Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
Virginia lawmakers aim for a transportation bill on the final lap of their legislative session. Prince George’s County grapples with a surge of violence in suburban Maryland. And D.C.’s mayor drops hints he may be gearing up for re-election. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Douglas Gansler Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Tom Sherwood Maryland Attorney General (D)
Politics Hour Video
Next week the Supreme Court will review a Maryland appeals court’s decision that it’s unconstitutional for police to collect genetic samples from suspects before they are convicted for possible matches to other crimes. Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler (D) championed the DNA law, and said he expects the high court to support the challenge in a 9-0 ruling. “This is how we’re able to solve old cases, cold cases, violent cases,” Gansler said. He added that DNA is race-neutral and socioeconomically neutral.
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 star. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. He joins us in studio. You may have already heard from him, but he did not offer you his analysis of what's happening with D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe Council Chairman Phil Mendelson says he intends to have a vote to reprimand Councilmember Graham. You may remember that the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability earlier this month issued an opinion saying that Graham broke city rules by intervening with a local businessman on a Metro land deal.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe board itself didn't sanction Graham, saying it could not levy penalties, but it is alleged that Councilmember Graham proposed that a businessman, Warren Williams Jr., dropped out of a Metro land deal in return for Graham's support on the Council for his lottery contract bid. Do you think this reprimand is going to happen, Tom?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, the chairman says it's going to happen. You know, Jim Graham is -- this is an escalator going down politically for the Ward 1 councilmember. He's in his fourth term. He doesn't face any criminal kind of charges or any kind of legal issues. This is all kind of the politics of when he was on the Metro board and when he was still a councilmember. He commingled the favored -- the -- how he would favor one contract or another.
MR. TOM SHERWOODMetro's investigation found that he did not have the full interest of Metro in place when he was discussing it. And the city has -- the ethics board found that he wasn't representing the city's interests when he was essentially attempting to barter these two contracts. Graham in the official investigation had -- didn't remember all that had happened as other people alleged.
MR. TOM SHERWOODAnd now, the Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wants to kind of move this along. He has a choice. He could have the Council reprimand Mr. Graham or that he can have a committee of five council members agree, have a committee to investigate Graham one more time and...
NNAMDIHe's already been investigated twice, right?
SHERWOODWell, he's -- well, there's been two reviews. One investigation, one review and then the Council -- five members would have to investigate him again. You know, they could censor him, which is a more serious action. Mendelson wants to get this behind the Council, show the people that they don't like what Graham did but move on. Graham, though, is trying to press for a full-fledged investigation...
SHERWOOD....to keep it alive and to give himself a chance to defend himself. But others are telling Graham privately, "Look, let us reprimand you. You can still proclaim your innocence, and then we can move on."
NNAMDIThat's the sound of me slapping my wrist. Is a reprimand worse than that?
SHERWOODWell, that's the problem. Some of the council members are concerned that it appeared that it's a slap on the wrist. And since there's no sanction, he would lose his oversight over the alcohol beverage industry in the city, which he likes to be charged of.
NNAMDISo that would be more than a slap on the wrist.
SHERWOODThat's more than a slap on the wrist, but politically, we'll see -- I'm sure The Post editorial page, which has called on Graham to resign, will probably weigh in this weekend with don't let him get off with a reprimand, push it forward.
NNAMDIAt one point, Tom Sherwood used to cover the Virginia General Assembly for a local newspaper that shall remain nameless, The Washington Post, and because of that, Tom, therefore it falls to you to explain the details of the transportation package that the General Assembly in Virginia approved or will approve because the Senate and the House negotiators have come to some agreement. The deal would raise about $880 million a year through what The Washington Post calls a complex mix of tax cuts and increases that I, frankly, don't understand.
SHERWOODWhat you have to know is just that your gas price is probably will go up, and the sales tax would go up marginally from like 5 percent in -- to 5.03 percent.
NNAMDIBut the big deal is that a deal has been reached and that's...
SHERWOODWell, yeah, the thing -- well, the deal is it's like in Maryland. There's an issue about how to fund transportation projects. And Virginia has struggled with this, and there hasn't really been a really great deal on this since, like, 1986. And so the governor -- the House and Senate members got together. Ten members, eight Republicans and two Democrats, got together and have come up with a compromise that it would eliminate the current gas tax of about 17 -- I have this written down, but I will go through it really quickly.
