Kojo talks with one of the reporters behind a recent Washington Post series on black wealth in Prince George's County and examines the lingering impact of the housing crisis in the Washington suburbs.
Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates turn up the venom on each other. A proposal is spiked for a musical amphitheater in a District park named in honor of one of Washington’s most beloved musicians. And Maryland seeks private help for building a light-rail line connecting Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. Join our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; author, "Shotgun Justice: One Prosecutor's Crusade Against Crime and Corruption in Alexandria and Arlington"
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Mark Obenshain Republican Candidate, Attorney General, Virginia
- Isiah Leggett Montgomery County Executive (D)
Mark Obenshain, a Republican running for Virginia attorney general, discussed the state’s anti-sodomy law, which makes sodomy illegal among consenting hetersexual and homosexual couples. The law is often used to give harsher punishments to convicted child molesters. Some in the state have called for a legislative fix that clarifies the law. Obenshain was ambivalent about whether he would support such a fix, which will go before the General Assembly in January 2014. “I think it depends,” he said. “It may be that we may need to craft an entirely new statute. It may be that the fix is simply carving out the portion of the statute that was declared unconstitutional.”
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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. He's back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. What did you do during your vacation?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI rest, you know, the whole time, you know, don't put up with media questions and just had a nice time. I went to New York overnight. I thought Patrick Madden did a great job, though. I was on the train listening to some of that.
NNAMDIWe will discuss...
SHERWOODI almost called in, but I just thought your program would be better without me calling in.
NNAMDIWe'll discuss a little bit of Patrick Madden's reporting this week during the course of this broadcast when he filled in for Tom as our guest analyst last week.
SHERWOODHe almost did a great job.
NNAMDIAnd he almost did a great job. And this week, we do have a guest analyst who I guarantee will do a great job. He's WAMU 88.5's Michael Pope. He's a reporter and also for the Connection Newspapers. He joins us in studio. Michael Pope, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL POPEIt's great to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIOf course you can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Tom, this past week, The Washington Post, it was reported, will be on sale or has been sold to Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com. As somebody who covered Virginia politics and District politics for The Washington Post, those of us for whom this is a hometown newspaper are mostly concerned about whether the level of The Washington Post local reporting will be either, A, carried on or, B, upgraded. Bob McCartney says -- the columnist, in a really self-serving column, Bob -- says he thinks it should be upgraded. It should be expanded.
SHERWOODAnd he thinks Jeff Bezos should keep all the columnists.
NNAMDIExactly right. It should be expanded.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I worked at the Post for 15 years before I went to work for Channel 4. And I used to not say anything about the paper, but if I said anything critical, people were saying I was bitter, glad I left...
SHERWOOD...although not bitter. And if I said anything positive, they said, oh, you're just trying to get a job back there again. So now I feel like I can speak freely about it. I do -- I mean, I was down there on Monday when the decision was announced, and I talked to Leonard Downie, who had been there 50 years as -- under him as executive editor, the paper won 20 -- got 25 Pulitzer Prizes. None of them were mine.
SHERWOODAnd I talked to him, and it was just -- whether you left the paper voluntarily like I did, whether you resigned or retired, whether you are forced off by the many buyouts of the last five years or more, there's a personal emotional drag that the newspaper -- the dead tree version is virtually gonna go away, and the new emphasis is how does Jeff Bezos bring it into the 21st century? And I hope he does.
SHERWOODHow is he gonna do it? No one knows, and that's the big unanswered question of what the sale means. And I think you'll still see local reporting. It'll change in some ways. They're already moving to a lot more video on the Web, but I do think it's a historic moment in local Washington regional politics and life.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, Michael Pope, you should know that what this means is that no more trips to the Virgin Islands for Tom Sherwood to spy on Marion Barry. That's a story we discussed here before...
SHERWOODYou know, I had some really great trips following the mayor around, I have to tell you. Thank you, Mayor Barry.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden, we mentioned earlier, is our guest analyst last week. This week, Patrick Madden has been reporting that in that very complicated deal to bring a soccer stadium to Buzzard Point, the city apparently overlooked a conversation with the owners of Super Salvage, a scrapyard which is on the proposed soccer site. A company executive for that company saying that the business was not inclined to move from its site.
NNAMDIAnd then, of course, City Administrator Allen Lew saying, look, we can exercise eminent domain if we choose to, but we would rather have a conversation or an ongoing conversation and negotiation. How can they overlook the owners of Super Salvage?
SHERWOODWell, this is something of an embarrassing blip for the -- Mayor Gray's administration for not knowing all the -- knowing clearly who all the players are in the -- and the owners of the land. But it is also true that Mark Ein, who owns a very small part -- I think, it's adjacent to the Super Salvage -- has been in deep discussions and even once had an option to buy that Super Salvage land.
SHERWOODBut the city, admittedly, Allen Lew, the city administrator who negotiated this deal, acknowledged that they thought Mark Ein could speak for that land and not the actual owner until Allen Lew said they'll be meeting with that owner. And I don't think this is gonna be a problem. It's a blip on what is already a very fast effort to get all the land deals done by Jan. 1.
NNAMDIPatrick Madden reporting today that apparently Mark Ein does not own that land. He owns the park, the piece next to it, but that is not his. We move on now to the politics of the commonwealth of Virginia because joining us now in studio is Mark Obenshain. He is the Republican candidate for attorney general of Virginia. He's a member of the Virginia Senate who represents the commonwealth's 26th district. Sen. Obenshain, thank you very much for joining us.
