Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker joins the broadcast to explore the challenges in his jurisdiction - and those throughout the D.C. region.
D.C. lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana. Maryland’s House of Delegates ponders raising the state’s minimum wage. And Virginia Republicans seek a special session to resolve a dispute over expanding Medicaid in the Old Dominion. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Delman Coates Democratic Candidate, Lieutenant Governor, Maryland; Senior Pastor, Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, Clinton, MD
- David Grosso Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large)
- Charles Robinson Political Correspondent, Maryland Public Television
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Delman Coates, a Democratic candidate for Maryland lieutenant governor, said he and his running mate for governor, Heather Mizeur, support marijuana legalization in the state. Coates said his campaign doesn’t see decriminalization as the right course for Maryland because it wouldn’t stop the profitable underground drug economy. Marijuana legalization is a public health issue, not a public safety one, Coates said, and the central question for lawmakers is whether marijuana users should be incarcerated for their actions. “Prohibition doesn’t work. We believe that legalization — if we legalize, tax and regulate marijuana — this is the appropriate step,” Coates said.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," with a cameo appearance by Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
MR. KOJO NNAMDICharles Robinson is our guest analyst today. He's a reporter with Maryland Public Television. Charles, good to see you again.
MR. CHARLES ROBINSONAlways a pleasure to see you here in the District.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist with the Current Newspapers. He makes a cameo appearance on "The Politics Hour," today, by telephone. Tom Sherwood, why is this?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI'm not a first-time caller either.
NNAMDINo. But you're calling because there's a very important news event that is anticipated here in Washington, having to do with -- by the way, aren't you supposed to be on vacation?
SHERWOODUnfortunately, I am on vacation. But, you know, this week you have some big news. Just yesterday the Washington Post reported first that Jeffrey Thompson, the financier behind the alleged shadow campaign for Mayor Gray, was in the "final stages" of a plea negotiation with prosecutors. That's important because Jeffrey Thompson and his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, had been fighting the prosecutor's tooth and nail for every document along the way for the last couple of years.
SHERWOODAnd so to see if there's some kind of plea agreement in the works in the final stages is important. We got onto the story yesterday afternoon. I got off the C & O Canal -- had a nice walk out there in the cold weather -- and came back in time to hear about this story. Then News 4 followed it up. And then we reported last night that a plea deal could be filed in court as early as today. Now, we were cautioned that this is a complicated thing, that there's lots of paperwork to be involved, and that it may not happen today.
SHERWOODBut there are any number of sources -- we didn't just have one or two. We had four or five, who are telling us that this could come -- and it still could come -- this afternoon. But I won't be surprise or I won't be disappointed or won't be shocked if, for some reason, it's not until the next day or so, at the beginning of the week.
NNAMDIIndeed, during the course of the past several months we have heard that such agreements would take place. And they have taken place. Not necessarily, however, on the schedule at which we had heard, but there are at least two very important reasons why this plea deal will be of significance. The first of it's having to do with whether or not Jeffrey Thompson is going to admit to having financed a shadow campaign, correct?
SHERWOODThat's correct. There have been two felony plea agreements, Jeanne Clarke Harris and Vernon Hawkins. Both of whom described the shadow campaign and the unnamed work of Jeffrey Thompson to finance that campaign. If we do get a plea agreement, we won't hear the details today, likely. It's most likely, if anything happens today, the prosecutors simply will file a notice with the court that they have reached an agreement with the defendant. Then the defendant, Jeffrey Thompson, would then appear in court on say Monday or Tuesday, very early next week -- if, in fact, they file those papers today.
SHERWOODBut the details about what Jeffrey Thompson may be pleading to would not come out until after he appears in court. But it will give us the first indication -- this is either good or bad news for Mayor Gray, depending on how you look at it. It's possible that if Jeffrey Thompson goes into court and the prosecutors release documents, it may suggest that Mayor Gray had a very small or minor role, if any role at all, in this. And that there's really nothing that makes it look bad for Mayor Gray, as he's just a few weeks from his election.
SHERWOODHowever, the flip side of that is, if there's anything in the Jeffrey Thompson documents that may be released, that suggests Mayor Gray knows a great deal more about the shadow campaign than he has said in the past, then this could be a very bad thing for him going into the election. That's where we are at this moment.
NNAMDIIs it possible that in this plea agreement there could be details of other campaigns involving sitting elected officials in D.C. that might adversely affect their own political careers?
SHERWOODIt is possible. We don't know. You know, the prosecutors -- a couple of years ago -- subpoenaed every member of the D.C. Council, I believe, to see if there were any documents relating to Jeffrey Thompson and his financing schemes. We know that Michael Brown, the former council member just recently had charges against him revised because he took $120,000 in campaign contributions from Jeffrey Thompson, fake contributions, in 2007 and 2008.
