Rock Creek Park celebrates its 125th anniversary next year. We speak with two local experts with books about the history, flora, and fauna that abound in Washington's "backyard."
The Supreme Court ends its term with historic decisions, handing victories to gay rights proponents and defeat to voting rights activists. President Barack Obama outlines an ambitious plan to address climate change, setting the stage for political battles ahead. And new revelations about undisclosed gifts to Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell raise questions about his wife, Maureen, and whether the governor took official action on behalf of those who gave him gifts. It’s your turn to weigh in on these stories and other topics on your mind.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. The Supreme Court topped off its term with a historic week of decisions. On Tuesday the court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which we'll talk about shortly. And yesterday it struck down a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act known as DOMA. The decision means that gay couples married in states where gay marriage is legal must receive the same federal health, tax, social security and other benefits that heterosexual couples receive.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe court also turned away a case involving California's prohibition of same-sex marriage leaving in place a lower court decision that declared the ban unconstitutional. It's Your Turn. If this is an issue that you would like to offer your opinion or analysis on or any other one, give us a call right now before it's too late, 800-433-8850. What do you think is next in this battle? Will we see a surge in state's legalizing same-sex marriage? What was your reaction to yesterday's decision?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd of course the court ruled that Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which aimed at protecting minority voters is unconstitutional by a five to four vote. The court invalidated the formula adopted most recently in 2006 used to determine which states have to get federal approval before making changes to their voting laws. The law applies to states that have had a history of racial discrimination, nine states, among them Virginia.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt also covers scores of counties and municipalities in other states including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx. The decision will have immediate consequences. Texas announcing shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Do you think that there is still evidence that there is likely to be racial discrimination in those states now that the law has been struck down, that in your view causes you to feel that the law should have been maintained?
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd do you think as the Supreme Court suggested that congress is going to step in and pass another law affecting these states? What do you think are the chances of that, 800-433-8850? And just today the most significant overhaul of the nation's immigration law cleared a final hurdle to senate approval. Sixty-eight senators including 14 Republicans voted to end debate on the bill and move to a final vote. It could occur as early as tomorrow. It faces an uncertain future in the House however.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe senate bill comes after months of compromise and backroom dealing. It offers a 13-year path to citizenship for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country, as well as tough border security provisions that must be in place before those immigrants can gain legal status. What's your thinking on it, 800-433-8850? It is Your Turn. We want to see those phones lighting up, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can simply send us a Tweet at kojoshow. You can go to our website if you'd like to talk about President Obama's climate change plan announced this week, or new revelations in the federal investigations into gifts given to Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, 800-433-8850.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWe'll start with Yvette in Bowie, Md. Yvette, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
YVETTEHi, Kojo. I guess what I'm calling about is the uneducated voter. If we take this all the way back to the George Bush Administration, remember when he was running in 2004 and it was a close race between him and John Kerry. Unfortunately, more black people voted for George Bush than they did in the 2000 election and look at where it's got us. The reason why more people voted for him was because he took a stance on gay marriage and said that he was going to stop gay marriage, even though as president he could do absolutely nothing over the states' rights issue.
YVETTEBut the uninformed, uneducated voters voted for him because of his support -- oh excuse me -- his stance against gay marriage. Here we are 12 years later. DOMA is dead. Gay marriage is moving forward and we have the most conservative court in the history of the Supreme Court. And they're going to be there for decades. And look at the rulings that have been put in place that in fact American Americans and a lot of other minorities, in particular voting rights.
YVETTEOur voting rights have now been gutted to in no uncertain terms, yet gay marriage is still here. So I guess my issue is, people need to pay attention and understand before they walk into the voting booth what they're actually voting for, and the consequences of ...
NNAMDIWell, allow me to ask you about that because we're talking about the 2004 campaign, nine years ago when then President and Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush had a stance against gay marriage. And you say that's why a lot of people showed up at the polls to vote for him. And now the conservative -- or the majority conservative Supreme Court has upheld same-sex marriage. I'm not sure I understand the relationship you're making between those two things.
