Virginia Republican Party Chair John Whitbeck joins us in studio, and we get an update on Congress and D.C.'s "Death with Dignity" bill from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
It’s been a big week in Virgina politics. The commonwealth’s new attorney general does a U-turn on gay marriage and the state’s constitutional ban. Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife are indicted in federal court over a gift scandal. And a three-way runoff election puts another democrat in the State Senate, which could tip the balance of power. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Jack Evans D.C. Council member (D-Ward 2); Chairman of the Committee on Finance and Revenue
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
D.C. Council member and mayoral candidate Jack Evans discussed his positions on Nationals stadium and the potential for new D.C. United and Redskins stadiums. On a new soccer stadium, Evans said he supports the broad outlines of a deal, including where it would be constructed. He said it’s an “excellent idea” to bring the Redskins back to D.C. by building a new space at the R.F.K. Stadium site. While Evans agrees the football team should change its controversial name, he said a new stadium shouldn’t be contingent on a name change.
Reversing Course On Gay Marriage In Virginia
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring joined The Kojo Nnamdi Show on Jan. 23 to explain his decision to challenge the commonwealth’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour." I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief at Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIAnd as we are every Friday, we are joined by Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst. He is an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Thanks for being here, Tom. And I should say we hoped to be joined by you every Friday. I have been joined by you every time I've been here.
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, I’m on vacation again this week, but I had a great time sitting at home, looking out over the cold weather and the ice and the snow, and realizing I didn't have to go to anywhere.
SHERWOODBut I'm happy to be here today. A beautiful day. I drove up through Rock Creek Park. I don't know if you've been through Rock Creek Park. The Park Service does a great job on the roads. But the wooded areas with the snow -- it's a terrific scene, terrific scene.
BELLANTONIExcellent. Well, it is a winter wonderland. So we have a lot of hot news, actually, coming out of Virginia. It feels like the political universe in our region is focused on Virginia. We just found out that Bob McDonnell entered a not guilty plea, former governor of Virginia. His wife, Maureen McDonnell. And they set a July 28th trial date.
SHERWOODYou know, they are in the clutches of the court system. You know, the governor and his wife tried to delay this arraignment. And the judge said no. And I thought when the judge said, "No, you have to be here on Friday," that it was one of the best examples of how he has fallen from being the governor of the state to being just another defendant.
BELLANTONIAnd the last time I saw you we were talking about how this was sort of -- hoping that they would wait until at least he left office.
SHERWOODRight. Well, he did leave office. So he doesn't have to be the first governor ever in office to be criminally charged, but he is apparently the first governor ever to be -- ex-governor. Not that some of them shouldn't have been charged for something. But it's remarkable, you know, that they've surrendered their passports. And I've actually read the indictment. It's horrific. How did the governor -- assuming that him and his wife started all that (unintelligible) how did he get a $7,000 plus Rolex watch when they were struggling financially? And I'd ask, "Where did this come from? How did we get this? Why did we get this?"
SHERWOODI'm astonished. I thought he had such a sterling reputation as a moderate conservative, straight-laced guy. It reminds me, frankly, of Chuck Robb, you know, who was a moderate Democrat, upward trajectory, presidential material, and then he pals around with guys in Virginia Beach and gets all snared in that and the model from New York, Tai Collins. It's remarkable how people in such power do that.
BELLANTONIEspecially from somebody that had such a quick rise and was getting so much national attention, you know, led the Republican Governors Association, obviously was looked at by Mitt Romney as potential vice-presidential candidate.
BELLANTONII mean, we've both known him for years. He was one of the first people I met when I came to the region to cover Virginia politics 10 years ago. And you could tell he was sort of on this upward path. And then here you go. I mean, and it's also fascinating, Maureen and former governor McDonnell walked into the courtroom together, holding hands.
SHERWOODHolding hands. And there was a priest in line that somebody hugged. He hugged a priest, but didn't talk to reporters. I just tell you, I have been to any number of courtrooms where people have fallen from high public position to having to stand before a judge as an ordinary criminal suspect, charged in a crime. It's a horrific, humiliating thing for them to do that. And I'm sure that was quite painful for them. And I'm just wondering if -- now you think back, all these free golf games that you played or allowed to be played for your family members, these unsecured loans of $50,000 or $70,000…
BELLANTONIDriving the Ferrari.
SHERWOODDriving a Ferrari. Why in the hell would anybody in that position want to drive a Ferrari? I mean it just doesn't compute in any sense of the person who has given his life to public service.
BELLANTONIWell, it's very interesting. And it's also interesting -- the legal strategy. I mean, you have Governor McDonnell coming out and addressing the cameras and saying, you know, "This is absolutely not the case. I did nothing wrong. And I will maintain that." And obviously has a very intense legal strategy he's pursuing there. But also Johnny Williams Sr., I mean, one of his lawyers is Jerry Kilgore who was friends with Governor McDonnell, who was the Attorney General of Virginia.
SHERWOODYes. And Johnny Williams being the star scientific person who made of these donations, gifts and began cooperating with the prosecutors.
SHERWOODI just, you know, Governor McDonnell still has a fairly good -- people still think highly of him. I mean they like him. He is a likable person. He's not a fire-breathing conservative. He's a moderate conservative who fit the Virginia tradition. So I'm just shaking my head here of him showing up in the courtroom.
SHERWOODAnd now his position is that "I did nothing, as a governor, to quid pro quo for any of these gifts that we got." Whether they were unseemly or whatever. He says, "It wasn't illegal." But then you read the indictment and he makes suggestions to staff members to make sure so and so gets in touch with so and so to discuss so and so. And he can say, "Well, that's just business. I'd do that for any company."
SHERWOODWell, I'd like to see the companies he did that for. I'd like to see what he did, besides accept these tawdry gifts. I mean, as a nice southern, I tweeted this week that, you know, as a southerner I can say it, it just seems trashy.