SHERWOODSo here's the deal, this investigation has started to document possible wrongdoing going back almost a decade, involving both campaigns here in the District, other state campaigns and some national campaigns. So one defense attorney was telling me that if they have all of this ready for a document to be filed, it's going to be very big and very lengthy to go through. So Mayor Gray -- of course those of us who are paying attention to the race for mayor, are most interested in whether or not any court papers filed will or will not further implicate Mayor Gray's 2010 shadow campaign, directly to the mayor. That's the big…
NNAMDIAnd as you said, there are others who could conceivably be involved. Our guest analyst is Charles Robison, of Maryland Public Television. He has a question for you, Tom.
ROBINSONTom, how many people have been indicted and/or have pled guilty in this case regarding the mayor? And you've already indicated that it could be good or bad for the mayor. Can you talk about what those possibilities are, too?
SHERWOODWell, there have been, I think, a total of seven people. But again, the key people I have mentioned, Jeanne Clarke Harris, a longtime friend of the mayor's, and Vernon Hawkins, a longtime friend of the mayor's, both have already pled guilty in federal court to felony charges of orchestrating the shadow campaign. So those are the two main people.
NNAMDIAnd there were seven in all indicted?
SHERWOODYes. Others have been indicted for payments of monies and being shadow donors to campaigns in which they pretended to have given money, which was then reimbursed. But, again, those are all peripheral characters to the main question of did Mayor Gray know about the shadow -- the shadow campaign has been conclusively shown in court. The only question now is did Mayor Gray have any knowledge of it or any willful ignorance of it, which could bring charges against him.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, he is our resident analyst and a columnist with the Current Newspapers, joining us by phone. Tom, thank you very much for joining us.
SHERWOODOkay. Good enough. Thank you, guys. Appreciate it. And if anything happens within the next 45 minutes, if I'm not rushing about perhaps I'll give you a call in and give you the update.
NNAMDIWe look forward to that. You're listening to "The Politics Hour." I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Charles Robinson is our guest analyst today. He's a reporter with Maryland Public Television. And before we get to our guest in the studio, it is my understanding, Charles Robinson, that there are going to be -- I think it is -- three debates in the campaign for governor of Maryland. Our guest who will remain anonymous until introduced -- it is my understanding that his candidate wanted as many as seven debates.
ROBINSONYes. This has been kind of one of the tit-for-tat, if you will, between each one of the campaigns. Will we or won't we have debates? And they've agreed. All of them signed off on it. There will be at least three debates for governor. There will be three debates also for the lieutenant governor. One of the things that's been very interesting is they want to do several of them in the D.C. Metro area. There have been a number of groups who have weighed in, including my shop.
ROBINSONMaryland Public Television has asked to host one of those debates. Several colleges and universities, including St. Mary's College, as well as the University of Maryland, have also weighed in as to holding these debates. The formats of the debates are usually set at least maybe a month or two before they begin. Right now we know there are three candidates at least on the Democratic side.
NNAMDILt. Gov. Anthony Brown, Attorney General Douglas Gansler, and Delegate Heather Mizeur.
ROBINSONYes. And then of course there are three lieutenant governors who are running for this race.
NNAMDIHoward County Executive Ken Ulman, who is running with Brown. Delegate Jolene Ivey, of Prince George's County, running with Gansler. And an individual who will remain anonymous for the next few seconds anyway, who is Heather Mizeur's choice.
ROBINSONYes. And what's very interesting is that there are talks in the works for a GOP debate. I understand that Fox 45 out of Baltimore has offered each one of the candidates who are running on the Republican side that opportunity. That would include David Craig, who is the Harford County Executive, as well as Charles Lollar, who is a Prince George's businessman, if you will. There is Hogan, who is the head of Citizen's…
NNAMDIDon't ask -- don't look at me.
ROBINSONI know. I'm trying to remember the exact name of it, but he's the insurgent candidate, if you will. And then of course there's Ron George, who is a delegate in the House of Delegates. And they're talking about doing a debate, as well. We don't know if they're going to do one or two. It's very interesting on the GOP side, in that Hogan, who got in late, has now become the frontrunner. His claim to fame is that he created a social media campaign that drove his campaign. And it'll be very interesting to see how that moves ahead. Last, but not least…
NNAMDIIn a state that seems to be becoming more Democratic by the minute.
ROBINSONRight. And one of the more interesting things that happened this week, Kojo, was that we had some campaign violation fines. And, in fact, Craig and his running-mate were fined campaigning during the session. You're not allowed to do that during this process. And of course there were some local folks who also got slapped on the wrists with some minor fines, but it'll be a short window. Think about this. The legislature ends around April the 10th. And the primary is on May the 24th.
ROBINSONSo you've got this real short window in which to get your message out, raise some money, and then of course convince voters.
NNAMDIIt makes it even more interesting. On to the introduction of our guest. He is Delman Coates, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland. We mentioned earlier his running-mate is Delegate Heather Mizeur. And he's currently the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, in Clinton, Md. Delman Coates joins us in studio. Thank you for joining us, welcome.
