Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker joins the broadcast to explore the challenges in his jurisdiction - and those throughout the D.C. region.
Early voting begins in D.C., as mayoral candidates chase votes in the home stretch of the their race. An Academy Award-winning actor pushes Maryland lawmakers to continue offering tax credits for his popular series. And a congressional candidate in one of Virginia’s most competitive races looks to Oprah Winfrey herself. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Mark Herring Attorney General, Virginia (D)
- Isiah Leggett Montgomery County Executive (D)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
Watch A Featured Clip
After Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring refused to defend the state’s gay marriage ban in court shortly after he took office, some have wondered whether he will take the same approach to some of the state’s other hot-button issues — namely, laws that require abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospitals.
Some believe those standards — which include wider hallways and wider doors — were designed to put the state’s abortion clinics out of business.
Herring said his office is reviewing a case challenging those laws and declined to comment, but told NBC4 reporter and resident analyst Tom Sherwood: “As a matter of policy, I don’t think it’s good for the General Assembly to come between a woman and her doctor.”
“What we ought to be doing is making sure women have more access to the health care needs,” Herring said.
Kojo Nnamdi Show/Washington City Paper D.C. Mayoral Poll
A new poll commissioned by The Kojo Nnamdi Show and The Washington City Paper finds Gray and Bowser each drawing 27 percent from likely voters, with Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) pulling 13 percent and Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) 9 percent.
“It really looks like a two-candidate race at this point,” says Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling, the national firm that conducted the poll.
“Vincent Gray or Muriel Bowser is overwhelmingly likely to win the primary in a couple of weeks. The race really couldn’t be any closer right now. Our previous polling had found Gray ahead, so Bowser seems to have the momentum in the race,” he says.
Restaurant owner Andy Shallal polls at 7 percent, Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) at 2 percent and former State Department official Reta Jo Lewis at 1 percent. Fourteen percent of voters say they are undecided.
The poll reached 860 likely voters on landline phones between March 13-16. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3 percent.
Three polls have been conducted on the D.C. mayoral race: Washington Post (January), WAMU/NBC4 (February) and KNS/City Paper (March). The below graphic shows a tightening race between Mayor Vincent Gray and Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4).
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Mark Herring, attorney general for the commonwealth of Virginia, and Isiah Leggett, the executive -- county executive of Montgomery County, Md. But first, a poll, done by "The Kojo Nnamdi Show" in Washington City Paper, which we'll discuss with our resident analyst Tom Sherwood. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Hi, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, Kojo.
NNAMDIThis poll was conducted between March 13th and 16th, and it's significance of course is that it was conducted after the plea deal, the guilty plea by businessman Jeffrey Thompson, and the U.S. attorneys assertion that Jeffrey Thompson's shadow campaign was known to Mayor Vincent Gray at the time when it was taking place. So in the wake of that testimony, this poll was conducted. It involved 860 people in Washington.
NNAMDIAnd the first finding that you notice is that Vincent Gray, the incumbent and Muriel Bowser, the Ward 4 councilmember are both tied with 27 percent of the vote. How significant is that?
SHERWOODWell, it's significant because in the NBC 4/WAMU poll previously in late February, the mayor had about -- I think it was 28 percent. It kind of looks like the mayor is stuck at that high 20s, maybe low 30s, if you give him some elbow room with a margin of error. But it shows clearly that -- it indicates that Muriel Bowser, the Ward 4 councilmember, has moved up and is starting to perhaps separate herself from the pack of challengers that includes Jack Evans and Tommy Wells as the major challengers behind her.
NNAMDIAs a matter of fact, Jack Evans came in with 13 percent. All of the other challengers were in single digits, but both Mayor Gray and Muriel Bowser more than double the support of each of the other challengers. You can find more information about this poll if you go to our website, kojoshow.org. You can find the details on how and under what circumstances it was conducted.
NNAMDIThe other aspect of this race is the racial breakdown of the support that especially the leading candidates have, but you can really apply this to all of the candidates. It would appear that Muriel Bowser is the only candidate in this race who has what some may consider a black/white coalition. She has 32 percent white support, 26 percent African American support, while Mayor Gray, on the other hand has 40 percent African American support and 9 percent white support.
