We chat with journalist and author Masha Gessen, whose newest book explores the complicated family history behind bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon.
Guest Host: Tom Sherwood
D.C. lawmakers postpone by four years a vote for the District’s first elected attorney general. And Maryland’s attorney general gears up for an official launch of his gubernatorial campaign. In Virginia, a scandal deepens over a businessman’s payments to the governor and the first family. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Patrick Madden Reporter, WAMU 88.5 News
- Adam Ebbin Member, Virginia Senate (D-30th District)
- Harriet Tregoning Director, D.C. Office of Planning
Mandatory parking minimums will remain part of the city’s new zoning code, announced Harriet Tregoning, director of the D.C. Office of Planning. The planning office had proposed eliminating minimum parking requirements for areas of the city well-served by transit, such as downtown. Instead, officials will reduce the current requirements and tailor them to the neighborhood. “Keep in mind getting rid of parking minimums doesn’t get rid of parking,” Tregoning said. The plan is part of an ongoing Zoning Regulations Review, the first major rewrite of D.C.’s zoning code since 1958.
On July 4, the Politics Hour crew trekked down the street to enjoy the annual Palisades Citizens’ Association parade. Producer Michael Martinez shot and edited a film of their adventures, which is the basis of a number of questions on this week’s Politics Hour quiz. Play the quiz below the video.
MR. TOM SHERWOODFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour. I'm Tom Sherwood from NBC4, sitting in for Kojo, who'll be back next week, I promise. Welcome to "The Kojo Show." Sitting in for Tom Sherwood this week is Patrick Madden, known as a reporter for WAMU. Welcome, Patrick.
MR. PATRICK MADDENThank you, Tom. It's a pleasure to be here.
SHERWOODCould you pass any Wal-Mart stores when you were biking in?
MADDENWell, the question is will we see any Wal-Mart stores now after the vote this week by the Council? That is the big question.
SHERWOODI know you were on the show earlier in the week talking about it. But six Wal-Mart stores, three under construction. The Council says, oh, by the way, guys, you're gonna have to pay 12.50 an hour. Wal-Mart says, well, maybe we won't pay anything in the District. Is it a real threat?
MADDENOh, it's definitely a real threat. The question now becomes what will the mayor do? I mean, based -- you know, the Council has passed this law requiring big-box retailers , stores that, you know, are larger than 75,000 feet, billion in revenue -- I mean, make no mistake, this is about Wal-Mart. And the question now becomes what will Mayor Gray do? It sounds like he's going to veto this bill, and then it's...
SHERWOODWell, let me -- NBC4 reported he will veto it. So he has to.
MADDENHe has to veto it now, I guess.
SHERWOODYou know, I appointed Kaya Henderson as the chancellor three times before the mayor got around.
SHERWOODIt's a serious issue. And Skyland, which is right near where the mayor lives, you know, the Rappaport Company there put out a formal announcement saying, look, we're not gonna go forward if the Council has killed our tenant, anchor tenant. And that's a place that desperately needs jobs.
MADDENAnd so -- and -- exactly. And so I think one thing you're gonna hear the mayor talk about is, well, I've -- this is not only about Wal-Mart, but I've talked to other retailers -- Lowe's, Wegmans -- and this could have a serious impact going down the road when we try to, you know, bring other big retail shops to the city. So I think that's gonna be his argument, and I think they're gonna look at whether you could have an across-the-board living wage, not one that just sort of carves at -- that touches certain stores and not others.
SHERWOODAnd there's also some suggestion in the Congressional Quarter -- Quarterly today or yesterday, I believe, that maybe if the mayor lets this go through, Congress would stop it.
MADDENYou know, I think -- obviously, this has become a national story. I mean, Marion Barry was on Fox News yesterday when -- talking about this. And I think you'll hear rumblings from Congress. I think people...
SHERWOODWell, we -- as a citizen, let's hope Congress stays out of it.
SHERWOODWe'll solve our own problems 'cause, you know, we're smart. We can elect an attorney general in this -- oh, wait. We can't.
SHERWOODThat's right. Another big story this week, in 2010, the voters overwhelmingly voted to have an attorney general elected by the citizens of the city. Ninety thousand people voted for it, 76 percent. This week, the Council says, oh, we're not really ready for this yet, and they killed the election and put it off to 2018. What's that about?
MADDENWell, what's amazing about it was this happened at -- I think it was like 10 p.m. at night. I mean, the TV cameras had left. There -- this was like the last act they did before they left for recess. And essentially what the councilmembers or the majority of councilmembers said was, well, there's just so much uncertainty about this, and we don't know which candidate we're gonna get. We don't exactly know sort of the legal structure of who the lawyers are gonna report to in the city agencies. And they kicked it down the road for at least four years now, and...
SHERWOODJim Graham, the councilmember -- Mark Segraves from NBC4 said that he heard Graham say, well, we might get a wacko candidate, and I think Tommy Wells said, well, look at the Council.
MADDENRight. I don't think the Council is in any position to sort of point fingers right now, considering the number of scandals and stories that have come out of city hall.
SHERWOODNow, Chairman Phil Mendelson, this is -- says he'll try to bring this back in September. And there's been an effort on Twitter and other places for people to rev up and say, look, we voted for this. We wanna vote for an attorney general. We wanna vote next year, not 2018.
MADDENYeah. I mean, I just think the bigger issue is voters went to the polls, and they overwhelmingly said they want an independent elected attorney general with the understanding that that election will take place in 2014, and the Council is deciding to disregard that.