MR. DELMAN COATESGood afternoon. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. If you have comments or questions for Delman Coates, you can also send us email to email@example.com, a tweet @kojoshow, or to go our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Your running-mate Heather Mizeur was scheduled to be with us today originally. She's obligated to be in Annapolis this afternoon, however, for a vote that the House and the General Assembly is taking on a proposal to raise the minimum wage. What do you see at stake for Maryland in this vote, raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 an hour?
COATESWell, this is certainly a day of progress for all Marylanders. It's going to help us to take another step towards raising the minimum wage and creating an environment where working-class families can earn more. We believe it's critically important that people should not have to work full time and still live in poverty. And so Delegate Mizeur could not be here today because she's on the floor right now voting on this very important piece of legislation.
COATESThere have been some very interesting developments over the last few days because those of us who have supported raising the minimum wage know that it's critically important to peg or to index the minimum wage increases to inflation. And there was a time in which this bill had such a provision. And unfortunately, leaders in Annapolis decided to remove the provision that would allow for such indexing. And that's really why Heather is running for governor, because we need elected officials who are going to be accountable to the public interests and not the corporate interests.
COATESIt was the corporate interests that decided to remove that provision. She has attempted to add an amendment that would allow for such indexing. Working-class families should not have to wait until the political currents converge to have their wage increase in accordance to inflation. The O'Malley-Brown Administration has waited seven years, until another election season to raise the minimum wage. And it's very critical for working-class families to be able to earn a wage that's in accordance with inflation.
NNAMDIWhy is there a provision in this bill exempting Six Flags in Prince George's County from the wage increase?
COATESWell, it's precisely what I just mentioned. That when corporate interests put pressure upon our elected officials, unfortunately many of our elected officials are accountable not to the public interests, but the special interests. And rather than governing from the bottom up, they end of governing from the top down. This is just one indication of that. And the reason Heather and I have joined together in this effort is because we believe that it's critically important that we need elected officials who are going to be accountable to the voters.
ROBINSONYou are a reverend.
ROBINSONAnd I'm going to refer to you as, Reverend. I hope you're okay with that.
ROBINSONReverend, a number of people would ask, "Why would you want to step out of the pulpit and get involved in politics?" This is dirty business sometimes. Sometimes it goes against your interests. How do you weigh that, if you will, as you -- you know, when you were asked to come on board on this campaign, how do you weigh that?
COATESMy professional vocation is fundamentally about how do we make our community -- how do we make our society better? It informed my leadership two years ago to advance marriage equality across this state, the State of Maryland, and really across the country. I wake up every day, as a clergy person, as a citizen, as a husband and a father, thinking about how we can make our communities safer and better. How we can have top notch schools, not just for some kids, but for all of our young people.
COATESAnd so in many ways this is really an extension of my servant leadership, which is really a part of my professional vocation. And there is a long history in our faith communities of clergy persons who are also involved in politics, whether it's the current mayor of the City of Richmond, Dwight Jones, who leads a very large congregation in that city, Rev. Floyd Flake, who leads 12,000, 15,000 people in New York City, who is congressman, Adam Clayton Powell, Walter Fauntroy, many others who understood the importance of being involved beyond the four walls of our institution.
ROBINSONAs you know, there are no defined duties for a lieutenant governor. You get to kind of either pick it or someone picks it for you.
ROBINSONIn this last administration, Lt. Gov. Brown, who is now running for governor, was asked to head up two things. First of all, the base realignment. And then he was also to oversee the healthcare exchange.
ROBINSONI can tell you the latter, some people would say, he failed miserably at that. And he hasn't really answered for that.
NNAMDIDon't give him more ammunition.
ROBINSONI'm just stating facts here. I want to ask, are you going to pick what you want to do or are you going to kind of say, Governor, this is my interests or -- I mean how do you make it work for you?
COATESIt's a very fair question. And Heather and I don't believe that there are some responsibilities for the governor and others for the lieutenant governor. Our plan is to govern as a team. Now, with that said, there are three priorities that I've shared with Heather and with our team that I want to focus on. I've shared with our team that I want to focus on implementing our plan for public safety and criminal justice reform. I will be leading our blue-ribbon commission to end youth detention and for implementing our very progressive plan.
ROBINSONWait a minute, you want to end youth detention? There are some very bad young people out there.
ROBINSONWhat are you going to do with those people?
COATESWe want to bring experts in the field together…
ROBINSONExperts are not going to keep those folks from doing some really bad things.
COATESThere are models across the country, in other states across the country, like Missouri, in which rather than the incarceration approach to youth crime, where we can bring young people to focus on rehabilitation and treatment.
ROBINSONWait a minute, the really, really bad people? I don't think rehabilitation helps them.
COATESIt does. There's research and there are models available for dealing with youth crime. We cannot just lock our young people up and throw away the key. There are other ways to approach crime, in general. Doubling down on failed approaches to crime have not made our community safer. And so we need approaches to crime and violence.