SHERWOODBut he's only -- he didn't get much support -- white support in 2010 when he won. It was a very racially split election, in which Adrian Fenty got the white votes and Gray got enough African American votes to win. But, you know, Muriel Bowser, represents Ward 4, which is upper tier of the city of Washington, includes what's commonly called the Gold Coast, which is primarily African American.
SHERWOODAnd it also includes Chevy Chase, D.C., which is principally white. I mean, it's a ideal ward if you're going to be a politician in this city. And I think that helps here a lot.
NNAMDIAnd one wonders, if in fact, she's getting the kind of white support she's getting because there are many white voters in Washington who don’t see the other candidates as quite as viable and who want to get rid of Vincent Gray.
SHERWOODWell, this has been her strategy and hope for some months now, is to -- someone had to break out of the pack and has to break out of the pack in order to catch the mayor with his solid core of voters. Muriel Bowser has been endorsed by the Washington Post. The most recent literature I got in the mail, I think, yesterday, it mentions the Washington Post endorsement at least twice and maybe three times in the brochure.
SHERWOODSome people think, oh, the Washington Post is old line media, it doesn’t really matter. But, you know, there are people who do, in fact, read the Post and they read the editorial page. And it is a guide to many people about who to support. And the editorial page has been very strong for Muriel Bowser. Said nice things about Tommy Wells and Jack Evans. But I think that's part of the deal, that if Mayor Gray is going to be put out of office, one challenger has to emerge. And Muriel hopes it's her.
NNAMDIThe other aspect of this poll, frankly, came from a statement that Mayor Vincent Gray made during his State of the District Address recently, where he made a certain assertion that caused us to ask a question. Here's the assertion that he made.
MAYOR VINCENT GRAYI ask you, who do you believe? A greedy man attempting to save himself or me, a public servant who has dedicated my entire career and my entire life to giving back to our communities in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, according to the poll which raised the question about who did people believe more, Vincent Gray or aforementioned businessman Jeffrey Thompson. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they believed Jeffrey Thompson, just half that number, 24 percent said they believed the incumbent Vincent Gray. Of course 28 percent said they didn't know who to believe.
SHERWOODWell, whether Jeffrey Thompson is telling the truth or not, he has made his statement in a court of law. Mayor Vincent Gray has only said I'm innocent and has not given any detail. This is one of the worst things about the mayor in this scandal that's held over his head for so many years now. It's because he has for -- he says on the advice of attorneys -- not said what happened.
SHERWOODHe doesn't say what he did. He didn't say, yes, I met with Jeffrey Thompson and asked -- maybe did ask for $400,000 for Get out the Vote money? And if so, Mr. Mayor, why didn't you have your finance chairman there or something? The mayor has left it open for speculation. And there's another longtime public servant here who people are trusting, and that's the U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen, former assistant U.S. attorney, who's now the U.S. attorney.
SHERWOODAnd he's not fooling around, as he said after that Jeffrey Thompson court appearance. You know, we're not going away here. We want people who are involved in this scandal to come forward. And everyone should say what they know about it.
NNAMDIAnd as we said earlier, you can find more details of that poll if you got to our website, kojoshow.org. I don't know if -- before we move on, Tom Sherwood, if there are any other inferences you'd like to draw from the poll.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I try not to draw too many inferences, but, you know, there was some concern. I think Tommy Wells raised an issue that, you know, there are 80,000 new voters on the rolls now then there were in the last election. That this was a landline poll, it didn't accommodate the use of cell phones.
SHERWOODBut the producer here, Mike Martinez, noted also that a similar poll was done in previous elections -- in 2012, I think it was -- and the results were pretty accurate. So I just think that -- I think we're now into their last, you know, days -- the frenzy before the election. There will be other polls, but I think this race -- finally, after all these months -- is starting to be a clear cut decision for the voters.
NNAMDIAnd there is one amusing aside for me, and that is in response to the polls showing that 48 percent of people polled believe Jeffrey Thompson over Vincent Gray. Chuck Thies, the Gray campaign manager said, "That's a clown question, bro, because a lot of those people probably thought it was John Thompson that you were talking about."
SHERWOODWell, listen, I'll tell you one thing -- can I just say this? Chuck Thies, I sent him a message saying, "I am going to start paying you for your tweets. They are so good. They are so acerbic. They are so to the point, whether you agree with what he says or not, it's some of the best writing in this campaign.