SHERWOODThat's Patrick Madden from WAMU, sitting in for Tom Sherwood. I'm Tom Sherwood, sitting in for Kojo. You mentioned Mayor Barry, Marion Barry, Councilmember Mayor -- Councilmember Barry, fined by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability almost 13,000 -- about $13,000. He reported getting some money from two contractors. He says he disclosed it on his financial report. Why was he fined?
MADDENWell, the rule is you can't accept more than $20 in gifts from prohibitive sources.
SHERWOODAnd even he knows $6,000 is more than 20.
MADDENRight, right. So now he has to pay essentially double what he received in gifts, and as part of the negotiated settlement, he has to take six months of training. But he also has to pay back obviously double sort of what he took, and he cannot -- it stipulates that he cannot borrow money to pay off these fines from prohibited sources like these contractors.
SHERWOODJust one more story about Barry and his private finances...
SHERWOOD…'cause we want another story before we get to our guest, who I'm anxious to talk to. Councilmember Tommy Wells, candidate for mayor, Tommy Wells, holds a press conference this week and says he wants to decriminalize marijuana in the nation's capital. If -- have it -- does it have a chance?
MADDENWell, on one hand, sure. I mean, I think a majority of councilmembers are signed up as co-sponsors, or at least a large number. So it certainly has a chance to pass the Council, but the big question is, as we talk about, whether, you know, congressional oversight. I think this would be an issue where Congress would probably take a strong, hard look at whether they would allow, you know, the decriminalization of marijuana in D.C.
SHERWOODAnd one more issue. The Council did approve the driver's licenses, full-fledged driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants, which could also fly federal law.
MADDENAgain, this was another interesting issue at the Council this week where they passed a bill with full knowledge that this will fly in the face of what the federal law sort of requires, this Real ID Act. And it potentially could impact everyone who has a D.C. driver's license who's trying to fly on a plane or enter a federal building because, under law, we may not be in compliance if we go forward with this.
SHERWOODOur license won't get us on a plane. We'll all have to stay home. I'm so used to staycations. I don't mind. Let's turn to our guest now 'cause she's been sitting quietly, Harriet Tregoning. She's the director of the District's Office of Planning. She's doing a rewrite of the city's zoning laws, the first really big-time rewrite since the '50s. And you're getting -- you've been all over town. You can almost run for office. You know, you can run for attorney general...
MADDENYou could bike all over town.
SHERWOODYou've been all over the town holding public meetings about what this is. You're about to send it to, I think, the Zoning Commission. What -- could you just, like, thumbnail -- first of all, welcome to the program. I have to be polite here. That's what Kojo -- Kojo is much politer than I am. Can you thumbnail a couple of things that are there? We'll talk about the war on cars in a moment.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGExcellent. I'm really happy to be here, Tom, and...
TREGONING...good to see you, Patrick.
MADDENGood to see you.
TREGONINGWell, as you said, Tom, we're rewriting -- revising our zoning code for the first time since basically 1958. You know, this is a code that was in place 20 years before we had Metro, and it really envisioned a future for Washington, D.C., where we'd have something like 900,000 people, and virtually every person would have an automobile. And so they did wonderful things in the vision for the zoning code, like imagine a downtown entirely ringed by service parking lots that had moving sidewalks that brought you seamlessly from your Edge parking lot to your office downtown.
TREGONINGSo, in fact, you know, that zoning code was the beginning of a, you know, five-decades-long decline in population in the city, and the vision that was laid out really never materialized. And what we're seeing now is the, you know, the rise of a city that's got lots and lots of transportation choices, and those choices -- Metro, Circulator, car2go, Bikeshare, great walkability and convenience in almost every neighborhood -- that those are the things that are really fueling our population increase and our diversifying economy.
SHERWOODYou can join the conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850, 1-800-433-8850, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet us, @kojoshow. Too many wasted talk. One of those controversial things, as you've seen, the AAA, the automobile lobby organization with 54 million members nationwide, is worried that you're going to push cars out of the streets and into neighborhoods, and you're going to devalue cars as a way of getting around. You told me for a story this past week that if you wanna drive, drive, but that's not gonna be the car-centric city that it has been for the last 50 years.
TREGONINGWell, think about it this way. We're a city where nearly 40 percent of households, 38.5 percent of households don't have even a single automobile.
TREGONING38.5 percent of households. And so -- and lots of other households live what we might consider car light compared to other cities where they have only a single automobile. My household is one of those car-light households. We love our car. We just love to also not have to be in it all the time. So choice is, I think, really the operative word in that we were a city, like many other cities, where your choice was basically the car, and now we have a lot of other choices.
TREGONINGAnd I think there are people who really feel threatened -- maybe that's the right word for AAA -- that any bit of right-of-way that goes away from the automobile is a threat to driving. I would argue that walking, taking Metro, biking moves people with a lot less deal and a lot less traffic congestion. And so that's a great thing for drivers. So if we put...
SHERWOODDid I hear the word streetcars? And, Patrick, you can jump in on this.
MADDENI just want to -- let's sort of explain exactly what we're talking about here. We're talking about parking requirements that new buildings and developers were sort of waiving or reducing those parking requirements, correct?
TREGONINGWe are. We're specifically getting rid of the minimum parking requirements for the downtown. We had proposed -- this is actually news. I've not made this announcement anywhere else.
MADDENWe like that.
SHERWOODAre we rolling my TV camera...
TREGONINGWe have proposed in the past that we would also get rid of parking minimums throughout many other parts of the city.
TREGONINGAreas well served by Transit. We got a lot of feedback about that. So we are instead going to be reducing the current parking requirements, but we're not getting rid of the minimum so that there will still be minimum parking even in areas that are served by Transit. It'll be a lot less than our current minimums, but we're -- we are still proposing to get rid of minimum parking in an expanded downtown.