SHERWOODEliminate the gas tax but add a wholesale level of tax of 3.5 percent. And if you get it on wholesale level, it will just be passed on. Increase the sales tax to 5.3 percent. Increase the share of existing sales tax dedicated transportation. Impose that $100 registration fee on alternative fuel vehicles. And that's one that people think just doesn't sound right.
SHERWOODYou want people to drive an environmentally correct car, but you're going to charge him $100 a year to do so and allow the regions and the various regions of the state, like Hampton Road to Northern Virginia, to add a couple hundred million dollars for transportation issues.
NNAMDIHere's why you should become a member of the station. Allow me to digress for one second. Tom Sherwood had no idea that I would ask him what the details of that transportation plan were. I just came up with it on the spur of the moment 'cause I didn't know the detail. And you had them at the ready. That's the kind of preparation that people want to become members of the station for...
SHERWOODIn case I happen to make a mistake and drive over a bridge into Virginia, I want to know what it's going to cost me to get back.
NNAMDIThat's who Tom Sherwood is, our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Joining us in studio is Doug Gansler. He is the attorney general for the state of Maryland. He's a Democrat. Doug Gansler, good to see you again.
ATTY. GEN. DOUGLAS GANSLERIt's good to be here, and I hope Tom doesn't go to Virginia and stays in Maryland or what was once part of Maryland, the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODI've been known to travel...
NNAMDIHe doesn't even like driving to Virginia.
SHERWOODI've been -- I might travel to Bethesda today. I've got -- I've been taking my shots and getting ready, but I should point out on the Virginia thing before -- this is like -- they're down to the last three days of the legislative session. And so they've -- this deal -- the Republican Party in the 10th district of Virginia has come out against it because it does raise taxes, but it looks like this deal is going to pass. It's a big win for Gov. Bob McDonnell.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Maryland Atty. Gen. Doug Gansler, now is the time to call 800-433-8850. Gun violence, front and center in Annapolis, but it's a matter on the minds of a lot of people in Prince George's County. There were four fatal shootings in the span of 48 hours this week. Separately, six students there have been killed since the beginning of the school year. When you look at what's happening in Prince George's County from the perspective of a prosecutor, what do you see?
GANSLERWell, this is sort of the silver lining of the national tragedies that we've gone through, from Wisconsin to Illinois to, most recently, Newtown, Conn. The silver lining, in my view, is that we're now opening up a discussion about where we want to be regarding guns, how the Second Amendment fits in to that equation.
GANSLERBut most importantly -- and I wrote an op-ed actually in a different local newspaper, The Baltimore Sun, talking about just this very issue, that we need to focus on what's going on everyday as well in our streets, whether its Baltimore City or Prince George's, that young people are dying from guns. And it's handguns.
GANSLERAnd it's not from people who are mentally ill or not from people who are going to schools. But it's people who are getting what we call crime guns. And how are they getting those guns? Why do they have access to those guns? And what can we do to prevent it? So there's a lot of different sort of lanes being driven of people trying to address this issue.
NNAMDIBut you've said this, there is a middle ground, you've said, on the issue of guns. Where is it?
GANSLERWell, I've always thought there's a middle ground with the gun issue. I mean, the gun issue is interesting. They had a debate on it in Annapolis and, you know, seven or 800 people showed up. And it's such a polarizing issue. And I think that most people on the gun issue -- take the Second Amendment out of it for a moment -- believe that if you want to have a handgun in your home to protect yourself and your family from an intruder, you should be able to do that as long -- along with shotguns and rifles if you're a hunter.
GANSLERBut those same most people don't think you should be able to walk down Wisconsin Avenue loaded up with AK-47s and bazookas. So there's really a middle ground, and some of the debate is centered on that middle ground. And other parts of the debate are really driven by, if you do this, then you're going to do that. Don't take away my guns.
GANSLERDon't do this step because that's just a slippery slope to taking the next step. And I don't believe that's the case. I mean, just look, for example, on the assault weapon ban discussion. Right now, everybody's comfortable with the notion that you can't, as a citizen, buy a nuclear bomb, a grenade, a bazooka, a flamethrower.
GANSLERAnd so what they're -- the debate now is they're trying to shift that line one step over and say, and you shouldn't be able to buy assault weapons either because there's no legitimate reason for those. That doesn't seem outlandish to me or crazy, but it does to other folks because they think, well, you're taking my gun, and you're going to now go after my other guns as well.