STATE SEN. MARK OBENSHAINWell, it's great to be here.
NNAMDILet me ask a question because with Michael Pope and Tom Sherwood here, it's probably the last opportunity I'll have. Earlier this week, the man you were wanting to replace, Ken Cuccinelli, called on the governor to hold a special legislative session this year on ethics. He said there are severe holes in Virginia's system and that the longer legislators let the issue go, the harder it will be for them to restore trust in the system. As someone who is running for the top legal job in the commonwealth, how do you see it?
OBENSHAINWell, I'd like to say that we in Virginia are different in that we don't require ethics reform or that we don't need to do anything. But I think by virtue of having watched the newspapers and watched the story, it's clear that we do need to do something, and it saddens me that we need to do it. But I have, gosh, back in mid-June, put forward my suggestions and recommendations for ethics reform.
OBENSHAINI think that we really do need to step forward soon and adopt limits on gifts. Politics ought not to personally enrich people who elect to serve the people of the commonwealth of Virginia or anywhere else. And I think putting a limit, a cap on gifts is something that we must do and that we need to do it soon. I think that we need to make it clear that you can't avoid that limit by having those caps, by having members of your household accept gifts instead of you, all in favor of that, and I think we need to look at the penalties for that.
SHERWOODSenator, what do you mean by soon? Do you mean, yes, to a special session, or you think it's something the general assembly can do in January?
OBENSHAINI think it can do it during a special session, and I think it can do it in January. I think that, you know, the dynamics are that if we do it in a special session, it is -- I think there's gonna be even more pressure to get something done.
POPEAre you in favor of a special session?
OBENSHAINI'm in favor of doing it in a special session or in January. And I think that we need to address this and that I'm happy to do it in either a special session or when the general assembly gets back together in January.
POPEIt will be a cost to taxpayers to have a special session. Is it worth it?
OBENSHAINWell, you know, every once in a while, you have to -- you -- the cost winds up being well worth it in terms of being able to get something done and get something done quickly. Yeah, there will be a cost, and as somebody who's been pretty parsimonious with the public purse, it's something that I don't take lightly.
OBENSHAINHowever, we've got a system that operates on the confidence of the voters. And I -- heck, last year I dealt with voter ID and dealt with that because dating back as long as 2000, we had what people identified as a crisis in confidence. And I think that we need to take reasonable steps to make sure that the confidence of the voters is restored.
POPEIs it really that much of an emergency, though, that it's worth the cost to taxpayers to turn on the lights and pay the salaries and have a special session?
OBENSHAINWell, you know, in terms of the cost, you know, I certainly want to be parsimonious with the public purse. I think that most of those staff members who wind up being there, I don't know that the cost is that much in terms of the benefit that's gonna be received. But I think the likelihood of a special session is, you know, something that -- given the response this week, unless something changes, I think the general assembly will be back in January to take a look at it.
SHERWOODHave you advised Gov. McDonnell whether to call the special session?
OBENSHAINHave I advised the governor?
SHERWOODWell, another issue while we're in this mire, muck of the ethics issue, the gubernatorial candidate Mr. Cuccinelli, a Republican, has about $18,000 in gifts from this businessman who's at the center of the dispute with the governor and has said he can't return the money 'cause some of the things were events. And you said that you -- I think you were quoted this week as saying you can't imagine accepting $18,000 in gifts as a public official.
OBENSHAINWell, I'm talking about...
SHERWOODDoes Mr. Cuccinelli need to do more to clear the record there?
OBENSHAINWell, you know, I think that what we have is a different situation, and, you know, I think that what the attorney general received were a number of products, I suppose we should say. I have no idea what in the world the value is of nutritional supplements. I know that there's a price that's attached to them. Now, what the value is is a -- an entirely different question. That's something you're just gonna have to ask the attorney general about.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to the telephones. Please don your headphones, Tom, because Sophia in Alexandria, Va., has a question about ethics reform. Sophia, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SOPHIAHi, Mr. Obenshain. How are you?
OBENSHAINI'm doing great.
SOPHIAGood. OK. My question is the attorney general doesn't have a vote in the general assembly. What can you actually do to enact meaningful ethics reform in that position?
OBENSHAINWell, you're right, and the attorney general -- heck, right now, I've got a vote in the general assembly. So I suppose if the general assembly gets together before January, I would have a vote on it. If it comes up in January...
POPEBut maybe your last time to have a vote on it.
OBENSHAINYeah. It will be. I'm a glass-is-half-full guy. I believe...
SHERWOODAnd you'll live, if you're elected attorney general, you'll live by whatever is decided.
OBENSHAINWell, more than that. And I think that irrespective of the outcome of the general assembly's actions, either in a special session or in January, I've made it clear that I'm gonna live by the proposal that I've made whether it passes or not. And I think that irrespective of the fact that the attorney general doesn't have a vote, the attorney general certainly has a platform and an ability to have an impact, and I certainly would be an advocate for taking action to reform these gift laws.
NNAMDISophia, thank you for your call. In case you're just joining us, our guest is Mark Obenshain. He is the Republican candidate for attorney general of Virginia. He's currently a member of the Virginia Senate. He represents the commonwealth's 26th district. Michael Pope is our guest analyst today. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Kojo has left the building. Tom?
SHERWOODI know you wanna talk about more than this ethics mess that's affecting the gubernatorial candidates this year particularly. But the Martinsville Bulletin, which is a -- in the far south, but below Roanoke, said in an editorial this week that Mr. Cuccinelli should do more, says you can't un-ring the bell. I think that was the phrase Mr. Cuccinelli used when he got a $1,500 Thanksgiving dinner and vacation lodgings and other things worth about $18,000. But even in far Southwest Virginia...
