Virginia Republican Party Chair John Whitbeck joins us in studio, and we get an update on Congress and D.C.'s "Death with Dignity" bill from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
Democrats win the top prizes in Virginia, taking the presidential and U.S. Senate races there. A prominent incumbent D.C. Council member’s luck runs out with a loss to an independent challenger. And gambling advocates hit the jackpot in Prince George’s County. 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
- Gerald Connolly Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-VA, 11th District);
- David Grosso Member Elect, D.C. Council (Independent, At-Large)
Politics Hour Video
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) called for reforms to the federal election process, including more voting machines, same-day registration and voting from satellite locations. “Let’s make sure that Election Day itself is the culmination of the process, not the essence of the process,” he said. Connolly added that he had concerns about a broader voter suppression effort brought on by long lines in majority-minority districts.
Connolly talked about how the Democratic Party can keep its political momentum in Virginia, particularly with the commonwealth’s rapidly changing racial demographic. He said future campaigns will need to motivate infrequent voters to come to the polls during non-presidential years. Connolly added that he was offended by a statement from his Republican challenger Chris Perkins in which Perkins said the GOP would “get our country back.” “Nobody has a claim to the United States as their country exclusively and I think that was one of the messages of the election night overall, which was a message of inclusivity,” Connolly 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 was out and about this week on election night. What were you doing?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, on Election Day, I was driving around, making sure that people were standing in line properly.
NNAMDIAnd if you happen to be in the Commonwealth where our next guest is from, some of those lines were very, very long. How were they in Washington?
SHERWOODWell, in some places, they were quite crowded. In the morning in Southwest where I voted, they -- well, actually, I voted early, but I went. And they were crowded in the morning. They cleared out in midday and early afternoon and got crowded again. I mean, I just don't understand why Election Day is not a holiday. Let's give up -- pardon me -- don't email folks. Let's give up Columbus Day, which is kind of a funny holiday, anyway. And have -- or make Columbus Day Election Day or something. New worlds to discover election and let people have a time to go vote.
NNAMDISo that people have -- if people do have to stand in line for five or six hours...
NNAMDI...at least they won't be rushed trying to get to work.
SHERWOODEven President Obama, you know, spoke about the time people had in line when he took his...
NNAMDIWe're going to have to fix that.
SHERWOODBut we have to fix that, he said. It would be great if, you know, there's -- it's changing times. And in the District, people like the paper ballots and there have been fewer electronic machines, but more and more, people want the electronic machines and they just -- it just ought to be simple.
NNAMDIWell, you ran into some kind of dust-up during the day when you were covering this election. Apparently, there was an ANC in a precinct in Southwest who got a little upset.
SHERWOODYeah. Greenleaf precinct, I saw some police with this young lady in handcuffs and, ooh, that might be a story. You know, I'm a veteran journalist. I've got a sharp eye for these things. And sure enough, she apparently -- she was an ANC candidate, advisory neighborhood commissioner neighborhood candidate, and she had seen someone she thought messing with her signs, which is a classic problem in campaigns. And apparently, she chased this person, and there was some assault, and the police were called. She was arrested.
NNAMDIShe intervened personally, and you caught it all on camera?
SHERWOODWell, I didn't actually see this -- saw it. I just saw her in handcuffs, and I thought that would be a good picture. And so we took it. Then Pat Collins, ace crime reporter, took over and reported the whole thing for NBC 4.
NNAMDIThat's what great veteran reporters actually do. I want to get to Maryland just a little bit because there were several initiatives in Maryland. Of course, there were no surprises in any of the races. Congressman Roscoe Bartlett lost his seat largely as a result of redistricting. But in the initiatives, the one that was, I guess, the greatest toss-up, if you will, was the gambling initiative in which more than $90 million were spent by the two sides, and it ultimately passed. Did you expect it to?
SHERWOODAnd what was it, 52-48 or 51-49, close?
SHERWOODIt was very close. You know, a lot of people were just uncertain what this is going to mean for the state to go all in, as I like to say on gambling, and become a gambling state with six casinos and particularly one in Prince George's County. The casino interests from West Virginia were concerned about this. But, you know, it passed, and there was -- I think it was -- there was some worry a couple of weeks out that it wasn't going to pass. But I thought the biggest one was the same-sex marriage equality one...
NNAMDIThat passed also...
NNAMDI...both in Maryland and in Maine.
SHERWOOD...in 32 previous elections around the country, it had failed in every one. And then Tuesday night, it passed there. It passed in Maine, passed in Washington state. And in Minnesota, I think, it was rejected as a -- one man, one woman part of the state Constitution. It was the biggest night in that issue in the country's history. And some people think that was a tipping point where we'll see lots of changes going forward.
NNAMDIThe DREAM Act also passed, that initiative in Maryland. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking more specifically about the District, but now, we turn to the Commonwealth of Virginia and introduce our guest. Gerald Connolly is a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who represents Virginia's 11th District and will be representing it in the next Congress because he was reelected. Congressman Connolly, thank you for joining us.
REP. GERALD CONNOLLYMy great pleasure to be back, Kojo.
NNAMDII guess, one of the biggest deals in the Commonwealth of Virginia outside of the fact that Tim Kaine is going to be the next U.S. senator from Virginia are the long lines that were reported in certain parts of the Commonwealth where people had to wait five and six hours to wait. A, why do you think that happened? B, what do you think can be done about it?
CONNOLLYWell, first of all, let me echo, I think, where Tom was headed, I think we've got be looking at a lot of reforms about how we conduct especially federal elections in the United States. I think there ought to be much easier registration to vote, including same day registration and voting.
NNAMDIThey got it in North Carolina.