NNAMDIMm-hmm. Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODWell, people I speak to who are -- whether they're NRA members or worried that the government will overreach, that if somehow the government can begin to ban this gun and that gun, then ultimately it will be difficult to have a gun at home despite what the Supreme Court rules in the D.C. case. And they are just concerned that -- and there are some who have said we do need more -- something more powerful than a little six-shooter if somebody comes into my home, in an isolated area or an urban area.
SHERWOODAnd I'm not -- I can't protect myself. You can't expect the police. So there's an emotional fear that, I think, some of the advocates for gun control have yet to break through to get that middle ground you're talking about.
GANSLERI think that's right. And there's an emotional fear -- there's actually a dearth of law in this area because, you know, for over 200 years, the Second Amendment was deemed to be a collector -- a collective right because of the language in the Second Amendment about the militia.
GANSLERIn the Heller case that you just referred to, Tom, what came out of D.C., you know, seven or eight years ago now, it basically -- the Supreme Court said in a 5-to-4 decision, no, it's not -- we're not going to say the Second Amendment is an individual right, but we're going to limit that right to handguns only in your home to be used for self-defense, those three factors. And that's sort of now the floor of where we are, and the question is, how far will it expand?
GANSLERBefore we went on the show, I was talking to you guys about this case that were dealing with in Maryland where a federal judge in Baltimore overturned our concealed carry law in a very well-reasoned, very good decision. His point was now that the Supreme Court has said that the Second Amendment is an individual right, how can that constitutional right be limited to in the home? In other words, we have the freedom of speech inside. We can go outside.
GANSLERSo he's saying, well, so you should not be able to limit who is able to carry a gun in public because they should have a constitutional right to do that. We argued in front of the fourth circuit that -- to uphold our law. My job is to -- I represent the legislature of Maryland and we have -- I have an obligation to do that, and I actually am happy to do that in this particular case. And I think that case might go to the Supreme Court as they continue to evolve -- as the courts continue to evolve as to where they want the Second Amendment ultimately to reside.
SHERWOODCan we have a gun in our car, which is our personal property?
GANSLERRight now you can't.
GANSLERAnd then the supreme Court could go -- could make that argument. But, Kojo, to your point about the kids in Prince George's, I mean, there's a lot being discussed right now about trying to figure out the nexus between mental health histories and people who would then take guns and commit violence. A lot being discussed about what to do about school safety and a lot to do -- being discussed about how to prevent the Newtowns with the -- their high-caliber weapons. But the biggest issue, I think, if you kind of peel it all back right now is the notion of straw purchases.
GANSLERSo the universal background checks in Maryland were good with that. Virginia, they're not. But in Maryland, you get a background check even at a gun show. So we've closed that loophole. But our big problem is straw purchases in Prince George's and every other city, by the way, around the country, where I say to Tom, hey, I've got a criminal record. Tom, can you go buy this gun for 500 bucks? I'll give you 500 bucks if you'd go buy a gun for me. You go in, buy the gun, give me the gun. I'll give you the 500 bucks, and everyone goes about their business.
SHERWOODAnd you can say you lost it or something.
GANSLERYeah. Or not even because you're not -- you don't own the license, or they don't need to really know who you are or you are who you say are.
GANSLERNow, what -- so the idea of a licensing requirement, to me, makes complete sense and would create a very high hurdle. To reduce the straw purchases one step further would be to have a license and fingerprinted at the time of purchase. That would cut down the straw purchases. That would save lives.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions or comments for Maryland Atty. Gen. Douglas Gansler. But where do come down on the mental health aspect of this conversation because we have had callers in the past who said, somebody's mental health history is not as important as whether or not that person has a history of violence? But we just had a tragic case at the University of Maryland, where one young man apparently shot his roommate and then committed suicide, when it turns out that he apparently had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and wasn't taking his meds.
GANSLERWell, both people are correct. Both points of view are correct. In other words, it's a mental health issue and also a history of violence. I mean, I chair a Family Violence Council in Maryland. And we got a bill through a couple of years ago, which allows judges to take guns away from domestic violence -- potential defendants in domestic violence cases, those who have protective orders against them or ex parte orders to get guns out of that very fragile situation.
GANSLERSo you're looking at three types of people you don't want to have guns: One, with a history of violence, particularly in domestic violence arena, two, people with mental health problems and, three, convicted felons. And, you know, if people are going to have guns, they ought to be responsible folks. So on the mental health, though, making the connection between somebody who has a history of mental health problems and that person then taking a gun and shooting up a room of people is very difficult to make.