NNAMDISpeaking of crime, we have a caller on the line -- if you have both your headphones on -- Gabriel, in Silver Spring, who wants to talk about that. Gabriel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GABRIELThank you, Kojo. Rev. Coates, my question pertains to the war on drugs, and I guess it's somehow related to criminal justice reform. What are we doing? I know there have been a lot of bills introduce on decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, and these disproportioned arrests among minority men for non-violent drug offenses. What is the Mizeur/Coates platform on that? What do you intend to do about it? And are you in support of decriminalization versus legalization, both? What is the ticket's line going forward?
COATESWell, thank you so much, Gabriel, for your question. The Mizeur/Coates campaign is the only campaign in this race that is having an entirely different conversation about the war on drugs. We believe that we have to end the failed war on drugs because prohibition does not work. And it's a result of that our campaign has put forward the very progressive plan to legalize tax and regulate marijuana. Listen, when we lock up individuals for possession of marijuana, we distract law enforcement from dealing with more hardened criminals.
COATESMaryland spends $280 million a year locking up, processing and incarcerating 23,000 Marylanders for possession of marijuana. It ruins lives. We know that prohibition does not work. It does not make our community safer. And if we legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, we can bring this from the underground economy so that the drug dealers and the cartels are not the ones benefitting from this.
COATESWe can do this in a way that educates young people about the impact of marijuana on a developing mind, but for adults, research shows that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco. And we believe that it's time now for us to have a new conversation. We know that the war on drugs has been enforced with racial bias and it's time to have a different approach. If I may, Kojo, I want to correct a few things about the debates. There's actually going to be one lieutenant governor debate.
COATESNot three. And the primary is on June 24th, not May 24th.
NNAMDIGabriel, thank you very much for your call. Our guest is a reverend. I thought it would be appropriate to take the first call from a man apparently named after an angel. Delman Coates is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland. His running-mate is Delegate Heather Mizeur. He's currently the pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church, in Clinton, Md. He joins us in studio. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Here is Peter, in Tacoma Park, Md. Peter, your turn.
PETERThank you, Kojo. I appreciate it. And just moving off of another part of the crime and criminal justice issue, I did want to see what the lieutenant governor candidate had to say about gun issues. In southern Montgomery County, I think, and also in P. G. County there's a lot of concern about violent crime, particularly involving guns. And I know Maryland has some laws in that area, but I'd like see what his thoughts are on where we should go, moving forward on that set of issues.
COATESSo it's Gabriel and Peter? Oh, wow.
NNAMDIGabriel and Peter, two in a row.
ROBINSONMan, you're getting the right kind of message on here.
NNAMDIJohn will call.
COATESWe all know that gun violence remains a very real threat to public safety in our communities and all across our state. And of the 10 states with the strongest gun laws, Maryland has the second-highest gun death rate in the country. Too many of our communities are being ravaged by violence. And really this is happening because we still, in the State of Maryland, do not have a universal background checks for all guns. We all are familiar with stories that are taking place not just in Columbia Mall a few weeks ago, but these kind of acts of violence are happening on the streets of Baltimore city and Prince George's County every day.
COATESAnd we need to make sure that we have true universal background checks for all guns. Right now, individuals can go into private gun shows, they can purchase long guns and other kinds of guns that are not covered under the current laws in the State of Maryland. We need true, universal background checks for all guns. I want to say -- back to the other question about my priorities. So I wanted to say the implementing our criminal justice strategy would be a priority.
COATESAddressing the foreclosure crisis that has devastated our state -- Maryland is still number three in the country in foreclosures. At a time when other states are coming out of this crisis, Maryland is still in highest in the nation. And this is something I'll focus on. And thirdly, I want to focus on minority business enterprises and women-owned business enterprises.
ROBINSONTalk about business, because I think -- at least on the GOP side -- the thing that I keep hearing is Maryland is not a business-friendly state. In addition to how do we make the state more business friendly, can you point to a business in the state that you would put up as a role model, as a Maryland-based business that the state can emulate, if you will?
COATESSure. Well, you're right. The idea that we need to lower taxes on corporations in order to keep them in our state, we believe is a part of the conservative messaging. What the Mizeur/Coates campaign desires to do in order to create jobs and incentivize business in our state -- we want to do a few things. The first thing we want to do is we want to provide a tax cut for 90 percent of Marylanders. We believe that if people are able to earn more and be taxed less -- not corporations, but individuals, working-class people…
ROBINSONWhy does that sound like a GOP thing?
COATESWell, this is the thing, this is the part of the GOP messaging that we need to…
COATES…lower taxes on the job creators, right? We believe that in order to create jobs in the economy, working-class people, middle-income people are the ones who need the tax cuts. If more working-class people have more money in their pockets, they'll buy shoes. They'll take their families shopping. They'll eat out at restaurants. And as a consequence, that will stimulate our economy and businesses will grow their businesses and hire more people. The other thing that we want to do is we want to close some very significant corporate loopholes in the State of Maryland that allow a few very large corporations to earn hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and revenue in our state and pay no taxes.