CONNOLLYThey got in North Carolina.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) have that in the District of Columbia, too.
SHERWOODBut, actually, people are held up in the line there because it's a...
CONNOLLYThat's right. It can be. But I would go further. I would have absolute early voting, no excuses required for two or three weeks prior to an election. We do have states that have all mail ballots, for example, and it seems to work smoothly and without corruption. Let's change the ethos from we're worried about someone that we can't find them who actually might fraudulently cast a vote is not entitled to, and instead, the American ethos, what the history of this country is all about is expanding the franchise.
CONNOLLYSo let's make it easier for people. Let's have more machines. Let's make it easier to vote in satellite locations. Let's make sure that, you know, Election Day itself is the culmination of the process, not the essence of the process so that people can accommodate their vote to their own personal schedules. Why wouldn't we want to do that?
SHERWOODCan the -- for federal elections, if Congress can and the president legislation to make this happen?
CONNOLLYAbsolutely. And in fact, believe me, after my own experience in my district in Virginia, looking at those long lines you talked about, Kojo, I mean, some of it was just inexcusable, and it looked like given the fact that many of these precincts were minority precincts and we weren't experiencing four-, five- and six-hour delays in other precincts, like maybe it was part of a broader voter suppression effort in the United States.
CONNOLLYAnd I hope that's not true, but we can make sure it isn't true by some relatively simple reforms. But, yes, Tom, I think federal legislation would make a lot of sense. The president himself referred to that on his election night in his victory speech, and I would absolutely support creating some uniform federal standards that make it easier for people to exercise their sacred right to vote.
NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for Congressman Gerald Connolly, call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make your comment there.
SHERWOODConcerns about voter suppression played out a lot in Pennsylvania and other places during these elections. You just raised it as a potential -- is it, you know, I see all these poll workers who worked very hard for very little money on those days doing the kind of jobs they need to get people through. Do you think there ought to be an investigation of how these were done, if there's any hint of voter suppression?
SHERWOODOr is that just the effect of...
SHERWOOD...of bad bureaucracy?
CONNOLLYI think it's more the effect, but I put it in the context of a deliberate drive by the Republican Party to suppress the vote, whether it be strict, strict voter ID laws, whether it be rescinding the opportunity for early voting, whether it be -- making resources available to have sufficient machines so that people can cast their ballots in a timely and orderly fashion. I mean, across the board, we saw efforts to suppress the vote. And that's wrong. That's un-American. And I think if necessary, we should have federal legislation that addresses it.
NNAMDIWhat pushed Democrats over the top in Virginia, both in the presidential race and in the U.S. Senate race, you think?
CONNOLLYFirst of all, the president in Virginia in these four years has remained pretty popular. His support in Virginia never collapsed. You know, it had its ups and downs but not dramatic. And so we had a pretty strong base to begin with. And I think that the other side, especially with the advance of the Tea Party in the 2010 elections, maybe got carried away with their own rhetoric and their own views about the popularity and acceptance of this president.
CONNOLLYBut I think this president is seen as a historic president. I think he has a wellspring of support that clearly came out, Tuesday night, and Virginia is now permanently a purple state. We're going to be in play for -- as long as we can see, and that's from generations of hard work. But it is not the old Virginia. It is a new place. It's a diverse place. Diversity in my district -- my district is approaching 50 percent minority population in Northern Virginia.
NNAMDIWell, there seemed to be some nervousness. There was more confidence about a Kaine victory in Virginia than there was about the president's victory. I know you went out on the stump for the president in the last days of the election. Why do you think there was that that nervousness in the presidential campaign as opposed to the Kaine campaign?
CONNOLLYWell, you know, we're -- I said we're a purple state, but we're also a divided state. And so we knew this was going to be closely contested, and we knew that for the president to carry the state and for Tim Kaine to carry the state, they both had to come out in Northern Virginia with some very substantial margins. And so we had to reach those goals.
CONNOLLYI had told the president's campaign long ago that not only did they have to build up big margins in Fairfax and Arlington and Alexandria, but they needed to win Prince William and Loudon, the two exurban counties in Northern Virginia. And both Tim Kaine and the president did just that.
SHERWOODThey almost got identical vote totals, about 102,000 for the president and 175,000...
SHERWOOD...100 or same in the -- Romney lost with 75,000 votes, Kaine got 102,000 votes, and Allen got about 74,000, so...
SHERWOODBut prince -- Chuck Todd from NBC News specific point to Prince William County as a new urban place where the minorities count, where younger people are not as conservative as their parents are, and you saw that play out...
CONNOLLYAbsolutely. Prince William County, first of all, is the second largest county.
NNAMDIThat's a part of your district.
CONNOLLYAnd is part of my district. I represent the largest chuck of it still. It is now a minority-majority county, and it's the second largest populated county in Virginia.
SHERWOODI'm sorry. It's majority-minority now?
CONNOLLYYes. It has a major-minority population.
SHERWOODWhat's the rough breakdown?
CONNOLLYOh, it's about 51 percent.
SHERWOODMainly Hispanic (unintelligible) ?
CONNOLLYThe largest -- it's -- the largest single group is Hispanic in Prince William. And that's in contrast to Fairfax where the largest single ethnic group is Asian and then, of course, African-American, so -- but there's lots of other minorities who live there as well.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Gerry Connolly. He's a member of the United States House of Representatives. He's just won reelection to represent Virginia's 11th District. You can call us, 800-433-8850. What do Virginia Democrats need to do to sustain that momentum next year in your view? What a candidate like, oh, Terry McAuliffe give voters the excitement that they need?
