D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) joins Kojo, Tom Sherwood and Mike DeBonis in the studio.
The District’s Democrats put their chair on the D.C. Council. A prominent statewide office holder in Maryland decides to stay away from an upcoming gubernatorial race. And one of the nation’s most influential conservatives issues a threat-down to Virginia politicians over proposals to change the state’s gas tax. 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
- Tom Perriello Former Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Va., 5th Congressional District); President and CEO, Center for American Progress Action Fund
- Isiah Leggett Montgomery County Executive (D)
Politics Hour Video
Former Virginia Rep. Tom Perriello weighed in on the looming fiscal cliff. “It’s somewhere in between armageddon and theater in that it’s not one cliff. We call it the austerity minefield,” Perriello said.
Kojo’s Billboard For The Politics Hour
After D.C. Council hearings raised troubling questions about D.C.’s lottery contract, Kojo ponders who is to blame. Is it D.C. voters, who elected “the bums who appointed the bums who conspired with the bums who configured the most convoluted deal to come down the pike in D.C. political history?”
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. Tom, welcome. You spent yesterday, a part of yesterday in the hearing in which chief financial officer Natwar Gandhi, a man who is not known to invoke silence when asked a question, suddenly became one of those people, not unlike our current mayor.
MR. TOM SHERWOODOn advice of counsel, I'm not going to say anything.
SHERWOODYou know, that is true. Now, just to be truthful, I was actually home with this throat issues I've got. You might hear my Southern accent is worse than normal, but I did watch it on television for a long time. And the council members, particularly Jack Evans and David Catania, were trying to find out questions about the lottery contract, and then subject to a federal investigation. Then there were some routine kind of questions about who had been demoted or who have been fired.
SHERWOODAnd Gandhi, through his lawyers, simply decided he wasn't going to answer virtually any of them. And Evans said, "Well, then we'll just have to convene and get a subpoena and make you come." And Catania pointed out -- I'm not lawyer so I don't -- he doesn't usually say things that are just wild -- said that, you know, Gandhi had no real reason not to answer these questions, that the legislature had a full right to ask the questions, and Gandhi was wrong not to answer them. But it just shows that the continuing scandal atmosphere of that lottery contract is far from over.
NNAMDIThe cluster -- expletive deleted -- that this lottery contract has become...
NNAMDI...seems to have a net that is spreading increasingly wide, and the article today, Councilmember Jim Graham mentioning names that I had not heard before as a part of this...
SHERWOODWell, he mentioned Dottie West's name, who used to work at the lottery, and he made -- you know what? That was an interesting -- there were two aspects: one was that Gandhi didn't say anything, and that Jim Graham, who's been kind of under this cloud of Post editorials, particularly about what he had done with the Metro contract and the lottery contract, came up on the dais unexpectedly and gave a fairly strong impassioned for him defense of himself saying that he has done nothing wrong. He's done nothing illegal.
SHERWOODAnd if someone -- he said all this loose talk. He said, if anyone has -- wants to accuse me of committing a crime, then he wanted them to stand up and say it and to stop all this loose talk about what he may have done, might have done or could have done.
NNAMDIIt was curious to me, though, that he was also quoted as saying that he asked I guess the aforementioned Dottie West because somebody asked him...
NNAMDI...Dottie Wade just how...
NNAMDI...qualified Warren Williams was to participate in a lottery, and he said that the person should ask Dottie Wade. Next thing he knew, Dottie Wade, according to him, was saying to him, "Well, if you approve Williams' participation in this contract, I'm going to get a job." At which point, Graham said, "What are you talking about?"
SHERWOODAnd he says he told the chief financial officer about that. And I have not spoken to Dottie Wade, who's a pretty well-respected person here and longtime activist in the city and government and lottery and other stuff, and I have not seen her response to this. But again, it was Jim Graham -- I would like to say impassioned defense of himself because of all the allegations...
NNAMDIOK. Prognosticate for me. Will we ever get to the bottom of this?
SHERWOODYes, but not in any early timeframe.
NNAMDIAlso joining the D.C. Council, that stellar body, is Anita Bonds, who most recently was the chair of the Democratic state committee before she offered herself up for this albeit temporary position. There will be an election on this...
SHERWOODI think she still is the chair, and she...
NNAMDI...in the spring. Oh, well, you can be chair and on the Council at the same time, no doubt. So she is going to be on the Council. Any comments about that at all?
SHERWOODWell, you know, I've known Anita for a long time. She -- when I first started...
NNAMDIWe all have.
SHERWOOD...city politics in the '70s, she was working with Marion Barry, and she's been a longtime activist behind the scenes and in campaigns and organizations. She was also a person who sat with Barry during his trial and helped select the jury because she has a very good feel for this -- for the city politic. I was surprised that she stepped out of the sidelines or behind the scenes to become the candidate.
SHERWOODShe said she wanted to. She's 67. She wanted more females on the Council. She wanted to be more aggressive. She's also a lobbyist for Fort Myer Construction, which is one of these big contractors in the city construction issues. And some people were criticizing her right away because no sooner had she been elected by the party to temporarily fill the seat till April 23, she said the city needed to do more paving of roads, which would benefit her employer.
SHERWOODAnd I didn't hear the full comment, so I'll look into that some more. But she's a veteran political person. She's now in the stage with a very probably a crowd of five, maybe 10 people will be running for that seat.
NNAMDIAnd if you want to hear how she defended her decision, you can go into our archives because she was one of our guests last week on this broadcast and hear what Anita Bonds herself had to say. The councilmember for Ward 5, Kenyan McDuffie wants Mayor Gray to put that project to convert the grounds of the school in Ivy City, Alexander Crummell School, to a tour bus parking lot. Well, Kenyan McDuffie wants Mayor Gray to put that project on permanent hiatus. The residents obviously don't want it.