GANSLERBut what the biggest -- but you also want to keep the hands -- guns out of people with mental health problems not only because they may become violent, but they're violent to themselves. I mean, that -- there's a far higher rate of suicides involving people with mental health histories.
GANSLERThe biggest thing we could do, in my view, is to enhance information so that the state police and those who are monitoring and regulating who has guns are aware of people who have mental health problems, both in Maryland but form other states as well. And there has to be that kind of state by, you know, intrastate and interstate mental health history.
SHERWOODIs it just a wacky to use a scientific word -- just a wacky view that I've heard repeatedly that the whole point of getting people to register guns is so the government can come take the guns?
GANSLERThat would be...
SHERWOODIs that a wacky view?
GANSLERThat would be a wacky view. And -- but that's, you know, unfortunately and sadly, many people believe that the government has an interest in going after people's guns. In every one of the laws that are being proposed right now, both on the federal level and certainly in Maryland, nobody -- any law that is passed, nobody's going to go in retroactively take people's guns away from them. In the future, it will be more difficult to buy an assault weapon and to buy a gun for somebody else.
SHERWOODLet me ask. There's a lot of subjects to move on. The president has expended a great deal of energy, and in some cases, has tiered up talking about the need to do something on the national level. Do you think -- and some people are now worried that inertia is starting to set in and something big may not happen. Do you think something will happen of the federal level?
GANSLERI think if something happens in the federal level, it'll be small. I mean, I think -- I try not to let me or my children watch, you know, the federal government at work because they don't seem to get along too well down there in Capitol Hill. So I'd be, you know, hopefully something will get passed. There's a lot of, you know, certainly, public sentiment toward doing something.
SHERWOODThe air seems to be going out of the balloon.
GANSLERA little bit, but not in the States.
NNAMDIGentlemen, don your headphones so you can hear what Molly in Annapolis, Md. has to say about this. Molly, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOLLYGood morning, Kojo, and thank you for taking my call. I'm wondering when we are going to address the issue of the 500,000 guns that are stolen supposedly from responsible gun owners every year. They -- it just doesn't seem to be in the mix. And I'm wondering when we're going to make an issue of these guns that are being stolen from people's houses. They are not home protecting their houses, but they're leaving their guns unlocked and available to be stolen. And...
NNAMDIIs there anything you can put in the law that requires somebody to keep their gun in a certain way that can reduce the likelihood of it being stolen?
GANSLERWell, there's nothing in the law that you can do. But one of the proposals, and I think it makes a lot of sense that's being put out there is that people who become gun owners should get training and have some background in both training on how to use the gun, but also in safe storage of that gun. There's unfortunately a lot of tragic cases where people -- kids pick up a gun 'cause the parent left it sitting on the table, and they, you know, shoot themselves or shoot their friends by accident.
GANSLERBut the idea of stolen guns is that it's a real issue that Molly brings up that there are many guns that are stolen from homes, and, again, just sort of be -- are put in the gun commerce, you know, commerce stream, if you will. And that, you know, that needs to be addressed, but there's no way -- I don't think you can address it legislatively.
SHERWOODWell, can I ask one way to do that?
SHERWOODWell, a person who's concerned about this discussion said, well, you know, every -- we have to register our vehicles every year or two. In the District, it's two years. We have to have it tested. If you're going to have -- could you not register guns and have them -- the owner who is the straw person who sells it, why not make that person, say a year a later, I've got that gun or if not, where is it?
GANSLERWell, I suppose...
GANSLERI suppose you could do that. That would be a little bit more difficult. The other -- the thing that does happen, though, and the reason why we know, sort of have a sense of how many guns are stolen is there is a requirement that people are -- should -- have to report when their gun that's registered to them get stolen. And so that's how you know how many guns are out there and sort of which guns are out there.
NNAMDIHere's Steven in Baltimore, Md. Steven, your turn.
STEVENYes. Thank you. I was -- I've been thinking about this a lot, and I'm wondering, wouldn't it more simply could be dealt with if you changed the definition of what is considered an arm? In other words, we have armaments, obviously, that you cannot keep at home. The definition what -- legal arm is already been defined.
STEVENCouldn't we see if we could deal with this issue either more easily if an assault weapon all of a sudden doesn't fit the category anymore? In other words, let's more clearly define what is appropriate as considered to be arms. When the Constitution says we can bear arms, it doesn't mean that we can bear a bazooka. I mean...
NNAMDICan't carry a bazooka. Why don't you classify assault weapons in the same way?