CONNOLLYYou know, we're playing for the long term here, and so there are going to be wins and losses. We're not a blue state. We're a purple state. Maybe on our way to becoming blue someday but we're going to have lots of contests in between. And we face -- frankly, we have elections every year in Virginia. And in the old Harry Byrd machines days, partially that was by design to in fact limit turnout.
CONNOLLYSo next year, we'll go from 80 percent turnout this year in my part of the state to 40 percent for a gubernatorial election, maybe a little higher. And so the key for Terry to win is to make sure that some of those infrequent voters, who are Democrats or lean our way, come out and vote. That's exactly how Tim Kaine won the governorship. He really targeted a lot of those infrequent quadrennial Democratic voters to actually come out the next year and vote for him for governor.
SHERWOODAnd you talk about purple. I think it's important to mention that Frank Wolf, the Republican veteran, congressman, he has part of Prince William County which he easily carried over a lesser known Democratic candidate, getting over 18,000 votes to the 11,000 to the Democrats. Frank Wolf seems not to be caught up in some -- I know he's a long-term incumbent, so that plays for his benefit. But he seems to be more of the moderate conservative style congressman like Tom Davis who preceded you.
SHERWOODIs that a message to the Republicans about how you win and how you stay in? And I know you don't want to give the Republicans any advice.
CONNOLLYI think it ought to be.
SHERWOODBut Frank Wolf lives for this.
CONNOLLYI think it ought to be. But I don't know that it is. Well, absolutely. But, I mean, Tom was successful too, Tom Davis. And he was reviled toward the end by the base of his party. He couldn't win a statewide nomination.
SHERWOODHe could've been the Senate candidate this time around.
CONNOLLYPresumably. But, I mean, the party's moved so far right in terms of its base and its activists that people like that who are demonstrably successful in electoral politics are not welcome.
SHERWOODYour opponent -- if I can just -- one more time on your race 'cause you did win 60 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Chris Perkins. You said that it was a victory of pragmatism over ideology and not-so-fast Tea Party. Your -- Mr. Perkins said on election night, this battle may be over. But in the war, we will get our country back.
CONNOLLYYeah. I always am offended by statements like that, like it isn't our country too. It's everybody's country. And nobody has a claim to it exclusively, and to make a statement like that is too exclude by inference lots of other people. And I think the election return of Tuesday reminds everybody of that. It's one country. We may be of different political affiliation. We may have different points of view.
CONNOLLYBut nobody as a claim to the United States as their country exclusively, and I think that was one of the messages of the election night overall which was a message of inclusivity and the insistence on it by millions of voters.
NNAMDIHere now -- put on your headphones, gentlemen, because Chuck in Arlington, Va., would like to move this conversation ahead. Chuck, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. CHUCK BURKEHi. Thank you very much. Congressman Connolly, this is Chuck Burke actually calling from my car.
CONNOLLYOh, my God, Chuck.
SHERWOODHands-free, I hope.
CONNOLLYLet me just say, Chuck Burke used to work Republican Sen. Chuck Percy when I was in the Senate 20 something years ago. Is that not right, Chuck?
BURKEYeah. Maybe even more than that, but...
CONNOLLYI'm not admitting to that.
BURKEWe go back a long way. And I am in the financial services industry now. And, course, we're very obsessed with the potential of this fiscal cliff. And my question for the congressman is, where does the real compromise lie since at least the rhetoric is that no ones wants this to happen? And it really would be a financial catastrophe if it were to occur in all its glory potential. And I would be interested in your view on where we are headed and where we can achieve some compromise.
NNAMDIChuck, thanks for taking us there. Congressman Connolly?
CONNOLLYChuck, I believe very firmly this is not beyond us. This is not rocket science. There are many, many alternatives available to us that allow us to fully address, for example, sequestration. So we need to raise the debt ceiling. We need to deal with the $1.2 trillion sequestration issue, and we need to reign in some of the inefficiencies of the entitlement programs. This is not impossible. And it requires both parties to retreat from their respective orthodoxies in order to have a rational discussion and to find some common ground.
CONNOLLYNow, I was heartened by the press conference and the use of the teleprompter by Speaker Boehner the other day because that big cracking sound we heard was the cement around his feet. He quickly, however, retreated from that position as he did from announcing that on a television interview that Obamacare was now the law of the land. And then quickly he had a tweet, well, no, no, no, our goal still remains for repeal. So we have to figure out what Speaker Boehner -- which Speaker Boehner is the president going to be dealing with.
CONNOLLYAnd we do understand the difficulties of an unstable caucus over which he presides. But at the end of the day, this has to be done even the Republican caucus gets it that if we're not careful in rhetoric and in action, this economy will go off a cliff. Wall Street is already telling us that. That's what they're telling us that, OK, now that the election is over, you've got to get this done or else. CBO, the Congressional Budget Office, has told us, if you allow this fiscal cliff to occur, unemployment's going to skyrocket past 9 percent. The economy will contract instead of growing by a positive 2 percent right now.
CONNOLLYIt will contract by at least negative 1 percent, and we're back in recession. I don't think either party wants that responsibility. The president has been reelected. He's got capital, and I think some of the views he expressed in winning that election have to be respected, including allowing the top tax brackets at some level to expire.
NNAMDIAnd that's where we're going to get a difference because it seems that there are some agreement that there should be budget cuts in that will be negotiated, where the major disagreement seems to occur is how to expand revenues because with so many Republicans having signed a pledge never to raise taxes, the notion of raising taxes on the wealthy is still going to be a difficult and thorny issue. How do you get past that, or how do you find a compromise on that issue?
CONNOLLYWell, I think we can quibble about and legitimately argue -- I shouldn't say quibble -- about what is the appropriate rate, you know, what level -- income level.
CONNOLLYYeah. What's wealthy?