OBENSHAINBy the way, that's not far Southwest Virginia.
SHERWOODWell, it's not as far as -- I realized that. South of Roanoke.
OBENSHAINWe can drive about five hours southwest.
SHERWOODA.L. Philpott's home.
SHERWOODYes. I know where it is. I just -- let me just say it's far Southwest Virginia for someone who stays in the District of Columbia. But they call it -- they really said he ought to do something and -- 'cause it is hurting his campaign, and it's hurting the Republican ticket. Should he not be a little more aggressive in clearing this up?
SHERWOODJust donating to charity, donating to, you know, the media organization who knows?
OBENSHAINLook, he's got -- certainly, has been asked that question. I'm sure that when he comes and visits with you all, you all are gonna ask him that question. And I'd urge you to.
POPEI wanna ask you about the anti-sodomy law in Virginia. This is something that has been in -- there's a legal challenge right now working its way on appeal. And basically, there's a Virginia law that makes sodomy illegal. This includes oral and anal sex, including -- between people that are married. And one of the reasons for keeping this is that it's often used by prosecutors to go after child molesters.
POPEAnd I was speaking to a prosecutor in Northern Virginia this morning, and he was saying that his office has actually used this to go after child molesters 'cause they can use it as part of a toolbox. Whereas, you know, if they have a particular offender, they might have a misdemeanor, but they can use this law to add a felony conviction onto the sentence to get a longer sentence. However, the drawback to this is that it makes it illegal for many kinds of heterosexuals, consensual, married sex, as well as homosexual sex. Or a lot people feel like this targets the gay community.
POPEAnd so I wanna give you chance to make some news here, which is by piggybacking on something the prosecutor told me this morning, which is there's a legislative fix to this, which is you can change the law in a way that just goes after the child offenders and makes that a felony conviction and sort of rewrite the language in a way that takes out all of the illegal language for consensual, oral sex and anal sex. Do you have any thoughts on a legal fix for this as opposed to this legal challenge that's going through the federal court system right now?
OBENSHAINYeah. Well, sure. You know, I think that when the United States Supreme Court declared that these sodomy statutes were illegal, were unconstitutional, with respect to consenting adults, I think that there was general consensus that that portion of the statute was absolutely null and void, absolutely had no impact. And I do understand what was not clear at the time to members of the general assemblies that there were prosecutors who had been and continued to use that statute for purposes of prosecuting child predators.
OBENSHAINAnd it is important. There is an important, certainly, public interest to making sure that we go after these people. I mean, in many instances, these really represent the worst of the worst or people who are on the pathway to being the worst of the worst, those who would take advantage of our kids. And we've got to make sure that there is a -- an appropriate remedy.
OBENSHAINAnd it may very well be that if the Supreme Court has not decided by January that the appropriate course to remove the uncertainty is to amend that statute to make sure that the entire statute doesn't run the risk of being held unconstitutional for purposes of future prosecutions, I supposed if the 4th Circuit is upheld, and the Supreme Court doesn't take this case, you know, there is something in the neighborhood. I forget the number.
OBENSHAINMaybe 90 people who were on the sex offender registry as a result of not consensual acts between consenting adults but for their actions as predators with respect to minors. And we've got to make sure that looking forward that we have appropriate remedies for the criminal activities of these people. Nobody -- I mean, I certainly am not advocating, you know, maintaining a statute that is -- has been held as facially invalid and unconstitutional.
POPESo why not go with the legislative fix, then?
OBENSHAINYou know, that's gonna be before the general assembly in January. I think that the general assembly is gonna have to take a look at it if the Supreme Court...
POPEWould you support that?
OBENSHAINI think it depends. I mean, I think we've got to figure out whether the -- I mean, if there is a likelihood that the entire statute is gonna be held unconstitutional. It may be that we need to craft an entirely different statute. But it may be that the fix is simply carving out the portion of the statute that was declared unconstitutional in the Lawrence case by the Supreme Court.
NNAMDISpeaking of unconstitutional, some high-profile laws are being challenged in court as we speak, including the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia. You've made it clear that you will have no problem defending that measure which you voted for as a legislator. Why?
OBENSHAINWell, let me point out that the job of the attorney general in Virginia and elsewhere is to represent his or her client. And in this instance, my client would be the commonwealth of Virginia, and one of the tasks and responsibilities is to defend our laws and our constitutional provisions. And, in fact, in this instance, I'm running against a guy who also voted for the constitutional amendment and has repeatedly defended his vote in favor of the constitutional amendment.
OBENSHAINSo both us presumably thought it was constitutional back in 2006 when we both voted for it. You know, I have not changed my mind with respect to its constitutionality. And even if I disagree and not happen to support it, but I understand fair-minded people are on both sides of that issue. And even if I disagreed with the wisdom and prudence of the constitutional amendment, as long as it is constitutional, I believe that it is the duty of the attorney general to stand up and handle it.
OBENSHAINLook at California. The attorney general there made a unilateral decision, I'm not gonna defend the constitutional amendment. So when the Supreme Court made its ruling on that constitutional amendment, they didn't rule that is was unconstitutional. They ruled that the state of California defaulted. And, you know, I think it's important for the attorney general in Virginia to stand up and defend our constitutional provisions and not substitute his or her judgment for the 1 1/2, 1.25 million Virginians who voted for it. And I know...