MADDENAnd is that in response to just the outcry from certain neighbors that are worried about sort of parking in their neighborhoods?
TREGONINGI mean, it's certainly in response to what we heard from a lot of people. And keep in mind that getting rid of parking minimums does not get rid of parking. It doesn't get rid of the ability for developers to build more parking. In fact, if you look at planned unit developments where we get to grant discretionary approval for bigger projects, we still get much more parking produced than the minimum that's required.
TREGONINGSo that's gonna continue to happen, I think, in a lot of places. But the whole point about both reducing the minimum parking requirements and getting rid of the parking minimums downtown is that we have very different rates of car ownership and very different driving habits and even really different demographics in different parts of the city.
TREGONINGAnd it makes sense to try to tailor the parking requirements or the parking, excuse me, the parking that's actually provided to what the market is demanding for the particular building in the particular neighborhood, et cetera, which our current requirements don't allow that to happen.
SHERWOODNo one size fits all. And performance parking at higher rates around the baseball stadium when games are being played there and things like that.
TREGONINGExactly. We can start to tailor the requirements to the place.
SHERWOODLet's take a -- put on your headphones, please. We're gonna hear from a caller, Daniel in Brooklyn -- Brookland. I'm sorry. Excuse me. I made a big mistake there. Brookland. Daniel, are you there?
DANIELHi, Tom. How are you? Every part of...
SHERWOODDid Daniel hang up?
DANIELEvery -- hello?
SHERWOODHe says that Office of Planning has overcrowded his neighborhood, and more is coming with the McMillan Reservoir.
SHERWOODAnd I thought people were just dying to have development at McMillan Reservoir up on -- it's up, what, 16th Street.
TREGONINGYou know, I can actually hear Daniel myself on my earphones, but I don't know if anyone else can. But...
MADDENDaniel, are you with us? OK. Daniel's gone. On the McMillan issue, though, I mean, I know this has become a very controversial topic about...
SHERWOODThis is up near Children's Hospital, up 16th Street.
MADDENI mean, what -- if -- I know some neighbors say we have waited a long time for this place to be developed. And then there are still questions about how much of it should be a park, how much of it should be turned over to developers. What is your stance on this?
TREGONINGWell, I think that the changes in the plan for that development have been significant in response to the many meetings and the voluminous public comments that have been received. The location of the park has moved. The size of the park has changed. The higher density development is now all the way next to the Washington Hospital Center, the, you know, it's all very, very different than was originally proposed, and that's all responsive to the comments that have been received.
TREGONINGBut as you know, we're a city that's growing at about 1,100 people a month, and affordable housing is an increasingly urgent concern. And, you know, we don't have a lot of land in the city. So the idea that a five-acre or six-acre park is not a sufficiently sized park that we should devote the entirety of that land to park space, I think, is no something that's in the interest of all the citizens of the city or even of that neighborhood and so...
SHERWOODThat's been a long time coming. I stood out there with Mayor Tony Williams, I mean, talking about the redevelopment of that land.
TREGONINGIt has been a long time coming.
SHERWOODOf course, I've also stood with him at the site of the old convention center downtown, which is now starting to open, the convention -- the city center downtown. If people have been where the old convention center is, that's a remarkable change.
TREGONINGIt's a remarkable change, and it's gonna bring almost 300,000 square feet of retail back to downtown, which is very exciting. As you know, we leak a lot of retail sales to our surrounding jurisdictions. We estimated a few years ago that that number was about $1 billion in sales a year. So we hope that will help us to recapture some of that leakage.
SHERWOODLet's take another caller. This will be from Tom, who says that parking is a problem. We'll let him explain it. Tom, are you there?
TOMYes, I am. Hi. How are you?
SHERWOODGood. Thank you. I'll turn my volume control up so I can now hear the callers.
SHERWOODGo ahead, Tom.
TOMHi. I don't -- I obviously don't have any statistics. I'm just your average Joe citizen here of the District of Columbia. But what I do notice is that there's always less and less parking. And I understand that there's public transportation options. But when you need to go with, you know, to different destinations and carry briefcases and different things, you have to drive. Every time there's less parking, it's more expensive. This, in turn, I believe, lowers the quality of life for the citizens of the District of Columbia.
TOMRemoving these parking requirements for developers, all it does is make life easier for the developers, take that in combination with the corruption scandals that are constantly arising in the District of Columbia. And I really, you know, whose benefit -- who's benefitting from these parking situations? One of the...
SHERWOODOK. Tom, let's let the guest answer that. Who's benefitting?
TREGONINGWell, Tom, I certainly appreciate what you're saying that in some places that it's getting more difficult to park. And I have to honestly say that it's a choice that we're consciously making, that we could be a city where, you know, where there were parking garages everywhere and every business that open had to have copious amounts of parking and that every residential dwelling unit had two parking spaces. And there are places that are zoned that way, but those are places where people basically drive to meet every destination.
TREGONINGAnd things are much more spread out because they have to be to accommodate all that parking. And we're not a place with a lot of land. And so, you know, for us that the choice for a city that already had such great transit, that has such great walkability, that has such compact neighborhoods, to try to say we want to kind of retrofit our city to put parking everywhere is, you know, would really destroy the fabric of our city and just make it, you know, make it, you know, a parking lot all the time because of the traffic.
MADDENHarriet, if I could just play devil's advocate here, you know, I was reading this week in The Wall Street Journal. They were talking about Portland, Ore. and how they sort of have led the way in waiving these parking requirements, but they now have had to come back and reverse course a little bit and reinstituted some of these parking minimums because there's just -- there hasn't been enough parking.