SHERWOODTim Kaine said $500,000 is a floor he would like, and he won the Senate side. He said we can do $500,000. It would protect a lot more small businesses and individuals and -- rather than the 250 the president has talked about.
CONNOLLYI think that's a good starting point. I agree with Tim. I might even go higher because, actually, if you look at the revenue difference between that and a million, for example, is not that substantial. So you can still get some new revenue, and I think the president campaigned in this issue bluntly, and he won. And so I think the will of the public needs to be respected in that regard. But there are other things we can do.
CONNOLLYEvery year, we leave $135 billion of tax revenue on the table uncollected, that's not new taxes, and the reason for that is because we have starved the IRS of resources. We know that for every dollar you invest in the IRS in terms of tax collection, it has a 20 or 30 fold return. Well, why not do that? And we're not cutting any strategic...
SHERWOODThat means he's very popular among the people to make the IRS tougher.
CONNOLLYWell, I -- well, yes and no.
SHERWOODNo, but I know you're being serious about it, but it sounds -- obviously, the election is over.
CONNOLLYRight. But on the other hand, if you're paying your taxes -- yeah. But if you're paying your taxes and I'm not paying mine, I think you might want some effort...
CONNOLLY...to make sure that, you know, we're all playing, you know, in a level playing field. $135 billion a year times 10 is $1.35 trillion, that's -- that exceeds the entire cost of sequestration. So how about some of that? How about investing in some of that? Every year, we have $125 billion a year in what's called improper payments by the federal government where mistakes are made or fraud. The largest single component of that being Medicare fraud.
CONNOLLYWell, if you put some resources into auditing facilities and more technology, you could reduce that number substantially, again, without raising anyone's taxes and without making any cuts to strategic investments. So there are lots of alternatives on the table. We could exercise if we could get beyond the politics of it.
NNAMDIChuck, thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODSome people might say that -- where the solution Mr. Connolly is proposing is grow the government so it can squeeze people more. That would -- and I could hear a friend of mine from the Republican Party say that you want to put more resources on IRS. You want to put -- what would you say...
CONNOLLYWell, I think that's sort of a tautology. So apparently, there are no solutions that involve government. Well, right now, the problem is right in the middle of the hands of the government, if we don't do something in the next five weeks, this economy is going to go off the cliff. And so I'm looking for solutions. I think the American people are looking for solutions. And I would hope upon reflection my Republican colleagues would also want to join in finding meaningful solutions.
SHERWOODVery quickly, going to ask you about this. Gov. McDonnell of Virginia has asked state agencies to do a 4 percent cut to prepare for what could happen. Just for people who don't know, I hate the word sequestration and then know what the fiscal cliff is, can you very simply say, what is the fiscal cliff, and how -- what would be the impact on Virginia and the Washington region which is, in fact, the seat of government?
CONNOLLYPotentially, the impact could be catastrophic. The fiscal cliff involves actually a lot of things. It involves the -- if you think about Dec. 31 at midnight, we all turn into -- back into pumpkins. The Bush tax cuts expire, $4 trillion over 10 years. Sequestration kicks in, $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Payroll cut...
SHERWOODThat's with -- that's the...
SHERWOODThat's cuts in the military budget, et cetera.
CONNOLLYAutomatic cuts, half defense, half civilian, clearly a disproportionate impact here in the metropolitan region given how dependent we are on federal investment and spending and hiring. But a third of our economy is directly attributable to the federal government. You know, we have to raise the debt ceiling again. And we remember what happened last time, that's what created sequestration. And I agree with you, I hate the name. It sounds like a medical condition. But here...
SHERWOODRight. Take it out.
CONNOLLYYeah. My sequestration acts up every time we get rain. So, you know, we have -- the payroll tax cuts expires, unemployment insurance expires, the alternative minimum tax will have a huge impact on the middle class of this country expires and the doc fix, the so-called fair reimbursement for doctors who see Medicare patients, expires Dec. 31, which means automatic cuts of 26 and 27 percent, so all those things add up to a potential impact of $7 trillion on the U.S. economy.
NNAMDIHere is John in Manassas, Va., on another issue. John, your turn.
JOHNYeah. Good afternoon, everybody. My message is for Rep. Connolly. And that is that your district actually has a lot of immigrants and might actually be majority-minority as well. And a very large majority of immigrants voted Democratic this time.
JOHNDo you know that there was some talk amongst pundits, including Republican pundits, that there maybe an opening for comprehensive immigration reform that enough Republicans may be seeing the handwriting on the wall that we might actually get something done? So I guess the question would be, number one, what do you think prospects are for comprehensive immigration reform...
NNAMDILet's stay with number one for a second there, John. Go ahead, please, Mr. Connolly.
CONNOLLYYeah. I think, certainly one of the, you know, elections have consequences. One of the consequences and the positive one of this election is we owe -- we certainly will get comprehensive immigration reform done on this president's watch and then the next congress, the 113th Congress. You know, somebody once said there's nothing like the prospect of your own hanging to concentrate the mind.
CONNOLLYWhen Republicans look at the fact that they lost 71, 72 percent of the Latin-American, I mean, the Hispanic vote and 70 percent of the Asian-American vote to say nothing of 90-plus percent of the African-American vote, immigration has to be on their agenda, if they wanted, have any prospect at all moving forward of a presidential-electoral college coalition that could be successful.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, John. Tom?
SHERWOODWell, even I've watched -- I watch Fox News because what they were saying early in the day of the election and afterwards, Hannity on Fox, a very popular commentator said that he's evolved now on the immigration issue.
CONNOLLYIsn't that amazing? It's sort of like...
