of defeatism, instead of a laser beam focus on each member of Congress. And most of the Democrats would vote...
NNAMDIWhat would $20 million do to make that...
SHERWOODIt would be a lobby -- it would be a heck of a lobby campaign.
NADERIt would set up citizen caretaker groups on every member of Congress. There would be assigned three or four District citizens, highly trained and motivated, to focus on every member of Congress until they get a yes. And I think you're about 40 percent there already, if not more, and President Obama is not gonna veto it like, say, a Republican president would.
SHERWOODWell, I would just say that Jesse Jackson said back in, like, 1990, he said that we will not have progress on statehood or voting rights until the issue becomes a level of personal insult to the people who live here. And those people who have ability to contribute $20 million can go up to Capitol Hill and get anything done they want. They don't care about the issues, the fundamental rights issues you're discussing.
NADERWell, that's one thing. You're right on that, but the statehood has to be translated into how it will improve the lives of people in the District, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and that's not hard to do. But I just think the strategy has not been laser beam. It's been, you know, have some demonstrations and marches and hope. No, no. This is much, much more focused on every senator and representative.
NADERThere's a citizen caretaker committee focused on it. It can be done. It's gonna -- it'll take about 20 million bucks, and it can be done. As I say, you start with a very significant number of members of Congress who already will support it. You have to have a federal district. Constitutionally, you shrink the federal district to the area around Congress and the White House, et cetera, and it'll be done. You know, look...
NADER...if you wanna start a bonfire to heat yourself, and all you have is the sun, you can wait until kingdom come for that sun to light that bonfire made up of dry wood. But if you have a magnifying glass that concentrates the rays of the sun, you're gonna start that bonfire under way. That's what I mean by laser focus where the caretaker commissions become known to the staff, known to the senators. They never let them out of their sight until they get a yes.
NNAMDIRalph Nader is a consumer advocate, a former presidential candidate and the author of "The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future." Ralph Nader, thank you so much for joining us.
NADERThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Walter Smith. He is the executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Walter Smith, good to see you.
MR. WALTER SMITHThank you very much. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIYou are spearheading an effort for the District to take a different approach to obtain budget autonomy, pushing a measure to amend the city's Home Rule Charter in a referendum next spring. How would that work, and why did you find this was the way to go for this moment?
SMITHWell, the way it would work is that the council would pass legislation authorizing the referendum to give us greater budget autonomy. The people will then vote on it in a special election. That would be next spring. If the people were to pass it, it would be reviewed up on the Hill, that the -- under the Home Rule Act, there are 35 days that the Congress would have, 35 legislative days to review it.
NNAMDITo review what?
SMITHThe referendum that would give us budget autonomy here in the city. And if the Congress did not overturn it affirmatively through a disapproval resolution in both houses of Congress within that 35 days, followed by a presidential signature, it would become law.
NNAMDIIf it were disapproved in one house of Congress or the other and not the other, then...
SMITHIt takes -- no, no. They have to run the tables. They have to get...
NNAMDIBoth houses, and the president has to sign.
SMITHExactly. Which is one of the appeals of this approach, and it's been an approach that hasn't been much used since Home Rule was established. It was used recently when we got an elected attorney general. Same process was used. Now you ask why are we trying this now?
SMITHBecause we think that the strategy that has been used up to now, which we think we should continue to pursue, is to try to get Congress to affirmatively give us budget autonomy or affirmatively give us voting rights. And we've learned, over time, that when we use that approach, what happens is that unacceptable riders to the city's leaders get attached, and they withdraw the bill.
SMITHWe are seeking a clean bill. Up to now that's not been possible. I think we should continue to pursue it. But if the people of the District passed a budget autonomy bill, it will be clean.
SHERWOODCould it not be a rider attached to that bill in the Congress?
SMITHWell, under the rules in the Home Rule Act, the disapproval resolution itself has to be clean. So Congress has actually given a tool to the council and the people of the District that I think needs to be used more than it has. No guarantee it'll work, but just like what Ralph Nader was proposing, you've got to try different strategies to move it all forward.
NNAMDIIt certainly is innovative. I'd like to hear what our listeners think about it. You can call 800-433-8850 with your opinion. 800-433-8850. Tom?
SHERWOODDelegate Eleanor Holmes Norton didn't seem to be on board for this. But more importantly, what about Darrell Issa? I always say his name, first name wrong.
NNAMDIYes, that's correct.
SHERWOODDarrell Issa, who's shown some interest in helping the city on these issues, what does he think of this proposal?