SHERWOODWell, you know, they won a court case. The residents are mostly low-income citizens there in this heavily industrial area. They said they've got enough industry and buses and trucks spewing all kinds of fumes. Now, they've taken this grand but abandoned Crummell School and pave over the entire lot for -- so the buses that have been pushed out of Union Station can now park there 'cause it's not that far away.
NNAMDIIvy residents said, "We don't want those fumes here."
SHERWOODRight. They -- and they would like, you know, and as I said before, just like an old hospital was converted to a civic community on Capitol Hill, which is now used every day, every night for wonderful community events. People in Ivy City would like the same thing. They would like the Crummell School to be redone. It's on the historic register. It's been abandoned since early '80s, I think and -- instead of having another bus parking lot in their neighborhood.
SHERWOODSo Kenyan McDuffie, who's challenged the mayor on the flooding on Bloomingdale, is now challenging the mayor on this Ivy City project. The judge in the case, Macaluso, I think, is her name if I'm saying it correctly, has asked the city to adhere to advisory neighborhood commission rules and environmental issues about whether or not this is appropriate for this neighborhood.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He pronounces all names correctly if you just understand his accent. Joining us now in studio is Tom Perriello. He is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who held a seat in Virginia's fifth district. Now he's president and CEO if the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tom Perriello, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. TOM PERRIELLOThank you for having me. It's good to be here.
SHERWOODIs he pronouncing your name correctly?
PERRIELLOThat was beautifully done.
NNAMDIWell, it's a Southern name, so you might do it a little better.
SHERWOODPerriello is a Southern name? Southern Italy.
NNAMDIHe's in a Southern state, so...
PERRIELLOI've heard it pronounced all manner of ways and -- but if you all did, it'd be a...
SHERWOODWith affection and without.
NNAMDIThe last time we saw you, you were smack-dab in the middle of campaign season at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. That election has been over for a month, but the knock-down, drag-out nature of it never really stopped. The president is engaged in a pretty nasty fight right now over this so-called fiscal cliff, negotiating a deal to avoid automatic tax increases and spending cuts at the end of the year. What do you see at stake for local communities in Virginia and elsewhere in all of this?
PERRIELLOOh, the stakes for Virginia in this fiscal cliff fight are tremendous. I think, in addition to the fact that the tax rates for every single Virginian could go up if there's not a deal, you obviously have the sequester cuts which were designed to be such terrible policy that no one would possibly let them be implemented. Not that there aren't spending cuts that could be done, but to do them across the board this drastically, this quickly, obviously with Virginia having a lot of both direct public sector jobs and contractors, there are tremendous economic impacts here.
PERRIELLOAnd so I think you do have a situation where it's extremely important that we do everything possible to try to make this happen. At the same time, I think at some point, we have to also have a post-cliff plan, if they really can't reach a deal, to figure out how to address some of the most dramatic impacts on Virginia and on the middle class. So you know you have an election where much of this was just debated.
PERRIELLOCertainly, the issue about the revenue component that the top 1 or 2 percent of the country can afford to pay a little more in taxes is something that not only Obama's coalition supported but actually a significant plurality of Mitt Romney's supporters. In a recent poll, about 70 percent of Americans believe that should be part of the deal. And really, that should be the first step in the conversation.
PERRIELLOAnd then we need to move on to other very serious things. But despite the losses, the Republican leadership has been unwilling to even take that step. They're continuing to play these fantasy numbers of $800 billion that they won't be specific about, and the only way to get that is to raise taxes on the middle class.
SHERWOODHouse Speaker Boehner, though, has pointed out in terms of this mandate that the President may have and the Senate may have is that the House Republicans, virtually all the incumbents won with 60 percent of the vote, and they say they have a mandate, too, to continue to represent what they believe is the right way, which is to have more identified cuts before we identify more taxes.
PERRIELLOWell, first of all, the problem with that is that there were actually over a million more votes cast for Democrats in the House than Republicans in the House. Their majority represents gerrymandering, not actually a majority of votes. In addition to that, the president already put $1 trillion of spending cuts that they were part of on the table. So this is not a situation.
PERRIELLONot only that -- when the Democrats actually dealt with entitlement reform a couple of years ago by finding $716 billion of savings in the Medicare program, something Paul Ryan had included in his own budget and used that to extend the life of Medicare, the Republicans turned that into a systematic false attack ads against Democrats, which has created a trust environment where, it's, you know, the Democrats feel like, OK, we moved on entitlement reform.
PERRIELLOWe moved on spending cuts. And then can't even get this fairly commonsensical step when you have a majority that largely reflects gerrymandering more than popular vote.
SHERWOODOK. Isn't the fiscal cliff, though, you read enough and look at CNBC and some other places and listen to people and what they -- is that the fiscal cliff, this kind of, like, end-of-the-earth date, you know, which was 12/21 or 12 -- whatever, 12/12/12...
PERRIELLO12/12/12, I think.
SHERWOOD...that, in fact, the end of the fiscal cliff is not so much a cliff as a slide, that if the Congress goes into the first week of January, the second week of January, into the inauguration, that things won't be terrible. Is it -- it seems to be almost like theater that each side is talking about the fiscal cliff when in fact it's a slide.
PERRIELLOI think it's somewhere between Armageddon and theater in that it's not one cliff. We call it the austerity minefield because it's really seven or eight different things that are all set to explode at relatively the same time. You have 100 percent of the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire. You have 100 percent of the Obama tax cuts which people may not realize exist but are actually more significant for much of the working and middle class, including the payroll tax extension.
PERRIELLOYou have the sequester cuts both defense and non-defense. You also have the alternative minimum tax. You have something called the doc fix, which is a Medicare reimbursement rate, and the tax extenders. All of these are only together, really, by happenstance that they're expiring at the same time. Oh, and unemployment insurance extension. So each of these are things Congress could choose to do individually.