NNAMDIAnd Joe Scarborough on the MSNBC is saying that this -- the party has to be aggressive on this. And Huckabee has said the party has to reach -- I mean, there seems to be a significant group of people within the conservative world and the Republican Party saying they will pay attention to this.
CONNOLLYWell, I guess I can accept...
SHERWOODRubio, the Senator Rubio.
CONNOLLYYeah. I guess I can accept deathbed conversions better late than never. But it is only, you know, not that long ago in the Republican primaries earlier this year where the rhetoric was anything but accepting of that reality, of the need for immigration reform. We, you know, their nominee talked about, you know the solution here is to make it so uncomfortable for people that they self-deport.
SHERWOODNewt Gingrich tried to have a -- what he thought was a compassionate policy and say, we're not going to be sending grandmothers home and people like that. But also, let's go into other groups, young people turned out again big on the Democratic side and women. I mean, two senator -- senatorial candidates who made quite controversial statements about abortion and rape and those type of loss badly.
SHERWOODThere does seem a lot of self-inflicted wounds on the other side. On one end, as a Democrat, you got to be somewhat pleased about that. On the other hand, there are some serious social issues out there.
CONNOLLYI think that's the other part here that I hope will cause a reassessment on the part of the Republican Party. Their views on women and women's reproductive rights, I think, were roundly rejected by the American people on Tuesday night, and it had an impact in my state.
CONNOLLYYou know, our voters don't forget that when the Republicans took over the full shebang in Richmond earlier this year, one of the first things they did was an unbelievable piece of legislation that would've required women to get a very intrusive medical procedure before they could even consider electing to terminate a pregnancy. And the reaction among women in Virginia was overwhelming. And I think it had lasting effect, Tom, in terms of that gender gap, certainly in the commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIYou've been involved in a lot of marquee action on the Hill, but you recently told The Washington Post that out of everything you've done so far, your most proud of work that you've done on telework. What's that about?
CONNOLLYWell, I did tell The Post that in this context, of the bills you've gotten passed in your own right, what are you most proud of?
CONNOLLYTelework is a very important issue especially here in metropolitan Washington. And I think it's a very important issue for the federal workforce. If we're going to recruit and retain the workforce of the future given the fact that 47 percent of the current federal work force is eligible for retirement in the next 10 years, I think telework just is going to be expected. And we need to promote it within the federal government.
CONNOLLYWe'll have environmental benefits, productivity benefits, recruitment and retention benefits, and we'll alleviate congestion here. And it's a relatively cost-free solution. We also know from the derecho, from Hurricane Sandy, from, you know, icemaggedon, from, of course, terrorist incident on 9/11, that, you know, telework works. Telework allows us to keep the government up and running, and the private sector knows that and is this doing a very good job in telework. So we need to emulate the private sector here. We can and will make more progress.
NNAMDITom, you get the final question.
SHERWOODWell, just on this issue. I think people sometimes think when you say telework, you envision someone at home in his or her pajamas and taking care of the kids and looking over the computer, making a few keystrokes. What gets done with telework that could be done this way? And what significant work it's done in telework?
CONNOLLYWell, telework has to be a structured program. It has to be fully vetted. There has to be a dedicated space and time for telework.
NNAMDIGot to measure productivity.
CONNOLLYYou've got to measure productivity, exactly. And, by the way, we do do that, and every study shows it works. And I agree with you, Tom, the way you characterized it is unfortunately one of the barriers we face. A lot of managers still have that old-fashioned view, if I can't see you, you're washing the dog and watching soap operas.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Congressman Connolly, once again, congratulations.
CONNOLLYMy pleasure, thank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIGerry Connolly is member of the United States House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who will continue to represent Virginia's 11th District. You're listening to The Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the current newspapers. Tom, now, on to what happened in the District of Columbia. President Obama got reelected. What does it mean in your view for the District of Columbia?
NNAMDIDoes it mean that there is finally going to be some attention paid by the White House to voting rights in the District of Columbia? Do you think? Do you think? Do you think?
SHERWOODWell, I don't know. The president will have four more years to eat in our restaurant for sure. You know, he slipped badly. You know, he went from 93 percent down to 91 percent.
NNAMDIOh, big tumble.
SHERWOODA big tumble in the election. People are, you know, I think, you know, Eleanor Holmes Norton, we talked about this, I think in the Congress where she's made some progress with the support of the Obama administration, for more independents from the federal budget structure to separate the city's budget from the approvals and the committees that has to go through up on the Hill.
SHERWOODThose things, I think, will continue and that will be good. Maybe the president, just as he spoke out on other issues like marriage equality, same-sex marriage, maybe he'll, one day, look out at his White House window and see 600,000 citizens of the United States and say, you know, they really ought to have a bout in the Congress like all the other citizens of the country. But I don't see that happening. I just -- well, maybe we talk to our next guest about it as one of the issues, but I just don't see it happening very quickly. So I think the president will continue to eat at our restaurants.
NNAMDIAnd ignore the issue of voting rights. There's going to be, well, not a new chairman of the D.C. Council but this is the first time that Phil Mendelson has been elected chairman of the D.C…
SHERWOODBy the people.
NNAMDI...by the people of the District of Columbia. You think it'll make a difference in how Mendel operates?
SHERWOODI think so. I'll have to say this: I'm surprised. You know, I've the council for some number of years, and we all would joke with the council member who is renowned for his cross the T's and dot the I's, look at all kinds of legislation. And I thought, why that place will just come to a roaring standstill. But, you know, he's embraced that. He's kept his at-large job and tried to do the judiciary committee with all that's there.