NNAMDIOf course, your Democratic opponent, Mark Herring, has not yet taken a position on whether he will or will not defend the amendment if elected. You're saying that whether he -- if he is elected, you feel that he has an obligation, as you would, to defend it.
OBENSHAINWell, I certainly feel that that would be my obligation. I voted for it because I thought it was constitutional at the time. And I'm not gonna suggest that I'm gonna substitute my judgment for that of the voters, and I think that it's up to the courts to decide.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Danny in Alexandria, Va. Danny, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANNYHi, Mr. Obenshain. I've sort of been following your career closely and was pleasantly surprised when you came out in opposition of workplace discrimination and discrimination in higher education based on sexual orientation. But I was a little surprised and wanted to know why you -- if you oppose it, you've repeatedly voted against legislation that would protect LGBT, Virginians from discrimination on the job because of who they loved.
DANNYAnd I think this (word?) session you actually sponsored legislation to legalized state-funded discrimination and higher education club.
OBENSHAINWell, thanks for the question. Let me -- that's a multipart question. There are three or four parts. Let me try and tackle it as best as I can as quickly as possible. Number one is the commonwealth must not discriminate on irrelevant basis with respect to employment, and I think it's very clear that the governor has adopted a policy that is enforced, is current and is effective in prohibiting discrimination across state government agencies in the commonwealth of Virginia.
OBENSHAINYou know, I've been an employer for a long time, and I believe firmly that it is inappropriate to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation in the workplace. And that would certainly be my policy in the office of the attorney general next. You ask about the legislation that I introduced this past year, dealing with colleges and universities and, you know, I think that -- with due respect, I think that there's some misunderstanding. This is a piece of legislation that is viewpoint neutral.
OBENSHAINIt allows basically the freedom of association clause, and the First Amendment of the Constitution have meaning and effect. You say that it -- you're concerned that it will permit discrimination on campus. I think it does exactly the opposite.
OBENSHAINYou know, if there is a -- and LGBT club on campus at a university in Virginia and let's just say that an evangelical group decided we want to take it over and essentially put it out of existence, this would permit the organization to say, well, look, we're gonna limit the membership of this organization to people who agree with the shared mission as long as it's a constitutional mission. It permits, you know, a, you know, a Republican group or a Democratic group to say, you have to be a Democrat to be a member of the Democratic club.
OBENSHAINYou can't have the college Republicans come in and take over. And it is important to make sure that -- and it was necessitated by a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that these all-comer policies, so-called, all-comer policies that some colleges and universities have adopted saying no discrimination on any basis prohibits those clubs from limiting membership to people who share their mission.
NNAMDIDanny, thank you for your call. Tom?
SHERWOODWell, I wanna go to transportation, Northern Virginia's favorite subject. The candidates for governor today discussing it, talked about parkways and Gov. McDonnell's massive transportation build. Mr. Cuccinelli didn't like it and wanted some changes made.
SHERWOODWhat can you, as the attorney general -- you said that some of the powers of the attorney general are limited. But what, as the attorney general, can you do to help Northern Virginia's transportation woes? And do you have any direct role? Do you, like, select bond counsel and things like that as attorney general? Or what is your role there?
SHERWOODWhat do you wanna see?
OBENSHAINYeah. Well, the -- first of all -- gosh, you remember a few years ago, we passed a transportation bill that was challenged by a group, including a member of the general assembly, and the first threshold is if this transportation bill that passes here is challenged. I will tell you, I will vigorously and aggressively defend it. And that is my job, and I have -- will do it unflinchingly. I think second is the obligation of the attorney general's office to make sure that, to the extent possible, we make good deals.
OBENSHAINAnd, you know, we certainly have an aggressive Public-Private Transportation Act that permits the commonwealth to make deals concerning transportation. And we've made some good ones and we've made some that are of questionable wisdom. And the attorney general certainly can't craft the deals but can certainly have a role in advising the state about the deals. Finally, I think that the attorney general has an important role in making sure that our transportation dollars get where they belong.
OBENSHAINWe need to make sure that they're converted into asphalt on the ground and not administrative overhead, that we don't waste them with expensive project labor agreements, union-only projects and the like. And yes, we do have a role in the selection of bond counsel and other counsel representing the commonwealth, and we need to be thoughtful and deliberate in that process as well.
SHERWOODThat's a major unseen power. Do we have time to ask him about ObamaCare and the state mandates?
NNAMDIBefore Michael Pope takes over, yes.
POPESenator, one issue that's come up on the campaign trail a lot in your campaign is this piece of legislation that you introduced requiring women to report miscarriages. And there's been a lot of criticism of this legislation, and a lot of people are having a hard time sort of wrapping their heads around why this might have even been necessary. Tell us a little bit about this particular piece of legislation and why it was necessary.
OBENSHAINWell, first of all, it turns out it was not. And let me just -- let me make it clear, this is...
SHERWOODCan I interrupt you just for a moment...
SHERWOOD...just for technical reasons? My TV camera doesn't like the back of your head. Could you just...
OBENSHAINI thought this was radio.
SHERWOODIt is radio but later it may not be. Thank you very much.
OBENSHAINYeah. Let me just tell you, this was a piece of legislation that was not introduced at the behest of any pro-life group or any social group. We had, in the Shenandoah Valley, a situation in 2008 in which a college student gave birth to a full-term baby and threw that baby in a dumpster. And that baby was never found. The mother told medical care providers what happened, and by the time law enforcement went to look for that baby to determine whether it was, you know, a homicide or not, the baby was gone.