COATESCorporations like Pepco and Comcast, for example, who make hundreds of millions of dollars in our state and pay no taxes. We want to close some very significant corporate loopholes that allow them to do that. And if we do that, as a state, we can generate $200 million in revenue for our state. What we want to do with that $200 million is pass it along to small businesses in the form of a tax credit.
COATESWe believe that small businesses are the engine of our economy. And if we can pass along that tax credit to our small businesses, they'll be able to hire more people. Businesses like Andy's Car Wash in Prince George's County, who hires folks from the community. If we can provide more tax credits to these individuals and to small businesses all across our state, they'll be able to improve their businesses and hire more employees.
ROBINSONIs there somebody you can point to? Is there a business in this state that you can point to and say that's the kind of business we need?
COATESI just mentioned Andy's.
COATESAndy's Car Wash.
COATESThese kind of small businesses. We need to incentivize small business growth, small business development all across our state.
ROBINSONIs there no large company that you can point to?
COATESWe have many great corporate partners in our state, Under Armour, you know, there are many in our state. We're focused on our small businesses and strengthening small businesses, minority and women-owned businesses in our state.
NNAMDIIt's been a big few weeks or so for supporters of efforts to decriminalize marijuana. The D.C. Council voted to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana just this week. What do you feel is the right course in the State of Maryland?
COATESWell, as I mentioned earlier, we believe that the right course is marijuana legalization. Delegate Heather Mizeur proposed such legislation earlier in this session. Decriminalization is a start, but it still leaves the underground economy in place. It still leaves the drug dealers there to profit off of this industry. And we believe that we need to eliminate that altogether. Prohibition does not work. We believe that legalization -- if we legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, this is the appropriate step on this issue.
NNAMDIWe brought it up again because that's what Aisha, in Rockville, Md., would like to talk about. Aisha, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
AISHAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for bringing that issue up again. I happen to be a teacher and I just cannot believe what I'm hearing the candidate say. I am completely disgusted by it. And I will not be voting for anyone who supports the legalization of marijuana within the state. And I don't believe in decriminalizing possession of marijuana use. Where does it end? I mean how can I be a teacher and talk to my students about the dangers of drug and substance abuse, and then a candidate, who also happens to be a man of the cloth, saying that we're going to legalize it in our state.
NNAMDIWhat do you see as the…
AISHAI just don't think that…
NNAMDIExcuse me. What do you see as the relationship between religion and marijuana?
AISHAI feel that -- I don't honestly know the answer to that question, but I just feel that the candidate…
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Delman Coates respond.
COATESI want to thank Aisha for her question. It's a question that many people ask. It's one that I empathize with as a father of four young children, as a clergy leader and pastor myself. The question is not whether we want to encourage or incentivize people to smoke marijuana. We have a very detailed plan that lays out how this issue would be regulated, in the privacy of people's own homes. The question is should people be incarcerated for this particular choice and this particular decision.
COATESWe have to treat this issue as a public health matter, in my opinion, not as a public safety matter. There are a range of issues of choice that I and Aisha and others decide. There was a time when people may be incarcerated for drinking alcohol, beer. The issue to me is not whether this is something that I would encourage as a father or as a clergy person. There are a range of things that I don't encourage people to get involved in. But the question is whether people should be incarcerated, whether their lives should be ruined, whether they should be unable to get jobs, employment, housing, as a result of this choice.
COATESSo I come down on the side of allowing -- Aisha mentioned, as a clergy person -- allowing religious institutions to address issues of behavior if they so choose. But the state should not penalize, incarcerate individuals for making a choice that research has shown is no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco.
NNAMDIAisha, thank you very much for your call.
ROBINSONOne of the things that I think is going to drive this election this season is going to be the Maryland health exchange and its problems with its website, as well as the contractor that was contracted to fix -- well, not fix some of the problems -- who initially brought it up. Tell me how a Heather Mizeur partnership with you will work around this health exchange idea, because there have been some suggestion, we should just go on and join with the federal system and take our chances with that…
ROBINSON…as opposed to trying to do it alone. How say you on that one?
COATESWell, you know, the Washington Post has called Maryland's handling of the healthcare exchange a scandal of incompetence. And one of the things I can say to every voter listening right now is that this would not have happened under a Mizeur/Coates administration. Heather is a healthcare expert. She has a demonstrated track record of delivering on healthcare in the State of Maryland and even prior to her work as a state legislator.
COATESI want to get real on this topic. In the weeks leading up to the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, on October the 1st, I was personally involved in encouraging hundreds of thousands of people in our community and in our congregation to get enrolled. And perhaps one of the most difficult things that I have had to do as a pastor is to watch people have their life savings expended, to have individuals attempt to enroll in what is an important public policy issue of our day -- perhaps, one of the most important -- and to see it fail.
COATESIt is a legitimate question for voters to ask. If those in charge of such a massive state project of critical importance to Maryland families, if they are unable to rollout this particular statewide program, can the voters trust them on the rollout of any other program? This is a colossal failure of leadership. It's one thing to pass laws, it's another thing to implement laws. Delegate Heather Mizeur and Delman Coates have the track record of management. You have to be present for meetings to make sure that such laws and such programs are implemented effectively.