NNAMDIFor those people who think that is what may have happened, you should know that what the question actually said is, "For three years federal prosecutors have been investigating illegal campaign contribution and election related activities, initiated by local businessman Jeffrey Thompson. This month Thompson pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges," etcetera, etcetera. So the people who answered the poll knew exactly who they were talking about.
SHERWOODMaybe we should do a poll about the state of Georgetown's basketball team.
NNAMDIAnd maybe we should do a poll…
SHERWOODMaybe we should move on to politics.
NNAMDIMaybe we should before we get a call from John Thompson Jr who I don’t want to confront on this…
SHERWOODWe don't want that thunder voice calling in.
NNAMDIWe don't want to confront him on the issue at all. As we said, this is "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Joining in studio now is Isaiah Leggett. He is the county executive of Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. He's running for re-election in the county's Democratic primary. That is set for June 24th.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Ike Leggett, give us a call at 80-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Ike Leggett, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ISIAH LEGGETTThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDITerrible Turque of the Washington Post --that would be Bill Turque -- wrote this week that although you do not mention Doug Duncan by name in the budget letter you wrote to the county council he's lurking behind much of it like Lord Voldemort from "Harry Potter." A he how must not be named kind of character. You're running against Duncan in a Democratic primary in June. He preceded you in this office. Why did you feel it was necessary to provide background to the council about the fiscal position you inherited from him when you took over the county in 2006?
LEGGETTWell, if you go back and look at previous budget statements, we mentioned some of the same information last year as well. But the reason, fairly -- simple, to make certain that we put all of this in context so that as a council evaluate it, the budget, the reserves, how much we will in fact spend this year. We need to have a complete picture of how all of this unfolds And so to do that I think vie sets a pretty good picture of not only where we are today, where we've been, what we've accomplished together and where we're going.
LEGGETTAnd so I have to remind people that hey, when we assumed this office, meaning the council as well, the last four years, we had a very, very difficult time. I've had to close nearly $3 billion in budgetary gaps. The three years of the last administration, the last three years, the budget's been up 36 percent, the last year alone was 14.2 percent. And then the recession hit and we had to do all of those difficult things. So it sort of remind people where we are, what has happened in the past and the road map of the future.
NNAMDIAnd if someone inferred from that that there was an implied criticism of your predecessor there, that was absolutely not your intention, right?
LEGGETTNo, that was not my intention.
SHERWOODYou know there's a camera here watching your face.
NNAMDII got a bridge in Brooklyn that I'm going to sell Tom.
SHERWOODWell, how big is the budget in Montgomery County?
LEGGETTFour billion, nine hundred and seventy million dollars. Just $30 billion less than $5 billion. It's a pretty big budget. That is larger than at least several states.
SHERWOODYes. And just, if you can, tick tock, as opposed to give a speech about, what are the major increases? Are there -- is there more money for schools?
NNAMDITwenty-six million more for county education than is required by the state's maintenance of effort law.
LEGGETTThat's the correct. The school asked for $51 million over and above maintenance of effort, I provided $26. They have a fund balance of about $11. And I hoped that they would use that so they would have about $37 of that $51 that they requested. We couldn't go quite as far as we wanted, but we went above the maintenance of effort.
LEGGETTIn addition to that you'll see increases for police. We're increasing the police department by at least 23 additional officers. We've increased over the last few years about a little over 100 officers. And were at a goal for about 143.
LEGGETTAlso increases for library services as well.
SHERWOODWell, you named all the increases. Where are the decreases?
LEGGETTWell, if you go back and look at our budge over the last few years, we've had some decreases. And our decreases are magnified. In fact for the five years that I assumed (unintelligible) the first five years, the budget in Montgomery County increased by zero.
LEGGETTLet me repeat that. Zero. No increase at all. So at this point in time we're making a couple adjustments into the budget. So no real huge reduction at this time.
SHERWOODHas the police officers, have they endorsed anyone yet in this campaign? I apologize for not knowing.
LEGGETTThey endorsed Mr. Duncan.
SHERWOODAnd have the teachers endorsed anyone? I have not…
LEGGETTNo, they have not.
