Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
D.C. cabs get a new color scheme. An FBI investigation leaves Virginia’s governor black and blue. And Maryland’s Republican lawmakers choose a new leader, with hopes to keep more seats red next year. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Nicholaus Kipke Member, Maryland House of Delegates (R-Pasadena); Minority Leader
- Ron Linton D.C. Taxicab Commissioner
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Video From Inside The Studio
Uniform taxi colors, informative dome lights and more inspectors will make the District’s taxi industry more safe and reliable, according to D.C. Taxi Commissioner Ron Linton. “Nothing is absolute. We’re not going to be able to stop illegal cabs 100 percent,” Linton said. But knowing which cabs are in good standing with the city will help stop illegal driving such as “failure to haul,” he said.
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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, always a pleasure.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYes.
NNAMDITom Sherwood reporting this week that it seems that next year's mayoral and Council elections might not be starting on April 1 after all. Of course, you didn't say April 1. You said April Fools' Day. I always had a problem with having an election on that day. But what's going on? Somebody wants it changed.
SHERWOODWell, first of all, how in the world can you schedule an election on April Fools' Day anywhere? There are some around the country 'cause I looked. But, you know, I did talk to Mary Cheh, who's a committee chairman on the Council, about -- and she said it was supposed to be the first Tuesday after the first Monday, which is the way you set an election normally and...
NNAMDIAnd so it just happened...
SHERWOODThey just happened to say -- but this, you know, the legislation said the first Tuesday.
SHERWOODNot after the first Monday. They left off parts of the words so therefore it end up being April Fools'. But now, there's a move to maybe move it to June. You know, if we have a mayor's race on April 1 or April 8, here's -- the candidates for mayor will have to have their campaigns and start gathering petitions right after Thanksgiving. They have to turn them in, in January, and then they have to campaign through the coldest months of the year.
SHERWOODNothing is uncomfortable to them, but as one of them said: You try sticking this campaign sign in the ground in February. So there's a lot of -- it was just too much. And so they're -- Jack Evans, among others, Council Chairman Mendelson and Kenyon McDuffie, who's now chairman of the committee, want to move it to June just at the end of the school year, before people go on vacations. But it's not clear they're going to get enough votes to move it.
NNAMDIBecause one of the problems is that they have to get it passed through the Council before early fall. It will require -- fall. It will require a hearing, two separate votes. Summer recess could interfere with the second vote. And then there's the waiting period as the legislation passes through Congress on Capitol Hill.
SHERWOODYou read my story.
NNAMDII read your story.
SHERWOODNow, Muriel Bowser, who had a big fundraiser last night and is the only candidate so far who's formally announced for mayor, said she -- no. She will live with whatever the election date is, but she's prepared to run in early April and somewhat changed in the goal post to change the election date once it was set.
NNAMDIAnd a favorite topic in Washington, a favorite topic among some people in Washington is the move all this underfoot to persuade the Washington Redskins to change the name of the team. The move this time comes from at-large Councilmember David Grosso. He says he's pursuing a nonbinding resolution because of all of the things we know people don't like about the current name. The name he is suggesting is the Washington Redtails because that was the nickname used by the Tuskegee airmen.
SHERWOODWell, I think that's mixing. I don't know if it was an honor for the Redtails Tuskegee airmen to have a football team named after them. And I'm not sure -- if I were an inventive writer, I would be talking about turning tail and running...
NNAMDII was thinking about that yesterday that's a name that would invite a lot of ridicule.
SHERWOOD...and all that kind of -- I just don't think -- we don't need drum on to some other honored hallowed name. You know, the new AP poll nationally says, like, what, 79 percent of people think it's OK to have the Washington Redskins be named the Redskins. I think something like 11 or 15 percent -- something in that range -- don't like it.
SHERWOODThis is an ongoing issue. The Council is going to pass the resolution that Mr. Grosso will be introduced. It will be passed it has no say so whatsoever on whether Mr. Snyder does the name change or not. If Snyder pursues the plans to have him move back to the city and build a new stadium at RFK, maybe it will come up as an issue again.
NNAMDIIt probably will. It never goes away because there are still sufficient people offended by it. Onto the issue of your explanation for the driver's licenses being proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray. He said we are not in the business of enforcing immigration laws, so we are willing to have in District of Columbia a driver's license that undocumented immigrants would be able to use because a driver's license has as its primary objective regulating driving, the ability of the person the legal use of an automobile.
NNAMDIHowever, this driver's license would be issued with a, I guess...
SHERWOODA scarlet letter.
NNAMDIA scarlet letter that says that it can not be used as a form of government ID, so you can't use it to get into a federal building. You can't use it to get on an airplane. And frankly, if you present it there, you'll be practically saying to those people I am an undocumented immigrant with a driver's license.
SHERWOODThat's right. Mike DeBonis, of The Washington Post, asked the question. He said: Well, Mr. Mayor, what would keep the federal government, the customs, the ICE people from simply asking the city for its records of all the people who have these second-class driver's licenses. And the mayor said, we're not going to help enforce immigration laws.
SHERWOODThat's a federal thing. But, you know, the mayor said he -- if he had his way, he would have simply make a driver's license available to whomever wants one and even let the feds figure out whether it's an undocumented worker, undocumented immigrant or not.