PERRIELLOYeah, and the payroll tax extension again as part of the -- what I was putting Obama tax cut category. So you could deal with these things individually. Some of them could be done retroactively a few weeks into January. Others actually are harder to fix after the fact, plus you have the issue of uncertainty going into the holiday, consumer season, et cetera. So I think part of what you can look at as well is what are the upsides of the cliff? And I want to be clear that it is terrible economic policy to go off the cliff.
PERRIELLOBut it does do more to balance the budget than anything the Democrats or the Republicans have put forward. You basically erase back to the Clinton tax code instead of the Bush tax code, which did not generally produce economic growth outside the financial sector. And so you reset back to those levels as well as serious spending cuts from sequester.
PERRIELLOSome would argue the sequester would then be moot because they more than met the standards. I'm getting a little wonky here. But the upshot of it is to say I think that it would be great if we got at least a small deal if not a big deal before Christmas or before the new year. If not, I think there are ways to take some of these pieces individually like you said and try to reach some common sense on them.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is our number if you have questions or comments for Congressman Tom Perriello. He is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat, held a seat in Virginia's 5th District. He's now the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. 800-433-8850 or you can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDISome Republicans have been throwing around the idea in Virginia of changing how electoral votes are awarded, including State Sen. Charles Bill Carrico. He's floated a proposal that would basically award Virginia's electoral votes based on performance in congressional districts. When you here about a plan like that, what goes through your mind? And when it comes to electoral reform, what are the legitimate ideas that you think should be on the table?
PERRIELLOWell, you know, it's a shame when people can't...
NNAMDIUnder that plan, of course, Mitt Romney would've won 11 electoral votes in the Commonwealth of Virginia and won the state.
PERRIELLORight. This goes back to what I said before, which was that the House majority currently reflects gerrymandering, not actual popular support. So to try to build an electoral system instead of moving away from the Electoral College towards a popular vote, which many people would see as more Democratic, this is an effort to go backwards even further away from a popular vote standard and more towards a rigged system.
PERRIELLOYou know, I think it strikes most people including most Republicans as being a pretty indefensible position to take when you look at how do you, you know, how do you make that work? So I think whether or not there's a vote of reason for the Electoral College versus the popular vote, I think, is a legitimate debate. And I think there are decent arguments on both sides of it. I think the argument about trying to rig a system to reflect a rigged system is bad. Now, that having been said, obviously the gerrymandering is something that both parties have done over the years.
PERRIELLOAnd I think this is something where, you know, when you think about -- when you go out and talk to folks all over the country, which I've done over the last six months in all over Virginia, people want to see a system that's more fair, whether that's in the economy, giving the working and middle class a chance or whether that's in the political process, where both sides actually think that a small number of people with a lot of money have too much influence. And so I think moving towards things that engage the people more directly is a healthy thing for our democracy. So I don't see it moving.
SHERWOODYou just referenced your travels around Virginia and around the country. Why didn't you run for governor? Why did you drop out of the governor's race?
PERRIELLOWhat a graceful transition. I...
SHERWOODYou opened the door. I slid in.
PERRIELLOWell, look, you know, there was -- I felt a tremendous upsurge of optimism, enthusiasm in this election cycle, not just because many people I liked happen to win, but because it felt like we were moving in a direction of a coalition of middle-class voters here in Virginia that could really put some of the worst of our politics behind us and really build on some of the best. And, you know, this is a state that gave my father a chance to move out of poverty and into the middle class and live the American dream.
PERRIELLOAnd so the question wasn't whether I'm going to be involved. It was just how to get to involved. And, you know, putting your name on the ballot is a particular kind of call, and you have to really feel it. And it was really a very personal thing, which is that this is a very high-stakes election, and I definitely want to contribute. But I just didn't feel like being the name on the ballot was what felt I could do.
SHERWOODAnd you're supporting Mr. McAuliffe, the only Democratic person really in at this point. Are you still living in Virginia with -- while you're the head of the Center for American Progress Action Fund?
PERRIELLOI am. I am. I actually, you know, I have my house down in Albemarle County, and I live right on the Braddock Road Metro stop. So I've gotten to know Northern Virginia traffic and all the infrastructure need, not all, but certainly an experience with the infrastructure needs of the Alexandria and Northern Virginia area.
NNAMDIWell, the last Democratic race for governor featured a fairly combative primary. Was that one of the, if you will, considerations that you took into account when you decided not to run?
PERRIELLOIt was a consideration. You know, I think this is one where it's very important in my mind for the Democratic Party to win this race, both because of, I think, the more extreme positions that Ken Cuccinelli represents and also because we need to get back to the investments and education and infrastructure that made us before the best place to do business and get our fiscal House in order and I -- as well, again, some of these extreme attacks on science and education.
PERRIELLOAnd the question is, in part, who was in the best position to do that? And as you can imagine, I had folks in one ear telling me I'd save the day and folks in another ear saying I would ruin the day. And so I think to some extent, you have to tune that out and ask, you know, what do you feel called to do. Politics is a pretty nasty business. And it's certainly an all-consuming business. And I think, you know, if you feel it and you feel like it's what you're supposed to be doing, you go all in on it. And that certainly was one of the most exciting things I did with my life.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the phones. Don your headphones, please, gentlemen, because Jim in Olney, Md., has a question or comment for Tom Perriello. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMThank you, Kojo. Very interesting discussion. I'm a first-time caller. Recognizing the congressman, as you say, that -- from the end point of the federal government, both fiscal policy and spending policy are important components to the health of the economy. I've heard often people say that in raising the tax rate to 39.6 percent, we're only going back to the Clinton-era tax structure.
JIMWhy don't I ever hear that in conjunction with that, people propose -- would propose to go back to the Clinton-era spending levels as well, which is equally important? How come I only hear half of that argument?
PERRIELLOSo I think, again, the question about what the right levels are for spending can either be set on sort of a historical marker or historical peg to some form of inflation or you can start with the question what are -- what's the spending that we need to do in order to remain competitive and make the investments in the middle class that we need? One of the things, of course, is that there are a lot of accounting tricks that can go on with this which is one of the reasons it's hard to follow this debate.