SHERWOODAre you expecting that endorsement?
LEGGETTOh, I'm not. I'm not. I'm going to see what happens otherwise.
SHERWOODWho's endorsed you that you can name off the top of your head?
LEGGETTWell, I think many people have not endorsed thus far, but Congressman Van Hollen as endorsed me. Senator Cardin has endorsed me.
SHERWOODAnd Congressman Delaney has endorsed…
SHERWOODSo you're one for one there.
LEGGETTYeah, retired teachers have endorsed me, as well.
NNAMDISpeaking of the $26 million more for county education, your other opponent, Phil Andrews said that is going to put the county in a financial straight jacket. What would be your response to that?
LEGGETTWell, I don't think that's the case. Look, also we have the highest financial reserves in the history of the county, 8.4 percent in this budget. That is the highest in the history of the county. In addition to that, if you have to balance what we are doing here, I think you have to make a very strong case here. And, I think, we can make this case. That the school system need this additional money. We're growing by leaps and bounds in school system, 2,000 additional students per year. (unintelligible)
SHERWOODA much more diverse student (unintelligible) ...
LEGGETTThat's correct. And so the challenges of closing the achievement gap, all the other things that are required, making certain that we provide revenues to at least provide a reasonable raise increase for our teachers, you'd need about $26 million, but at least promise them some number above that. And I want to make certain that all of those things are happening. They can compensate the teachers for their salary increases, do some improvements in the programs and services, but to hold it at the maintenance of effort level I think would pull the system back somewhat.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's the puffball question. How does this budget set the county up for the vision you have for the county for the next four years?
LEGGETTIt does very well because there's emphasis on education, it provides the transportation we need to insure that the 100,000 jobs that are on pace for Montgomery County now continues. It provides us with the safety net for those greatly in need of some help and services. It enhances our environment across the board because we have the resources in order to do some very innovative things in the environment.
LEGGETTSo across the board, transportation, education, environment, this budget does all of this. But, Kojo, we have gone through a tough, tough period and we have come through this very well, 8.4 percent financial reserves now and today. And I have been on this show in years past when we've talked about all the cuts that we've made, all the difficult decisions we made, no county executive, no mayor, no governor did as much as I did, especially as relates to salaries and wages across the board for as long as I did those things.
NNAMDII was about to go -- since we're talking budget and education -- to David. Could you put your headphones on, please, gentlemen because David is in Potomac, Md. David, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DAVIDGood afternoon, gentlemen. I have a two-part question. The first part is how does the cost of educating our children in Montgomery County compared to the similar costs in neighboring jurisdictions? And if it's higher, as I suspect, why? And the second question is, is there a problem with children who live in the District, in Prince George's County, going to Montgomery County schools without somebody paying the county for that privilege?
LEGGETTI think you have to pay for the privilege if you're out of state or out of the county to attend Montgomery County Public School.
SHERWOODI think he means when people have fake addresses or -- the city has that problem with elementary schools.
NNAMDIYes. The District has that problem.
LEGGETTYes. Well, there are some challenges with that and I they investigate those and when we find problems, I think they're trying to get to those as quickly as possible. So there are some challenges of people coming into the system, but they've got a very strong investigative arm to try to weed those out. As it relates to the neighborhood jurisdiction, I think we would compare just slightly above Fairfax.
LEGGETTBut I think the answer for me is what is it that we want for our kids and our system and what are we prepared to pay for that? And that's the standard that I utilize, but I think Montgomery County would be on the high end, comparable to the Fairfax County, certainly above the district and Prince George's County.
NNAMDIOur guest is Isiah or Ike Leggett, county executive of Montgomery County. He's a Democrat running for reelection. The county's Democratic Primary is set for June 24th. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. If you've got questions or comments for Ike Leggett, the number is 800-433-8850. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom?
SHERWOODIt's been a little bit of an issue. It seems to have subsided, but you took a long time to decide whether to run again. Some critics say, oh, you decided to run because you didn't want Doug Duncan to be back in office. And others said, no, you just felt like you had one more go at it. Why did it take you so long to decide to run again, given all the issues that you knew first hand and so well?
LEGGETTWell, you missed the third one, my wife.
SHERWOODKathy. Yes. Someone said Mayor Jeffrey Slavin gave me a question for her later in the program.