SHERWOODAnd there's no -- if there's any grousing among the council members there, I have not heard it. He said he's going to be open to talk to the council members about the committee assignments, and there's a big one to decide what happens with economic development. So I think Mendelson has applied the hard work that he applied to his council office to the chairman's office, and I think we're all better for that now.
NNAMDII was watching...
SHERWOODIf you have any other different view, people, please call me and let me know. It can be a great story.
NNAMDII was watching Channel 4 yesterday, and I'm pretty sure I saw you hanging out in front of one of my favorite buildings on Q Street, The Cairo Building, because apparently Congressman Darrell Issa wants to take another look at the height limits of building. And The Cairo, of course, when -- at the time of -- it was built, shocked everybody with how tall...
NNAMDI...it was. And...
SHERWOODDarrell Issa, in Congress, as a Republican from California, has shown a lot of interest in local issues President Obama should pay attention. But, you know, not only this, but also whether a commuter tax to balance the revenues that are generated in this region, which may come up later. But back to -- The Cairo is a building at 17th and Q. It was built in the late 1800s, 1894 or something like that...
SHERWOOD...beautiful building, but it was stunningly tall compared to everything else. So Congress moved, and then aptly there was a 1910 height restriction act, which still is in place today, about how high a building can be in the District. It's not based on how high the Washington Monument is. It's not based on how high the Capitol Dome is. It's none of that. It's about how wide the street is and other issues.
SHERWOODBut now Issa says there are places in Washington where we could have taller buildings, would be more revenue for the city, more business for the city, more places to work, shop, live and eat. And so there's now going to be a year-long study. The National Capital Planning Commission and the city will do this study.
SHERWOODJack Evans, a councilmember from the Finance and Revenue Committee, says we can build taller buildings in -- not only if we're near the monumental core, and there would be -- but he says the neighborhoods have to want these buildings. We can't dump a 20-story building somewhere where people who live there already don't want it.
NNAMDIDo you think if Jack Evans runs, ever runs for mayor, that his theme will be "This is the House that Jack Built," that song? That's going to be his theme song?
SHERWOODI hope not.
NNAMDIWe're joined in studio now by David Grosso. He's a member-elect of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who has won an at-large seat. David Grosso, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. DAVID GROSSOThanks, Kojo. Hi, Tom.
SHERWOODI'll tell you what, when are you going to be certified?
GROSSOI think early January, right?
SHERWOODBut don't they have to certify the elections like in the next five days or something?
GROSSOOh, yeah. Yes.
SHERWOODAnd then you get a -- it's January...
GROSSOEarly next week. I believe it's early next week.
SHERWOODBut don't talk too long at the inaugural.
GROSSOI promise not to.
NNAMDI...despite being Southern, Tom has lost his Southern roots. You're supposed to be polite. The first thing you're supposed to say to David Grosso is?
SHERWOODI've said that. I already said congratulations.
NNAMDIWell, I didn't. Congratulations, David Grosso.
GROSSOThank you very much. Thank you very much.
SHERWOODSurprised me. I really thought that the big turnout among African-American voters in the city, the kind of quadrennial voters, would not know your name, would see the name of Michael Brown, which they do know, and Vince Orange, who did win, and would vote for him almost out of rote and that that would be a severe undertow for you. And it did not happen. Why not?
GROSSOYou know, I think it's the year-long hard work that we put in, the strategy that we put forward and then executed without wavering for a full year. And that's really what it comes down to in any race, is, you know, how many doors can you knock on? How many people can you meet? Offer the people something that they believe in and they'll vote for you. And that's what happened.
NNAMDIIf you have words for David Grosso, question or comment, you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You're joining a council that one of your new colleagues said last time was the worst council he's ever served on. Why did you want this job, and what gives you confidence that the next council is going to be any different?
GROSSOYou know, that's the question I've been answering all year, so I appreciate that question. You know, for me, it was the sense of responsibility that I had. With my experience and my passion for the city, my education, I felt like I was in the best position to help move us to a new place. And so that's what my campaign has been about, and I believe that we are moving in the right direction. I think, for a lot of reasons, we are.
GROSSOI think we have a good opportunity in Kenyan McDuffie, who's a Ward 5 councilmember, myself. And as -- and then we have another seat up here in the spring that will allow us to continue to move forward. And, you know, frankly, there's a lot of great council members on the Council currently that want good government and want the government to work for the people.
NNAMDIThe chairman of the City Council, Phil Mendelson's at-large seat is now vacant. It will be filled by someone chosen by the Democratic State Committee in the short term, and an election for that seat is expected in the spring. Tom?
SHERWOODWell, there's going to be a number -- will you get involved with that race at all, or are you just so new that you're going to just focus on taking office in January?
GROSSOYeah. Well, you know, I -- you've heard me before. What I'm trying to do is get the people engaged in the process as much as we can, and because of that, I will be involved too. You can't ask others to step up and do the work for you. And in my opinion, being a leader in D.C. means that you are going to step up and help out. So I will be involved. I would like to speak to anybody considering, you know, running. And...
SHERWOODDo you have a candidate in mind...
GROSSOI have nobody in mind at this point in time, and, you know, I really look forward to talking to all the candidates and seen -- you've know, I've asked the people that voted for me in over 100 meet-and-greets throughout the city to be engaged, to be involved and to step up and do their part to make our government work better. And that's part of the process. I'll ask them again, when the time is right in the spring, to get behind somebody who's going to continue that effort.
SHERWOODLet me ask you about the -- just the ethics thing which overshadowed the -- overshadows currently the Council and the mayor and the government and the whole thing. When you get elected, people -- you can say what you want to do, what you think. But when you get elected to a 13-member Council, you're going to vote. You're going to vote, and you're going to ask seven other -- six other people to vote for you, and then they're going to say, well, I'll vote for that if you vote for this. It'll be the give-and-take art of compromise.