PERRIELLOAnd, you know, for example, one of the things I feel like conservatives are just talking about doing is these blocker ends to the states which sounds like a real gift to the states until you realize it's also significantly reducing the amount that they're passing the states, like Virginia, which means that rather than what we heard from conservatives in the '90s during that Clinton debate which was we need to fund unfunded mandates to the states, you now have them sort in the position of saying, hey, we want to actually do less funding of those things that we're asking the states to pick up on.
PERRIELLOSo I think there are two or three major components of the spending that you could choose on the Clinton-era levels: one would be defense, one would be non-defense, and the third would be entitlements. And so we're having this entitlement conversation or starting to. I think we probably won't see a breakthrough on that before the end of the year, may or may not see a framework for one going forward. Some would argue with the Clinton spending levels, that that was pre-9/11, post-Cold War.
PERRIELLOSo there was a level of reduction on the defense side that doesn't represent where we need to be right now. And other would say, we can got back to that level because we're going to fight al-Qaida in a more drone-oriented way and a less, you know, land invasion-oriented way. So I think in these debates, it's important to start in part with the question not, is there a magical level of spending, but, is there a level of spending that we need to do in order to remain -- to maintain our competitiveness and our security? But I do think, you know, people can propose that baseline as part of the negotiations.
NNAMDIJim, thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODAnd mainly going back to the Clinton tax rates as a matter of how much does the government takes out of business not so much how much the government was spending. But let me ask you a question and on a Virginia level. If you were governor or you're wanting to be governor, McDonnell is -- Gov. McDonnell, excuse me, has suggested maybe he might -- he's thinking about raising the Virginia gas tax which is only 17.5 cents compared to 23 --24 cents in Maryland and the District. Is that something that Virginia ought to do given the issues of Northern Virginia and the road around the whole state?
PERRIELLOYou know, the short answer is yes. I think that the longer answer is to say we clearly need the investments in transportation. Everyone agrees on that. The Chamber of Commerce is on board with that. It's crucial for quality of life as well as competitiveness and business, and you can't get it for free. So there has to be a revenue component, and I think there were attempts over the years to come up with some tricks to pay for that. And, ultimately, we're going to have to decide if we want to do it (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWhat's the lobby against -- I understand, for example, the state tax on cigarettes for 20 cigarettes is only 30 cents. It's $2 in Maryland, $2.50 in the District. It's only 30 cents in Virginia. I can understand the politics of the Virginia tobacco industry and farmers and all that. But, I mean, what is the argument with the gas? Why is the gas tax so protected?
PERRIELLOWell, for one thing, it's...
SHERWOODWho's the interest?
PERRIELLOI mean, there is popular interest which is that it's a regressive tax. And I think that is a genuine concern which is that it can hit working-class folks and poor folks and middle-class folks at a higher level because of who's more likely to be driving and what percentage of their income it is. It can also have disproportionate effects in rural communities where people have to drive longer distances. Some would argue that Northern Virginia, 'cause you're in your cars for so long, you're getting hit harder. Others would say you, at least...
SHERWOODYou may not be going anywhere but you're in your car.
PERRIELLO...have the public transit option there. So this is what makes good public policy difficult is you have to measure that so you can either try to do it in offset, the regressivity, or you can say, hey, if people are using roads, that's part of a user fee. There's a very conservative, even Grover Norquist-type, logic behind a user fee system of internalizing costs, so...
SHERWOODAlthough Grover Norquist, the no tax under any circumstance anywhere has already warned Virginia legislators that...
SHERWOOD...that raising the gas tax will volley any pledge they signed.
PERRIELLOSure. And I think that that's the least healthy element of it, this ideological rigidity that says, we are more than willing to take Virginia over a cliff, lose its competitiveness, lose its quality of life to try to make a pure political point. And I think that's, you know, the least healthy. I think the more legitimate answer is there are some regressivity issues, and I -- and people are concerned about that, rightly so.
NNAMDISpeaking of competitiveness, it is the reason that Republicans in the state of Michigan gave for pushing a right-to-work bill in that state. You're from a so-called right-to-work state where unions have limited influence. You represented a lot of working class people in the fifth district. What do you feel is at stake with what happened in Michigan this week?
PERRIELLOWell, first of all, I think this was all about political power in Michigan and not about competitiveness. I don't think the governor, for a second, believes the argument he was making since he made exactly the opposite argument before and then flip-flopped on it again. This is about -- this is the same thing you saw two years ago when Republican governors came in and focused more on, again, ways to try to jigger the system and consolidate power instead of ways to actually help the middle class.
PERRIELLOI think there's a broader argument about whether the middle class does better with stronger unions or not, and there are two different schools of thought. I think you tend to have a stronger working middle class where you do have unions. There's also an issue about whether growth comes from the purchasing power and disposable income of the working and middle class versus the trickle-down logic.
PERRIELLOI think we've tried the trickle-down logic, and it hasn't worked real well for the middle class. So, you know, these are -- there are deeper questions here. But I think in terms of what's motivating the legislators in Michigan, I think this is about political power.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 if you have questions or comments for Tom Perriello. You were knee-deep in the game when the Democratic Party hit a little bit of a losing streak in Virginia back in 2009 and 2010 when they lost all the statewide races and when you lost your own seat. In the final analysis, what do you think went wrong for Virginia Democrats in those years? And what do you think they need to do to course-correct, if you will, this year or next year?
PERRIELLOWell, they -- I mean, I think there were a lot of things we did wrong, and I think the single biggest factor, frankly, in the 2010 election which arguably was true in 2012 was the unemployment rate in the economy. I think while, you know, we can go through the policies we did that were popular and not popular and things we can talk about communications, the reality is when the economy is on an upswing, incumbents tend to do well. And when it's on downswing, they tend to not do it.