BELLANTONIWell, we'd love to have the former governor call in and answer some of these questions for us.
SHERWOODI think his lawyer will say -- have a good answer to that.
BELLANTONIProbably not, but you can join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. Obviously send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet to @kojoshow. I'm Christina Bellantoni of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo, joined here in studio by Tom Sherwood. Sticking with Virginia for a moment, actually Roll Call had a little bit of a news story this morning, that Don Buyer, former lieutenant governor is telling Roll Call that he's looking at possibly running for Jim Moran's seat as the next best opportunity in politics for him.
BELLANTONIAnd it's really interesting to me, he -- in addition to being the lieutenant governor and a former candidate, you know, for statewide office, this is someone who was a big friend to Barack Obama, enough that he raised -- I believe it was $117,000 for him in the 2008 race, was rewarded with an ambassadorship to Switzerland. And this is -- Terry McAuliffe is governor, whose big political experience was raising money with rich people. And now, Ed Gillespie running for Senate against Mark Warner, who also has sort of that donor/consultant world -- isn't necessarily a retail politician. What do you see in these trends here?
SHERWOODWell, Ed Gillespie has a distinguished record as a political operative on the national scale. And he was very briefly -- less than a year or so -- the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party. He's not someone who essentially parachuted in to Virginia politics, like Chuck Robb did or like Terry McAuliffe as done.
SHERWOODHe has roots in the state. And he has a long track record in the traditional Republican Party. The poll that just come -- I'm not sure who did the poll -- showing a 50 to 30 percent margin. It's not surprising that Gillespie's just getting in. But he's not, again, a fire-breathing conservative, at least I'm not aware of that. He's more of the moderate conservative Republican Party.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, a lot of the traditional Republicans are trying to get some non-Tea Party candidates. So Ed Gillespie has the table set for that kind of campaign, but he's running against a very popular senator, Mark Warner.
BELLANTONIHow do you think he'll do with people when he goes out there and actually talks to voters? And we know he can do well in national politics and he's been successful there.
SHERWOODWell, if you're the chairman of a political party, whether it's the Republicans or Democrats, you have to have some people skills to get along with all of the myriad things that those folks want to do. And Ed Gillespie is an easy-going, hey, how are you kind of guy. He's not uptight. He's not stuffy. All the right things for his personality, I think, are pretty good.
SHERWOODI haven't done a candidate, you know, opposition research styled look at him yet, but he has a lot of the ingredients to be a solid Republican, mainstream, conservative candidate. The question is, do Virginian Republicans and the Tea Party section of that Party, want Ed Gillespie or do want another fire-breather like A. W. Jackson or someone like that?
BELLANTONIWell, that's a nice transition, I think, to talk about some other major news that happened in Virginia this week, where you have Attorney General Mark Herring, first Democrat to hold that office in many, many years, saying that he's going to try to overturn the same-sex marriage ban. And "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," spoke with Herring yesterday after this announcement. He couched his decision as putting Virginia on the right side of history. We're going to listen to that.
MR. MARK HERRINGVirginians, I think, have a lot to be proud of. We're known as sort of the cradle of democracy with Madison and Jefferson and Monroe and others. And we've got a lot to be proud of in Virginia. But there have been some times where Virginia has really been on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law in some key landmark Supreme Court cases. Brown versus Board of Education in 1954 -- Prince Edward County was one of the defendants -- and we were arguing against that. And on the wrong side of it.
MR. MARK HERRINGThe Loving decision, Loving versus Virginia, where the Supreme Court upheld the right of an interracial couple to marry. Virginia argued against that. The case allowing female cadets to enter Virginia Military Institute, Virginia argued against that. And, you know, I think it is time that if an attorney general -- if I have concluded that a state law violates the federal Constitution, that the state's attorney presents the state's legal position and come out on the right side of history and the right side of the law.
BELLANTONISo some Republicans in Virginia do not agree with the attorney general on this.
BELLANTONIYeah, to put it mildly, but this is obviously an evolving issue for the Republican Party, as you've seen it evolve nationally. And so earlier this morning I had a chance to speak with Northern Virginia delegate Bob Marshall, who has made this one of his central issues.
SHERWOODWho was supposed to be on the show, this be clear -- twice.
BELLANTONIYes. We needed to talk to him earlier. He couldn't…
SHERWOODWe've tried to get him on the show. He's a very -- I'm sorry to interrupt your introduction to him, but we did try to get him to be here with us.
BELLANTONIWe did, indeed. And instead we talked to him just a little bit earlier. And he co-authored the original amendment to the State Constitution in 2006, which had overwhelming support to not just ban same-sex marriage, but go a step further and make sure any type of civil unions or legal arrangements…
SHERWOODRight, 57 percent to 43 was the vote, yeah.
BELLANTONI…were banned. So here's his reaction to Attorney General Mark Herring. This is Delegate Bob Marshall.
REP. BOB MARSHALLWell, it sounds like he's preening himself to run for governor rather than make a decision based upon what is settled law here. Number one, Tim Caine was the one who signed the bill to put the marriage amendment on the ballot. He's now a U.S. Senator. Did he consciously sign a bill that violated the 14th Amendment to the Constitution? I mean, Mark Herring should be answering these questions. The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees with Mark Herring. Justice Sotomayor, when approached by the State of Utah, with respect that -- this is within the past, I guess, 60 days -- was asked to stay a federal district court decision striking down a similar one-man/one-woman marriage amendment to the State of Utah.
REP. BOB MARSHALLThat was sustained when Utah made a persuasive case that, hey, there's nothing prima fascia, unconstitutional about an amendment that says marriage is only limited to one man and one woman. So what is Mark Herring really talking about? He's trying to make history. He's not on the right side of it.