SHERWOODBut, you know, so it's going to take a lot to get this done, but later this year, people who are undocumented immigrants will be able to have a license so they can drive. They can actually buy a car, maybe get insurance with a license. They will take -- they will have to pass a driving test. And suppose -- the main thing is it's more safe -- it's safer to allow people to have real driver's licenses rather than those bought in the black-market.
NNAMDIAnd are streetcars finally about to come to the District of Columbia? And I'm interested in finding out what the taxi commission feels about that. We'll find out about that in a second. But streetcars about to come.
SHERWOODWell, you know, we've had streetcars in the city for several years, I think since 2009 or so 'cause, you know, the Fenty people brought them, even though we had no tracks, no place to run them, no nothing. We do have the streetcars, but they've now been moved from the Greenbelt Metro work yard to Anacostia where they're going to be on test tracks, where the police and fire are going to practice on how they will approach these if there are public safety or fires and make sure they are working.
SHERWOODAnd then the mayor and Terry Bellamy, the director of transportation, insist that by the end of this year, people will be riding them on 8th Street Northeast.
NNAMDIAnd what color are those streetcars likely to be?
SHERWOODWell, they're in interesting, groundbreaking color. They are going to be red and gray, just like the circulator buses and, soon, the taxicabs.
NNAMDISpeaking of which, joining us in studio is Ron Linton. He is the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission. Ron Linton, good to see you again.
MR. RON LINTONThank you. Pleasure being here with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, the Washington Capitals won a big game last night. But D.C.'s cabs may soon be rocking the red too. The Taxi Commission unveiling this week a proposal for a uniform color scheme for all city cabs: red with a gray stripe. The scheme is fairly similar to the one used by Capital Bikeshare, the circulator bus network. What did the commission ultimately like about this design?
LINTONWell, first, of course, let's remember that the requirement for this comes from public policy established by the City Council. They passed a law...
SHERWOODTranslation -- I'll translate: not my fault.
LINTONThey passed a law. Well, not my fault. I have no option.
LINTONThe commission has no option but to implement the Council's statute with a regulation. And one of the things that was discussed is a -- in the concept of the transportation theme, the idea was simply that if mainly looking at the heavy number of people who come here for meetings, conferences, tourists, they come from the outside to visit in Washington that having something that identify the vehicle as being within the transportation theme of the District of Columbia made a lot of sense to us.
LINTONFurthermore, having the single-color scheme makes a lot of sense to us in terms of our difficulty of eliminating illegal taxicabs. This -- Washington, D.C. has a situation that is not comparable any place else and that is the close proximity to two other jurisdictions in which we essentially serve as a downtown. And with a heavy demand for taxi service in that area, it tends to bring in a lot of people driving vehicles that are not licensed to be driving here. This should go a long way in helping us with that problem.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 for your questions or comments about the colors -- the new colors of D.C. taxicabs or anything else taxicab related. What are your expectations for how long it will take for the entire fleet to adopt this color scheme?
LINTONWell, the law specifies that the change doesn't have to be made until a vehicle is what we call an equipment change. When a owner of a vehicle changes the one that they're using for a new one, it has to be in the colors. When they can't get through an inspection at DMV because of some problem with the body, with the paint and they have to paint, it has to be in the new colors. With our modernization regulation, which requires the retirement of older vehicles on a phase-out basis over four years, it'll probably be 2018 before every single taxi in the fleet is in the new colors.
SHERWOOD2018. Now, when you first started this, you had a big deal down at the Verizon Center. You had three or four cars, if I remember, that were down there. I called them clown cars because they were so -- they were circus-like in their explosions of color. Whoever came to their senses and decided not to use those, that was a great idea.
SHERWOODBut red and gray. It's only because just to have a unique look for the city that the buses will be red and gray, circulator buses, you know, the cabs will be red and gray, the street cars will be red and gray. It does give kind of an uptown look at it. I know the hotel industry and the entertainment industry really wants this to have a uniform look so you'll know you're in Washington, D.C.
LINTONWell, that was -- a strong pressure behind it was...
SHERWOODNo clown cars.
LINTONBehind that was to have a uniform look...
SHERWOODI'm trying to get you to say clown cars. I've said it three times.
LINTONWell, I'm not going to say that because, you know...
NNAMDINo need for him to say that. You've said it already.
SHERWOODBut they were too colorful, weren't they?
LINTONThey were too colorful.
SHERWOODOK. Thank you.
LINTONBut it was a process we were going through. And I just -- I was going to use a heavy hand on it and they -- nobody was using a heavy hand. We felt we would let this thing evolve. We had a designer working on it. And subsequently, when we had the kind of reaction that we had, we worked out and arranged -- well, we had the -- a designer that was loaned to us from D.C. -- the D.C. bid, the downtown bid, very excellent individual. And that's when we discussed the theme concept with Transportation and moved in that direction.
LINTONWe had a -- I appointed a panel of commissioners to go out and hold hearings. Nobody showed up at the hearings. We didn't get any strong reaction about this whole matter. I go out on the street once a month to taxi stands and spend an afternoon talking to drivers. Most of the response I got was they didn't really care what the color was. They want to make money. They want to earn their living. And they weren't terribly excited about what color it was.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, that's the voice of Ron Linton. He is the chairman of the D.C. Taxi Commission. Tom Sherwood is here. He's our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Later in the broadcast, we'll be joined by Nicholaus Kipke, member of the Maryland House of Delegates who is the new minority leader in his chamber. But for right now, if you have questions or comments about D.C. taxicabs, 800-433-8850 is the number to call.