OBENSHAINAnd our commonwealth's attorney Marsha Garst came to me and asked me to help her to introduce a bill that would protect newborn babies in situations like that, and we crafted this bill and introduced it with the help of Ms. Garst and legislative services. And when it was introduced, I realized that it was grossly overbroad, and I called Planned Parenthood and NARAL and asked them to help me take a look at it, to see whether it could be narrowed. And they determined -- agreed with me that it could not.
OBENSHAINAnd I struck that bill before the first hearing, before -- and best of my knowledge, any new story, because it was going to do what you suggest which was never my intention, and I would've never allowed it to proceed. So it was a bill drawn to address this specific law enforcement issue, and unfortunately, some law enforcement issues just can't be addressed by legislation, and that's one of them.
NNAMDIOnly have about a minute left. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODIt's just the 35th anniversary of your dad's death, isn't it?
SHERWOODAug. 2 was 35 years.
OBENSHAINThat's exactly right.
SHERWOODHe would have been a senator -- leading his 1978 Senate race. John Warner ultimately ended up getting that seat. A personal thought of -- a lot of people may not know who you are, but, you know, obviously a lot of Republicans remember your dad, Dick Obenshain. But what would you like people to know about you personally?
OBENSHAINWell, I thank you for that little bit of history. I'm proud of my...
OBENSHAINYeah. I'm proud of my heritage. I was 16 years old when that happened. My dad was running for U.S. Senate, was killed in a plane clash while the Republican nominee -- what I will tell, and I know the time is short, but I'll tell you that I grew up in a period in Virginia politics in which Republicans won elections not by running the red flag up the flagpole and saying, "Vote for me because I'm a Republican," but they won by reaching out across traditional lines, the independents, Democrats and Republicans and building those coalitions.
OBENSHAINAnd I'm going to places all over Virginia that are not traditional places where Republicans go. And I'm taking this message all over the Commonwealth of Virginia trying to build this coalition that I believe is a mainstream Virginia coalition that we're gonna win this election with.
NNAMDIMark Obenshain, he is the Republican candidate for attorney general of Virginia. He's a member of the Virginia Senate who represents the commonwealth's 26th district. Sen. Obenshain, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
OBENSHAINWell, thanks. It's great to be with you.
NNAMDIComing up next will be Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett. But before we get here, our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, we got a question from Carol who couldn't stay on the air for our guest analyst today. He is Michael Pope, a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers.
NNAMDICarol wanted to know about your unique on-air signoff, and she says, "Is this something that reporters actually rehearse? Is this something that you actually practice?" This, you should know, is not the first time people have remarked about your unique signoff.
POPECan we hear it before he discusses it?
SHERWOODYeah, I get it all the time. You know, I've actually been -- I tried to tone it down a little bit. I guess that hasn't been evident -- not here.
POPEOK. Do it for us and then tell us about it.
SHERWOODWell, you're talking about I, Michael Pope, which is how we end the newscast. You know, when I first started at WAMU, it was the signoff -- the standard out cue was different. We used to say, Michael Pope, WAMU 88.5 News. And then we change that to, I, Michael Pope, which is actually much shorter, which means you can fit more text into your story, which is a good thing. But you sort of end with the -- saying what your name is. So that's just how I say my name.
NNAMDIWhich is like me trying to explain to people why I say Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDII don't know. It's just the way it comes out.
SHERWOODMark Decaro also has a very interesting and unique signoff that's important to note.
NNAMDIYes. That's just the way it comes out.
POPEThere's a lot of clutter out there. You have to distinguish yourself. Fortunately, some of us just have these horrific Southern accents that -- oh, yeah, that's Sherwood talking.
NNAMDIPresent company accepted, I was about to say, but he outed himself right there. Joining us now in studio is Isiah Leggett. Ike Leggett is the executive of Montgomery County, Md. He is a Democrat. County Executive Leggett, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ISIAH LEGGETTThank you for having me back again, Kojo.
NNAMDIWe're not going through another summer of massive power outages, but you've been plenty steamed about Pepco recently. You've made it clear that you're not OK with the rate hike that they've been asking for. Why does it not sit well with you, and what hopes do you have for your appeal of it?
LEGGETTWell, first of all, Pepco has, in fact, made some progress from the de-ratio a few years ago. But I don't think that they're at a point now to deserve the rate increase especially a rate increase of $60 million. Now, the Public Service Commission reduced it, about a half of that, but Pepco is also appealing -- seeking the original amount that they want, that is, the 60 million. Not only are we getting an increase in the rate, which I think is premature, but they've changed their process for which they would go about awarding rates in the future.
LEGGETTThat is something called resiliency -- grid resiliency charge, which I think is unprecedented in many ways. And I think that that will set a precedent that it will be very difficult to justify going forward. For those two reasons, I thought it was important that we move forward to oppose a rate increase and also this resiliency charge.
NNAMDIYou seemed to say that even though Pepco has improved its communications in some other systems, there has not yet been the kind of challenge that will let us know if this -- if those improvements are, in fact, really effective. So we shouldn't start paying for them just yet.
LEGGETTOh, that's correct. And I hope they'd never have that challenge, and I think that if we wait for a period of time to continue the progress that they're making, there may come a time that they will justify a rate increase where, I think, right now is premature.
SHERWOODWhy should the utility companies make money anyway when, you know, they just provided good service?