GANSLERYeah. They -- there -- the problem is where we are right now in 2013. People have sort of -- are fairly clear where they want to be on guns, and arms do mean guns. And if there was a movement to ban all guns, you could change the word arms. Interestingly though, on the callers point, on Steven's point is, you know, in that Heller case that we just talked about from D.C., very deep in the conversation, on the opinion, it talks that -- you know, I said that what it limits you to is handguns.
GANSLERAnd what they do there is say, well, the gun de jour at the time the Second Amendment was written was a shotgun. Today, the gun de jour is a handgun. Therefore, we're finding that the Second Amendment allows you to have a handgun in your home. And so how -- they're defining arms sort of on a, you know, by century, if you will.
GANSLERSo it's -- but I do think it's going to be difficult to sort of rewrite the Second Amendment. And it doesn't need to be rewritten and redefined because the Constitution is a living document, and the Supreme Court is continually looking at the Second Amendment and it haven't evolved.
NNAMDISteven, thank you very much for your call. As Tom said, there's a lot more we have to talk about DNA swabs, death penalty and more. But we've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your calls. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, or send us an email to email@example.com. Our guest is Doug Gansler, attorney general for the state of Maryland. He's a Democrat. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our guest is Doug Gansler. He is the attorney general for the State of Maryland. He is a Democrat. I mentioned that we have other topics...
SHERWOODCan I make something clear before we go?
NNAMDI...that we wanted to cover that Tom Sherwood wants to clarify.
SHERWOODGen. Gansler was suggesting that the Maryland state flag it's nicer-looking than the D.C. flag. I would just point out I would never do a Maryland flag. It has too many colors.
SHERWOODIt's four colors. It's got all that squiggly stuff. So the D.C. flag is clean, neat and moderate.
NNAMDIThose screams of pain you hear are from Tom Sherwood after having tried to put the Maryland flag tattoo on his arm. A state Senate committee moved the plan forward yesterday that would abolish Maryland's death penalty. You never actually pursue the death penalty when you were the state's attorney for Montgomery County, but you have also said in the past that you've supported its existence. What's your sense for the place it should have in Maryland right now?
GANSLERWell, I think there are certain criminals who commit certain crimes that they forfeit their right to live on the planet if something that we know for sure beyond any reasonable doubt that they are, in fact, the people that committed the crime. We were talking about the case up in Newtown, Conn., that that person had lived or bin Laden or McVeigh or others, so there certainly are those situations that do exist.
GANSLERAs a prosecutor, it's a wonderful tool to have because if you have that and life without the possibility of parole on the books as we do now in Maryland, you can have somebody plea to take the death sentence off the table and then the plea guilty to life without the possibility of parole, it saves the family and saves all the appellate rights and all that kind of stuff from people having to go through that.
GANSLERSo my concern is, you know, I'm not -- I didn't testify this year one way or the other. I really -- my concern is if you have the death penalty to make sure that it's administered in a fair, impartial, race neutral, socio-economically neutral way. And that's what we have fortunately in Maryland.
GANSLERThis system, though, the law that we do have in Maryland certainly could be fixed. And I do think it's a healthy debate that we have in Annapolis on the death penalty. I think it's -- people should be heard. I think it's a much more of a moral issue than anything else. And, you know, ultimately, they'll get resolved. I do think the legislature would probably repeal the death penalty.
NNAMDIWell, you mentioned race. Ben Jealous joined "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" a few weeks ago to discuss this. He, of course, the head of the NAACP, that organization is very involved with this debate in Maryland. He feels that the race is nearly -- that race is nearly impossible to detach in how the death penalty is administered. Where do you feel race fits into this conversation?
GANSLERWell, I think that there are certainly throughout our -- the history of this country, race fits in very well to this conversation, I think. You go Mississippi in 1950s, it's hard to argue at all that race didn't play into who got the death penalty, who didn't.
GANSLERIn Maryland, we don't have those issues because, if anything, you're far more likely -- if you're a white defendant who has committed a capital crime, potential capital crime to get the death penalty, for the most part of the 550-so some odd murders a year, the majority, about 500, would happen in Prince George's or Baltimore City.
GANSLERMost of those defendants are African-American, and most unfortunately, the victims are African-American as well. But the state's attorneys, those two jurisdictions traditionally don't even seek the death penalty. So in Maryland, we have a very good system in terms of that piece. I do think, though -- and I'm an admirer of Ben Jealous and the NAACP as the head of the criminal justice committee of the NAACP -- that I do think that we should not have death penalties -- no one should be eligible for the death penalty based on eye witness testimony alone.