BELLANTONISo what are Virginia Republicans trying to do to respond to this? And what do you think the next move is? I mean the case you site in Utah is actually a rare one, I mean, given what the Supreme Court decided last spring.
MARSHALLWell, but the Court said, hey, there's enough argument on the side of marriage being between one man and one woman, that we're going to leave that intact. So, again, when Herring says he's reached this conclusion, he's out there on a limb by himself. The 14th Amendment, when it was passed in 1868, was side by side with laws in all but one state that criminalized sodomy.
MARSHALLWhen efforts were made to bring Utah into the Union, in which it was a territory and they had polygamy and Congress passed anti-polygamy statutes, the Supreme Court declined to allow representatives of Utah, which may be in polygamist relationships, to enter into the Union. And it was based on marriage only being between one man and one woman.
MARSHALLAnd 40 years ago an attempt was made to have two guys marriage each other -- or two women, whatever it was -- up in Minnesota. And the U.S. Supreme Court declined cert on an appeal from the Supreme Court of Minnesota, on the grounds that marriage is a decision to be left at the state level. So what Mark Herring is talking about is clear scholarship, is clearly a fabrication in my judgment.
BELLANTONISo it sounds like you're preparing all of these legal arguments. What is the action that Republicans can do to uphold this ban?
MARSHALLWell, Christina, we're in poker game and I'm not going to put all my cards on the table. All I'm telling you is this, Bob Marshall is not going to let this go without significant step-by-step challenge, ratcheting it up at every step of the way until we get final resolution, and put Mark Herring back in his constitutional place.
BELLANTONIBut what about what Herring is saying here? That you've seen the ground shift. I mean, schools were segregated and Virginia was a place where when I covered the State Assembly 10 years ago, you guys had sort of an event apologizing for the reaction to the Brown versus the Board decision. How do you know that the tide hasn't changed in Virginia over the last seven years since this passed?
MARSHALLShould Moses and Jesus apologize to anybody for affirming that marriage is between one man and one woman? I mean, who's Mark Herring, you know, Louis XIV? He's some standing constitutional convention, gets to announce this? Why didn't he tell everybody when he was running for office what he was doing? No. He kept this very cleverly to himself and sprung this like a Pearl Harbor attack on the people of Virginia after he takes an oath to defend the Constitution. He didn't give any little winces or put little asterisks in the air on January 11th, when he took the oath of office.
MARSHALLIt didn't say, you know, anything other than to defend the constitution. He's arrived at this position. The same day he arrives at this decision he's sending out email alerts asking people to endorse him, almost like it's his, you know, governor's campaign for four years from now.
BELLANTONIOkay. Well, you're suggesting that it's political here. So you're saying Republicans haven't announced exactly what they're going to do, but that you are going to continue to fight this.
MARSHALLLet me tell you what's going on. Republicans, for years now, have been wanting to duck all these social issues. And their refusal to face up to this and say, well, I want to talk about economic issues, but he wants to talk about social issues. Their refusal to frame the issue in terms that the people understand the common good, as marriage is most essentially beneficial to the common good, and it's very curious. Mark Herring doesn't bother to define marriage. Where did he get off being an attorney general and not even defining the terms that you're using in court?
MARSHALLI mean, who gave him the ability to become, you know, prince, you know, prophet and, you know, word master? Nobody. This is a total act on his own effort to take power to himself.
BELLANTONIWe're talking about more than marriage there. I mean Virginia's ban goes farther than just the banning of same-sex marriage. I mean, this is refusing economic arrangements that approximate marriage. We've talked to estate planners and lawyers here in Northern Virginia who say this has created a lot of hardship for same-sex couples that live in your state.
MARSHALLOh, get off it. Don't tell me that. You can have joint bank accounts. You can have joint tenants in common. You can do anything you want. You can't pretend you're married if it's two guys. Now, they haven't answered the question, why is marriage "limited to two people?" They haven't answered that. That's got to come. Why?
MARSHALLBecause the advocates for this are the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered. Well, bisexuals have to have at least one of each to be satisfied. Don't tell me this is not coming. This is to attack and undermine the most fundamental relationship between human beings that comes directly from the Creator and ought to be protected by the laws of man.
BELLANTONIShifting gears, before we let go, Delegate Bob Marshall, do you have reaction to former Governor Bob McDonnell who is scheduled to be arraigned today on federal charges related to gifts he received from a wealthy donor?
MARSHALLWell, very sad for Virginia. That's all I can say. I started to read the prosecution, but I'm distracted by these other things going on here in Richmond. It's not good for anybody.
BELLANTONIThank you for your time. Have a good day, Delegate Marshall. Thanks.
MARSHALLThank you. Bye, bye.
BELLANTONISo that was Delegate Bob Marshall, a Republican who represents the 13th District in Virginia's House of Delegates, which covers Manassas, parts of Loudoun and Prince William Counties. And he's the man who authored the amendment that banned same-sex marriage in the Virginia Constitution. So there's a lot to talk about here. Let's go to you, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, I think one thing we ought to say, whether you agree with Bob Marshall's characterizations and statements of facts about what the issue, he said Mark Herring -- I think he did in fact discuss this issue when he was running for attorney general. He did discuss it. I don't think he said blatantly, one of the first things I will do is I'll seek to overturn it, but he was very clearly against this law for the very reasons he's announced, that it goes against history and what Virginia should be doing.
SHERWOODAnd secondly, Bob Marshall talks about should Moses and Jesus apologize. I mean, I think this is one of the fundamental issues where your religious beliefs shape your civil rights beliefs. And I think that's where this breakdown comes in our country. That people can vary -- and a right to religiously believe anything that they want to, as long as it doesn't interfere with the rights of other people. And so to say that the Judeo Christian ethic is one that should be imposed on everyone else, you get into a very difficult situation because some of that we used to burn people at stakes and kill them.