NNAMDIOkay. We'll get to that. Thanks, Jeffrey.
SHERWOODBut she was -- did she say publicly she didn't want you to run?
LEGGETTNo. She didn't say it publicly, but she has some reservations about it. But here's the thing. Doug did a very good job at time he was county executive. So I have not negative impressions about his work, what I pointed out about the financial challenges we've had. I'm running because I want to complete the vision. As you go back and look at this, I've served in the worse economic times in the history of our county, probably in the history of the country since the great depression.
LEGGETTAnd when you look at what we've accomplished there, there are still some things that I still want to accomplish. The transportation, I just got about a billion dollars in transportation dollars statewide. I want to make certain that we implement those things. The education reforms that we've talked about. I want to make certain that we do that, in terms of closing the achievement gap. So there are some things that…
SHERWOODSo you got the fire. You got the fire in the belly for this again.
LEGGETTOh, I think so. Yes.
SHERWOODBecause you're such a mild-mannered person. It's hard to detect with a -- is any of that money for the Silver Spring Transit Center?
NNAMDICan I expand on that question for a second?
NNAMDIBecause the new Doug Duncan add says that since you took this job eight years ago, Lehman Bros. collapsed, Mike Shanahan was hired, Mike Shanahan was fired, but one thing that has not happened is the opening of the Silver Spring Transit Center. From a management perspective, what would you say ultimately was wrong with this project?
LEGGETTWell, a couple of things. A couple of things. Doug Duncan announced the beginning of the Silver Spring Transit Center in the year 2000. For six years he actually did nothing, six and half years nothing happened. When I came aboard, when there was a recession ongoing, I found the money to build it. We are 95 percent complete. We found some challenges. I accepted responsibility for those things.
LEGGETTWe will fix it and we will go forward. This center will open and we'll have it. It will be safe and the taxpayers will not have to pay any additional money for it. But he had six and a half years after announcing the center and nothing ever happened until I came aboard.
SHERWOODWill the transit center in Silver Spring open before the Silver Line in Virginia there?
LEGGETTI'm not sure, but the time frame for -- I'm not even going to open until I am reasonably satisfied that is appropriate to do so. I'm not going to be pushed -- I'm not going to push for political convenience. We could have opened this a year ago. Many of the developers and people who built this said it was ready then. It was the county that decided that we did not want to open it. We did not want to accept it. And we investigated it ourselves and made these determinations. We could have opened this a year ago (unintelligible).
NNAMDIWhat would you say ultimately went wrong with that project?
LEGGETTOh, there are a number of things, but I don't want to speculate at this point in time, but we are in the process now of moving forward. It will open. We'll make sure that it is safe and the county will not pay an additional money as a result of that.
SHERWOODYou said it will open, but I didn't hear a date.
LEGGETTWell, we're not going to give a date at this point in time because what we have to do is make certain that the weather's appropriate for them to go back and do the work because this is an outdoor facility. And you certainly cannot do what is needed as I -- as we've been told because of the weather conditions. So apparently from the last aspect of this when the weather's appropriate it takes them about three months to complete the project. Then we'll turn it over to Metro. And as you can see Metro may take a little bit of time to (unintelligible) …
SHERWOODAnd this is just to clear -- this is the reinforcing of the concrete; is that one of the…
LEGGETTWell, there's an overlay that you need to place on it.
LEGGETTAnd the overlay you cannot do unless the weather is above 40 degrees. And then need to have a timeframe for about three months of 40 degrees or better. And that's the challenge you have.
SHERWOODBased on the way the weather is now we'll never get there.
LEGGETTWe're talking about snow next week, yes.
NNAMDIBack to the telephones now, we have -- I think it's Abara (sp?), in Silver Spring. Abara, could you pronounce your name for me, please?
ABARAYou did it right. Abara.
NNAMDIOkay. Abara, go right ahead, please.
ABARAMy question is about the work for selection process in the Montgomery County government. As you understand Montgomery County is composed of diversified populations, that means migrants or foreign-born people. But workforce doesn't reflect the abstract position of Montgomery County. Is there any programs to balance that or is there any opportunity for immigrants who want to work for the Montgomery County?
LEGGETTAre you talking about the workforce of the county government itself?