LEGGETTWell, that's a question that's already been asked by the Maryland General Assembly. And I think that there is some people who are rethinking that process. But right now we have what we have, and I don't think there's a likelihood to have a utility company that would not make money or that the public officials would take it over in terms of municipalities or counties around the state of Maryland.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850 if you have questions or comments for Ike Leggett. He's the Montgomery County executive. You can also send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Keep going, Tom.
SHERWOODDo you wanna talk about trees or highways?
LEGGETT(laugh) Either way.
SHERWOODI like the trees.
POPEOr trains, the Purple Line.
SHERWOODWell, I should have said -- what I meant by highway is transportation, that's true (unintelligible)
LEGGETTBut first of all...
NNAMDILet's talk transportation. Gov. O'Malley was in Montgomery County earlier this week when he rolled out an announcement that the state would be seeking a private partner for help building the Purple Line light rail project which would connect your county with Prince George's. You have said that a lot of Montgomery's ability to generate jobs in the future depends on investment in transportation infrastructure. How does this week's news fit into helping you get to where you feel the county needs to go?
LEGGETTWell, let's go back a little bit 'cause I recall on this very show, many years ago, I indicated that I... (laugh)
NNAMDIThat's what I don't like about you. You remember things you said. Yes.
LEGGETTThat I indicated that I thought the state needed increased revenues for transportation. And I called for a gasoline tax and people boohooed that idea. And I said it was the right thing to do for all the reasons you've just stated. It has taken a while to get to this point. But before we could ever get to a discussion about any of the transportation projects in Maryland, throughout the state of Maryland and Montgomery County, you need the revenues in order to do so. We now have the revenue. Without that, we would not discuss any of these projects.
LEGGETTNow, clearly, in Montgomery County, we have, somewhere in the neighborhood, 100,000 jobs that we are already on the way in planning and construction that will come to a halt unless we resolve the transportation challenges whether it's the courtesy to transit, whether or not it's East County, wherever you looking throughout this county, we need the transportation infrastructure to move forward.
SHERWOODWell, I want to ask, part of this deal was to get a private contractor and shovels wouldn't be in ground or bulldozers or whatever you call them, until 2015 or so. What kind of timeframe, ideally, are you looking at to get all of these done?
LEGGETTWell, that's the timeframe that is suggested, but it's gonna be a challenge to get there because it requires not only some additional state moneys, it gonna require some local contributions as well. And that's a very optimistic approach, but I think that given the fact that we now have revenues, it is doable in the foreseeable future. Without that, we were not even in the ballgame. At least we're at bat and hope to find a way to get back around the bases of home. So...
SHERWOODIs there any doubt that the Purple Line is, in fact, needed, that maybe it's not needed?
LEGGETTWell, I think it's part of our master plan. It's already been demonstrated that it is needed. It's part of the master plan. My role, as county executive, is to implement that master plan and to find the revenues to make certain that we can go forward. That's where we are now. We're not going back to re-debate the issue whether or not it's needed at all. We're beyond that point. We are now close to acquiring some of the additional lands that's needed, and hopefully if there's funding in the future and help and support around the state in federal sector, we can move forward.
LEGGETTBut there are some challenges with that though.
POPEYou mentioned acquiring land. One of the potential drawbacks to the Purple Line is there is some concern that the project might encroach on land that is now the Capital Crescent Trail. Talk a little bit about the -- how the environment might change for the trail if the Purple Line is constructed.
LEGGETTWell, I am a very strong defendant of that trail, and I will not support any project that would compromise that trail. And this plan that we have envisioned thus far is designed in such a way that accommodate this trail. And if there is a challenge with that, then we need to go back and look at that design because I am not part of any process that's gonna jeopardize this trail.
LEGGETTIn fact, I started with the trail first and then we added the Purple Line later. So I'm a very strong defendant of that trail, and I think the master plan calls for the trail to be constructed consistent with the Purple Line and that's what we should fight for.
POPEBut it will change the environment, right?
LEGGETTCertainly it would.
POPEI mean, part of the land that's now the trail and the environment of the trail, there would be some encroachment on that, right?
LEGGETTThe question is whether or not that encroachment is such that it actually destroys and makes the trail ineffective and destroys what we originally anticipated, that is that both could go together in harmony. If that's the case, we need to go back and look at the design.
NNAMDIMr. County Executive, don your headphones, please, because Lindsey in Rockville would like you speak with you. Lindsey, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
LINDSEYHi. Hi, how are you, county executive? I'm calling regarding transit today and specifically the bus rapid transit plan and how much of a priority you're planning to make that in the coming years and how you envision that becoming part of the county?
LEGGETTThank you for your question. Well, it's very clear that it is part of the plans going forward because in order to assure that we have the transportation capacity, we need to find additional ways in which to move people and, certainly, we cannot do it by cars. The vehicle rapid transit as opposed with bus rapid transit is an option to do so, and I'm very supportive of it. And I think that we can do it in stages over a period of time. It's not something that's gonna happen overnight. It's a very ambitious and, in some way, a very costly plan. And therefore, we cannot fund it all in one swoop.
LEGGETTBut it needs to be part of the discussion, especially in those areas where we need to come out with additional solutions in order to help us to move people and to do so in an area that especially accommodates both traffic convenience as well as economic development purposes.
POPEOn the issue of vehicle rapid transit versus bus rapid transit, one of the issues that's come up in Arlington is this discussion of a streetcar, whether or not a street car is appropriate, whether or not bus rapid transit is appropriate, whether or not you can even call it bus rapid transit because in many parts of this with the Columbia Pikes streetcar project, you can even have dedicated lanes.