SHERWOODSo, anyway, I just think that Mr. Marshall has a very strong emotional view. And he has a very strong following in Virginia. So will this be an issue that Ed Gillespie, for example, will have to get into to satisfy the Republicans when they go to their convention in June?
BELLANTONII'm sure Gillespie will have to be asked to weigh in on it. And we should point out that Delegate Marshall is a Catholic. You know, this is something that is true to his social conservatism, that he talks about his faith quite a bit.
SHERWOODWell, some of my best friends are Catholic and they span the globe of their political views.
BELLANTONIThey do. And there's a Wason Center for Public Policy poll from Christopher Newport University showing that only 36 percent of Virginians agree with Marshall's take. So there is an evolution here, just, you know, quite interesting. We have Joe, from Manassas, on the phone, joining us. You can also join our conversation by calling 1-800-433-8850. Again, I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, filling in for Kojo. Joe, thank you very much for joining us. And nice to talk to you.
JOE…example of the -- first of all, on the record, I'm not for banning. I'm more libertarian oriented. I'm not for banning gay marriage or abortion or any of that kind of stuff, however, this is one more example of the left view that if they think their cause is right, they don't care about the rule of law, they don't care about procedures. Let me give you one example. Let's say there was a Republican attorney general, who comes into office, who is against abortion, and he says, you know what? I think that a fetus is a person. And I think that the Supreme Court may someday say that, that it's unconstitutional.
JOESo therefore, I am going to absolutely do everything possible to shut every abortion clinic and to restrict everything within my power. Let me give you another example. Virginia Clean Air Act. An attorney general says, you know, I think this an illegal talking under the Fifth Amendment and therefore it's federally unconstitutional. So immediately we're going to file for repealing of all of the Clean Air Act and we're not going to enforce any of Virginia's environmental regulations. This is -- we saw this with Obamacare, with Barack Obama just wave the wand and changing laws that he has no authority to change.
JOEAnd now we're seeing -- hearing four days -- or just a week after taking the office to uphold the Constitution -- if you don't like the Virginia Constitution change it. There's a procedure. It was only changed six years ago and this man voted for it. I mean, it is, you know, the left should be jumping up and down and screaming against this action, but they are not because they like the result.
JOEAll you have to do is ask are you comfortable with one person having this power to do something that you don't support. And if you are, why have a legislature, why have a constitution process. I mean, at least he should have the integrity to appoint a special prosecutor like Cuccinelli did when Cuccinelli was supposed to enforce something that he didn't believe in in Virginia. But at least Cuccinelli appointed a special attorney to file the cases and support Virginia's position in the courts.
BELLANTONIThanks for your perspective, Joe. Appreciate your calling. We also got an email from Jonathan, who says he applauds Attorney General Mark Herring's position on gay marriage, but asks, "Could this divisive issue have the unintended consequence of rallying Virginia Republicans ahead of upcoming elections and tip the scales in the GOP's favor?" I mean, we've seen same-sex marriage has been a politically potent issue in the past, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, it has been, but you do not want the attorney general, whether he's conservative or she's liberal or whatever, to say, oh, well, this is going to affect the elections in the future if I take a legal position that I think I should take and then worry about the political consequences. We do elect people to be attorney generals and lieutenant governors and governors and other council members to make their best judgment on what to be done.
SHERWOODAnd of course they make political decisions, but I think if you look at Attorney General Herring's remarks of what he says and how he crafts it, I don't think he's making a political decision that this will actually be better for him in the future. I think he's decided that this is the right way to go.
BELLANTONIWell, we should point that he probably does have political ambition.
BELLANTONII mean Delegate Marshall's not wrong there.
SHERWOODI'm suggesting though that I don't think that he is doing this…
SHERWOOD…to win political favor going forward. I do think he makes the case of the historic dragging the feet that Virginia has been known for. And he says he doesn't want the state to be dragging its feet on this issue. So we'll see how it plays out politically, but I don't think this is a base calculated thing that Herring is going to do. And it certainly is going to fire up the Republicans on the other side. And we'll see what happens in their elections this year.
BELLANTONIYeah. Alex, in Silver Spring, Md., also has some thoughts here. Thanks for joining us, Alex.
ALEXHi. How are you?
ALEXYeah, I just wanted to comment that Delegate Bob Marshall's comments about this issue, they really betray that he has absolutely no understanding of LGBT life and LGBT issues. And he clearly doesn't even have a desire. His comments were just hateful and ignorant and don't really represent any aspect of LGBT life.
BELLANTONIThank you for your perspective, Alex. We appreciate that. We're also going to hear from John, in Arlington, who has some thoughts about the political consequences of this marriage question. Hi, John.
JOHNHi. Can you hear me?
JOHNYeah, I go along with your other caller about -- first of all. I mean if an attorney general could say, "Hey, in my opinion this law runs counter to what the constitution says. I'm not going to enforce it." You could have anarchy all over the country. And the Democrats are happy with it now, but if the Republicans ever did something like that, they'd be yelling to the roof, say on the Second Amendment, for example. But let's get down to the -- what Maryland did was the legislature passed a same-sex marriage law. They went to the voters and the voters voted on it and that really was the best way.
JOHNIncidentally, the margin of victory for same-sex marriage was far less than Obama's margin of victory, so I'm not sure you can conclude that the whole country's switching as much as you may think. And I think what they should do is go back to the voters in Virginia and with another amendment -- if that's what they want -- and see what happens. I think it'd be far less divisive if it either passed or failed than the way the attorney general's going.
SHERWOODCan I ask -- this is Tom Sherwood. Can I ask you -- as I understand it, Herring said he will not defend it in court and will help to seek to overturn it through judicial rulings, not that he's just going to ignore it and not enforce the law.