YVETTEWhat I am saying is that we need to understand what we're voting for and the consequences of those votes, while he was against gay marriage absolutely, and it ended up being overturned. What I'm saying is that we voted George Bush -- or more African Americans voted for George Bush consequently giving him the powers to install the most conservative Supreme Court ever. And we are suffering the consequences of those votes. For instance, voting rights.
YVETTEIt was on the books in 2006 and the Congress upheld it. Unfortunately, they didn't do what they were supposed to do, and Antonin Scalia does not have a problem stepping in and turning over what the legislature has done when it comes to taking away our voting rights, but he has an issue with the Supreme Court stepping in and overturning what Congress put in place with DOMA.
YVETTEAll I'm saying is that...
NNAMDII hear you.
YVETTE...we have to be -- we have to pay more attention when we're voting because we voted for him because...
NNAMDIWhat do you think about the Supreme Court -- the chief justice's argument that things have changed so much in the south, and he cited a lot of statistics about voting records, that there is no longer a need for that provision of the law. How would you respond to that?
YVETTEIf there was no longer a need, then tell me what happened in 2012? While more African-Americans did turn out to vote overall than whites, look at what it took for us to get there, and look at how discouraging it was, because -- and look at how hard we had to fight. If the NAACP and the ACLU and everyone else -- and the fact that -- oh, I'm sorry, that voting acts that was in place at the time to stop places like Florida and Texas and -- no. It can't be South Carolina because theirs got approved. But to stop those things from taking place, we would not have voted in the majority...
NNAMDIWell, let me ask you one more very specific question, Yvette. Do you think that the promulgation of these voter ID laws in some of these states, in particular, states like Texas, are another attempt at suppressing African-American votes?
YVETTEOh, absolutely. Is there -- do -- if you're going to tell me that I need to have voter -- that I need to have I.D., then you need to make it easier for me to get that identification. Remember what happened in Pennsylvania when they actually -- there was a woman who took an individual to get a vote -- to get an ID card because they were about to -- and I think it ended up get held up for -- but it will end up getting in place. It took her forever to try and get her identification. They don't make it easy for you to get identification. If that was the case, fine, institute a voter ID law, but then put it in place that those things will be easy to get. So absolutely I think it's going to suppress...
YVETTE...suppress our vote.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. It is Your turn. You can call 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com. Here is Daniel in Arlington, Va. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELYeah. How you doing, Kojo?
DANIELLong time listener. First I wanted to say that I completely agree that there should be some comprehensive immigration reform, and thought there's good (unintelligible) for that now. Things seem (unintelligible) like that again. Now, just as a comment on the voting rights, I think at this point...
NNAMDIWell, before you get to voting rights, let's stay with immigration for a second because there's been a vote in the Senate to end debate on the bill, and therefore, one can predict that this final vote that can take place as earlier tomorrow will be approved in the Senate.
DANIELAt least in Senate, yeah.
NNAMDIThe House is a different matter. What do you think will happen in the House?
DANIELWell, it's going to tough, but, I mean, if Republicans don't want to be eradicated on politics, they're going to have to start seeing things in a different way, in a more comprehensive way, and that's not the way they've been going more to the right than to the right. I mean, I am a Republican myself, but I can't see myself voting Republican in this country because that...
NNAMDISo you're saying bottom line that if the House votes against this, if Republicans and the House votes against this, you are afraid they'll be losing Latino Hispanic votes and, therefore, losing elections.
DANIELThat's -- definitely yes.
DANIELBecause we're not --we're not going anywhere, and a lot of our kids are more educated than ourselves, and if they keep segregating us, that's what they're going to get. I mean...
NNAMDIOkay. And you wanted to say something about voting rights too, Daniel?
DANIELYeah. I mean, I've been in this country 13 years, Kojo, and any law that would help level the playing field between whites and minorities to me is very welcome, but I think they need to be revised in a way that -- for example, how a black student cannot have a place on the university versus a white student that has a better education or deserves the chance better, and employment same thing. This is (unintelligible) I think one of the problems if that -- what is that, affirmative action...