SHERWOODYou've addressed a long -- seriously, a long issue about quality cabs, said, you know, phase out the older ones. You've also been trying to get credit cards acceptable in all cabs. There was one proposal to have a new device put in all the cars. I think that got held up for legal reasons or something. But when will all the taxicabs in the city be required to have an ability to take a credit card or a debit card rather than cash?
NNAMDIReaders of Tom Sherwood's column in The Current Newspaper know that you're quoted at the end of the column as saying that you expect cabs to be equipped with credit cards by the end of June. Just saying.
SHERWOODThat's close to being accurate, I'm told.
LINTONThat was about two-months off on that. Tom was so busy...
SHERWOODIt's going to start in June?
LINTON... rushing out the door when I made the statement that he missed the...
SHERWOODIs it going to be in June or...
LINTONBut the -- we're on a track, at this point to have the commission meeting on May 8, at which time a vote will be taken by the commissioners on the adoption of a regulation that would if passed -- and I have a good feeling that it should, hopefully -- if passed, will go into effect on May 31. And on June 1, the installation of these -- what we call the modern taxi meter system will begin in our 7,300 taxicabs to be completed by Aug. 31.
LINTONSo on Sept. 1, no one should have any problem using a credit system to take a taxicab ride. Now, they can still use cash if they want. I've had people say, you mean we're not going to be able to use cash anymore? No. You have the option. The rider has the option of either a credit payment or cash payment.
NNAMDIWhy did you...
LINTONIt's the driver that doesn't have the option. He has to offer a credit payment, if they want it.
NNAMDIWhy did you move to bring back the surcharge for extra passengers?
LINTONWell, we never got rid of the surcharge. When the -- when I became chairman of the commission, it was clear to me that over the years, the commission had been well underfunded for the demands that were placed on it and what it was supposed to do for the taxi industry and the people who ride in taxis. The struggle to try to get fight for funds from the general fund is a tough one.
LINTONFurthermore, I raised the question to the mayor that half of the people that ride taxicabs in the District of Columbia don't live in the District of Columbia. They're visitors, or they're suburbanites. And therefore, they're paying essentially nothing if it's all tax money that supports the commission's activity and that it's better to take the industry on to a user fee basis where all the revenues that support the Taxicab Commission are paid for by the people who sell the service or buy the service.
LINTONThe surcharge was designed to provide the revenues necessary to add on to the application fees we collect to give us sufficient budget to go to the enforcement level that is demanded of us to get rid of illegal cabs, to get the things, the quality of service that people want. And we said we would use a proportion of that revenue initially to pay for putting in the system that we wanted so that we would've had credit cards in all cabs last year.
LINTONUnfortunately, the contract process was challenged. The Contract Appeals Board found for the challenger and the procurement was canceled because a lot of changes had occurred in one year. When we started this plan, there were very few companies available to provide credit cards. The fees were large. There were a whole host of issues that led us to go to select a single vendor and to have this paid for by the District.
LINTONSince then, there are literally a dozen companies that are available to transmit their transaction fees. There a number of companies that do digital reservation services. And so what we've done essentially is put it back into the marketplace on a competitive basis. We've developed a regulation that specifies what the digital transaction -- digital reservation companies and the transaction fee. We call them the PSPs or the...
SHERWOODPoint of -- that's not point of sale.
LINTONYeah. I get too many -- I get (unintelligible).
SHERWOODAnyway, they all had to have uniform billing system.
LINTONThey have to have -- they have to meet a criteria that we've set out, and then the drivers can pick whichever one of these that are certified to do it. And the competition will keep the fees down and -- but we -- and we're taking the surcharge, and we're reducing it from 50 cents to 25 cents. And we're proposing the increase the driver share to 25 -- to $3.25 from a $3 drive fee so that would keep two pledges we made a year ago that the only increase in cost to riders was the 50 cent surcharge, and the drivers would not have to pay for anything. And we're holding to those two pledges.
NNAMDIWe are sure that the Taxi Commission is aware that this is the broadcast of choice for most taxi drivers in the District of Columbia, and therefore, you should out your headphones on because I think we have several who would like to join this conversation. We will begin with first letter of the alphabet, Abdul in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ABDULYes. Kojo and the panel, good afternoon. And thank you to bring the commission to the -- on the air. I drive a cab for 21 years. And, you know, I understand people want a clean car, a nice car, and my car is 2012. I pay a lot of money for this. I want to choose a black, independent color painted by the dealer that this cab company is going to paint the color.
ABDULThey're all going to be -- after one -- after six months, the bumper and the side are going to peel off, and you're going to go to the paint again and all these things. And that is -- and the commissioner says that he did tried to prevent the illegal cab drivers to come to D.C. They cannot stop that because...
NNAMDIYou do not think that changing the colors will stop the illegal cab drivers. Mr. Commission Chairman, what effect do you think that changing the colors will have on illegal drivers in the city?
LINTONWell, you know, nothing is absolute. We're not going to be able to stop illegal cabs 100 percent, but it will improve the ability of hack inspectors...