SMITHWe haven't talked directly to him, and we look forward to doing that. But I actually think that this proposal complements what Mrs. Norton and Darrell Issa have been doing.
SHERWOODBut why wouldn't you, before this becomes a public matter -- Phil Mendelson has proposed this in the council, right? -- why not run this by just to kind of get a feel for what he says? 'Cause he's been very cooperative on issues like the commuter tax and budget autonomy and all these other issues. But it sounds like you're Enron-ing the Congress.
SMITHWell, actually, we're not Enron-ing the Congress because the way the process works is that if the referendum passes -- which I think would show to Mr. Issa how strong the support is in the city for an issue that he himself has endorsed -- it will go up for review by the Congress. And if it becomes the law, then the budget itself that the city passes will also be subject to the 30-day passive review.
NNAMDIWhat you seem to be saying is had you run this by Congressman Issa before there was a referendum and he had simply said, no, I don't like the idea, then he would not have the evidence which you are seeking to accumulate in the form of a referendum that the majority of voters in the District of Columbia approve of.
SMITHExactly. We want him to see the support for the idea that he himself is talking about. Now if Mr. Issa and Mrs. Norton and others working together -- and they've been working on this for some time -- are able to pass a clean budget autonomy bill and moot the proposed referendum, that would be fine with us. We're just very pessimistic that that's going to happen.
NNAMDIWell, let me also raise the logic behind Tom's question because the logic behind it is that a lot of people feel that this could undermine the efforts of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton and others that they are making on Capitol Hill right now. Is there a potential for it to be -- for it to undermine their efforts?
SMITHI don't think so. In fact, you probably saw the eloquent statement that Congressman Serrano issued in support of the referendum last week. He believes, as we do, that it actually supports those efforts. And he says, look, this is a two-track strategy. There is more than one way to get there. This is a way to show that not only Mr. Issa and other support this but the council on the District and the people of the District. We all wanna work together to get to the same goal.
SHERWOODIt seems to me that makes sense, except that if I were doing that, I would -- and my understanding how Congress and legislature is working, I think you know this too, is that you do not want to blindside someone. You do not want to jump out ahead of them. You give them forewarning. This is what we're doing, so they're not caught shorthanded. And I would think I would wanna talk to Issa. I mean, he's done something revolutionary. He said he wants to address the commuter tax.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, the one issue that Nader didn't get to, but, you know, the argument the District can make is that if other 48 states are to stop subsidizing Maryland and Virginia by allowing them to suck all the economic money out of the District of Columbia, let's say, do now to the tune of $2 billion a year...
SHERWOOD...those are the kinds of issues that help residents in the other states. But it seems to me you...
SMITHNo. I agree with that.
NNAMDIAllow me to interrupt for a second to explain...
SHERWOODYou're interrupting my rant.
NNAMDI...to explain to our listeners exactly what budget autonomy means. We're talking about the local dollars that are collected by the District of Columbia government from local taxpayers. Now, the Congress usually routinely approves the spending of that money. However, they've often attach riders to it, and it is attached to the federal budget. What you're seeking to do is detach it from the federal budget.
NNAMDISo if you are interested in D.C. getting budget autonomy and critics have said that you listeners in Washington, D.C., don't care about things like that, you'd call us, 800-433-8850, and express your opinion. I'm sorry, Walters Smith. I interrupted you.
SMITHNo. I just wanna mention one other reason why we think this is a good idea, and that is under the current process, every time the federal government is at risk of being shut down...
SMITH...because they are not ready to pass federal budgets and since D.C. gets caught up in that because right now Congress has to affirmatively approve our local budget, it puts the city in jeopardy of being shut down, which is not something that's good for the Congress itself because they work here. Their staff and employees work here.
SMITHAnd if this city has to shut down, therefore, interfering with roads and bridges and police and fire and all the rest, it will actually harm the functioning of the Congress. So if we get budget autonomy, we can divorce or, as you say, Kojo, detach ourselves from what's happening at the federal budget.
SHERWOODAnd since the -- since we mentioned Andrew Brimmer earlier. Since the 1990s, the city has shown that it can, in fact, balance its budgets...
SHERWOOD...and run its own affairs. Shock of shock, but the Americans in the D.C. are -- know how to do their business.
SMITHCan I come back to something Tom was saying That this would interfere with Mr. Issa is doing?
SHERWOODOr Ms. Norton.