PERRIELLOI think that's why this fall while I think the president ran a great campaign, the fact is if the economy had started to tank in the fall, it probably would have been a very difficult environment, and people felt like it was picking up. So I think that first and foremost, Americans care about the economy. They want to know whether they're going to have, you know, they're worried about losing a job or finding a job and having -- being able to pay the bills in their family. And if they feel like people are sticking for them, that's a good thing.
PERRIELLOI think what helped the Democrats, and in some ways this is why I think I stayed so much closer in the 5th than most Democrats in that year, was people want to know who's fighting the working and middle class. Who's fighting for people like them? And I think what you saw a couple of years ago were a real reinvestment by the president in the jobs bill and the focus on the economy.
PERRIELLOI think you had a conversation about outsourcing that was very damaging to Mitt Romney and his background that made people not fully trust him. And I think that, you know, when you see that set of questions, who's fighting for the middle class, who's fighting for that American dream, that's where a lot of people are going to vote.
PERRIELLONow, it also, I think, was a case where frankly the conservatives and the Republicans handed the Democrats some advantages that they didn't need to. The war on women was not a plot by Democrats. This was a set of decisions by Republicans to, you know, the Akin bill -- long before anyone knew who Akin was -- to redefine rape. You had transvaginal ultrasound. This was where moderate Republicans coming out of the woodwork shaking their heads.
PERRIELLOAnd so, you know, you look at a gender gap that merges from that. You look at the kind of demonizing rhetoric towards Latinos and immigrants in a primary that doesn't just turn off Latino voters but many of us who came from immigrant backgrounds are believed that's part of the American tapestry.
NNAMDIDidn't it come from the Democratic playbook but certainly seemed to help it. We are running out of time, but we got this email from Anthony, who said, "I strongly recommend that Mr. Perriello stay off the air. The more people hear from him, the more they're going to plead with him to run for governor."
SHERWOODCan I ask a quick question before you throw him out of here? There's a story I'm going to do for Channel 4 News. I want to ask you. It's off-topic completely.
SHERWOODAn ESPN commentator yesterday, I believe, African-American guys complained that RG3, star quarterback for the Redskins, isn't -- maybe isn't black enough, that he dates a white woman, that he might be a Republican, that he doesn't represent enough, even though he has braids, which he...
NNAMDII think they took that guy off the air.
SHERWOOD...gave him credit. I think he's been suspended now. But I'm just wondering -- we've had that issue with our mayors Tony Williams and Adrian Fenty. Barack Obama has had that kind of an issue. What's your comment on in the public discourse on that kind of comment?
PERRIELLOYou know, I -- it feels like something from another era in that sense. I think Robert Griffin III is such a great model for people of all races right now. Everything we've seen from him so far in terms of discipline and work ethic, a family, obviously, with a military background, and I think, you know, it's a great -- he does transcend race in that sense. I think he doesn't seem to be owned just by one community, and you mentioned the president as well on that.
PERRIELLOBut I don't think that the old logic that that means you're some how erasing or denying another part of your heritage is right. So I think that's, you know, it's a free-speech country. People can say things. Broadcast networks can respond accordingly. But I think, so far, what we've seen as a consummate gentleman from Robert Griffin III who everyone can be proud of and, I think, has brought a lot of pride to the team and to the community.
NNAMDITom Perriello said the same way whether with the Southern or Caribbean accent. He's a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrat who held a seat in Virginia's 5th District. He's not the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Tom Perriello, thank you so much for joining us.
PERRIELLOThank you, Kojo. It's always good to be here.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, this week, Joe Allbritton passed. He is such a familiar name in Washington that I was, for one, mildly surprised that he still lives in Houston, Texas, which he stated that he's from.
SHERWOODWell, he was a Texan, you know?
NNAMDIYes, he is a Texan and that's where he lived. But he's associated with so many things here including WJLA 7 television which are named after him, Joe L. Allbritton. But then, of course, he was also, for many years, involved with Riggs Bank. And therefore, he leaves...
SHERWOODHe was Riggs Bank.
NNAMDIIn very many ways. And therefore, he leaves a kind of mixed legacy here, if you will.
SHERWOODWell, I mean, he was a strong business man and did build a bank. He was, so many people said, self-made. I mean, his reputation became tarnished when it became that -- known that the Riggs Bank was handling money for a Pinochet. I think it's in Chile...
NNAMDIAugusto Pinochet, yes.
SHERWOOD...Chilean issues, and that was very embarrassing. The bank subsequently was sold. Riggs became PNC Bank. But, you know, he has, like, he had seven or eight stations. The one here on Washington, of course, is based on his initials. So he was a powerful person, and he was community-oriented and -- but he know -- how old was he, 87?
SHERWOODEighty-seven. He had a remarkable influence on both local and national community issues, and it's sad that he's passed.
NNAMDIAnd Peter Franchot is not going to be running for governor of Maryland. He says that he will continue to run for his current post of comptroller even though there was a great deal of speculation both by other people and by Peter Franchot himself that he would enter the race for governor. Are you disappointed that we're not going to having Peter Franchot to kick around and sort of...
SHERWOODWell, I think he's a good candidate to cover, but I think he had the gambling initiative, and it didn't pass by much. But had it failed or something, that might've spurred him so more to get into the race 'cause he's one of the few state-wide politicians of stature that was essentially against this expansion of gambling. And so that might've played some role. But, you know, he -- it looks like he'll have a fairly smooth reelection bid now, and he'll still be one of the most -- three most powerful people into the state government is the board of public works...
NNAMDIWhat do you think our chance...
SHERWOOD...should be win.
NNAMDIWhat do you think our chances are of persuading our next guest to run for governor of the state of Maryland?
SHERWOODWell, first, we want to clarify whether he's going to run for reelection 'cause there's been some different moods coming and going on that subject. And maybe we'll get a clarity that we haven't had before.
MR. ISIAH LEGGETTOh, you guys are pretty good. They take -- they must have took about 10 seconds to get to that point.