SHERWOODTo spot them.
LINTON...to spot them. And it will also, as we educate the riders more and more, it'll improve their knowledge of what is a D.C. legal cab. The color system plus the new dome lights that we're going to be installed will go a long way, plus the increased number of hack inspectors that we will have on the street in the next fiscal year. We'll go a long way to reducing significantly the illegal operations taxicabs in the city.
SHERWOODCan I ask you about the hack inspectors? I know you're going to have more of them. But for the riders who are using the cabs, you know, various news organizations, any news organization can do the story of the people who are passed up by cab drivers. And so that your goal is if you -- if that happens to you, you should get the license or the number of the cab. Is that right?
LINTONWell, that's a good point, Tom, and that goes back to these new dome light, the universal dome light that we're going to require, that every taxicab has does several things. But one of it that does is it gives us a real handle to cut down on failure to haul because the -- we're renumbering all of the vehicles, and that number, which will be four digits, will be in the dome light itself. It'll be a letter followed by three numbers, and that's all a person has to see, are those -- that number. Call the commission and say, I was passed up, and we'll have a basis for taking an action.
SHERWOODAnd other people complain about cab drivers, and I know that people -- cab drivers have their own complaint. I'm just looking at it from the customer point of view now -- concerned about U-turns. I know the police have been concerned about U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue and other thoroughfares. And I know the cyclists in town are -- complained as the cab drivers block the bike lanes along with delivery trucks and everyone else and park in their bike lanes. How much would the hack inspectors do to keep the cabs moving and on the road, not just whether they're safe for property license?
LINTONWell, we're in a cooperative situation with the Metropolitan Police Department and the Park Service Police Department and all whom have arrest powers, my hack inspectors do not. And we work in tandem, and we work together to achieve the purpose of making sure that the traffic regulations are followed appropriately by taxicabs on.
SHERWOODCan we call if I'm irritated and disgusted with the service? Can I call to commission right away and get a hack inspector to come right away, or is that not feasible given the number of people?
NNAMDIOther people can, but not you.
LINTONWell, you know, when we finished the installation of the new taxi meter system, the first phase is the credit cards. The second phase, which will be completed by Dec. 1 is the passenger monitor in the rear seat. And the third phase will be completed by June 1, 2014, which is the safety devices, and that goes to two ends that not only is for the passengers whom you're been speaking about but remember that drivers do have problems. They do have issues.
LINTONThey do have people in numbers larger than we like to have who are called jumpers. They get to the end of the ride, and they jump out of the cab and don't pay. There's no way for the taxi drivers...
NNAMDITom and I are not quick enough to do that anymore.
LINTONYeah. Well, but there are a lot of people who are. Now, with the safety mechanism we're putting in, then the driver will be able to summon Metropolitan Police Department right away.
SHERWOODYou don't want to call it the panic button. So what do you call it? I know you...
LINTONWe call the safety device.
SHERWOODThat's too much.
SHERWOODYou've got -- there's got to be something shorter.
LINTONYou call it whatever you want. You're the media.
SHERWOODThat's a panic button.
NNAMDIBefore we get back to the phones, there's a new app called SideCar that allows people to share a ride and pay whatever they think its worth. The commission moved this week to regulate ride-sharing drivers using services like SideCar, like sedan services are regulated, the cars will need licenses and tags. How do you plan on enforcing those rules?
LINTONIf I tell you, they'll avoid us.
LINTONWe did not move to regulate them. The regulations are there. What our attorney's told us is that they are not free of the regulations, that under the regulations, the drivers have to be licensed, and the cars have to have H tags or L tags, not H -- excuse me, L tags on them. They are public vehicles for hire.
SHERWOODAnd what about Uber cars? I see on Uber now, I can call a -- three vehicles. I can call an SUV, a black-painted car, or I can call a taxicab now.
LINTONWell then, Uber offers two digital reservation services. One is through the use of a licensed taxicab, the other is through the use of a licensed sedan. They're two different levels of service. They are the wave of the future in the sense that my prediction is that in a few years, nobody will hail cabs on the street.
LINTONThey will have a communication device that allows them through a digital reservation service such as Uber to have a cab or a sedan come and pick him up depending on whether they want a luxury service or regular service. Uber is entering into arrangements with taxicab drivers who respond -- who have the app connection and respond to assignments to pick up people and give them rides. Those are all credit card transaction rides, and that will expand significantly once we have credit cards in all the taxis.
NNAMDIAllow me to get back to the telephones where Joseph in Washington awaits us. Joseph, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEPHThank you. Is that Joseph me?
NNAMDIYes, that's you, Joseph.
JOSEPHOh, thank you. Thank you, Kojo. OK. I've been driving a car for over 20 years. I worked for Yellow Cab. Did the commissioner thought about Yellow Cab and Diamond Cabs? They've been giving service for the D.C. residents for over 50 years. Basically, we kind of know one color scheme is going to affect our business. Our...
NNAMDIThat's their brand Joseph is saying. It's a long established historical brand in the District, and you're just not taking it away...
SHERWOODI love this answer that's coming up if he says of what told me.
LINTONWell, the answer is the only answer I can give. I have not the option here. The City Council passed a law that's one the book that says the taxicabs in the District of Columbia will have one color scheme for all of them. My job -- the commission's job is to regulate that and put it into effect.