GANSLERI do think you should have dispositive scientific evidence, evidence that's race-neutral, like DNA, like fingerprints, like ballistic matches or reliable confession, before you'd even begin to entertain the notion of seeking the death penalty in a particular case. The last point I'll make is that I find that all death penalty conversation a little troubling only because we focus so much on it when we've had five people executed last 50 years in Maryland.
GANSLERIf, in fact, we have a race-biased system in Maryland, we ought to be addressing that because it's -- you know, putting somebody in a cage for the rest of their life that didn't commit that crime is also very, very egregious.
NNAMDII got a call all the way from Shepherdsville, Ky. on the death penalty. Here is -- oh, no. Christina is here in Washington, D.C. after all. Christina, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINAHi, Kojo. I'm a big fan of the show.
CHRISTINAMy question is about the Baltimore Sun piece and how he said that death penalty, the state attorney, they're extremely reluctant to seek the death penalty. And I was just curious, why do you think that is? Does race play a role?
GANSLERWell, it may or may not. I mean, the state's attorney in Baltimore City right now actually is white. So I think race does play a role. I think people have a legitimate views about some people are for the death penalty, and some people are against it. Most people who are against it, by the way, are for it when somebody in their family is raped, murdered and tortured, and you know who did it. So it's a very interesting issue on an intellectual level.
GANSLERBut I think that's sort why what happens in Baltimore City, in Prince George's is why it's not really sought. You know, I do think that we should be looking out. I think it's a healthy debate. We have -- I do think it will probably be repelled in Maryland and then most likely go to the voters, and we'll see where it lands there.
SHERWOODNow, I was going to ask that question. It looks like the Senate's now in line to pass this next week. House is on board, and it passes. Opponents have vowed to take it the people for a vote. Will you take a position when it's on -- if and when it becomes something on the ballot?
GANSLERUnlikely. I mean, it's just not an issue that...
SHERWOOD'Cause you are expected to be a candidate for governor, you're going to have to have a position, wouldn't you?
GANSLERWell, my position's fairly clear. I want to -- if we have a death penalty, it should be fair. And, you know, like Kojo mentioned, I was the state's attorney of almost 1 million people in Montgomery County for eight years. I never sought the death penalty. But I do think it's a valuable tool to have, and I do want to be part of the discussion to make sure that it's fair.
NNAMDII do want to move on to DNA. But Kathleen in Annapolis, Md., is apparently an attorney who disagrees with the notion that it's a good tool to have. Kathleen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHLEENHi, good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call. And good afternoon to you, Atty. Gen. Gansler. It's a pleasure to speak with you. I just have a -- I don't know if it's a question or a concern.
KATHLEENBut regarding the use of the death penalty, when it's used as a negotiating tool, when it's really not a case that's appropriate for the death penalty, my concern about it -- about the use of the death penalty in cases where the reality is it would not be a death penalty case but is used to almost coerce a defendant into taking a plea guaranteeing a life sentence as opposed to the exposure to the death penalty. And I wonder if you had an opinion about that use of the death penalty. I mean, I understand you sort of...
NNAMDIIts use in a case in which the death penalty...
NNAMDI...would not likely be appropriate.
GANSLERYeah. I think it's a legitimate concern. I've never actually heard that being used or an argument against the death penalty. But you can only use the tool of seeking the death penalty if the defendant is -- has committed a case that's death penalty eligible. And that's very difficult to do in Maryland because you have to prove -- they have to be a principal in the first degree.
GANSLERAnd they have to satisfy beyond a reasonable doubt one of 10 aggravators, that is, killing multiple people, you know, a child, something of that nature. So you have to get there before you can even have a discussion about whether or not you're going to seek the death penalty. And most people -- Maryland prosecutors don't actually naturally seek the death penalty.
NNAMDIKathleen, thank you for your call. When it comes to prosecuting cases, your office is about to go in front of the Supreme Court to argue in favor of a Maryland law that allows for the collection of DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of crimes. You say this tool is essential, and you're challenging the ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals that found the law unconstitutional. Why?
GANSLERWell, this is a huge issue. It's going to be argued 11 o'clock on Tuesday in front of the Supreme Court. All 50 states in the United States have joined with us as an amicus brief. Our court of appeals overturned the DNA collection statute here in Maryland. Every federal court in the United States has looked at it, has upheld it. Every other state court has upheld it, except for Minnesota. So now, in the situation, we're going to look at the whole notion of taking one's DNA and how it comports with privacy.