POPETalk a little bit about the thinking, if there is any, on a potential for a streetcar and, you know, why the decision or sort of what the tradeoffs are versus -- streetcar versus bus rapid transit versus vehicle rapid transit.
LEGGETTThe original idea promoted by Councilmember Marc Elrich, who has really worked on this and done a terrific job of getting us to this point, was for vehicle rapid transit. But nowhere in that discussion, I think, that he exclude other forms that would help us achieve the same objective. So if it's possible that in some areas we can have the kinds of street cars that you now see in the District of Columbia, I think the plan that he's envisioned could, in fact, accommodate that.
LEGGETTI think when you look at the corridors in a large community, like Montgomery County that covers a larger geographical area, it was thought that the bus rapid or vehicle rapid system would probably be much more accommodated. It's probably better for a trolley-like system to operate into sort of closed-in suburbs, that is from one point to the other within, say, Silver Spring or Friendship Heights or Bethesda.
LEGGETTBut if you're gonna move people much farther than that distance, I think you may wanna have a vehicle rapid transit system with dedicated lanes at some places. In some place, you may not have that. And so you have to tradeoff some of the negative aspects of taking away a dedicated lane but anticipated as to have dedicated lanes.
NNAMDIHow do you think the county's recent experiences with the Silver Spring Transit Center are going to inform your future attempts at big infrastructure projects? And we got an email from Richard about the transit center, who says, "When will it ever open? I walk by every day and see nothing going on. I'm so sick of climbing that hill to my bus."
LEGGETTWell, first of all, if he looks closely, he'll see that something is, in fact, going on. They've started reconstruction and remediation. I take responsibility for this. And I take responsibility of knowing that, I think, I did the right thing because I was not about to accept a project that I thought had some challenges and flaws. We could've accepted this with minor remediation. I was not satisfied with that.
LEGGETTBut if you look at the plan that was outlined by the consultant, they indicated two things, A, there are serious flaws, but secondly, you need to address those things. And we are, in fact, doing it now. We have all the contractors online. We're moving forward with that. Originally, it was anticipated that we may get at least a remediation done by the end of the year. But I'm not giving that as a indication of when we'll be finished. We will finish when I believe that it is safe.
LEGGETTWe're looking at a system that would be with us for the next 50 years. And I'm not about to rush in for purposes of PR or whatever in order to get something less than that. I apologize. You know, I think that it's unfortunate that people had to go through (word?) route to get into the transit center. And we hope to try to make that better for people as we go forward. But we are not gonna open the center unless we are satisfied that it's ready.
NNAMDIHere is Andrew in Olney, Md. Hi, Andrew.
ANDREWHi. I just wanna ask the county executive, well, I'm an avid cyclist. And I wanna -- I vote for transportation commuting and also for sport and recreation. And I wanna ask the executive what he's gonna do about folks sharing of the road with cars, whether we can get the signs that say, share the road with cyclists, just on any old county road. And also, why can't we put bike lanes down the middle of Rockville Pike as a way of commuting? Thanks.
LEGGETTIn fact, we are currently in discussion about how we do that. In fact, this past week, I dedicated a bike share in the Shady Grove area, another connection that we have there, and we have several that will go into effect this September, October timeframe. And along with that, we are looking at additional engineering solutions to accommodate what I hope would be many more bikes that are out there on the road. And all of the ideas that you've suggested are things that are currently under consideration. Again, we're gonna engineer...
SHERWOODIncluding Rockville Pike?
LEGGETTPossibly but we'll have to look at the safety associated with that. But we're looking at all of those possibilities, along Georgia Avenue, Rockville Pike as well.
SHERWOODIs it your expectation that new roadways that are constructed will provide pedestrian and cycling...
LEGGETTIn fact, that's what we're doing especially in areas where it can be accommodated. But in a few areas where you have very narrow...
SHERWOODI'm talking about new construction...
SHERWOOD...where you just include it in the planning as opposed to an afterthought.
LEGGETTOh, yes. This is part of on-going planning now with the 21st century that you have to include bike path as well as places for people to walk and the safety elements as well.
NNAMDIHere is Lyn in Clarksburg, Md. Lyn, your turn.
LYNHi. Good afternoon, Mr. Leggett. How are you?
LYNI have a question for you. I live in Clarksburg as you heard. And I'm very concerned because we won't see the connection for observation drive from Germantown to Clarksburg for probably several decades. I understand that's very expensive. We won't see Midcounty Highway extended to meet our Snowden Farm Parkway till at least 2030, probably 2040. And we will not see the CCT for probably another 30 years if ever. So I'd like to know what you'd say to us.
LYNI know you're a strong advocate for transit, but we don't have any transit at all out here. We're kind of stuck. And we were hit disproportionately by the gas tax increase because we do not have transit. We have to rely on our cars.
LEGGETTWell, as you know, we are currently in somewhat of a stalemate with some of the local developers out there about transportation funding. We have and we're looking very seriously at adjusting some of those plans because you are correct that it may take much longer than originally anticipated to build in all of those projects you've just discussed.
LEGGETTOur plans along with some of the recent development challenges that we have over there is to try to make certain that we improve and have the bus system much more readily available for people in Clarksburg. But we need to get those projects off the ground that you just described to ensure that we get those sooner than later. Just recently, I entered into at least part of he negotiations and agreement with some of the developers to, in fact, move some of the projects along that you've just discussed.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lyn.