SHERWOODBut you also told me in my interview we did on Monday that, you know, we point out the Yellow Cabs in the District of Columbia are orange and black. They're orange and black. They're not yellow. So each cab then will be allowed to have its name on. Whether it's a personal name or a corporate name, you can put that.
SHERWOODWhat color would that be, black?
NNAMDIHere is -- Joseph, thank you for your call. Here is Ray on Capitol Hill in D.C. Hi, Ray.
RAYYes, hello. I have a question for the chairman. You actually touched on some of the topic that I was going to ask about, and that had to do with the dome lights. Being a native New Yorker and someone who's very used to hailing taxicabs, I've always found it very user-friendly that on the dome light in the city, you can see whether the taxi is available or off duty, either occupied, available or off duty. I'm wondering if the dome light is going to be able to communicate that sort of information to a perspective rider so that there's no confusion as to whether or not a taxi that's passing is, in fact, available.
LINTONYes, sir. That was one of the things that prompted us to move in this direction where so many people complaining about the confusion of what -- if the taxi is available or not. The new dome light will have LED scroll lights on them in orange and that will say taxi for hire if the driver is looking for a fare. It'll say off duty if he's going to -- not going to pick up the fare.
LINTONIt'll say on-call if he's on his way to pick up a reserved ride, and it'll be dark if he's got a passenger in his cab. So it should be very, very simple for people who want cabs to see for some distance when the cab is approaching what the situation is in that cab.
NNAMDIRey, thank you very much for your call. I have not made the argument that the people who support Rideshare mate to have you respond to it. They say it's more like paying a friend for a ride to the airport than it is a taxi service since drivers are paid in donations that are suggested by its smartphone application.
LINTONWell, except that there is a third party involvement and that, if you don't make a donation, it's automatically made for you by the company that organizes this. And then you have 24 hours to say whether you want to or whether you don't. That's a legal question that we're raising here. I'm not a lawyer, and I rely on my council to make the legal interpretation of what our responsibilities are under the law. So the present time, they have made that determination that this is...
NNAMDIThat this is a commercial transaction.
LINTON...this is a commercial transaction.
SHERWOODWell, and what about if you're a private owner of a car and your auto insurance, generally, as a private owner doesn't say you can put your car out for hire which is what you're doing? But that's -- I guess, that's another legal issue to explore.
LINTONWell, that's a very important issue that we didn't explore. The question is whether there is sufficient coverage. Now, Sidecar informs us that they have an overwriting policy that covers all of these people.
LINTONBut nevertheless, our attorneys feel that once the insurance companies on these private vehicles find out what they're doing, there's going to be a problem for them.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Don Whiteside, who says, "Resisting urge to call-in to the show to ask Linton why destination enforcement doesn't get 2 percent of the attention that emerging technology does." I don't know where he got the 2 percent figure form but...
SHERWOODWell, I think he's just saying you're not paying enough attention to enforcement.
NNAMDIThere you go.
SHERWOODIf I can translate the tweet.
LINTONWell, if he's saying we're not -- I'm glad you did 'cause I wasn't sure. But if he's saying we're not paying enough attention to enforcement, I'm going to agree with him because we've been limited on the resources, and that's in the process of changing. And once that the new fiscal year starts and the new revenue base is in place, we're doubling the size of our hack inspector for us. We're going to 24/7 coverage.
LINTONWe're going in a new training form. We're going into new cooperative arrangements with the various police forces in the area, and we are going to significantly increase enforcement to assure safety for people who ride in taxicabs.
SHERWOODHow long are you going to keep at this? Now, you should be enjoying, I don't call them later years of your life. I'm not going to say how old he is unless he wants to. He's older. He's been a member of AARP for a year or two.
LINTONIt's not significant. I've got a lot of energy. No, I'm going to be at it until we reach a point where there are more people satisfied than there are people unsatisfied.
NNAMDIAnd one should point out that in collaboration with everything red in the city, Ron Linton showed up today in a red tie.
NNAMDIHe is the chairman of the D.C. Taxi Commission.
LINTONBut no gray.
NNAMDIWith no gray on it, just a little (unintelligible).
SHERWOODThe police insignia tie class, but you two can't see it.
LINTONThat's for my 26 years with in the MPD.
NNAMDIWe do sartorial examinations here on this broadcast.
NNAMDIRon Linton, thank you for joining us.
LINTONPleasure being with you both.
NNAMDIThis is the Politics Hour with Tom Sherwood. He is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist of The Current Newspapers who once was a correspondent in Richmond, Va. So I know that you have been looking at the food fight that's taking place among the Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, his former chef supporter, Johnny R. Williams, who paid for the drinks for the governor's daughter's wedding and who has also contributed to campaigns for Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli who has also made gifts to the attorney general.
NNAMDIThe attorney general managed to get in himself recused from the prosecution of the chef in that case. And -- but it's just a food fight that seems to be messing up at least two potential -- one potential -- one candidate and one potential candidate for higher office.
SHERWOODThis has been a subject of ridicule in various ways by not just Democrats looking at what's happening with the Republican governor and attorney general who's running for governor.