NNAMDIIsiah Leggett is our guest. He is county executive in Montgomery County, Md. He is a Democrat. If you have questions or comments for Isiah Leggett, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Isiah Leggett, welcome. Good to see you.
LEGGETTThank you for having me back again, Kojo.
SHERWOODSo what would do if you didn't run for reelection? I mean, really. I mean, well, that's...
LEGGETTOh -- well...
SHERWOODYou could do other things.
NNAMDIYou've been a politician for half of your life, for crying out loud.
LEGGETTNo. No. No. No. I've been a public official for half my life, not a politician. That's different.
SHERWOODWell, you should be...
LEGGETTBut let me explain to you, you know, I've been a law professor and assistant -- associate dean at Howard University Law School for a number of years, and I continue to serve in that position up until the time that I was actually elected as county executive. So it's not a question of what I might do, but simply a question of the interest, the time, commitment and whether I wanted to do some other things.
SHERWOODIt's a pretty debilitating job. I mean, it's a seven-day-a-week job, isn't it?
LEGGETTOh, yes. It's seven days a week, and there's a great deal of work involvement. And my wife, in addition to that, really works as well, and a lot of the community events said we are very active in many avenues throughout the county.
SHERWOODWell, you had -- can I just finish this up?
SHERWOODYou had said that you would not -- I think -- I don't remember how declaratively you said it that you would not -- this would be your last term, and then you left open...
SHERWOOD…the door, that it -- but it may not be your last term. What...
SHERWOODWhy did you leave the -- why are you leaving the door open? What's going to make you decide?
LEGGETTWell, first of all, I have not changed my position. When I've indicated to people that I'm willing to sit down and talk to them, there's been a large number of people who've come to me to really honestly ask me to reconsider. And rather than to turn them completely off, I said after the first of the year, I will sit down and have an opportunity to talk to people. Then my wife and I and family will weigh that and make an informed decision about it at that point in time. So that's essentially...
SHERWOODIs there a January resolution of this?
LEGGETTI said after the first of the year, so some people interpret that as January, but the year is very long. But I would do it some time after the first of the year.
NNAMDIGiven that the year is very long and that the race, the election, is not until 2014, realistically these days, how long does it take to run effectively for county executive in Montgomery County, and how much money does it take?
LEGGETTWell, it varies. I anticipate that you'll have a number of people considering running, some for the first time. I'm not sure that it will require as much time and effort from someone who's currently serving in the office, but that's subject to judgment and subject to how well you do in terms of the public's image. If your image is something that people want and want to respect and bring you back, then obviously you don't need a lot of time. You don't need a lot of money.
SHERWOODBefore we go into some of the actual issues facing the county now, the problem would be, it seems to me, that if you indicated now that, oh, I'm not going to run, you become a lame duck, and, you know, lame ducks are targets.
NNAMDIWell, lame ducks.
SHERWOODYou don't want to be a lame duck too soon in your leg. You've got a lot of issues going on that you have to take care of, right?
LEGGETTWell, I'm not sure that that's one that would bode one way or the other for me in terms of making a decision. The decision right now is really personal. I think the political consideration is something that I'm not really fully focused on, and I feel very confident that if I run, I would be very competitive, with an excellent shot of winning. That's not the issue and the timing. The issue for me is basically family, other things that I want to do, and other candidates who are running and how I want to respond to that challenge.
NNAMDIWhy are we talking about this right now? Because Ike Leggett's predecessor, Doug Duncan, has rolled out his plan to run and get back into the game. And speaking of specifics in the county, one of the things that Doug Duncan said is that he felt that Montgomery County is slipping, losing business to other places. How would you respond to that, and how would you characterize the arc of the county under your time as county executive?
SHERWOODAnd was that a criticism of you?
LEGGETTWell, I'm not sure, but if you look at the record, I think that if it is a criticism, it would be an inaccurate point. I think we've done very, very well. I think there's a comparison that people make between Montgomery County and Fairfax. But if you look at all the numbers combined, I think, competitively, we're in a pretty good position. Montgomery County has done very well in this recession, and we've governed, keep in mind, through a recession.
LEGGETTNow, having done that, we've placed the county in a much more sustainable budgetary position. Budgets are much more sustainable today. We are really at an ebb in Montgomery County in terms of the growth, development that has occurred, whether you talk about White Flint, the new Science Corridor, East County's Corridor, the Smart Growth Initiative. I think there's a lot to point to that shows Montgomery County has done very well.
LEGGETTUnemployment at 4.7, -.5 percent. When you compare that -- and I serve currently as the president pro tem of the County Executives of America -- I know what other communities have done, and Montgomery County is very competitive. And you have to keep in mind, again, that all of this happened in time of recession. We were just rewarded a couple of months ago with our AAA bond rating. I think we've done very well.
NNAMDIAnd not -- that's not to say that there are not problems. At this point, how would you describe your vision for the county? On Greater Greater Washington, the blogger Dan Reed wrote that you ran on a slow growth platform and tentatively ended up embracing a more urban future for the county. Is that fair? It seems that one of the bigger challenges you have right now is balancing what was essentially perceived as a suburban jurisdiction to one that's becoming increasingly urban, and that could lead to all kinds of not only challenges, but conflicts.
LEGGETTWell, let's look at what was just stated. On one hand, you just stated that while we were not growing enough, now, someone is saying we're growing too fast, becoming much more urbanized. I think there's some...
NNAMDII hate the lawyer in you.
LEGGETTI think, to some degree, both those things are correct. I think that we have been much more balanced in terms of growth, but we've done so in a very strategic way -- that is, smart growth in and around our Metro sites. And we have some enormous challenges ahead of us, but those challenges primarily related to transportation. We needed to grow during this recession, and I don't think it was a time for us to retrench, but I think we've done so in a very smart and a deliberate fashion.
SHERWOODHow much -- I'm going to be in Bethesda this evening, so...
NNAMDIOh. Bethesda, prepare to welcome Tom Sherwood. He doesn't venture out of the city very often.