SHERWOODI used to go to the Montgomery County Fair. I haven't been in a lot of years. There was some fight over the land or whatever (unintelligible) or whatever. What is -- what does the Montgomery County Fair -- I think -- is it opening this week or it's already open? What does it bring to the county? It seems a little bit outdated in some ways. But what's the purpose of it?
LEGGETTWell, people sometimes are somewhat amused, in fact, when I say that we have almost 100,000 acres of agriculture and open land in Montgomery County, that we have a very, very strong agriculture sector in the county, 35 minutes from the nation's capital. And that's actually something we pride ourselves on. And the fair is one of the ways in which we demonstrate our heritage to agriculture and to the land that we have in the county.
LEGGETTIn addition to that, it provides us with employment, employment in a sector that people have forgotten, that one that is environmentally friendly, one that provides food and nutrition in a very costly -- a very cost-effective manner, close to home. All of those things are associated with the fair. So you maintain that heritage. It's not something that is forgotten.
LEGGETTIt is something that's part of our ongoing economic development processes in Montgomery, something that we pride ourselves on. We have almost 100,000 acres and thousands of people working in that sector and produces and provide large numbers of jobs.
NNAMDIWho makes sure that the midway rides are safe?
LEGGETTYeah. We had...
SHERWOODWe had some incidents about that this year on various places.
LEGGETTOh, yeah. Well, we go to the permit and services, both at he local and state level to make certain that they are safe and they're up to code.
NNAMDIYou took some heat recently for asking The Fillmore Silver Spring concert venue to reconsider it's booking of the band Molotov over concerns that you and others have about homophobic lyrics in one of their songs. You said you understand that distasteful speech is protected speech -- you are after all an attorney -- under the First Amendment and that you are not trying to dictate the venue's booking choices, but that this particular case crosses a line with you. What, in your view, is the outcome you would like to see there?
LEGGETTWell, if I had another way, they would cancel and rebook someone else there avoid...
NNAMDIBut you don't have your way.
LEGGETTWell, I don't have my way, (laugh) so I can't do that. But I think that when you look at -- and here is some of the confusion. This is a county venue. This is a county venue. People forget that Fillmore is a county venue. And there were some confusion believing that the county was, in fact, the entity that was booking the concert's acts at Fillmore. We're not. We have an arrangement with Live Nation that does that. And they've done a pretty good job up to now.
LEGGETTI just differ with them as it relates to this particular act. And so I wanted to make sure that the public fully understood, A, that it is not the county that has booked the particular acts, and then secondly, to let them know that I, as county executive, had some real, real challenges with this type of language being used in the lyrics in their songs.
SHERWOODIt's gonna be there on Aug. 26. Are you concerned that there'll be demonstrations or public safety issue?
NNAMDIHeck, he might be leading them.
LEGGETTThere very well maybe some demonstration. And I don't think that there'll be public safety issues, but people have an opportunity to voice their concerns. And they are writing and texting about it now. And there have been some discussion about picketing. But I don't think there would be any violence as a result of that. I think people really want to have their voices heard and to make certain that the Fillmore organizers understand those concerns.
POPEThe caller, a few minutes ago, brought up the Corridor Cities Transit-way, which connects parts of the county where there have been a lot of developments happening in that area. Why is that a lower priority than the Purple Line?
LEGGETTI think it's a lower priority. I think that the Purple Line started first and was well out in front in terms of funding. It's an equal priority with me. And it's a very important one because you have a large number of jobs that are tied directly to that, right now. The John Hopkins projects that we have. You heard the voices of people concerned about what is happening to Clarksburg. So it has large numbers of people involved.
LEGGETTIt has direct impact on employment. And it can be done relatively cheap compared to some of these other projects around the Purple Line as well as the Red Line. So it's not something that is back in the background. I think that we can move forward to do both of those. And for me, it's an equal priority that cost less, and hopefully, we'll be able to move forward on both of those.
POPEThat sounds expensive. Moving forward both of them at the same time?
LEGGETTThere may be a little bit of adjustment. But to keep in mind that Corridor Cities Transit is about one-quarter, one-third of the price of the Purple Line. And so we anticipate moving forward with both of these projects. Clearly, the Purple Line is at the top of that because of our master plan and what we've done thus far in the funding that we're receiving from that state. But we don't intend to jeopardize the Corridor Cities Transit as a result of the movement on the Purple Line.
NNAMDIAmy in Silver Spring, you only have about 30 seconds left. But go ahead, Amy.
AMYI was interested in your upcoming trip to China. I'm interested to see what growth potential that has for Montgomery County's industries and growth and development.
LEGGETTWell, thank you. We will be signing a sister-city relationship with Zion and China, also part of a economic development trip that we have planned that will coincide with. We have a large number of biotechnology firms in Montgomery County, and it is really the epic center in this area for biotechnology. And a large number of the Chinese firms are moving into those areas as well.
LEGGETTAnd so it is our anticipation and hope that we can continue to build those ties with a very large Chinese community that's already existing -- that already exist in Montgomery County with the growth that we see in China. Hopefully, we could come away with some understandings, some agreements that will allow both sectors to, in fact, flourish.
SHERWOODWhen are you going?
NNAMDIIsiah Leggett is the...
LEGGETTWe're going on the 15 of September.
NNAMDIIsiah Leggett is the executive of Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
LEGGETTThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIMichael Pope is our guest analyst. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5 and the Connection Newspapers. Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Have a great weekend, Tom.
SHERWOODThank you very much.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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