MADDENAnd so they've had to go back and redraw some of this stuff. And the concern here is obviously the zoning rights have taken five, six years to rewrite. If we do have go back, it seems like it wouldn't be an easy fix.
TOMI just like to make a brief comment before I leave. I mean, there's two points here, one is this is just gross speculation on the future of the city. We don't know what transportation is gonna be like in the future. Additionally, I'm sorry to say, the transportation very often breaks down in D.C. So I disagree with that as well. It's just making life harder for the District residents. And one last thing is that parking will be controlled by private companies whereas other jurisdictions -- and I'll give Silver Spring as an example -- there's public parking that is easy, it's cheap and it gives revenue to the state.
SHERWOODOK, Tom. That's also true in Bethesda where you have a horrendous chance to get a parking ticket in Bethesda.
TREGONINGSo I definitely appreciate the concern, and I hear what you're saying. I just think that for us, you know, we could go that way. But I think the consequences of, you know, providing lots and lots of parking everywhere and being a city that is -- that has decided to rely entirely on cars is a, you know, would waste a lot of the assets and resources that we have. But you were starting to say, Patrick...
SHERWOODWell, let me introduce you again. That's Harriet Tregoning. She's the director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. I'm Tom Sherwood, sitting in for Kojo, and Patrick Madden, reporter for WAMU. He's our resident analyst today.
MADDENI was asking about the situation in Portland where they had to go back and...
TREGONINGSure. So Portland is a great city. I love Portland. Portland -- in Portland, about 14 percent of households don't have automobiles. Did I -- shall I say it again? Almost 40 percent of D.C. households don't have automobiles. We have much better transit than they have, as laud, you know, as lauded as there's is. And they did pull back on parking minimums but only for buildings of 30 units or more.
TREGONINGSo for everything less than 30 units, there's no parking requirement whatsoever. So when we talk about what Portland did that was different, you know, we should make an apples to apples comparison.
SHERWOODI know cars or -- and vehicles is the big issue on the zoning, but then you're also changing the way people will be able to use their property with -- in dense areas having ancillary housing. What do you call -- what's the official word?
TREGONINGAccessory dwelling units.
SHERWOODYou can turn a garage into a home and live off the alleys, just like -- we'll go back to 1940s but could be in better condition, I hope.
TREGONINGWell, I think the idea here is that when our last zoning code was enacted in the 1950s, our household size was, you know, was considerably larger than it is now. Half the households had school-aged children. So there were a lot more people living in those houses. If you think about today, we have just about two -- our average household size is about two people per household. Forty-five percent of households are single person households.
TREGONINGAnd that to get historic levels of population back into our neighborhoods using our commercial corridors, we'd either need to build a lot more buildings, which might destroy that -- the character of some of those neighborhoods or simply allow the buildings that are there to be used in a way that won't affect their -- the character of those neighborhoods but allow more people to live there.
TREGONINGIn this case, just a single accessory dwelling unit, additional accessory dwelling unit in those houses, typically granny flat, an English basement, that sort of thing, or it could be, instead, a -- an existing garage or outbuilding.
MADDENAnd also, it sounds like under these new rules that corner stores could possibly be coming back to a neighborhood near you.
TREGONINGWe definitely wanna make it easier for corner stores to exist in neighborhoods 'cause it's an important part of having a convenient quality of life as being able to walk to get a quarter milk or a cup of sugar in your own neighborhood. But yes, so we're gonna definitely make it easier 'cause right now, if you don't already have a corner store, you absolutely, under no circumstances, can have one.
SHERWOODThis is a great transition, from the corner store to the big box Wal-Mart. I can't have you on the program without your own thoughts about the six Wal-Mart stores in where Wal-Mart and stores like it fit in to the long-term plans of the city. You can get into the politics that Wal-Mart veto if you like.
TREGONINGI wouldn't like. But if you'd like me to say something about it, I'll make the point that I made earlier that we leak a lot of retail sales to other jurisdictions. And I know for a fact that almost $250,000 is spent by D.C. residents in our -- in the Wal-Marts in our region. So people with our zip codes are spending their money in those stores. And so that's tax dollars that we aren't getting.
TREGONINGSo there's a demand for that kind of retail, and people are leaving the desert to get to it. So we'll be missing out if the large Wal-Marts in the city, and that would be a real shame.
SHERWOODSo you would advice the mayor to veto this legislation?
TREGONINGYou know, to mayor is a very smart man, and he doesn't need my advice, but I appreciate your sentiment, Tom.
SHERWOODAnymore -- can we try more on Wal-Mart, or should we just let that go? We should let that go. Tell us that you have a fold-up bike. You ride around town on a fold-up bike.
TREGONINGI do have a fold-up bike. And I admit, I really like my fold-up bike because it lets me have those choices I've been talking about, so that if it's raining, I can throw it in the back of a taxi. I can take it on the metro, you know, anytime of day 'cause it folds up. I've hauled it onto a bus. So yeah, I can -- I put it in the back of my own car. So yeah, it's really flexible.
MADDENAnd for those of us that do bike, any more big bike lane changes coming up?
SHERWOODMore bike lanes, the mayor said so.
TREGONINGThere will be definitely more bike lanes, absolutely. We're seeing a really steady growth and the amount of bike communing that's happening. And it's not just the commute trip. People are taking bikes for all kinds of other trips. And we're continuing to see robust growth of bike share in the city and in the region.
SHERWOODLet's take one more call. We're gonna go to Shirley in West End, another part of town. Shirley, are you there?
SHIRLEYYes, I'm here.
SHERWOODOK. If you can -- we're starting to run out of time with this fabulous guest. So if you could, keep your question fairly short.