NNAMDIOh, which the court sent back to the lower courts to be decided.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. We are going to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. It is Your Turn, so you get to do most of the talking here. 800-433-8850, on any issue that you'd like to discuss, but you can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back, it's Your Turn. Just call us, 800-433-8850. I'd like to hear somebody talk about this issue. This week the Washington Post disclosed that a political donor purchased a Rolex watch for Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell. At the urging of McDonnell's wife, Maureen, the governor did not disclose this gift in his filings. You may have been reading about federal investigators probing a series a gifts that this supporter, Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams, gave to the McDonnell's, including$15,000 to pay for catering at their daughter's wedding reception.
NNAMDIIn Virginia, state law allows politicians to receive gifts of any value as long as they disclose them. The governor did not disclose this particular Rolex watch. The Washington Post reported that Maureen McDonnell admired Williams' Rolex watch, $6,500 worth of it, and suggested that Williams give her one to present to her husband as a gift. The request came just before a meeting the first lady had arranged between Williams and a state official. What do you think? 800-433-8850. It is Your Turn.
NNAMDIYou think that was okay, or you think that it was a little, well, over the -- over the whatever it might have been over. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. We move on to Niamani (sp?) in Warrington, Va. Niamani, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NIAMANIThank you, Kojo, very much. I enjoy your show tremendously.
NIAMANIMy comment was about the voting -- the Supreme Court decision about the Voting Rights Act.
NIAMANII went to school in Virginia in segregation, so I understand that need for having watchdog mechanisms in place to make sure that states don't put into place laws that will make it difficult for people to vote or to disenfranchise them. So in many ways, I think this decision for me demonstrates that very often we take one step back and two steps -- I mean, one steps forward and two steps back. This really disturbs me a great deal because I feel that the states who have in the past demonstrated that they need to be monitored, the fact that they're given a free pass will mean that voting will be difficult, not only for African Americans, but other minorities in America.
NNAMDISo you are absolutely convinced, or if not absolutely convinced, you have a very strong feeling that these states will promptly go ahead and try to enact regulations and provisions that try to keep minorities away from the polls?
NIAMANIYes, I am. Because I think that the establishment of these, you know, watchdog functions came about because there was a reason. And even though it said that America has changed a great deal, I mean, it's true that, you know, legally we're not longer prevented from doing certain things, but I think that it's difficult to legislate attitudes. And so I think that laws like this are put in place because you can't legislate attitudes, so you do have to make people understand that they can't institute laws that will disenfranchise any part of the American populations. So, yes. I'm convinced, and I see in action already.
NNAMDIWell, we got an email from Matthew who said, I think it's very telling that Texas, which was under the voting rights act, moved to enact legislation that would disenfranchise poor and minority voters within two hours of the Supreme Court decision. There is no federal requirement to have an ID, and one must pay for one, so it is in essence the same as a poll tax. What do you say, Niamani?
NIAMANIWell, it is. I mean, I think that we see that the moment that this list disappears, that it's an open field day, and I think that we've seen in the past for example before this ruling that when the government requested clarification from some of the requests to alter, you know, voting regulations, that in many cases states or municipalities would withdraw those responses. So, you know, I think it is very telling.
NIAMANIAnd I think it's something that we should all be very alarmed about.
NNAMDINiamani, thank you very much for your call. It is Your Turn. Now, Dan in Alexandria, Va. You're on the air, Dan. Go ahead, please.
DANHi, Kojo. The watch story sounds really juicy, but I'd like to get back to the defense of marriage thing.
NNAMDINo. No. The watch story. The watch story. Go ahead. Go ahead to the defense of marriage.
DANWell, it just seems patently obvious to me that the defense of marriage act, as well as any statutes at any level of government that forbids same sex marriage have got to be unconstitutional, simply because they take a subset of Americans, deny them what should be a basic civil right simply as a sop to the religious beliefs of others. And in case anybody doubts that's what it's all about, in today's Post alone, there are several articles wherein various conservatives, including Cuccinelli and Michele Bachmann are interviewed, and in every single case, these people cite religion or the Bible or some biblical precedent.
DANUnless we want to live in a theocracy, religion cannot be a part of any decision like this. It's strictly a matter of state contract...
NNAMDIIf, Dan, it is so obvious to you on its face, why do you think four Supreme Court justices disagree with you?