JOHNYeah, when you're elected to that position, like the guy said, he swore to defend the Constitution of Virginia.
JOHNIf he concludes that this is in opposition to the 14th Amendment, any other attorney general can do that and there'd be anarchy in this country.
SHERWOODWell, actually to defend the Constitution -- I'm not agreeing with him or not. I'm just saying that if you defend the Constitution, it doesn't mean that you defend it as it's written. You could defend the Constitution by saying you want to change it because you believe the law is wrong, but you have to go through a judicial process to do that. Now let me ask you about voting rights. You say take this back to the voters. Do you think civil rights should be based on popular opinion in polls? Your civil rights? Should we have vote on whether you have civil rights?
JOHNWell, as long as you agree that a polygamist marriages and polyandrying marriages are civil rights questions, too, we're fine. Because, like he said -- unless he's a hypocrite -- that the court said individuals, they didn't say man or woman. But by implication they also didn't say polygamists or polyandry was (unintelligible) either.
BELLANTONIThanks for your perspective, John. We appreciate that. We also have on with us, Thomas, from Germantown, Md., who has some more perspective on Herring's actions. And I think it's also were pointing out that we're seeing this test, same-sex marriage advocates are trying to put this on the ballot in a lot of places and force it at the state issue because they want to see where public opinion is. Thanks for joining us, Thomas.
THOMASYes. Good afternoon. Yes. (unintelligible) to prove it and I'm a Marylander. And, you know, it's funny, these Virginia politicians, especially the Republicans, they want to act as if Virginia is in a bubble. Virginia is not in a bubble. And everybody in that past Representative's district was not Catholic or, you know, against gay marriage and all like that. When you represent a district, you have to represent every citizen, whether they voted for you or not. You're supposed to represent the district. And if the polls show that the majority of state is leaning the other way, then to make the state good you are supposed to help improve the state, not cause divisive divisions and almost act like a segregationist.
THOMASNow, I don't understand why this member of the legislature was so opposed. He lost the election. Virginia spent extra money just to prove that the man lost the election. And now we have them bringing up same-sex marriage. Social issues are very relevant to the times we have.
BELLANTONIThank you for your thoughts, Thomas. We appreciate it.
SHERWOODIt makes me nervous when -- I don't care if you're on the liberal or the conservative or middle side -- where people site polls, because polls are X we ought to do this. I mean polls can be horrifically wrong.
BELLANTONISure. And the way you ask the question is influential, too.
SHERWOODAnd civil rights are not subject to polling. If that were the case, maybe women wouldn't have the right to vote, African Americans wouldn't. I mean any number of things would happen. Polling is not the answer. So if you're making an argument for -- I don't care what your position is. If you say the polls show people believe in it, that is a weak argument.
BELLANTONISo you're listening to "The Politics Hour." I'm Christina Bellantoni and the editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And this is a good transition to welcome our in-studio guest. That is Councilmember Jack Evans, from the District. He represents Ward 2 and he is a candidate for D.C. mayor. Thank you very much, Councilmember Evans, for being here.
MR. JACK EVANSWell, thank you very much for having me. Always a pleasure. And your new location, too.
BELLANTONIIt's pretty beautiful.
EVANSI thought maybe you moved so I couldn't find you, you know.
SHERWOODYou were listening to some of that Virginia -- first, let me -- when you've talked about the District, you've often made fun of Maryland and Virginia for various tax reasons.
EVANSI do, yes. Always.
SHERWOODBut what are your thoughts about Governor McDonnell going from a well-respected governor to in the docket for taking money?
EVANSWell, I mean, Governor McDonnell is an astute politician. And so you just have to sit and wonder what was he thinking? I mean to have, you know, you go back to the beginning. To have your daughter's wedding reception paid for by a political donor, I mean, no one in the District would even consider that. And the Rolex watch and the Ferrari and albeit, it was, I guess, legal in Virginia, but the perception -- and, you know, I think what happens with many politicians is one incident after another. And it's the famous adage, "Why'd you do it? Well, I didn't think anyone would notice."
EVANSAnd, you know, how he got himself in trouble, my recollection -- I haven't followed this that carefully -- is they didn't pay the cook or they fired the cook and then the cook, you know, reported and then it's like…
SHERWOODThe string unravels, exactly.
EVANS…the string and you pull it and the whole thing falls off.
SHERWOODAnd Sulaimon Brown was our string in the District of Columbia for the scandal.
SHERWOODAnd you're running against Mayor Gray. The prosecution of his campaign of 2010, the mayor won't talk about 2010. He only wants to talk about what he's one in the past, as long as you talk about his time as mayor. He doesn't want to talk about the past when it comes to his getting elected. What are your thoughts about that as a candidate for mayor? I know Tommy Wells and other candidates are like banging the drum about the ethics of it. Where do you stand on that?
EVANSWell, I've said all along and I still say what the mayor owes the public is an explanation from himself as to when did he find out that an illegal campaign was being run on his behalf and what did he do when he found out? You know, between June 1st of 2010 and when he took office in January of 2011, and then when this all came out in February, at some point in time, in that time frame, the mayor became aware of this. And so he had a responsibility when he became aware of it to disclose it to the Office of Campaign Finance. So when did this happen and what did he do? And I just saw Mike DeBonis's interview today, I think. I don't know if you've all seen it, but Mike…
SHERWOODYes. And I read it. It's an hour -- he talks for about an hour.
EVANSAnd Mike pressed him hard on the issue and they mayor, again, was unwilling or unable to answer that question, as to when did you find out. And it harkens back to kind of the Richard Nixon Watergate. When did Richard Nixon find out? Richard Nixon didn't break into the Watergate Hotel. He didn't even tell those guys to do it. But at some point he found out about it. And when he found out, what did he do?