SHIRLEYOK. We've already had limited parking, onstreet parking, in the few years and replaced by meters. And if you're a senior citizen like I am and you go to the doctors out of town or far away from where you live, taking the metro is not possible. Cab rides is not possible. You're are already limiting me by having people come in on weekends from out of state, and I can't even park in my neighborhood now. I'm concerned about what the future looks like in the West End for parking.
SHERWOODThank you for your question.
TREGONINGThank you, Shirley, very much for your question. And I think your concern is a really good concern, and this is something that we are doing with -- working with the DDOT. You know, what parking is provided off-street is kind of the subject of our zoning code. But I think everyone in the city would agree that we need better ways to manage the on-street parking that we have in neighborhoods and elsewhere.
TREGONINGAnd that I'd be the first to tell you that with our population growth, even though the level of car ownership, the rate is going down, the number of cars coming to the city I expect to go up because we have -- we're having such robust population.
MADDENAnd how big do you think the population will get in D.C.?
TREGONINGOver what period of time?
MADDENOver the next 50 years.
TREGONINGOh, 50 years. Well, I mean, if we grew at 1,100 a month, kind of steady on, we would be at something like 850,000.
MADDENWe could be back at the original zoning code.
TREGONINGOh, in 50 years, we'd be way over 1 million, way, way over 1 million.
MADDENHarriet Tregoning, director, Office of Planning for the District. Thanks for joining us here on "The Politics Hour" today.
TREGONINGMy great pleasure to be here. Thank you.
MADDENThank you, Harriet.
SHERWOODYou're listening to "Politics Hour," and our guest analyst today is Patrick Madden who's a reporter for WAMU.
MADDENSitting in your chair.
SHERWOODSitting in my chair. You know, I like to think sitting over there a lot better.
MADDENIt is. It's a better view.
SHERWOODYou can look around. You don't have to pay attention when the guest bores you.
SHERWOODNow, that you -- now, you've already left. You can't respond.
SHERWOODWell, we're gonna be changing to a new guest. We let her off easy, I think.
MADDENWell, we can still fire one more.
SHERWOODBut she's packing up her stuff. Are you gonna carry all that on a bike?
TREGONINGI'm not. I'm gonna take...
SHERWOODPatrick, let me ask you about it and others while we're waiting for our next guest to come in. I thought it was so cool. I went up to my rooftop in Southwest and watched the Washington Monument be lit. Is that the right verb?
SHERWOODIlluminated. Thank you very much. It's really cool, people almost applauded on my roof when they saw it. It looks really cool.
MADDENYeah, it is amazing. Again, just all from that freak once in a -- every 2,000 years earthquake we had that caused all that damage.
SHERWOODIt's not as good, I think, as when the design or Michael Graves did it like in 2000, and it was so cool, people thought it should stay.
MADDENWell, it's the same scaffolding is my understanding.
SHERWOODRight. Right. But maybe the lighting is not as good. And if I said to this phrase, to the moon, Alice, would you know what I mean?
SHERWOODOh, you do?
SHERWOODOh, you're well-read.
MADDEN"The Honeymooners" and our congresswoman from Maryland.
SHERWOODOh, yes. I forget that this is always, you know, on cable television.
SHERWOODSo you can't forget. She wants to declare National Parkland on -- this is Congresswoman Edwards. She wants to declare already Parkland on the moon.
MADDENWell, I'm all for it. I think it was -- wasn't it Newt Gingrich who wanted statehood for the moon?
SHERWOODWell, you know, the Park Service we talked to, they can't afford to do what you're doing. I don't know if they can afford to do the paperwork for the moon.
MADDENThat would be -- I could imagine that would be difficult.
SHERWOODBut seriously, she wants to do it where the moon landed, I mean, where we landed on the moon. That's what she wants -- that part of the moon to be an answer.
MADDENI'd love to see like the fiscal impact statement of, you know, trying to figure out...
SHERWOODWhat right do we have? Is this like explore so that we can declare we own the continent of North America? We can go to the moon and declare it's ours as first arrival?
MADDENI guess so, right? I mean, I would think, you know, we...
SHERWOODMaybe our next guest will know the answer.
SHERWOODAdam Ebbin is a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat who represents the commonwealth's 30th District. That's Alexandria for people who don't go by numbers.
MADDENAnd Arlington and Fairfax, parts of it.
SHERWOODOK. Well, welcome to the program. Do you have any comment about, you know, national parks on the moon?
STATE SEN. ADAM EBBINWell, no. We've got lots of state parks in Virginia, but I haven't contemplated the moon.
SHERWOODI've got to ask you. We haven't talked about Gov. McDonnell. I had said on this program last week or the week before that I felt sorry for him. Now, I don't feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for the state. This drip, drip, drip of a disclosure, and The Washington Post is doing a fantastic job on the story, money coming out everywhere but his ears, coming to his family in all kinds of ways. What's your own -- I know you're a Democrat, but you're also a Virginian. What's your thoughts about it?
EBBINWell, it's sad for the state. We need to have public trust and integrity by those in office. And even if -- and this is if the letter of the law is observed, the spirit of the law needs to be observed too. And we've got to have good judgment. I mean, to take cash and luxury items is not acceptable.
SHERWOODHas anyone offered you something like that where you just told them, no, thank you? I mean...
EBBINI was offered a trip to France to visit inactive uranium mine with a stopover in Paris. And I didn't accept it for two reasons. One is I won't accept any kind of substantive gift from someone who's got active business before the state. And the other reason is although I told them that I was voting no against uranium mining, anyway that's my position, if I had learned something that would cause a sudden revelation, I would feel that the trip could look as though it compromised my judgment. So we've got to use our personal judgment as well as the law.