DANI have no idea. I really don't.
DANIt could be that themselves are having difficulty divorcing their religious beliefs from this issue. I mean, they're only human.
NNAMDIThis is true. Okay. Thank you very much for the honesty of your response. Dan said, I don't have a clue why they disagree with me. We move onto Jessie in Baltimore, Md. Jessie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSIEHi, good afternoon. I'm calling about the Voting Rights Act case. I just wanted to share something that I found really troubling about the majority opinion, was that is just completely ignored the existence of the bailout provision in the Voting Rights Act, which allows jurisdictions that are subject to pre-clearance to bail out, to get out of that requirement if 10 years go by without having some kind of violation of the Voting Rights Act.
JESSIEAnd I think that keeps the formula up-to-date, and the fact that the jurisdictions that are still covered have not been able to do so shows that there's still a real need for the Voting Rights Act, that, you know, race-based restrictions on voting are unfortunately alive and well, and that the pre-clearance formula, it's a necessary remedy to preserve the right to vote.
NNAMDIIn 2006, Congress decided to review those provision of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court seemed to be saying to Congress on this occasion, well, it's up to you. Let's see if you will reenact these provisions of the Voting Rights Act. What do you think will happen in the Congress?
JESSIEWell, I would love to see the Congress immediately go back and come up with a new formula that, you know, would -- the court would find constitutional. I'm not incredibly optimistic Congress will get its act together to do that as quickly as we need for it to happen, especially given the Texas Attorney General's announcement that a law that was previously found unconstitutional -- or I'm sorry, violating the Voting Rights Act will be going into effect.
JESSIEThere's a real immediate need, and I hope -- I really hope Congress will fill that need and act immediately.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Jessie. For those of you interested in what's going on with Nelson Mandela, South African President Jacob Zuma says that Nelson Mandela's condition has improved, but still remains critical. Quoting Mr. Zuma, he is "Much better day than he was when I saw him last night," Mr. Zuma said after speaking to the medical team of the 94-year-old Nelson Mandela. But back to Your Turn. Here now is Steven in Alexandria, Va. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHi Kojo. Thank you for taking me. I love your show. My comment is on the DOMA, which is -- it's a great thing being a gay man. I love it. But what's surprising to me though is how fast this has happened. You know, if you look at history, the wheels of history move pretty slowly. What, 30 years ago in the country, I mean, being a homosexual was pretty much illegal. And now in a 30-year span, you have marriage equality? I mean, it's a pretty remarkable short period of time that this has happened in.
NNAMDIWhy do you think it has happened this quickly? Why do you think there is so much momentum in favor of same-sex marriage?
STEVENMedia. Absolutely media, you know. You know, when they ended it Civil War, it was 110 years before, you know, an African-American could marry a white woman, but they didn't have the media. They didn't have, you know, this whole, you know, the civil rights movement, and once people saw on TV people being abused, you know, all of a sudden the momentum changed. So I think it's sort of the same thing. All of a sudden you have media going in and showing the normal gay couples.
NNAMDIWell, I guess if you're going to say media, I can say -- I guess I can add you're not just talking about news media, you're talking about cultural media also.
NNAMDIWhere people have been used to seeing everything from sitcoms to dramas, et cetera with gay people in it...
STEVENWe've gone from the Bunkers to "Will and Grace." I mean, it's...
STEVEN...you -- it's kind of an amazing short period span for such a large leap of social justice I guess I'm trying to say.
NNAMDIWell, you know, there are a lot of people who say that this Supreme Court decision now will lead to a great pushback from people who oppose same-sex marriage. It will work for them as an organizing tool. What do you say?
STEVENI think they're going to be hard pressed, because I think the people, once again, like I think the person who was on before said, you know, most of their argument is on a religious basis, and I think that that really no longer has room to play...
STEVEN…especially in a court.
NNAMDIAfraid we're just about out of time. Thanks to all of you who participated. Finally, we got an email from Tom who says, "Now we know the cost to buy the governorship of Virginia, somewhere around $6,000. As long as we know the price," says Tom. It's been Your Turn. Thank you all for participating, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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