SHERWOODIt got much more serious this week and it was less smile worthy when, I think The Post was first to report -- The Washington Post reported that the FBI is now inquiring about the arrangements and what was done or not done with the chef who was alleged to have stolen money or and the money that has been given to the governor's family in trips and all that. It's, again, it would take us a while to get that all on the charge.
NNAMDIIt's going to take the FBI a while to unravel it.
SHERWOODThat's true. But I do think this is a huge embarrassment. The state of Virginia, when I covered it -- and as I've been tangentially involved for the last several decades -- they take very seriously the commonwealth, the image of the state, very proud when it gets to be named the best state in the nation to do business, very proud of all the parts of Virginia that are ongoing. And this is a huge embarrassment whatever the political risk is as we go into the election.
NNAMDIWe will see how it unfolds because it seems to be unfolding fairly rapidly. But as it unfolds, it seems, at the same time, to be getting more complicated. But we do have to move on because joining us now in studio is Nicholaus Kipke. He is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Anne Arundel County. He is the new minority leader in his chamber. Delegate Kipke, congratulations and welcome.
MR. NICHOLAUS KIPKEThank you very much, Kojo. It's really -- very grateful to be here with you today.
NNAMDIYour caucus turned a new page this week. Maryland's House Republicans put together a new leadership team in Annapolis. You're the new minority leader in the House of Delegates, and you're replacing Anthony O'Donnell. You said there are too many voters in Maryland who are not hearing the Republican Party's message. What is that message that you would like them to hear?
KIPKEYeah. You know, I believe the organization that I represent now as their leader, we represent really sensible solutions to some of Maryland's most difficult challenges: cost of living, poverty, crime and failing -- a failing education system. Despite some of the advertisements that Maryland schools are so great, we also have some of the worst schools in America. And so we've offered solutions over the years, but I think we need to get that message out to Maryland residents in a more broad-based way, and I have a plan to do that.
NNAMDIIf you're a Maryland voter or just a Maryland resident or an interested party in joining the conversation with the new minority leader in the chamber, Nicholaus Kipke, call us, 800-433-8850.
SHERWOODIt's a terrific name, Kipke. It's cool. But what is the -- Baltimore Sun, which has not been the editorial page, which has not been, I would say, very fuzzy warm to Republicans in the state of Maryland, wrote an extraordinarily long editorial, I thought, saying this is same o' same o' Republican politics about -- and it said that the Maryland Republican Party opposes higher taxes, increased government spending, in-state tuition for immigrants who are in the country illegally, gun control, same-sex marriage, subsidies for offshore wind farms and whatever else Gov. Martin O'Malley might support.
SHERWOODIs Baltimore Sun editorial page right? You guys are just yelling at anything O'Malley is trying to do?
KIPKEWell, you're right. We do oppose many of the policies that Gov. O'Malley has pushed forward. Frankly, we think too many of his policies are rooted in national politics and has abdicated real responsibility here in Maryland. But...
SHERWOODYou think he's running for president on the backs of the Maryland citizens? Is that what you're saying?
KIPKEI think that's absolutely true, and I think that's a broad-based opinion that reflects the beliefs of many liberal Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly as well as folks within my own caucus. But we have specific policies that would improve quality of life in Maryland, and I know this. I believe that these policies are right, and we're going to have a mass effort to reach more voters in Maryland than ever before.
KIPKEWe've had instances recently where corruption has been brought to light in Maryland's correction systems. We have been introducing legislation that would have solved this problem for the last two years, but the leadership in Annapolis has been unwilling to pass legislation to go after and tackle these problems.
NNAMDITalk specifically about that because that's been making the news recently, what's been going on in the Baltimore Detention Center. What specific legislation have you proposed that would have been able to avoid that happening?
KIPKEThe last two years, Delegate Cluster from Baltimore County, a retired police officer who's in the legislature, has introduced legislation. And what the legislation specifically would do is create harsh penalties for people who traffic cellphones into the prison. We've seen prisoners in our correction system call out hits that resulted in murder. We've seen them using these cellphones to control their gangs of the Black Guerilla Family.
KIPKEAnd as a result, we've seen folks beaten in our prisons for those that didn't participate. Just this week, the state of Maryland paid a $40,000 settlement, and it's all resulting around these cellphones. So Delegate Cluster brought in photographs of prisoners with chains around their necks, cigars in their mouths, talking on cellphones, and the photographs are being taken by other prisoners. So we brought this fact to light, and unfortunately, our legislature has been neglectful in reacting to these problems.
SHERWOODWhy would someone oppose the -- controlling cellphones in the prison? I mean, what is the response when you bring these up on the floor of the assembly and other places? What response do you get?
KIPKEWell, unfortunately, we -- it's been no response. We've had robust public hearings, but the public doesn't know about it. And beginning this week and next week, we're going on a mass campaign to educate Maryland voters from all political stripes around issues that whether you're a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, we can all unite about -- around certain quality of life issues.
SHERWOODHow are you going to do that?
KIPKEWell, too often, I think, Republicans operate in a silo. We sit around, moaning about how horrible Maryland's political climate is, and we don't really go out in a energized way to reach voters.
SHERWOODBut are you going to -- you can't just go to a local county Republican organization 'cause they already agree with you, so -- well, at least the ones that aren't fighting with you about who's going to lead the party. But are you going to try to engage the media, which is I think you're saying hasn't been very friendly to your issues, or...