SHERWOODI think it's even important to ensure Democrats to say that Tom Davis, a former Republican congressman who represented Northern Virginia seven terms, as he liked to say, unindicted and undefeated, he said that this is not the Bob McDonnell I know and I knew.
SHERWOODHe said this comes out of the blue for him that someone as straight-laced, somebody considering -- considered a vice presidential candidate of the Republican Party, someone people have talked about maybe going on in running for president. This is just extraordinary that this could have happened, that he could've been so lax with how his family behaved in the governor's mansion.
EBBINWell, he's had a reputation as a squeaky clean guy and a law and order conservative, so it's not consistent with the governor who I know as well. That said, there's a lot that we need to learn, and I want all the facts.
MADDENDo you think that he should resign?
EBBINThere's an ongoing federal investigation, and at this point, I'm inclined to let the legal process play out at this point. But it could come to that, but I can't pronounce judgment yet.
MADDENIt seems to me though that Virginia -- we knew, you know, Tom and I cover the District, and we're always sort of looking at campaign finance laws and possible corruption. But Virginia, it seems like, just has some of the most lax ethics laws. And when it comes to accepting gifts or gifts to family members, there's no disclosure. I mean, it seems to me that this is something that elected officials would wanna look at.
EBBINIt needs to be and it will be revisited or visited in the next legislative session, and there need to be some kind of reasonable limits put on things. I mean, accepting a ticket to an awards dinner or a chamber of commerce event is one thing, but cash and luxury items are...
MADDENAnd there's no campaign finance limits in terms of how much you can give a candidate?
EBBINThat's right. That's right. I mean, I'd like to see public financing, which is not gonna happen in Virginia, but there are no limits.
SHERWOODYou're listening to "The Politics Hour." I'm Tom Sherwood, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Our guest is Adam Ebbin. He's a member of the Virginia Senate. He's a Democrat who represents the commonwealth's 30th District, which is Alexandria, Arlington, parts of Arlington, parts of Fairfax. Did I get all those right?
EBBINYes. Yeah. It goes from the airport on the river down to Mount Vernon.
MADDENOK. There you go.
SHERWOODAnd Patrick Madden is our guest analyst today.
MADDENI guess, Adam, I was talking to my colleague Michael Pope, who covers Alexandria, and I know this is something that you're proud of, but human trafficking, this is something that you have focused on. You've made it one of your signature issues. Can you just sort of talk briefly about what you've done so far on this issue?
EBBINSure. It's a hidden crime, and people don't realize that it can be going on next door to them. We've had, in Virginia, sadly and shockingly, cases where girls were being trafficked out of high school and brought door to door and offered for prostitution. So I've been able to pass things to see that education is available to school systems, been able to pass legislation to see that we will develop a state plan to deal with what we do for trafficking victims. I passed a few bills dealing with penalties. We've done kind of a patchwork.
SHERWOODIf foreign nationals bring someone in, maybe against his or her will, and have them on their foreign soil, embassies or whatever, is there anything you can do about that?
EBBINI don't know a lot about the federal law. But I think that embassies are pretty challenging. We've had some incidents in this area, as you know, of diplomats keeping people in domestic servitude which is just amazing that it can happen.
SHERWOODWith the Defense of Marriage Act, I want to go to that because it's really -- the District of Columbia and Maryland allows same-sex marriage. Virginia has it in state constitution that marriage is a union of one man and one woman. What is the economic impact of that now that the federal law is changing?
SHERWOODAnd there are many federal agencies and there are federal contractors in Northern Virginia who are gonna be torn between treating their employees as fully -- full employees or admitting that they had to go by the Virginia law and not recognize them as married. What's gonna happen economically? I know there's a lot of moral issues of people for or against it. But economically, what's down the road here for Virginia?
EBBINWell, it doesn't look good for the long-term future. I mean, we've got companies that considered not moving in to Virginia anyway because of the climate on LGBT rights. So if I were an employee, gay or straight and caring a lot about this, I'd be concerned. The federal benefits is -- looks like it might be a little smoother even though there are some benefits that deal with the state of celebration rather than the state of residence.
EBBINBut right now, for Social Security purposes, it's based on where you live. But there are 1,100 federal benefits or things that deal with marriage. And it seems like from what the president said, he's gonna deal with as many of them as he can through executive action.
SHERWOODI know some same-sex couples who are, in fact, deciding to move to the District and -- or Maryland, where they will be treated fairly. I just don't see how this is -- it seems like the trend line is going against the state.
EBBINWell, there was a poll unveiled yesterday by the Human Right Campaign that was conducted by a Republican and a Democratic pollster that showed 55 percent of Virginians favor marriage equality, which is consistent with The Washington Post poll for May. So the people clearly would vote differently if the amendment were revisited. And it will change in the future. It's just a matter of whether it changes through the ACLU court case or otherwise.
MADDENWell, yeah, I just wanna get in to that. I mean, do you think that it's gonna take the ACLU lawsuit to really get the ball rolling here, or will this happen through amendments and votes?
EBBINWell, we're -- we've tried in the general assembly to revisit it, but the soonest that it would actually be on the ballot for voters, if we had some kind of miraculous change of heart in the conservative House of Delegates in this year's elections, would be in 2016. So I don't know which is the ultimate action, but federal court action would seem to be more decisive than us appealing an amendment and then eventually establishing marriage. But right now, we don't have civil unions, domestic partnerships or the ability to recognize them.
SHERWOODWhat do you say to the conservative Christians and others who are simply -- this is -- same sex marriages are just against their beliefs and don't want to bless these unions by endorsement? I have a relative who's a Baptist minister, and he doesn't go out of his way to campaign against same-sex marriages. But he says he just doesn't believe that it's the right thing for the government to do to bless them.