EVANSWell, he covered it up. And that was the obstruction of justice problem that he ran into. And so with the mayor, it's just a simple question, is when did you find out? And then what did you do? And I think that's what people really want to know. And unfortunately, they're unwilling to provide that information.
BELLANTONIAnd that's going to be a central theme of your campaign, right? I mean, this is...
EVANSWell, no, it's not a central theme on my campaign. I'm running for mayor, not against the current mayor or anybody else. I'm running for mayor because I believe I can do the best job in taking the city from where we are now to a city that provides the prosperity we're enjoying for all the residents of our city. I've been on the council 22 years -- I know, Tom, you don't like me to say that because...
SHERWOODWell, it seemed to me like a long time.
EVANSYeah, A long time, but have really literally been involved with all the economic development projects, all the progress, really, that our city has made, particularly since 1999, and have been one of the key players. And I believe that, having that experience, knowledge, and leadership really enables me to be the best mayor going forward, building on the success of Mayor Williams, Mayor Fenty, and Mayor Gray.
SHERWOODA lot of people do in fact say that Mayor Gray has done a good job. He would say a lot of it's his own initiative but that he has continued the building on Mayor Williams and Fenty.
SHERWOODAnd there are a lot of things working well within the city. But what does that mean for you? How does -- for example, you become the mayor. What do you do differently or better than what the mayor did? Did you get a better fire chief? Do you blow up department employment services, which a lot of people think it's run terribly. Do you do -- what do you -- where do you point out differences in what you would be doing if you were mayor that Mayor Gray's not doing now? 'Cause you've gotten some flak for saying he's done a pretty good job.
EVANSYeah, well, and, again, he has done a good job. He's built on the success of the prior mayors, and I would build on the success of him and the prior mayors as well. And I think...
SHERWOODSo why not you then instead of him?
EVANSWell, one obvious thing is the mayor is involved in a federal investigation. At some time between now and four years from now, something's going to happen, and he'll either have nothing happen, a slap on the wrist, or something even more serious. And you just can't have that cloud hanging over your city as you go forward. And I think that's probably the biggest difference between the mayor and myself.
SHERWOODAnd what about public policies?
EVANSAnd then on public policy, though, I think what you need in a mayor is someone who -- the whole basis of the revitalization of this city has been our finances. And I know people glaze over when I start to talk about this. But right now, with the retirement of Dr. Gandhi, I am the last remaining person who started the Wall Street renaissance. Myself, Tony Williams, Linda Cropp, and Nat Gandhi went up in '99. I'm the only one left. And that continuity is very important.
EVANSAnd so, again, in a mayor, you want someone who understands this stuff, and it doesn't have to be explained to them or something they have to learn on the job. But beyond that, it's the expertise I have in economic development. What has not happened -- and we're trying to make it happen -- is the economic development in parts of the city, like Wards 7 and 8, that hasn't happened.
EVANSAnd, again, how can we be sitting here today, 3 years into the Gray Administration, you know, seven or 8 years past where the economic development started and have one sit-down restaurant in Ward 8, one sit-down restaurant in Ward 7. No movie theaters east of the river. I just introduced legislation to establish bids in Ward 7 and 8.
SHERWOODBusiness improvement districts.
EVANSBusiness improvement districts, and what -- the problem I'm having, it's getting too difficult to really help this city from the Ward 2 council seat. You know, you need to be the mayor. You need to set the agenda. You need to have the opportunity to make your ideas happen as the mayor, not from the Ward 2 councilmember. It's very hard -- Tom, and you know how this city's set up -- to try and do things in other people's wards. You know, there's always this territorial view.
EVANSSo when I start doing things in Ward 7, 8, 5, whatever it is, that councilmember sits up and goes, wait a minute, what are you doing over here?
BELLANTONIAnd Muriel Bowser has made a very similar argument from that perspective. I mean, how do you view sort of the other candidates here?
EVANSWell, again, I think the thing that distinguishes me is, again, the experience that I bring to the table. The other candidates have talked about doing things, but I'm the only candidate -- and I would include the current mayor in this -- who has produced tens of thousands of jobs for this city just recently with the convention center hotel. That is a deal that I did put together. And because of it, there will be 600 new jobs for District residents starting in May.
EVANSAnd I have created and put together -- and there's other people involved, so I don't want this to come across as being just I, you know -- but was a major player in the main projects, the Verizon Center, the convention center, the baseball stadium, the O Street market. I know the mayor takes a lot of credit for that, as he should. But the O Street market started long before the mayor was the mayor or even chairman of the council.
EVANSIt was a project that I had worked on and brought the financing to. And then he was very successful in helping out after that. And so that's why Vince and I, in many ways, get tied together. He was chairman of the council, and I was vice chair for 4 years and had a very successful run at that. And then as mayor, he and I worked together and had a very successful run at things. And so that's where you -- it's hard to differentiate the success.
SHERWOODWell, the flip side of that is, people that say, oh, Jack Evans, oh, he's too close to developers. Jack Evans, he's too close to the economic interests of the city and not enough to the struggling middle class or, you know, the -- there's a growing national debate about income disparity in the...
SHERWOODSo if you know how...
EVANSBut let me...
SHERWOODIf you know how to deal with developers to get projects going in the city, what do you say to the people in the low end, other than there'll be more jobs? But what do you say to the middle class people who are worried about being forced out of the city's -- and what do the poor people who don't quite have jobs -- I mean, there's something the government should be doing in addition to just promoting economic development. Are you just, as people say, the tool of developers? You've heard it a thousand times. So address that flip side.