SHERWOODHow do you avoid getting into a slippery ethical slope that some of the council members have found themselves in where you have to trade votes? A lot of people don't like to hear that, but that's what politics can be. You have to trade votes.
GROSSOYou know, I...
SHERWOODWhat is your ethical standard? What eyepiece do you use to look at things?
GROSSOI think that's a great question, you know, and it's something that I think every politician should think about on a regular basis as they're doing their job. You know, Councilmember Ambrose taught we well, I think, on how to do that, and the Council that was there taught me well. And really what it comes down to is putting in the hard work to make sure that you're doing the benchmarking, make sure that you're doing the work that you need to...
SHERWOODBenchmarking means you understand what the issues are.
GROSSOYou understand the issues. You engage in the issues. You learn more as you move forward, and then being open to discussion. You know, debate and discussion is a healthy thing. It's not a bad thing. And sometimes, yeah, you have to compromise in order to move something forward. That's life, you know? And name any person who's been able to go through life without doing that.
GROSSOAnd then I think when you put the best product forward, you're able to work back from that and figure out how you can make it work for the whole city. I look forward to doing that. I look forward to working with all my colleagues to make that happen.
NNAMDIA lot of the city's legislative agenda is shaped by the mayor that you will be working with in the Wilson Building. What's been your opinion of Mayor Gray's performance so far, and what kind of relationship do you intend to have with him as a councilmember? This is a guy who you did call on to step down, after all.
GROSSOYou know, I think that's a great question, and I'm looking forward to meeting with the mayor next week.
SHERWOODYou know, all our -- can I just say something? All our questions are great.
GROSSOWell, I say they're great 'cause they really are. You know, that's...
SHERWOODThat's the second time you said it. I just want you to know, all our questions are great.
NNAMDIThank you, Tom.
GROSSOI'm just buying time to think, Tom. Come on. You know...
NNAMDIOh, I like that. The admission of...
SHERWOODHe's been way too honest.
SHERWOODWhat about you and Mayor Gray? You called on him to quit.
GROSSOYou know, we had a great conversation the other night...
GROSSO...on the phone. And, you know, in reality, we're meeting next week...
NNAMDIIt's been a great week for this candidate.
GROSSO...we're meeting next week, hoping to have a great lunch. And, you know, in the end, Mayor Gray and I have a good relationship. We have in the past. I've known him. I worked with him when he was a councilmember on the Council and I was a staff member, and I look forward to working with him as we move forward. Regardless of what's happening in the city when it comes to ethics and other issues, we have a city that needs to continue to move forward, and I look forward to working with anyone and everyone who's engaged in that effort.
SHERWOODDo you want the prosecutors to, as quickly as possible, wrap this up one way or the other? I know you don't know all the internal workings of the prosecutor, but this is over a year now. Several people have said Gray, despite the questions about his election, has done pretty well, continuing many of the things that Adrian Fenty had been doing, but with more of a smile on his face, unlike the previous mayor, but that this wet mattress hanging over the mayor is just -- needs to be removed.
GROSSOYou know, I think that the prosecutors are probably going as fast as they can go at this point and are trying to conclude it. I think it will be better for the city if we concluded it quickly. I agree with that. And the faster we can get passes and move forward to bring in a new day to D.C. politics, the better.
SHERWOODVery quickly. Kwame Brown, the former chairman, is going to be sentenced new Tuesday, I think, for his fraudulent mortgage loan application. There was some suggestion in The Post's editorial page, and some people said, well, you know, he might just get a few days in jail and pay a fine, but he might -- could run -- he might run for the at-large seat in the spring. Would you think -- would you encourage him not to do that? Or even Michael Brown, your former opponent this -- on Tuesday, would you urge him not to run?
GROSSOI would certainly not support their effort to run for office again. I think it's time for people to come in that are dedicated to doing this for all the right reasons. And I think they've demonstrated that they're not in that position.
SHERWOODAre you going to have an outside job?
GROSSONo. I'm working full-time.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. If you voted for one of the other candidates or for two of the other candidates and did not vote for David Grosso and you have questions about him, questions you like to ask him, call us now, 800-433-8850. To follow up on the question Tom asked, what was your opinion of the two ballot measures that D.C. voters approved that are going to basically bar city office holders from their positions for life if they're convicted of felonies?
GROSSOYou know, I think there was an amazing amount of support for that in the District. You could see the percentages of voters was really high, and I think that just goes to show that people are tired of kind of the culture of corruption we had in D.C. and that we really are trying to move our city forward. My hope -- and I've said this before, I hope that we never have to use any three of those provisions to make sure that we can move forward with qualified, passionate members of the council who don't have issues like that.
SHERWOODI've heard that there ought to be more disclosure, that the campaign finance forms ought to be more information and the information ought to be required not requested, that the -- that any money spent should be -- the constituent service fund ought to be more fully disclosed as how it's spent. So I think the sunshine light on anything the council does on contracts, weren't contracts online, and more important, not just the contracts but the subcontractors.
SHERWOODI've been always told that where the corruption occurs or where the favoritism occurs is in the -- it's not in the big contract but in the subcontract. But you can't find them without extraordinary work. We need a little more sunshine across the government.
GROSSOWe've talked about this a lot in the past. You've heard me talked about it. The more transparency we have, the better. I think that our government runs better. The people feel more willing to be engaged. And, you know, and, in fact, it's time, I think, to move the whole budget process forward in a transparent way. When I worked on the council, we had big books that they gave us, and we had to thumb through them for hours and hours to figure out what was going on.
SHERWOODAnd you could never compare one book to the previous year 'cause things would change.