LEGGETTWell, the workforce of Montgomery County is fairly diverse. We are, in fact, in the process now of doing additional hiring. Keep in mind, that when I came aboard the workforce was actually reduced. I reduced the workforce in Montgomery County by 10 percent, so it would not become more adverse, at the same time I'm letting people go. But as we begin to hire now we will continue to expand and I think you will see an even greater diversity in our workforce. And so just look to the future in terms of what we're doing today and what we'll be doing in the future.
LEGGETTBut as you can look back at the last few years, the hiring in Montgomery County was relatively small. We eliminated 10 percent of the entire workforce. So you cannot make it more diverse at a time when you're letting people go.
SHERWOODAre you fully staffed police-wise, teacher-wise? Where do you need people that you would hire if you had more flexibility?
LEGGETTWell, certainly we are going to hire some additional police, the 23 in this budget. The fire department, we're hiring. The library will be hiring, as I recall. In recreation we're hiring, as well. And also in areas of technology. We always need people in those areas, as well. So across the board there may be additional hiring's, but I'm not going to rush out to hire a huge number of people. We're going to gradually hire to restore some positions, but not get back to where we were, with an unsustainable budget before the time I assumed office.
NNAMDITo get back to budget matters for minute, when Doug Duncan was here in February, he cited as an example of bad leadership on your part, what he called a failure to adequately fund school construction projects. He said you waited until election year to come up with a plan for what we need to do for school construction and how to get dollars. You waited until the very end of eight years to say here's what we need to do. How would you respond to that?
LEGGETTFirst of all, I'm not sure that he's been around to observe what we've been doing all that time. We've had an ongoing fight and effort in Annapolis for the last four or five years. This has been a call for me and for others. What happened in the last two or three years when it took on some level of momentum, the state made a very strategic decision. They said before we address the problems of overcrowding across the state, we need to address the 50 worst schools in the state of Maryland.
LEGGETTThat decision was following this, the 50 worst schools in the state of Maryland, 47 are in Baltimore. And the decision was made to, in fact, address those schools. After that, they were going to address everything else. And so we have been fighting this for a number of years. We are in a better position now. All three of the Democratic candidates for governor have endorsed our proposal. We got strong support in Annapolis and I simply believe there's a question of time that we are going to get the additional construction dollars we want.
LEGGETTAnd if you look at the record, I've gotten more money in the last seven years than Duncan did in his last seven years. We've got $60 million over and above what he suggested. So our style, our approach in Annapolis I think has been reasonably successful under the circumstance that you see in terms of the great recession. We are above what he achieved during his time.
SHERWOODBut you don't think you're treated fairly by the state. It reminds me so much of Northern Virginia, elected leaders who look to Richmond for more flexibility, for more health and they often don't get it.
LEGGETTWell, that's a problem around the entire country, where very large major areas…
SHERWOODFund the state.
LEGGETT…fund the state and you have that problem in every state you go in for one particular reason. One, most constitutions say, for example, that you have to provide an equal education for kids. So if you have a poor community, they're going to get the dollars in front of, say, some more wealthy communities. That's a problem around this entire country.
SHERWOODHave you endorsed in the governor's race?
LEGGETTThe governor's race?
LEGGETTWhich race is that -- which race you talking about?
NNAMDIThe Maryland's governor's race.
LEGGETTThe Maryland's governor's race.
SHERWOODOh, you're in -- oh, I'm -- you endorsing another race I'm not aware of? I'm sorry. I'm Maryland centric here. In the governor's race, have you endorsed?
LEGGETTYeah, we're coming out on the 25th of June.
SHERWOODThe 25th of …
NNAMDIThe day after the primary.
SHERWOODThat's the day after the primary.
LEGGETTSo smart, Tom.
SHERWOODYeah, we're up to speed here on "The Kojo Show."
LEGGETTIt took you a little while to catch that one, though.
SHERWOODIf you want to have more impact in Annapolis, don't you have to like pick a winning horse?
LEGGETTI don't necessarily think so.
SHERWOODIn the governor's race, Maryland's governor's race?
LEGGETTI think we have three outstanding candidates. And we may endorse before that time, but we're still evaluating that.
NNAMDIBack to schools, with John, in Silver Spring, Md. John, your turn.