COATESHeather has proposed a variety of ways for us to solve this. In order for us to solve this, however, the voters and the state legislature need transparency, accountability. Consumers need flexibility, but it is very difficult right now for voters and for our legislature to address this issue when we don't have the proper transparency and accounting for what happened.
NNAMDIDelman Coates is a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland. His running mate is Delegate Heather Mizeur. He's currently the pastor at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. Delman Coates, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you.
COATESThank you, sir. Thank you for having me on. Thanks, Charles.
NNAMDIIt is "The Politics Hour." Our guest analyst is Charles Robinson. He's a reporter with Maryland Public Television. Charles Robinson, The Washington Post reports today that the proposed light rail Purple Line project has been recommended for $100 million in federal money in the next fiscal year as part of President Obama's budget release this week. It marks a critical financial milestone for what would be the Maryland suburbs first direct rail link. How important is the Purple Line?
ROBINSONIt is very important because, obviously, when you're talking traffic, I just saw a report that we have the 12th worst traffic in the country. And, you know, you need relief. And that relief can come in the way of mass transit projects. But I think part of what a lot of people are concerned about, Kojo, is the price tag.
NNAMDI$2.37 billion is where it now is. It just went up, like, $220 million.
ROBINSONThat price -- I don't think it was that number when it initially started out. And that's a big issue, especially when you have lots of other -- I don't want to say you don't have resources, but, you know, a lot of people scrambling for resources define various and different types of projects. And, you know, that kind of money could fund a lot of things that the region needs.
NNAMDIIt's double the initial estimate when the Purple Line was first proposed. We'll have to see how that is going. But we do have to move one because joining us now in studio is David Grosso. He's an independent member of the D.C. Council. He holds an at-large seat. If you have questions or comments for David Grosso, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Our guest analyst is Charles Robinson. He's a reporter with Maryland Public Television. David Grosso, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID GROSSOWell, thank you, Kojo. Thank you so much for having me on the show today. I really appreciate it.
NNAMDISeveral of the past citywide races in the District have been won with fairly weak pluralities. There's a good chance that the winner of the mayoral primary taking place on April 1 could emerge victorious with as little as 30 percent of the vote, maybe even less. You've introduced a few proposals aimed at getting more people involved in D.C. elections. I'm thinking of three proposals. What do you want to do overall?
GROSSOWell, when I ran for office, I promised people that I would do what I could to try to increase civic engagement in the District of Columbia. So this is three more bills in a series of bills that I've introduced. The first one was campaign finance reform. The second was noncitizens' voting rights act. And these three, I think will open it up even more. You have open primaries which allows people to vote in any primary that they choose. You have instant-runoff voting.
NNAMDIWell, can we do them one at a time?
NNAMDIThe Open Primary Elections Amendment Act of 2014, how would that work?
GROSSOSo essentially the way that -- what that does is it allows around 75,000 people who are registered as something other than Democrat in the District of Columbia to actually vote in the primary. Now, you know, ideally what we would do is we would, in my opinion, get rid of primaries altogether and have a general election for every local election that we have, essentially nonpartisan.
GROSSOBut, unfortunately, that's not where we are right now. So, instead, we're going to do an open primary which means that people will be able to go in on the day of the primary. They'll be able to change their party to be a Democrat for a day and vote in that primary in order to have their voice heard. As you know, over the years, there's never been any other viable race for mayor or for many of the council seats other than the Democratic primary race.
GROSSOAnd so if you're not an independent -- I mean, if you're not a Democrat, so if you are an independent or a Republican, you don't have any say in exactly who is representing you in the council in the mayor's office.
NNAMDIAnd there are those who would cynically would ask, and what council are you expecting to pass this bill? We have 13 members of the D.C. Council. By my count, I think 11 are Democrats and two are independent.
GROSSOWell, interestingly, in the open primary bill, I did have three other people co-introduce it with me. And I got several co-sponsors. It's a new day in D.C. And I think people are starting to realize that the more we get people engaged in the issues, the more we get people engaged in politics, the better city we're going to be over the long run. So it just takes time.
ROBINSONMr. Grosso, I'm assuming that the folks with "D"s in front of their name are not going to like this. And you're going to have -- that's a tough sell, if you will, to convince them, oh, let's just let everybody come into our system and basically mess with us.
GROSSOWell, I -- you know, I've been known to take on tougher things than this. And, in fact, I really believe that if you believe in civic engagement to the fullest level that that will make our city better, then I think you'll get behind something like this because you want as many people as possible getting involved and working in the issues and working in the city to make our city better. That's a lot of people. When you think about 75,000 people are registered as independents that essentially have little or no say in what's happening in the government, it's really unfair and...
NNAMDIIt's also known as a predominantly-Democratic city citywide, so I'd like to see how many of our listeners would be in for an open primary. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Do you think primaries in D.C. should be open or not? And if not, why not? 800-433-8850. We're talking with David Grosso. He's an independent member of the council. That's first. The other bill is the Instant-Runoff Voting Amendment Act of 2014. Now, what would that do?