EVANSI know. Yeah, let me address both of those issues. First of all, as being a person who supports economic development, developers, and et cetera, remember where we were in 1991. The best analogy I can give you -- and on a very serious note is we were like Detroit. Our center city was abandoned. Our unfunded pension liability was over $10 billion. Our finances were in chaos. And so we had to rebuild the infrastructure. And the way you do that is to create an environment where developers were willing to invest, to partner with them, so to speak.
EVANSAnd now we have rebuilt our city, and so for one to take the position you should have always been against developers, we would be Detroit today. And so we are not Detroit today. Now, having said that, Tom, as you know, Ward 2 at one time was a very diverse ward. It's not diverse today because the boundaries keep changing 'cause people keep moving into the ward.
EVANSBut I represent Shaw, Northwest 1, Southwest, and all of those neighbors. As we brought development to those neighborhoods, our goal -- and my theme -- was always the people who are here during the difficult times get to stay here during the good times. That was the result of the creation of the housing production trust fund, which has built more affordable housing in this city than any other mechanism that we have had.
EVANSAnd I've fought continuously to keep it there, extending rent control for 10 years to make sure that tenants can stay in their buildings, lowering property taxes to make sure that homeowners are not priced out of our city. The senior citizen bill that we just passed on first reading, if you're 75, lived in the city 15 years and earn under $60,000, you don't pay property taxes at all. And so that's what we're looking is to protect individuals as we bring the economic growth into the neighborhoods.
SHERWOODSo how do you break out -- you, Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, and even Vincent Orange a little bit lower in the polling are all kind of bunched together behind. Mayor Gray has only 24 percent of the people for him. Seventy-six percent are either undecided or against him, so that's pretty horrible for an incumbent. But the challengers are all bunched together. How do you break out from Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, and Vincent Orange, Andy Shallal, who's brand new to the business...
SHERWOOD...has shown up with a few -- five or 6 percent in the polling, which is significant for someone who's never been in politics before. There's a lot of stirring about opposing the mayor, but no one's breaking out. What do you do to break out?
EVANSWell, I believe there are 68 days left before the election, and you're right. Most people are just not focused on the fact that in 68 days, we're going to elect the next mayor of the District of Columbia who's going to be there for the next six years, for four years and then the years in between.
EVANSAnd so what I intend to do is, when people start paying attention to this, through our outreach, they will begin to understand how important it is to have someone as a mayor who brings that leadership, knowledge, and experience that can extend the prosperity this city is enjoying to everyone and someone at the helm who has done it. And I keep hearkening back to that. It's one thing to promise, I will do this. It's another thing to say, I have done it and can do it again and again.
SHERWOODThere is a liberal move -- the city's awash with money. There's going to be another surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars. The $1.5 billion's back in the bank. All those are good things. Councilmembers are saying let's spend some of this money on these various issues. And so maybe being the steward of a safe conservative office is not as important now. People want to just spend that money. Are you saying you're the check on a council running wild?
EVANSAs mayor, I would be the person who makes sure that the money we spent is spent wisely and produces the results that we intend. We spend over $11 billion in this city on 630,000 residents, more per resident than any city, county, or state in America. And because of that, we should have the best of everything.
EVANSAnd as mayor, my goal is to make sure that happens, whether it's the schools, education, whether it's on our public safety and the police and fire departments, affordable housing, job creation. All of these things we can do a lot better than we're doing, and as mayor that's my goal.
BELLANTONIYou're listening to The Politics Hour on WAMU. I'm Christina Bellantoni, editor-in-chief of Roll Call, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And you can join our conversation and send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, like Ray did. He's asking Councilmember Evans to please weigh in on what it will take for you to support the D.C. United stadium project. "Please go into as much detail as possible, just as your fellow councilmember Mr. Graham did last month in an op-ed in The Blade. In particular, how do you view the issue of the future use of the Reeves Center site?" Councilmember Evans.
EVANSAs you know, I'm a big supporter of a new stadium for the soccer team, the D.C. United. We are awaiting the mayor's proposal. But the broad outlines I do support where the stadium's being constructed and how we go about it. The Reeves Center is going to, as I explained to Ellen Yew, the Reeves Center land swap is going to be a controversial approach because you have to valuate it, how it gets swapped, you know, and all the details.
EVANSA better way, I would have thought, was, if you're going to use the Reeves Center to put it on the market, sell it outright, get the money, and then use that to purchase the land. It's much clearer. People understand that. And so one thing I'll be looking at is how they structure that. And, number two, the idea of equity sharing with the team, I think, is a terrible idea. Sports teams always lose money.
EVANSI think they have two sets of books, the ones they really have and then the ones they show the public. So I don't ever believe we would ever get any money out of that. I think what you want is a clear, concise, straightforward deal, like we did on the baseball stadium. Whether you agree with it or not, it was very understandable. This is what we pay, this is the money we need to borrow, and this is how we're going to pay it back. And that's how I would structure the D.C. United.
EVANSI would love to get it done as soon as possible. D.C. United is a great team. And of all the sports soccer franchises, there are only two now that don't have a new stadium, and we are one of them.
SHERWOODCritics say that we overpaid for the baseball stadium. What is the status in paying off the bonds for it? And has it hurt the city's (unintelligible) ?
EVANSNo, it hasn't. See, the way it was structured is we had to build the new stadium ourself. Otherwise, Montreal would not have moved here. People just don't understand that. It was very close to going actually to Virginia. But we had the three taxes we put in place, the tax on utilities, largely federal government, the tax on the businesses, and then the taxes on all the stadium things, the rent and all the things sold at the stadium.
EVANSSo I have said this repeatedly, and I'm absolutely right. If you don't go to the baseball games, you don't pay for the stadium at all. The utility tax is largely on the federal government. The business tax is on businesses. And the other taxes are on people who (unintelligible).
SHERWOODI've got to ask one last question. For the last -- since Tony Williams, through Adrian Fenty and Mayor Gray, you have been supporting bringing the Washington Redskins...