GROSSORight. And, you know, and then you have, you know, now, you have, I think, CDs that come out with PDFs on them. Well, if we want transparency, we got to open this stuff up. This is the people's money, and I'm all for transparency in that way.
SHERWOODWhat committees do you want to serve on?
GROSSOWell, you know, my -- I'm going to be speaking with councilmember or Chairman Mendelson next week in talking a lot about education. It's something that I've had my finger on for the full year that I've been running, in all the meetings I've had. And so working closely with him, I hope I can work on the education.
NNAMDIAllow me to have a caller who'd like that issue addressed.
SHERWOODI've got so many questions.
NNAMDIJeannette in Fairfax, Va. I wanted to get to Jeanette before we moved on away from schools. Jeannette, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JEANNETTEThank you, Kojo. I enjoy your show. I wanted to ask the councilmember-elect. There are lot of us who would love to move back into the city, cannot afford the high price of private school. And I just wonder if anyone is ever going to officially make D.C. public schools a priority, such that, you know, the quality of education changes, the test scores, the enriching of our children actually become a priority in the city of Washington again so, you know, some of us can move back in.
GROSSOJeannette, that's a wonderful question. And, you know, it's something, like I said, I've heard every single day of this campaign across the District of Columbia. How do we make sure that there are high-quality schools in every single neighborhood? It's why I've been so committed to studying it, to understanding it and to being involved in the discussion.
GROSSOAnd what I'd like to really do is see -- kind of define how we can determine the role of the council in this effort and creating the space for open discussion and collaborations so that we really can put high-quality schools in every single neighborhood.
SHERWOODWell, now, this is important because I think any neutral observer of the city will say since Michelle Rhee, whether you like how she did -- what she did, that the schools have improved and certainly under Kaya Henderson. Some test -- many test scores are up. The schools certainly benefited from billion plus dollars of renovation.
SHERWOODSo progress is -- it's not that the schools are in such disrepair of a decade ago or 10 years ago, but is Kaya Henderson, who was the deputy to Michelle Rhee -- you obviously -- well, let me start it here. You want the council, which has now education just in front of all of you, to have a designated education committee.
SHERWOODAnd would you like to be chairman of that committee?
SHERWOODAnd do you think just starting out that Kaya Henderson has done well in -- I guess, it's almost two years that she's been there.
SHERWOODSo is her job a subject to you, and are you afraid about meddling in the schools, like the school -- old school board used to?
GROSSOThose are the right concerns. And I think that Kaya Henderson has done a good job, and I look forward to working closely with her. You know, the problem I heard though across the city is that we haven't been -- that the people of the city, that the neighborhoods, the ones that are most concerned have not been included in the discussion. And that's a real big problem. And so I find that as the responsibility of the council and the elected officials to take the leadership role on creating that space for better discussion and engagement. So...
SHERWOODBut she's going to announce the school -- 20 school closings next week?
GROSSOThat's a prime example. Have we had a good community discussion on that or not? Is the council hearing enough? Or should we be going to the neighborhoods to really understand why it's appropriate to close this school versus a different school? Or if it's appropriate to close the schools at all.
SHERWOODBut should the council get involved on that level of detail? Adrian Fenty when he was confronted of a criticism of Michelle Rhee, he said, look, if we start assessing every decisions she makes, she won't be able to make any decisions. Why not let the chancellor of the schools tell you which schools are underperforming and under enrolled and underutilized?
GROSSOI think the council has a responsibility to be involved. And I truly believe that the -- Chancellor Henderson and the school reform effort will not be successful until the entire government gets behind it, until everybody buys into it and gets engaged and involved. And that has to start with our leadership. And, you know, I'm ready to step up and play that role.
GROSSOI'm not saying that I'm going to mettle in every single issue. I don't want to tell her who to hire and who to fire every day. I think that's inappropriate. But when it comes to creating a vision for our school system, a vision for our city, you have to have leaders step up and take some, you know, take some role there.
SHERWOODWe have a school board for that.
GROSSOWe do have a school board, and they should be included in the discussion. Absolutely.
NNAMDIJeannette, thank you very much for your call. Here is Rachel in Washington, D.C. Rachel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RACHELHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I am an art teacher in a public school in Arlington, and I'm also a D.C. native. So I want to thank everyone for the wonderful discussion of education that the show just started to have 'cause that was actually one thing I called to ask about. And also, I just wanted to compliment you all on your great sense of humor. Being a D.C. native, I heard a lot of -- about politics in my whole life by being in arts and, you know, it's not usually very funny. So I just want to thank you guys for making me smile this morning.
NNAMDIThank you very much for you call. We got this tweet from @dccisner, "I'm very pleased with my write-in votes for @tomsherwood and Kojo, #smartcookies." Well, we are not running right now, but we do appreciate your vote for us. And we take politics seriously, but we know that we can't always take our politicians nor ourselves overly seriously. So I guess, that's why we do inject humor from time to time in this conversation. That said, I guess, David Grosso, we'd like you to be a great councilmember. This has been a great conversation that we've been hearing here. And...
SHERWOODAnd we're going to have a great weekend.
NNAMDIAnd you're going to make the word great as popular as Adrian Fenty made as fast as humanly possible.
SHERWOODAs fast as humanly possible. You're going to sign off from this program.
GROSSOThat's great. Thanks, guys. Thank you, all.
NNAMDIYeah. We're just about out of time. David Grosso is a member-elect of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who has won an at-large seat. And thank -- Tom Sherwood, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHappy -- have a great weekend. The sun is finally going to be out all weekend. I will be on the Anacostia River exploring how they're going to try to fix it.
NNAMDIAt least you know where to find him. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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