SHERWOODI'm very aware also of the Connecticut Avenue. If I go up in that general direction, the speed traps in that general area, but I think I'll stay in Wisconsin Avenue...
NNAMDIHang out a Welcome, Tom Sherwood sign.
LEGGETTI don't know if you'd describe them as speed traps. I mean, I think you may have the wrong jurisdiction...
SHERWOODLong ago, before I realized the error of my ways, I lived in Montgomery County in 1974. I would go to Bethesda, and I have seen and watched the transformation of that extraordinary -- how much more can it grow?
LEGGETTWell, it depends on where you're talking about growth. In and around the Metro side, we have several major projects that will occur in the next couple of years. But the growth that will occur in the county, if you look at the White Flint area, there's huge growth there. The Seneca Valley area, you have tremendous growth there as well. And another area of the county that we're looking for protected growth is in the Wheaton Corridor.
LEGGETTSo, yes, we expect additional growth, and, again, some will occur in and around Bethesda, but more centrally located right at the Bethesda Metro. And there's one shot that is a major development that's now going before the Planning -- Park and Planning Commission -- that is, Chevy Chase and Chevy Chase Lake.
NNAMDIOur guest is Isiah Leggett. He is county executive in Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tom, I think I interrupted you.
SHERWOODWell, I was just thinking -- the other -- another person said in one of our morning meetings at Channel 4 -- I think it was Pat Collins. He said, have you been to Wheaton? And he talked about just the development all across the county, just that there's an extraordinary amount of development. The mayor, William -- Mayor Gray in the District talks about all the cranes and the development here. Can you put a number or a figure, billions of dollars of development going on now in the county...
LEGGETTWell, I can't put a number and a figure on it because there are some that are currently in the planning stage, but you have huge developments in the areas that I've just described, plus a lot of infill development. Wheaton, unfortunately, over the past, has suffered from some level of slow development, and we need to take advantage of a very major Metro site right there in the heart of Wheaton.
LEGGETTSo we're going to continue to pay much more attention to Wheaton. But if you look at Montgomery County, the level of development, but not just development, it is smart, it is in the right location and we're trying to balance that appropriately. So going back to the original question, I think there is a mixed review about that. We are becoming more urbanized, but we're trying to do so in a very smart way, smart growth in and around our Metro sites.
NNAMDIYou did mention the Metro sites as one, but Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney pointed out over the weekend that one of the other big-picture issues staring the county down right now is the economic divide between the counties east and west, the super affluent, if you will, of Bethesda, Potomac and Chevy Chase against the rapidly gentrifying communities to the east like Silver Spring and the aforementioned Wheaton. Apart from development around Metro, what are the key projects on tap that you think have the potential to close that gap somewhat?
LEGGETTWell, the one in the East County -- that is, Route 29 Corridor in the White Oak area -- I think will close that gap somewhat. It's near the federal laboratories that we have in that particular area, as well as Wheaton that I've just described. We're looking at two major development stops in the Wheaton area that I think will enhance the growth and development there. But it's really about jobs in the county.
LEGGETTNo matter where you live, we want to provide a foundation for good job growth anywhere in the county. And if you're able to do that and you're able to provide the transportation that links those communities, you will close that gap. So by having growth in the Seneca area, it helps us in Wheaton because many of those people will live and be able to transport themselves to those particular locations. So growth, development in the county and other areas also would help some of the more difficult areas.
NNAMDIGlad you mentioned transportation because there are some people who would like to talk about that on the phone. Here is Steve in Glenmont, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEYes. I'm particularly aware of what's going on in the county. The growth is really causing a lot of congestion for drivers. You're planning for under-parking that is insufficient parking for the people who are going through Wheaton. The Wheaton corridor is not a single corridor. It's three corridors.
STEVEAnd the people who -- it's the one going on University Boulevard, the one on Veirs Mill and the one on George Avenue. And both in Bethesda, where there already is overwhelming congestion, as well as in Wheaton, the fact that you and as -- have modeled yourselves after the District and its plan for insufficient parking is really causing hardship for people who have to commute all around the area.
NNAMDIIke Leggett, how do you respond to that? You're...
LEGGETTYeah. Well, first of all, I think that I'll...
NNAMDI...patterning yourself after the District.
LEGGETTYeah. I think our development requires far more parking than the District, so it's not a conscious effort of what the District has in terms of restricted parking. But there are some challenge. And we want to have a good mix there because we want people to get out of cars. And one of the things that we've looked at, a very good proposal advocated by Councilmember Mark Elgart, which I support, is to bring vehicle rapid transit to our county.
LEGGETTThat would help us to get people out of the cars and to have them in mass transit. There is no way, shape or fashion the growth that is occurring now or even at the lower phase can we accommodate that with such a heavy reliance on the automobile.
SHERWOODWhat do you mean when you say vehicle rapid transit? Are you talking about...
SHERWOOD...bus -- express busing, more rail?
LEGGETTWell, the early name was bus rapid transit, but it's a combination of something. It looks like rail, but it actually runs on the street, and it's more like a rail train but it is actually on the road.
SHERWOODCan we -- can I ask you about the ICC 'cause we talk...
NNAMDIPlease, before you do that, allow me to read this that just came from WAMU 88.5 News. It says, "ABC News is reporting that more than a dozen people, including some children, have been shot and killed at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn." We'll bring you more news from NPR about this at the top of the hour. Tom Sherwood, go ahead, please.
SHERWOODHey, that sounds like a terror. I was just looking at that on my phone. It sounds like a terrible...
SHERWOOD...violence. I was going to ask you about the ICC. It's open. I believe you suggested maybe the fee -- tolls ought to be lower so more people will use it. In the long run, people realized it will be used. But maybe lower the toll rates so we can get more people to use it, ease some of the congestion?