SHERWOODAnd religious freedom in this country -- they're afraid that they'll have to have same-sex weddings in their churches, and they'll have to have same -- the all the things that will, they say, invade on their lives.
EBBINSure. Well, no one has ever forced the Catholic Church or the Mormon church to marry people who are divorced or nonmembers, that sort of thing. So that's just not gonna happen. And we can intertwine that into the law that no religion is required to celebrate weddings that they don't want to.
EBBINBut I tell people that this is the government treating people equally, and people are acknowledging more and more, even very, very conservative people, that there are relationships, that they are practical matters, that they are people raising children. And I've seen some of my colleagues move a bit. I don't know, if they're ready to move and vote for marriage, but I've seen them move on other issues of equality.
MADDENAnd as Tom mentioned, though, it's also the economic impact. I mean, I think you're gonna see just whether it's through health care or companies just not wanting, I mean, providing in healthcare, it just seems like this could have a big impact down the road for companies that are looking to either moving to Virginia or to stay in Virginia.
EBBINWell, I think it is important to recognize that companies can offer healthcare benefits to their employees' partners. They can offer life insurance benefits. They can offer others. It's just the state doesn't recognize people for additional purposes. And I shouldn’t say just, but that's really important. But private companies can offer the benefits that they'd like.
SHERWOODThat's Adam Ebbin. He's a member of the Virginia Senate from Alexandria and related other areas around it. I'm Tom Sherwood from Channel 4 News, sitting in for Kojo today. This is The Politics Hour, and our guest analyst is Patrick Madden from WAMU. Let's -- I don't know if this is on topic or not, but let's go to -- you have your headphones on. We're gonna go to Robert. Robert in Arlington, VA, you have a question for Sen. Ebbin. Hello? No, he doesn't.
MADDENWell, I'd like to ask a question. It's on...
SHERWOODOK. Well then, we'll go to our guest analyst.
MADDENIt's on this hybrid tax. And I was trying to wrap my head around it this morning, but I still -- it still doesn't make any sense to me.
SHERWOODCan you tell us what it is?
MADDENRight. So it would be a $64 fee on folks that have a hybrid or an alternative fuel vehicle, and the reasoning is because that it requires less gasoline but they use the same amount of roads.
EBBINThat is an explanation given by proponents. It was proposed at $100, but it doesn't make sense. It's a tax on technology rather than other things, and we should be not taxing people for doing the right thing. We don't tax people on buying home insulation. We don't tax them on eating broccoli but...
MADDENRight. I was trying to think of another example where you would be taxing someone for essentially their being conservative and conserving more energy were.
SHERWOODI think -- doesn't Virginia have a food tax, though, in a grocery? We do tax them for a while.
EBBINWe eliminated the food tax at the state level, but it still exists as a local tax, I believe, a portion that localities could choose not to accept. But for education and history of revenue, they do. But I just wanna follow up Patrick on when you say it doesn't make sense. Just illustrate the point, if you own a Chevy Malibu Hybrid, a 2013 in Virginia, it gets 29 miles per gallon. But you pay this punitive annual tax of $64.
EBBINIf you own a Chevy Echo or a Sonic, which is not a hybrid, a gasoline-powered engine fully, it gets 31 miles per gallon. So you get better mileage, and you don't pay the extra tax. Yet you get worse mileage, and you're paying extra tax.
MADDENSo what's -- I mean, but what's going -- I just -- I'm still trying to figure out what exactly -- what's going on here?
EBBINWell, I'm gonna introduce legislation with Delegate Scott Surovell for a repeal on the hybrids. The tax also applies to electric cars, which I think is fine.
SHERWOODWe got Robert back now. Robert, are you there?
SHERWOODOK. I'm sorry. Ask your question, please, sir.
ROBERTNo problem. I just -- this is a little bit off topic, but it's another topic I have a beef with Virginia besides the gay marriage issue. They are cutting back adjunct faculty and part-time state government work -- workers' hours because of the Obamacare Act. They don't want to institute it. They don't want to give us healthcare because we're making -- we can work 30 hours. So they're cutting back our hours so they're not obligated by the law to do this.
ROBERTAnd I talked with Adam. I think we met a couple of months ago. And I don't know if you want to speak to this. I just wanted to get it out there so people know about this issue.
EBBINSure. We did have a vote. The governor amended the budget successfully so that no state part-time employees could work more than 30 hours. And I actually saw the governor yesterday and brought it to his attention and asked if we could try and suspend that requirement since the federal government has suspended the mandate under Obamacare at least for the time being.
EBBINBut since it's in the budget and the budget has to force a law, I'm not optimistic that we can change it right away. But we're -- it's something that -- what they call an unintended consequence and something that every one of the 20 Senate Democrats voted against.
SHERWOODIt seems like the whole rollout of Obamacare is a lot bumpier than people were expecting particularly the supporters of it.
EBBINWell, it's a complicated matter, but it brings up another issue about Medicaid expansion in Virginia. And that's something that we should be doing, which were -- we have a pathway to do it through a commission, but there's a vast contrast between our gubernatorial candidates on it. So obviously, I support the Democrat Terry McAuliffe, but that's a pretty stark difference. It would mean between 30 and 35,000 jobs in Virginia and insurance coverage for up to 400,000 Virginians.
MADDENAnd the Jefferson-Houston School, which is in your District, this is the subject, I guess, of a lot of debate right now. It seems like the governor is trying to essentially take over the school, and it sounds like you're trying to oppose this. Can you sort of talk about this issue and what you're hoping to accomplish?