JOHNThank you for taking my call. I would just like to see if the county executive could offer some specifics. He touched on this a little bit just a moment ago. But some specifics about ways in which he plans to lessen the achievement gap between some of the high schools in Montgomery County like Wheaton and Kennedy and those in more affluent areas like Whitman. And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIQuestion more appropriate for the school superintendent, but I don't know, you probably have some…
LEGGETTYes. But here's the role that I think the county executive -- A, making certain we have the resources to help the school system to do their job much more efficiently. Secondly, there are an awful lot of things that happen before and after class that I think the county executive, the county council can help on. Many of the kids who are suffering in terms of the achievement gap, are suffering because of inadequate housing, food, health care, a variety of other things.
LEGGETTSo by addressing all of those things, providing the resources to the school system itself, it provides us with a holistic approach that would hopefully reduce that gap that we now see in the system. So the school system will do the day-to-day efforts in the school system. We will provide the resources they need. We will help in all the other things. And I think with all of things working together we can address this problem.
NNAMDIOnto Noah, in Germantown, Md. Noah, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
NOAHHi. I've been noticing that red-light cameras and speed cameras have been literally popping up all over the place. And they're really becoming -- like a red-light cam -- I'm sorry, a speed camera nearly blinded me yesterday as it started flashing after some car. And I've read numerous studies that say that red-light cameras increase the number of rear-end collisions.
NOAHSo my question for the county executive, are these red-light cameras and speed cameras really about, you know, driver safety, when studies have shown that they actually increase rear-end collisions, are they really about closing the $3 billion budget shortfall? Because they really don't seem to be helping anyone…
NOAH…other than the state's budget and the county budget coffers.
NNAMDICounty Executive Sherwood can answer that question, but I'm…
SHERWOODWell, the first thing, as Chief Lanier often says, if you obey the speed limit you don't have to worry about any cameras. I don't know about lights blinding drivers. That's another issue. And I'm not aware of the studies. I'd love to…
LEGGETTI'd love to see…
NNAMDIOkay. Here's County Executive Leggett.
LEGGETTI would love to see the study myself, because I think all the studies that we've seen shows that it really reduces speed and in effect is very effective. And in Maryland, Montgomery County , you have to go 11 miles above the speed limit before you get a citation. I would love to see that study. But this does not provide a very high level of revenue for the county when you pay for all the things that are involved in this process. It's a very small financial margin here. It's about safety and it's about speed.
LEGGETTBut keep in mind, I heard this question on this show some months ago, this process was started many, many years ago. Long before Ike Leggett became county executive. We are continuing…
SHERWOODIs this a Doug Duncan problem?
LEGGETTI don't know, but it was before I arrived. The speed cameras had already started.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Isiah Leggett…
NNAMDI…unless, of course, Tom Sherwood always has…
SHERWOODI was going to ask him, does he ever miss going in and teaching law school.
NNAMDIHold it. The question you had about his wife.
SHERWOODWell, I was just going -- well, Jeffrey Slavin, Somerset mayor, was saying your best asset is her. Now, that's such a cliché in politics, but he says in this case it's true. And I don't know if that's what he's saying about you is bad or good about her.
LEGGETTI think it's good about her. I agree with Jeffrey.
SHERWOODDo you miss teaching in law school?
NNAMDIHe better agree with Jeffrey.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) thought you were going to head back to the law school classroom.
LEGGETTIt depends on when you see 7, 8, 12 inches of snow, sometimes you get that feeling. It'd be better in a class.
NNAMDIIsiah Leggett. The executive…
LEGGETTThank you, guys.
NNAMDI…of Montgomery County, Md. He's a Democrat. He's running for reelection in the county's Democratic primary. That is set for June 24th. Ike Leggett, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to you. This is "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, there's a lot we have to talk about and we have another guest coming into the studio so I'll try to make it as quickly as possible.
SHERWOODAnd I'll give short answers.
NNAMDIThe second day of that D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services hearing is today, the disciplinary hearing. The battalion chief, Charles Battle, who chairs the four-member board that runs the hearing, said the panel decided to keep the proceedings private, according to the Washington Post, to protect the safety of the members.