SHERWOODHow do you do it? I mean...
KIPKEThe whip that was elected, my partner in this, Kathy Szeliga from Baltimore County and I, we want to be everywhere in Maryland to talk about this message of improving certain public policies of quality of life. And, you know, the first media event for us is here today with NPR, which isn't necessarily always friendly ground to my team, and part of that is because we shy away from it. So we're speaking to every Marylander who's willing to listen.
NNAMDIWe like to think of ourselves as unfriendly to everyone on this broadcast.
SHERWOODEqual opportunity discriminator.
NNAMDISpeaking of strategies, it seems that in recent years, the conservative strategy has been that if you can't beat the governor in the general assembly, you can put the issue to referendum in front of the voters statewide. You're fighting legislative battles directly at the ballot box, but you've lost three of those referenda. What can you do to be more effective either through referenda or in the state House itself? Do you think the referenda strategy has not been working for -- well, it clearly has not been working for you. Do you intend to continue to pursue it?
KIPKEYeah. You know, the referendum process generally has not been successful for anyone in Maryland history. Most issues that end up on the ballot end up failing, and I think part of the reason is the folks in power write the questions, and I think often they're very misleading and slanted. However, we are using a new strategy. We've learned how to get the issues on the ballot.
KIPKENow we're going to use a new strategy to educate Maryland voters, and part of that, as was just mentioned, is we need to go beyond Republican clubs. And there's going to be a new initiative that was launched today. The governor wants to repeal our rarely and judiciously used death penalty in Maryland.
KIPKEMy party, along with Democrats, elected Democrats in Maryland -- State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger in Baltimore County is joining with us. And at mdpetitions.com, Marylanders can sign up to have the death penalty repealed, put on the ballot. And this is...
SHERWOODWhen would that -- when would you hope to have it on the ballot?
NNAMDIWell, the governor has already signed the legislation repealing the death penalty.
KIPKERight. And you have to wait until the governor signs it. And now that he's signed it, just yesterday, we are launching into a major effort to let Marylanders make that final decision. And, hey, if we win or lose, it's great to allow Marylanders to actually have the final say on very, very controversial issues such as this.
SHERWOODWhen would this be -- in the ideal world for you, when would this get on the ballot? When would you have to get it -- how many signatures do you need, and how quickly would it be on the ballot?
KIPKEIt would be on the ballot in the 2014 gubernatorial and the legislative races. So it's a excellent issue. There will be great turnout around the issue, and we need to, within the next, I believe, 60 days, bring in about 50,000 signatures, which we know we can do.
NNAMDIPlease don your headphones. There are listeners who would like to speak with you, beginning with Arne (sp?) in Laurel, Md. Arne, your turn.
ARNEHello. Big fan of both Sherwood and Kipke. Anyway, I am a...
NNAMDIDid you say you're a fan of Sherwood...
SHERWOODSherwood and Kipke.
SHERWOODDon't interrupt. Don't interrupt the callers.
NNAMDII'm just cutting him off. That's all.
SHERWOODGo ahead, sir.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Arne.
SHERWOODYou started on a good track.
ARNE"The Kojo Show," I'm sorry. At any rate, I've known the Kipke family for a long time, and I want to congratulate him. And (word?) certainly hope (unintelligible) face of a new Republican. I used to be a Republican. I haven't been able to vote Republican since Connie Morella stepped down. The issue is -- I hate to disagree, but the issue is social issues. You know, my favorite Republicans, Rockefeller, (word?), it's all those people understood in my perspective the proper balance of church and government.
ARNEAnd I think these issues that are religiously driven, abortion, are really hurting the Republican Party in a big way. You know, the probe is that governor of Virginia wanted this (unintelligible) come on. This is not how things you got. Sorry.
NNAMDIOK. Arne, allow me to have Nick Kipke respond.
KIPKEArne, I tend to agree with you that these are issues that divide Marylanders and Americans. Our caucus is going to be focusing on good government, and that relates to education. We want to bring in a more broad-based education choice throughout the state. Charter schools have been successful in places like California, you know, and they've reformed many of their municipalities there. And we want to have that expand in Maryland.
KIPKEPoverty is an enormous issue in Maryland, and it seems that it's getting a backseat to current legislative initiatives. In fact, I believe many of them have increased poverty especially around the dramatic increase in the gas tax. There are many issues that I think all of us can come together on -- education, poverty, public safety and good government.
KIPKEAnd that's going to be the focus of the caucus under my leadership. You know, we do, on the Republican side of the aisle, have a lot of people who have strong feelings about social issues, and, you know, we have to respect those folks as a part of our party, and we're not going to reject them. But I will tell you this...
NNAMDIBut do you make a distinction between respecting and having those folks drive the agenda?
KIPKEYeah. Well, they're not going to drive the agenda under my leadership. You know, abortion was settled by the Supreme Court. Now, there's things that we can do, and we've done them. My caucus -- I led the effort this year to close three abortion clinics that were absolutely brutalizing women. And the Health Department went in, inspect it under my urging and closed them. So there's things that we can do that pro-life Marylanders will appreciate.
KIPKEBut listen, the Supreme Court settled the issue, and we're not going to ban abortion per se. So let's not focus on those very divisive issues. We have big time issues in Maryland. We have a pension system out of control, got a correction system out of control, and we need to focus on those quality of life issues.