SHERWOODAnd tell us what the school is for those who may not know.
EBBINSure. This is an elementary school in Alexandria that's had a poor record over the years of meeting state academic standards. In fact, it hasn't the met the test scores that would otherwise exempt it from being taken over. The governor had proposed successfully an opportunity education institution, which would basically be a parallel school boards take over schools that don't meet standards over a period. But it's not -- it's something that I believe is not constitutional.
EBBINThe Constitution gives the power to administer the local schools to the local school boards. And the state doesn't have experience or this new board, which is not affiliated with the State Board of Education, hasn't been established. So it would take over schools and be in uncharted water. Alexandria, with a largely new school board or almost completely new, has worked hard at revisiting the school. And there's a new principal, there's a curriculum specialists, there's gonna be actually a physical new building built.
SHERWOODIt seems to me -- I've watched in Prince George's County for the -- this -- what I call the camel on the bareback -- the redesign of a school system where the county executive does some things, the school board does some things, state does some things. We've had a big change in the District of Columbia, that the whole education system in America is that we're constantly, constantly reinventing the wheel and going to the next big thing, a great leap forward or sidestepping, who knows what.
SHERWOODKaya Henderson is worried about that saying, we're just into there like the fifth year of the mayor being in charge with the schools and David Catania has got some major proposals, which some people really do like, but that we keep changing things. And this seems to be happening in all jurisdictions.
EBBINYes. I think this is too big a change, just to hand the school over to the state without local input, taking local taxpayer funds and being unaccountable to -- through election to administering them. So I agree with you. Are you gonna ask me about Ken Cuccinelli at all?
SHERWOODWell, since you're a Democrat, I know you're just dying to endorse him.
SHERWOODBut -- well, no. The governor's race is playing out in the shadow of this embarrassment with Gov. McDonnell. Some people have -- we've said -- we've talked about Ken Cuccinelli, very conservative Republican candidate and Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat, who's -- I think he calls himself a moderate or moderate conservative. What -- how would you describe him for a media story? What is he, a moderate, a moderate conservative, moderate liberal? Terry McAuliffe?
EBBINOh, Terry, I would call him moderate. Not as liberal as some, but not as liberal as me.
SHERWOODYou. Not as liberal as you.
EBBINBut I think he's in the mainstream on issues that people care about. But, you know, you would not be surprised by much I had to say about Cuccinelli and the issues. But you talked about ethics with the governor. And the same problem the governor is happening is playing out with Ken Cuccinelli. He's had a long relationship with this company, Star Scientific, didn't report $10,000 stock he held, didn't report $18,000 worth of gifts from trips, vacations to $6,700 worth of nutritional supplements. I don't know how you charge $6,700 worth of nutritional supplements.
MADDENThat's a lot of Red Bull.
EBBINBut there's a conflict that's -- it's a lot. But there's a conflict of interest because the same company sued the state. And the attorney general's office, of course, is the state attorney. And...
SHERWOODDidn't they reassign that?
EBBINHe recused himself only under pressure. But before he did, this company could be on the hook for $1.7 million in state taxes that belong to the taxpayers of Virginia if it's ruled that way.
SHERWOODHow do you answer the -- I read emails every day, the Republicans saying that Terry McAuliffe -- that he's a virtually a used car salesman, but he didn't sell the cars. They weren't built in Virginia. He -- all of his business dealings are suspect. And that he's more of a huckster, fundraiser for national Democrats and why he's lived in Virginia, he's not of Virginia, and that he's just trying to make a run for governor 'cause he thinks it'll be a cool thing to do.
SHERWOODIt's pretty aggressive criticism of him as a candidate.
EBBINWell, he has lived in Virginia for 20 years and he has been a successful businessman. But, you know, if you build your cars where you get the best economic deal, I don't know that we can hold that against you.
SHERWOODAnd now before we're going on, we have -- I was gonna wait 'till the end of the show, but it's too complicated. We have an email from a listener, who wants to talk about the moon and said it's all on the right path here. Our listeners may wanna know, this is -- it didn't say which it's from. "The 1967 treaty on principals governing the activities of states in the exploration and use of outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies."
SHERWOODWow, what a name. "It expressly forbids any nation from claiming or exploiting any celestial resource, the moon, for its exclusive purposes." So this email says, "So I'm sorry to burst Newt's bubble, as well as my own Maryland representative's' idea." So we've cleared that up.
MADDENOh, no parks.
SHERWOODOh, that's -- oh, it's Corey in Baltimore. Thank you very much.
MADDENAnd, Adam, before we let you go, you -- I was -- in my research I found that a great bill that you -- a law you overturned is making it legal 'cause I guess on the books it wasn't legal for restaurants to serve sangria.
EBBINThat's right. We've got some antiquated laws.
MADDENWell, that is a good one that was overturned.
SHERWOODAnd -- yeah, but sangria...
SHERWOODI've got have some good sangria. Adam Ebbin, thank you very much for being here today on Politics Hour.
EBBINThanks for having me.
SHERWOODPatrick Madden, thank you for sitting in for me.
MADDENI'm keeping it warm.
SHERWOODI'm Tom Sherwood from NBC 4, sitting in for "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening. Kojo will be back next week.
Most Recent Shows
More women on screen and more exploration are among the trends in video gaming this year. Tech Tuesday explores how pop culture and new technology are changing the gaming experience.
Airline profits are soaring but passengers feel squeezed. We explore the economics of flying as the busy summer travel season takes off.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has authorized a proposal to build a light rail line connecting Montgomery and Prince George's Counties. But he wants local jurisdictions to pay more for it. We explore where the debate heads from here.