EVANSAbsolutely. Football team.
SHERWOOD...Washington football team, right, to it -- for it to build its own stadium on city land where RFK is now.
SHERWOODWhat is the status of that? And are you getting pushback? I know some of the people who live on the east part of Capitol Hill are worried that their housing and sort of retail and all the things they want in open space will be pushed out. Can it survive with the people who live up there? And is still a good idea? And we won't talk about the team's record right here.
EVANSThe team's record or name.
EVANSBut the concept of bringing the Redskins back to the city is an excellent idea.
SHERWOODIt's a billion-dollar business.
EVANSYes. Putting the -- the way the concept would work is you would tear down RFK stadium and then build a brand-new stadium there. The discussions...
SHERWOODThe city of the team?
EVANSNo, the team would have to pay for the stadium. And it would be a dome stadium, so you could hold a Super Bowl as well as other events. And the beauty of that site is you already have 10,000 surface-level parking spaces there. You have a Metro stop on site and three access roads. And if the stadium's about 75,000 seats, what we're talking about -- RFK has about 50. And when the Yankees played the Nationals there -- that's our recent experience -- you could get people in and out of there very easily.
EVANSAnd I think people on Capitol Hill are always concerned about that, rightly so. But remember the Nationals played 81 games there. We're talking about eight football games and then other events that would be there, but nowhere near 81 games.
SHERWOODBut what about getting the shopping and the retail that people in the east end of the city there want? Is that going to ever get there? I mean, they had a plan worked out 15 years ago or more, and nothing's happened.
EVANSI think you would get it there much faster if the football stadium were located there 'cause you're looking at Hill East which is to the south of where the stadium is. And if you had...
SHERWOODBut D.C. General is and all there, then we need a new jail and all kinds of things.
EVANSYou'd take that all down. And then if you had, say, 75,000 people coming there on a given Sunday, it's like our Verizon Center experience. When they pour out of the Verizon Center, they don't go home. They go to all the restaurants, shops, and bars and everything around there. And you would have that same experience happening if you had a stadium. Contrary...
SHERWOODWould there be neighborhood grocery stores and other things that you would want?
EVANSYou would produce all of that. See what's happening around the baseball stadium. Contrary to what the naysayers always say -- they come in with these stacks of studies, how sports stadiums don't help anybody. Go down to the Verizon Center today and tell me that that was not a success. Or go down to the baseball stadium. Maybe in other cities, it didn't work. But I got to assure you, it works here.
BELLANTONIAnd should the team change its name.
EVANSIt should change its name. But I hate to get involved in tying that to their coming back to the city. And that may very well be a problem. But, yes, it should, and I hope someday the National Football League and the owners of the team realize that and come up with a new name for the team.
SHERWOODDavid Catania is an independent councilmember. He's the chairman of the Education Committee. He's made it pretty clear he's going to probably run -- is going to run for mayor as an independent in November. He's making education almost 100 percent of his goal, saying we can't fix all of the problems in the city or most of them if we don't have a well-educated school system or kids in schools.
SHERWOODWhere do you -- schools are really important. Middle schools -- or people -- they come to the elementary schools. They bail if they can at middle school. High schools are kind of a mix. What's -- where does education fit in your own plan? And how do you differ from Catania or the other -- Tommy Wells who wants a school for everybody to be able to walk to it?
EVANSYeah. I -- education is -- you've heard my speeches. It is first and foremost the most important issue I would have as mayor. And how I differ from my colleagues, Mr. Wells, Catania, and others, is I would not be the school chancellor. I would be the mayor. And sometimes when I listen to them, they sound like the chancellor. When we set the system up the way it is now, the mayor controls the school system. The mayor hires the chancellor. The chancellor then runs the school system with some direction by the mayor.
EVANSWe didn't set it up for the council to become the School Board, which is increasingly happening as well. What I would do is -- Kaya Henderson, I like her. I would work with her. I would ask her to stay. And hopefully she would. And we would continue the reforms necessary to make this a better school system. There are two areas, though, that I would add to it. And as you know, I'm the father of triplets, three kids.
EVANSMy wife passed away when they were 6, so I was very involved in education, albeit they went to private school. I understand that. But they did go to school. And you do learn about kids' education, regardless of where they go to school. One thing I would work towards is a goal of getting all of our children in this city in school at an earlier age. If you can get kids in school at -- I...
SHERWOODAren't they in at 3 already?
EVANSWe're at 4 years old now. And I applaud Mayor Gray who has really led that. But get them in school earlier and then the after-school services that are so important to children, those are two areas I would focus on in addition to improving our system.
BELLANTONIThat's where we're going to have to wrap it today. But we would be remiss if we did not mention Miss Virginia Williams, the mayor -- the mother of former Mayor Anthony Williams.
EVANSOh, yes. Mayor Williams' mother passed away two days or, yeah...
BELLANTONIShe passed away yesterday. She was 87.
SHERWOODDelightful lady. She was...
SHERWOODShe filled a room with her enthusiasm. She's the opposite of Tony Williams. He's shy and retiring and reluctant to speak. And she comes in -- she took the room over. She was delightful, and she was (unintelligible)...
EVANSWhen I ran for mayor in 1998, and Tony Williams was the other candidate, we all felt we were running against Virginia Williams...
EVANS...because she was the life of the party at all the debates and everything. So she will be sorely missed in this town.
SHERWOODBig heart. And there will be some event to -- for a memorial service to be scheduled.
BELLANTONIThanks very much to Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst and NBC 4 reporter and columnist for the Current Newspapers, and Councilmember Jack Evans of Ward 2, candidate for D.C. mayor.
BELLANTONIThanks for being here. I'm Christina Bellantoni who's sitting in for Kojo.
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