SHERWOODI think some women might say it's a big time issue that across the country, local -- mostly Republican Party organizations have cut away at abortion rights and funding. In Virginia, we see the requirement that the clinics have to be like hospitals, which dramatically drives up the costs, although medical people say it's not necessary to go a hospital to have an abortion. But they -- your opponents are suggesting these kinds of attacks on abortion are, you know, what are you going to in Maryland if you can get away with it?
KIPKEYeah. Well, it's just not so. What we're doing in Maryland was a collaborative effort with the leadership, which means the Democrats. And, you know, I worked with Delegate Afzali from Frederick to bring to light some very scary stories of what was happening in some of Maryland's abortion clinics.
KIPKEAnd we produced regulations that weren't like hospital regulations. They were very specific to this practice and very thoughtful. And we were able to pass those regulations. They're now in Maryland law. And as a result, three abortion clinics, which resulted in death -- the deaths of women and other horrible outcomes, have now been shutdown.
NNAMDIArne, thank you for your call. Here is now Barry in Baltimore, Md. Barry, your turn.
BARRYHey, Nick. The question that I have is that it seems as though that a lot of the Republicans always want people to take either the whole platform or nothing. The approach seems to be totally unbalanced. And when I don't see regional, national or local Republicans even standing up when things are obviously off balance to just tell their party, no, that's wrong. That won't work in this region. It might work in Kansas, but it can't work here. That just undermines your whole credibility.
KIPKEYeah. Barry, I'll tell you. We're going to focus on issues that I am very confident 80 percent or more of Marylanders will agree with, and that's going to be our effort. I understand what you're saying. You know, Maryland is a blue state. And for us to be competitive, we need to talk to people about issues that matter, and Republicans care.
KIPKEYou know, I think that's one of the things that we failed at. We really care about poverty. This is something that we're passionate about. And so we're going to focus on issues related to that. And I believe we're going to be able to build a broader consensus among more Marylanders.
SHERWOODYou have mentioned poverty three times. What is the Republican plan, in your view, to address poverty?
KIPKEWell, one of the biggest things that we need to do if we're going to get serious about our job market is we need to become more competitive with our surrounding states when it comes to corporate income taxes. You know, many people think that corporate income taxes need to be high for X number of reasons. But if you have Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania -- all of our surrounding states have a more competitive, corporate income tax, and that means jobs. So if we're going to retain our employers or attract employers, we have got to become more competitive.
SHERWOODSo that -- and that the trickle-down Republican view that if you make it easier to own major corporations and they will be able to hire more? I mean, that's kind of the shorthand way people...
SHERWOOD...would describe that.
KIPKEI think you're right. But what I would say is the differential. We actually agree with Democratic Sen. Klausmeier -- excuse me -- Kasemeyer from Howard County, who is also pushing to lower the corporate income tax rate because we got to be competitive. I will also say that, you know, we want to raise the standard deduction for Maryland income taxes from $2,000 to $18,000. This would be a boon to low income and middle-income people to keep more of those dollars in their pockets to buy groceries and to...
SHERWOODWhy didn't you bring this up first?
SHERWOODIn this economy, I wouldn't mention that first. But go ahead, 18,000 instead of two.
KIPKEWell, we need to have jobs first, and so that's an important thing for the state of Maryland. We can't just rely on government sector jobs. Baltimore, for example, has been an enormous center of manufacturing for the car industry and others. And unfortunately, these factories are shutting down, and we need to do more to keep them here.
NNAMDITime for one more call. Here is Jane in Rockville, Md. Jane, your turn.
JANEHi. Thank you for taking my call. What I have to say is really important, and I -- you have a Democrat on the line, but you have an open-ear Democrat. I was very displeased to read the articles about the supposed so wonderful 2012 legislative session by Gov. O'Malley. Yes, we got gun laws...
NNAMDIYou only got about 30 seconds.
JANEOK. Currently, we have the weakest sexual abuse laws in some -- in the country. There's an issue in Montgomery County public schools. Another teacher was arrested last week or the week before. And it's currently legal in the state of Maryland to have relations with a 16-year-old if you are a part-time teacher. Two measures passed failed last year in the Maryland legislature. So thank you for mentioning poverty, but also please, please start to look at the sexual abuse laws now.
NNAMDIHere is Nicholaus Kipke.
KIPKEWe're on the same page, a little bit different. But this session, Delegate Smigiel, Republican from the Eastern Shore, passed legislation to, believe it or not, make it illegal for a psychologist or counselor to have sexual relations with their patients. You know, we are working to protect women at every opportunity and the men obviously as well. So that's an issue that you bring up in the public school system, we support that wholeheartedly, and we passed legislation to do something similar at this session.
NNAMDINicholaus Kipke is the new minority leader in the Maryland House of Delegates. He is a Republican from Anne Arundel County. Nicholaus Kipke, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
KIPKEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, any last minute talks?
SHERWOODNo mentioning of Maryland Live! It is in Anne Arundel County.
KIPKEYeah, coming up...
SHERWOODWe're out of time.
NNAMDINo, you got 10 seconds.
KIPKEWell, coming up Catholic, I certainly am OK with gambling. And stop by Maryland Live! It's a great facility.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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