GANSLERAnd so in Maryland what happens is there's -- legislature passed a law that says if you are -- if you have been arrested for a violent crime -- and that means the police believe there is a probable cause to believe you've committed that crime, and then a judge also says there's probable cause you committed the crime -- they can take a swab of your DNA, touch it, basically a Q-tip against the inside of a cheek for one second and then test that. And what -- and they don't test it for genetic things. They test it only for identification. They put it into a computer anonymously.
GANSLERAnd if there's a connection, if there's a hit with DNA that was taken from a cold case, a rape case or murder case, something of that nature, then you have to -- you can go get a warrant, and you have reason to arrest that person. So this is how we are able to solve old cases, cold cases, violent cases. I personally tried a case involving a woman named (unintelligible) who had been raped and brutalized and beaten in Kensington, Md. Every day, I thought about the case. Never thought they'd find the guy who came into her house with a mask in the middle of the night and beat her.
GANSLERThis guy, you know, was in Virginia where they basically take your DNA if you walk near a police department station, and they connected him up with this rape. And we were able to convict him and get a serial murderer off the streets. It's -- the -- it's a technology that we have that the ACLU and other groups should be in front of because DNA is race-neutral and socioeconomically-neutral. It's an anonymous putting of that into the computer.
NNAMDIWell, the ACLU and others say it goes beyond a fingerprint that you have compared it to because it goes into a person's very genetic makeup and that having this very private information stored in a federal or state database leaves open the possibility that it will be used for other purposes.
GANSLERIt could. It's actually the exact same as a fingerprint, which we take it when people get arrested for shoplifting. But because there's never been an allegation, there's never been a suggestion, anyone in the United States that the police used this DNA for any other purpose than the loci -- the 13 identification loci that that's tested for, in fact, it's a criminal offense if they were to use it for any other purpose. So it's exactly the same as DNA. And so that -- and just -- it's identification of the person you have in front of you and whether or not they committed a previous crime.
SHERWOODThe Supreme Court on Tuesday, will you be there?
GANSLERI will be there. My chief deputy, Katherine Winfree, is going to be arguing. I argued the first case in front of Justice Sotomayor. We won nine-nothing in that case. I would expect us to win nine-noting in this case as well.
SHERWOODYou're putting pressure on your assistant.
GANSLERWell, we have the facts on our side.
SHERWOODLet me ask you a couple of quick questions. We're almost out of time. I want to get to the one about University of Maryland joining the Big Ten and the ACC. But I want to ask you first about sequestration 'cause I'm doing a story for NBC 4 today. Is there any -- is -- if the federal sequestration that cut offs federal spending over a period of time -- it's not like a cliff -- are you concerned at all it's going to affect anything you do in the state government or what the state can do or just the businesses were worried about it?
SHERWOODThe thousands -- I don't know many thousands of federal employees there are in the state of Maryland.
GANSLERAs dysfunctional as the federal -- as the Capitol Hill is, as the federal government is in this context, I do think with their ratings being so low already that it would go to ground zero if they actually didn't get this resolved. So I think they probably will. But if they were not to get it resolved, it wouldn't really affect the daily workings of state government as much as business. We're, you know, we have Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade NSA -- we, you know, NIH.
GANSLERWe have a number of federal agencies in Maryland that would be deeply affected, not to mention the defense contracting firms that we have at PAX River and other places in Maryland. So I do think it would have an enormous effect if, in fact, it was resolved. I happen to think they'll figure something out.
SHERWOODOK. What about ACC wanting $50 million exit fee from the University of Maryland?
SHERWOODIt's part of the contract.
NNAMDIIn fact, Maryland announced last fall it would be leaving the ACC to join the Big Ten Athletic Conference. As a result, as Tom said, the ACC slapped Maryland with a $53 million...
SHERWOODWhich is part of their contract.
NNAMDI...exit fee. You've challenged the exit fee. You say it's a violation of anti-trust laws, and you're suing in federal court.
GANSLERYeah. And it's tough when you watched the Maryland-Duke game the other night and say, they're going to lose that rivalry now. They're going to be playing, you know, the lacrosse team is going out to play the University of Nebraska in lacrosse.
NNAMDIHe played lacrosse at Yale, that's why he comes up at lacrosse.