GROSSOWell, what this bill would do is, historically, in the District of Columbia, we've had races where the winning candidate, the person that would end up winning the race did not have a majority vote. They had under 50 percent of the vote. And that, you know, more often than not, it happens in special elections when you have 10 or 12 people running What this would do is it would tabulate your kind of vote, so you would have -- you'd vote for number one, number two, and number three, even all the way down.
GROSSOAnd then it would automatically, if somebody didn't get 51, start adding in the second votes at a lesser value than the number one vote. It's done in San Francisco right now. It's been going on for a number of years and is extremely successful there.
NNAMDISo in the current mayoral primary in the Democratic primary where there are, I guess, about eight candidates, each voter would be able to say, well, I like Muriel Bowser or Vincent Gray or anybody else, number one. And then there would be a number two, and that is how eventually all the candidates would be rated. You wouldn't just have to vote for one?
GROSSOThat's exactly right, which would have, you know, really profound impact on the elections for more civic engagement as well because what would happen is candidates would have kind of motivation to get out there and address people that may be voting for an opponent as well and to engage with that voter as well. So you might know that somebody's already with another candidate. But you'd want them to put you down as number two as opposed to number four. And so you would have an obligation then to engage more people. I think it would lead to a more active electorate in the long run.
ROBINSONMr. Grosso, I'm just wondering, doesn't that dissolve the one person, one vote concept? In other words, you don't -- you know, you're picking the lesser of evils, if you will. I don't know if people would call them evils, but, as much as, you know, people would go, well, I want this person. But I might feel a little bit for this person, too. Doesn't that dilute my vote?
GROSSOI think it actually expands your vote a little bit because you have that second choice. So the first choice is still number one, and it'll be your 100 percent vote. The second choice is a little bit less weighted, maybe 70 percent, so it doesn't have the same value as the first vote, which does preserve the power of that number one vote. It's worked in California. It's actually been challenged in court on that regard and...
ROBINSONI was going to say, you're going to get a court challenge on this one.
ROBINSONI -- look, I can write the legal brief, and I'm not even a lawyer. You know, this...
NNAMDIHe's a lawyer.
GROSSOI think it would work. And they did challenge it in San Francisco, and it's been in play for a while. I just think ultimately we want people in office that are representing the -- by the majority and not in undemocratic smaller percentage, and that's what's been happening.
NNAMDIThe third bill that you've introduced had to do with the ongoing conflict over ethics in government in Washington. It's called the Clean Hands Election Reform Amendment Act of 2014. What would that do?
GROSSOWell, Kojo, this is a bill that, more than anyone else -- any other bill people join me with, we had six co-introducers on this bill. And what this does is it says that we're going to hold politicians to the same standard that we hold businesses, nonprofits, and even individuals when you go to renew your driver's license. You have to be up to -- you know, you have to be current with all of the bills that you might owe to the government, so you have to have paid your taxes or be in a payment plan for your taxes.
GROSSOAnd the one big one that just bothers me to no end is when you run a campaign in the District of Columbia and then you're audited by the Office of Campaign Finance, they could fine you over the years and fine you and fine you and fine you. No individual candidate's ever been held accountable for those fines because they say, well, my campaign is closed. There's no more money there. So I can't be held responsible for that.
GROSSOAnd it's actually been litigated in court. I'm saying, well, what we would like you to do is be totally up to speed here, be clean hands, make sure that our standards for politicians are the same for everybody else. So you have to pay those fines, and then you can qualify for the ballot. Now, I think this is going towards making sure that we have people engaged in running for office that have the same standards that everyone else does.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of politicians and ethics, I'll sidetrack the conversation for one second because, earlier in his broadcast, it had been mentioned that just about all of the D.C. City Council members were subpoenaed at one point or another in the investigation of Mayor Gray's campaign and the possible role of Jeffrey Thompson in it. I think I have someone on the line who wishes to object. Mary Cheh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. MARY CHEHHi, Kojo. I just wanted to say that I was never subpoenaed. I wanted that to be at record to be clear.
NNAMDICouncilmember Mary Cheh, representing Ward 3 in the District of Columbia, saying publicly that she was never subpoenaed. Are you aware of any other members of the council who were never subpoenaed?
CHEHNo. But nor did I, you know, ask anybody, so I have no idea. But while I'm on the line, I want to say hi to David Grosso. And I want to tell him that I'm, as he knows, supporting his bills. And people should understand that these are introductions. We will have hearings if there are issues about, you know, runoff changes that we might make or, you know, whether there are legal challenges and stuff. We can look into that, but at least use their introduction so that we can consider making these changes. And, you know, it may turn out that, you know, we'll have a better system. But (unintelligible)...
NNAMDIAs an elected Democrat, are you prepared to say on the record at this point whether you would be for or against open primary elections?
CHEHI would be for open primaries, absolutely. In fact, David, you're there, and you know that we had this conversation. But we're moving a step at a time, so to speak, but ultimately that's where I would want to go and I believe David Grosso would want to go.