LEGGETTYeah. I want to see it lowered but you have to hit the right mark. You want to lower to generate at least enough revenues to cover the cost involved there. But you also do not want to lower it so that it become so congested that you do not have the travel ease and deter people from utilizing it. So I certainly want to lower it. It is too expensive now, and we need to find a better mix of ridership in...
SHERWOODDo you have a figure in mind? Do you personally -- excuse me -- have a figure in mind of what should it be?
LEGGETTI don't at this time. I'm waiting on some further analysis about it, but it certainly needs to be lowered down.
SHERWOODHave you been on it? I mean...
LEGGETTOh, yes, I use...
SHERWOOD...for purpose for use for driving.
LEGGETTYeah. I used it quite at least two or three times a week.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones again, here is Francisco in Arlington, Va. Francisco, your turn.
FRANCISCOYes. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Two things I want to mention. Montgomery County is not competing with Fairfax County. They need to go away from this notion. Fairfax County has office overseas, such as Germany where they recruit business.
FRANCISCOMontgomery County does not. The other thing, what Montgomery County needs to do, very quickly, is to create a Montgomery enterprise corporation to issue its own guarantees and funding through bonds and use all those, like, science and research they have in the county, which we do nothing with it. That's (unintelligible).
NNAMDISo you're saying, Francisco, that you would like to see Montgomery County become more competitive with Fairfax County for business?
FRANCISCOThey are not. They are not. This is a notion. This is just -- they're using math (unintelligible) results. Their number don't support that. See, the solution is very simple. Create a Montgomery County enterprise corporation with authorities and guarantees to issue a venture money. See, the state of Maryland funds enterprise and venture in Israel. Why can't they do in Montgomery County?
NNAMDIHere is Ike Leggett. It's pretty simple.
LEGGETTWell, it's not pretty simple. I would think that there is some -- good ideas have been suggested here. But also, you need to take into consideration that Montgomery County does awful lot overseas, you know, biotechnology field. We have large numbers of firms that are currently in Montgomery County. We have done a great deal across the board in India, South Korea, into China, into Brazil and many other places, as well as Israel. So I think that we need to look at those factors and get the facts together.
LEGGETTWe're not competing with Fairfax. I think we are both doing very well. And that notion about competing for the sake of competition is not something that I endorse. I simply want us to do as well as we possibly can and continue those efforts to do those things in what we have strength in. And I think the outline of the things that I've just described, the areas we have great deal of strength, and we'll do very well. It's akin to having on your basketball team Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
LEGGETTIf you're Bill Russell, you couldn't say that Wilt Chamberlain is not a good player. Both are very good. They compete in a certain area. We compete in a different area. But I think both Fairfax and Montgomery County are doing very well. And they're -- we are really the envy of many other people around this entire country.
NNAMDIHas this idea about an enterprise center been raised before?
LEGGETTIt has been raised. It was something that we've looked at, but it's not quite as simple as described.
SHERWOODWould you help your -- would you help Prince George's County in getting the FBI headquarters in -- I presume you don't want it though.
NNAMDIFunny you should mention that. That's what exactly David in University Park wants to talk about.
SHERWOODOK. Well, let's let David take over the question.
NNAMDIDavid, you're on the air. We're running out of time so please make your question brief.
DAVIDYeah. Kojo, thank you. I just wanted to see if you could -- I guess, Mr. Leggett to be the first of our neighboring jurisdictions to support the FBI to move to Prince George's. All the things you've talked about -- commuting patterns, development, regional approach -- it just makes perfect sense. So how about it?
LEGGETTWell, the last time I checked, I was a county executive for Montgomery County and...
NNAMDIYeah. But you type with Rushern Baker.
LEGGETTI am very much so. And I will say this...
SHERWOODYou helped him with the gambling thing.
LEGGETTThat's right. And I think in this case I want to see it come to Maryland, and Prince George's County is in a very strong competitive position because they have four more sites that I think that are available than Montgomery County. So I would not be disappointed if it goes to Prince George's County, but we're going to look at the options at Montgomery County as well. But I think competitively Prince George's County is in a very strong position to offer many more sites than we can currently offer in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIJack Evans says we're not giving it up without the District getting something back in return.
SHERWOODWell, you know, he wants the Redskins back in there. But we won't bring that up 'cause you're not the county executive of Prince George's County.
SHERWOODCan I ask you, though, about the Redskins in RG3 and an ESPN commentator who's now been suspended for saying that RG3 is not black enough, questioned whether he's black enough. You've probably heard this for Obama and various other politicians. What's your thoughts if you hear something like that?
LEGGETTWell, I think it's unfortunate. In fact, I've heard that referred to myself in the past because when I first ran for public office in 1985 in Montgomery County, African-Americans made up only about 6 percent, and I won overwhelmingly. And even now I served in a jurisdiction that does not reflect the kind of racial identity that I would have. I think we're beyond all of that, and I think we should look at the character of the person, the leadership, the experience and look at RG3 as an excellent quarterback who's leading an outstanding team and not worry about race and ethnicity.
NNAMDIYou and other county executives are pushing for a more -- for more state transportation funds, putting a hike in the gas tax back into the conversation. Messing with the gas tax has been rather radioactive when it comes to ideas in Maryland in recent years. Why do you think it may be necessary?
LEGGETTWell, it's necessary because we do not have the funds in the transportation trust fund. And I made the announcement when I was running for office right here on this program that I supported the gasoline tax. Your telephone line lit up. I was right then and I'm right now. We need it. We cannot get out of this transportation challenge without it. We might as well admit it and move forward. So I think this...
NNAMDISure you don't want to make your next announcement right now?
LEGGETTMan, you're pretty good.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Isiah Leggett is county executive in Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. Thank you much for joining us. Tom Sherwood is our...
NNAMDI...resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. What are you taking for this condition?
SHERWOODI'm taking some many drugs, many drugs. But I'm also going to park in one of the Bethesda parking lots. And I have the phone app, so I don't have to have any cash.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, on drugs again, he's our resident analyst.
NNAMDIHe's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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