GANSLERYeah. I still play until I get my first heart attack. But it's, you know, the exit fee is the piece that you were talking about. So there's -- they say -- the ACC says that Maryland owes them $53 million as an exit fee. The law says an exit fee cannot be punitive. It can only be compensatory. So what is it the ACC actually loses from Maryland leaving the conference? The biggest exit fee ever in the history of United States was West Virginia leaving the Big East, and they wanted to leave right then.
GANSLERAnd their fee was $12 million-some odd. Most of the time, it's three, four or 5 millions. Since Maryland said they're leaving, they've already -- Syracuse is coming to the league. Louisville is coming to the league. So this is a case that'll be settled. Maryland has no animosity toward the ACC. We all grew up as ACC fans. We -- Maryland started at the ACC.
SHERWOODSo settle mean Maryland will pay something, but it won't be anywhere near $50 million.
GANSLERThat would be my best guess.
SHERWOODAnother thing. We've got a lot of gas price stories going on these days. And you -- the last time we have this big spiking gas price, and you said you were going to investigate price fixing or gouging in the gasoline industry. I don't ever -- what happened to that?
GANSLERYou know how the press misquote you sometimes, Tom?
SHERWOODYou were misquoted?
NNAMDINot Sherwood. Sherwood never misquotes anybody.
GANSLERBy Tom Sherwood just there, yeah. Well, you know, he's a D.C. guy. It gets Maryland a little confused. What I said and what I still think is the rule, we don't have a price gouging statute in Maryland. I think that's egregious.
GANSLERSo we don't have the ability -- not to say that there is price gouging going on. But if there's a storm in the Gulf Coast and all of sudden, our prices go up significantly, we ought to be able to at least look at that and determine whether, in fact, there was price gouging. We don't have that capability because the gas and oil lobby prevents a law from being passed every year to look in their price gouging.
SHERWOODSo you maybe mentioned this, but you didn't say you would look into it.
GANSLERRight, because I couldn't look into it. I would never...
SHERWOODOK. So I'll correct the person who told me this.
NNAMDIHow about your own political future? Care to make any major announcements right now? Tom Sherwood is looking for news here.
GANSLERI love your votes, so I'm going to tell you, I like your yellow sweater. It looks -- you look great today, Kojo.
NNAMDIThat's the major announcement.
GANSLERThat's the major announcement. No, you know, we just got through. I was the chair of President Obama's campaign along with Elijah Cummings. And we want to see him get re-elected. We worked on that. I was obviously very, very much out front on marriage equality, you know, and the DREAM Act as well. So we got to those elections, now we're in a session. Our next election interestingly is a year from June. So after the session we'll start and kind of take a look at that.
SHERWOODI was going to say after -- it's kind of impolitic to suggest you're going to running for some -- during the legislative session. But...
GANSLERThanks for noticing that.
SHERWOODIt's -- but it's a nice way, you don't have to say anything. But certainly by midsummer, right, I mean, you...
SHERWOOD...early summer, I would think.
GANSLERI think that's right. I mean, as a logistical matter, if I were to run for governor a year from June, I would have to start setting up an organization and running. The nice thing is I, you know, I'm president of all the 50 attorneys general in United States right now. That goes to June. We're getting -- we've gotten over $1.1 billion of money into people for home foreclosures. We're still working on that. So we got a lot...
SHERWOODHim campaign speech.
GANSLERNo. Well, the point is I've just -- I've got a job, and I got a lot of going on, which is nice. And, by the way, my view of politics has always been do a good job, have people respect the job, you're doing it. It makes it easier for the next general.
SHERWOODWill you -- can you remain attorney general for the state and run for governor like Ken Cuccinelli is doing in Virginia?
GANSLERAnd every other attorney general that's ever run for governor, yeah.
NNAMDIDoug Gansler, he is the attorney general for the state of Maryland. He is a Democrat, and maybe he'll tell us about his midsummer's night's dream when he comes back...
GANSLERThat's Tom's dream.
NNAMDI...in the form of announcement. Doug Gansler, thank you very much for doing this.
GANSLERThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt's so good to see you. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
An independent investigation determined that Montgomery County Police's taser policies are a model for police department's across the nation — but some in the county question the report's thoroughness and its timing.
A local school district loses its federal funding money over teacher behavior. A group of D.C. residents sue to block a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. And a Republican activist in Montgomery County successfully petitions to get term limits on the ballot—but a legal challenge looms.
While many local Ethiopians have been following the persecution of protestors in the Oromia region, a recent act of protest at the 2016 Rio Olympic marathon finish line brought the issue to an international stage.