ROBINSONCould you see yourself, Madam Councilwoman, at some point having the other party in charge and kind of codifying this idea that maybe there should be a rotation of mayors from different parties through this process?
CHEHNo. I actually I think that's quite ridiculous. I think that people should be able to choose, but they -- what's happening now is that some people don't really have a choice in that the effective election is through the primary. And people who are independents or Republicans or Green Party or whatever they may be, they really don't have an effective voice. That would be the point of this, and so...
CHEH...everybody would get to vote. It isn't that we should just kind of like shuffle the cards and rotate it. It's -- no, people should run, and then everybody should be able to vote for whom they want.
NNAMDIOK. You're cutting into David Grosso's time, Mary. You got to go.
GROSSOThank you, Mary.
CHEHOh, sorry, David. I didn't mean to do that. Sorry. I'm hanging up.
GROSSOThat's OK. Thank you. Thank you for your support.
NNAMDIMary Cheh, thank you very much for your call. David Grosso, Norm Ornstein wrote a recent op-ed in The Washington Post suggesting that there are other ways to increase turnout in local D.C. political races. I'd like to hear your views upon them. He talked about moving Election Day to the weekend and creating a lottery to coincide with Election Day. Quoting from him here, "Few things motivate Americans quite like the lottery. Why not hold one as a vote motivator?"
GROSSOKojo, I think anything we can do to increase the engagement in this process is something that I would support wholeheartedly. Moving it to the weekend makes sense to me. I think the early voting has begun to do this to make it possible for more voters to engage in the process, instead of having it on one specific day. So all of these ideas are on the table for me. Anything I can do to increase the number of people that care about what we're doing at the Wilson Building is something that I'll do.
NNAMDILottery might even cause some journalists to vote more. That's a whole other question. Here we go to Iris in Washington, D.C. Iris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IRISOh, good afternoon, gentlemen. I'm just calling to say that I would -- I am vehemently opposed to the idea of the open primary...
NNAMDIYou don't mind the fact that it looks like the mayoral race will be over after April 1?
IRISNo, I don't. I...
IRISWell, you know, I just think that this open primary idea diminishes the value of parties. I like the notion of a two-party system or three-party or four-party system, and if you want more people to be Green or whatever party it is, then you need to do a better job of recruiting people to your idea.
NNAMDIWell, let me ask David Grosso. Is the purpose of this to drive people away from one party to the other?
GROSSOYou know, I think that you should be able to engage in whatever party you want to engage in and be a member of whatever party you want to be a member of. I just don't think it's fair or even democratic to have people excluded from the decision making here. And that's what happened year after year after year in the District of Columbia. The decision about mayor is done and over at the primary. And that, to me, seems not only unfair but wrong.
NNAMDIWe have another caller who wishes to address this. Thank you for your call. Here is Perry in Washington, D.C. Perry, your turn.
PERRYThank you very much. Good afternoon, Councilman Grosso. (unintelligible) and I am really opposed -- matter of fact, one of our members they supported your bill, Councilman Grosso, and I argue this, that the problem with open primaries is that it is -- the possibility, and a very high possibility, especially in a heavily-dominated by one party city-state, like Washington, D.C., to have a party waive the election, like they did with Cynthia McKinney in Atlanta where everyone from that party moved over to vote in the other party's primary.
PERRYAnd so it's problematic. I think it's corrupting. And I really will vehemently oppose it, not that I oppose most other views you stand for. You and Kenny McDuffie represent a new day in D.C., and I love that. I love your innovation. But this is a bad idea.
NNAMDIAnd you're a statehood Green guy?
PERRYI am, diehard and (unintelligible).
GROSSOWell, you know, Perry, I appreciate your position on this. And, for me, in the long run, I think it would probably be best if we did go to nonpartisan elections in the District for local elections, simply because of what you're stating. I do think that more primaries and the more discussion around primaries, the more we realize that we are excluding people whenever we put people into this type of system. The other thing that blows my mind in the District of Columbia is that the District of Columbia government actually pays for the primary.
GROSSOThat's not true in other jurisdictions when it comes to party primaries. And if we really want to have a party system, then I recommend that the parties pay for their own primaries and put somebody up. That wouldn't preclude them from doing this if we had a nonpartisan election. You could just have the general election that the government paid for, and then people could present people to that, if they qualify for the ballot, they could put next to it they're a Democrat or a Green or whatever they wanted to put next to their name.
GROSSOAnd then let the people decide at that point. But at this point what we have is a system and a city that's dominated by the Democratic Party in a way that I think is not healthy for our city because it's excluding 75,000-plus people from the process.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. David Grosso is an independent member of the D.C. Council. He also holds an at-large seat on that council. David Grosso, thank you very much for joining us.
GROSSOThank you for having me.
NNAMDICharles Robinson is our guest analyst. He's a reporter with Maryland Public Television. Good luck to you with getting one of those debates on Maryland Public Television, Charles.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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