SMITHOr Ms. Norton. And I think both -- Mrs. Norton, for example, believes that given the timing of this, that is, you first authorize the referendum, then the referendum itself doesn't even occur until next April. So it's not gonna be reviewed on the Hill until next August. There will be plenty of time to be talking with people and letting them know the significance of this, how this compliments their efforts. And it's a vehicle, I believe, for underscoring to Mr. Issa and other supporters of budget autonomy that he has the people of the District behind him.
SHERWOODThis is a related news story. We've talked about all the stories the Washington Post has done about the chief financial officer, the independent chief financial officer Nat Ghandi, and whether or the city is accurately auditing and controlling in the funds it has. Will this hurt the city's effort on Capitol Hill, or is this or not?
SMITHI don't think so. I don't think so partly for the reason you said. I think that our budgets since 2001 have been strong. They've been balance every year since 2001, which is something a very few jurisdictions in the country can say.
NNAMDIDo you think the District of Columbia ought to be able to spend its own collected tax dollars unfettered by Congress -- 800-433-8850 -- or not? Do you think Congress should still have the ability to withdraw or supervise or alter or tamper within any way that it wants to?
SHERWOODA lot of people think that the District of Columbia is federally an agency of the federal government. All the money comes from the federal government. In fact, I once interviewed someone on the mall and he said about voting rights. He said, well, but you all work for us. And he was under the impression that we all on the District of Columbia were federal employees. Of the 10, $11 billion budget, Walter, what is the amount of money that's raised locally compared to what is federal funds that go to all the states like Medicaid funding and other things?
SMITHYeah. Seventy percent of our local budget, over $6 billion of the total of around 9 billion comes from locally raised dollars, taxes, fees and the like.
NNAMDIAnd half of it comes out of my paycheck. A few weeks ago, local... (laugh)
NNAMDI...local Republican Patrick Mara wrote in The Washington Post that this debate about autonomy should not be linked to statehood because -- to quoting him -- "that's up high in the sky." That the federal government still holds all the cards. He seems to see a more kind of incremental approach. How do you see it?
SMITHWell, I think it's worth exploring many strategies at once. Ralph Nader has talked about one. Mrs. Norton and Mr. Issa are exploring one. This is another one. I think we need to try as many tools ever available to us to advance democracy. I do think that the budget autonomy referendum has a real chance of moving forward in the next six to nine months. And we need to pursue it.
SHERWOODDo you think Mr. Nader's idea of a presidential debate, folks on the District, has an ounce or if -- of any credibility at all?
SMITHWell, I think...
SHERWOODYour face says no.
SMITHNo. But here is what I think. I do think a lot of things that have been in the end, great steps forward for democracy and otherwise started with someone's idea that everyone said that can't be done. One of the things that's appealing to me about what Mr. Nader is talking about and where I agree 100 percent is we need to bring more visibility nationally to the lack of democracy in Washington, D.C. And the more visibility we get, the more apt we are to move forward.
NNAMDIHere is Adam in Washington, D.C. Adam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ADAMHi, Kojo. I'm fully in support of budget autonomy, but I'm a little bit of weary of the referendum idea. I know there's a referendum itself that gets sent up to the Hill has to be disapprove by the House and the Senate and then signed by the president, which probably won't happen. But my issue is that in another bill, in another budget bill, another -- any type of bill that could go into Congress, somebody can attach a writer to do -- to change our budget back to what it was.
ADAMYou know, they can add another restriction on to it and move it back. So, you know, I understand that the referendum can't be overturn, but I think it's -- we're missing something if it's not Congress doing it and (unintelligible).
SMITHWell, you may be right, someone will attempt that. This is not a foolproof approach. There is no foolproof approach, but we -- we'd be no worst off. If that were to happen, then we are right now. I do think if this becomes law, it will become more difficult for the Congress to undo it.
SHERWOODAnd remember I say I really thought with the same-sex bill in the District of Columbia that some Congress would rise up on that issue given the politics of the Hill, and it did not.
SHERWOODSo you're right. If you keep firing bullets at the glass, finally it's gonna break.
SMITHWell, you have to remember, given the way the Congress works now, getting anything pass affirmatively in both Houses and then signed by the president is difficult. So if we, in fact, can make law by passing something locally, we ought to try it and then stand our ground when someone drives later through some other vehicle to overturn it.
NNAMDIWalter Smith is the executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice. Tom Sherwood, we also lost Bill Line this week. He was the spokesperson...
NNAMDI...for the Park Service's National Capital Region. An apparent suicide at the age of 56.
SHERWOODEvery journalist knows what Bill Line did to put out the best phase on the park service.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers, who will be attending...
SHERWOODAttending the Nats game tonight.
NNAMDIShouting early and often.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi. Thank you all for listening.
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