NNAMDIWe're talking about the investigation, the disciplinary hearing resulting from the death of 77-year-old Medric Cecil Mills, who suffered a heart attack across the street from a fire station in Northeast Washington. Several media outlets, including this one and the one for which you work, have sent a lawyer's letter asking that these hearings be open. If the fact is correct, that either they gave no cause or the reason that they gave was the safety of the members, obviously cynical people will say, yeah, you seem to have more concerns about your own safety than you did about the safety of Cecil Mills.
SHERWOODWell, they talked about -- this is ridiculous. I mean, just as a journalist who worries that there are any number of ways people are shutting off public information. The trial board has the authority to vote to close its hearings, but it has very specific reasons in terms of personnel issues, etcetera. Safety of the witnesses is not an issue. And particularly those witnesses walk through the gauntlet of reporters in the hallway to get to the hearing. It was absolutely ridiculous.
SHERWOODThe fire department put out a press release the day before saying that it would be open, but they wanted a pool of reporters, one newspaper reporter, one radio reporter, one TV reporter. And I objected and other people objected. To saying look, there's plenty of room to open it up to a larger hearing room. This is a horrific case from the mayor to every citizen in the city. This man drops dead, has a heart attack and drops to the ground on Rhode Island Avenue in Northeast Washington.
SHERWOODA fire station is right across the street. And none of the people in that fire station responded. This is not a time to close the doors, and as Seagraves, reported, Mark Seagraves, reported for us.
NNAMDINever heard of him.
SHERWOODThey put tape over the windows. And it was just horrific the way they -- and when people walked in and out they put their hands over their badges so we couldn't see their names. It is just horrific. The public needs to understand what happened in that case, why that man died, and what the fire department is going to do about it. Closing hearings like this for flimsy -- I said I wouldn't rant. That's it. I think you got my point.
NNAMDIYes. I think we got your point. I think we inferred your point.
SHERWOODAnd I'd like to see the mayor and I'd like to see the fire department chief and, you know, adhere to the rules on this.
NNAMDITom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Joining us in studio now is Mark Herring. He is attorney general for the commonwealth of Virginia. He is a Democrat. Mark Herring, thank you so much for joining us.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MARK HERRINGWell, thank you for inviting me. And delighted to be back in your new studio or first time back in the studio.
NNAMDIYes. Being able to look out on Connecticut Avenue, but of course you've got to look very carefully. Your opponents might be out there planning to demonstrate against you. The number to call -- we prefer for you to communicate that way -- is 800-433-8850 or you can send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow if you have questions or comments for Attorney General Mark Herring.
NNAMDIEarlier this year a federal judge struck down Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. A ban that you decided you would not defend in court on principle. You've chatted on this show about why you felt this was the right thing to do. But what did this entire story reveal to you about the nature of the job you just started this past year, and in particular, what the responsibilities of a statewide attorney general are?
HERRINGWell, first of all, I've been in office now just a little over a couple of months. It is a great job, I absolutely love it. A lot of great people in the office, and the volume of legal work moving through is amazing and the different areas that we touch on. In this particular case, I knew the two cases pending, the Bostic and the Harris cases, two cases in Virginia, one in the eastern district, one in the western district. I knew about those during the campaign. They were filed shortly after the Supreme Court decided the Windsor and Proposition 8 cases.
HERRINGAnd when I was inaugurated on January 11, the case in Norfolk, the Bostic case, had already been scheduled for oral argument. So I knew coming in that we would need to make a decision very promptly. One of the first things did was task the solicitor general with leading a team to look at the law and analyze it carefully, and I looked at the analysis, I looked at the case law, and the decision as attorney general should not be driven by the attorney general's own policies, but rather by the law.
HERRINGAnd I conducted a rigorous, independent analysis and concluded that Virginia's law and constitution violate the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution, and felt as attorney general, my best responsibility there was to follow that conclusion, that legal conclusion, and make sure that Virginia was following the law and following the Constitution, and announced that the state would change its legal position to reflect that.
SHERWOODGeneral Herring, I want to come back to that, but actually there's some breaking news today. Julie Carey from NBC 4 is reporting that Governor McAuliffe has signed an extradition order, put out by I think Loudoun County through your office, to bring Mr. Charles Severance back to the state. He's the man who has been linked in some way -- at least thought to be connected to the three murders in Alexandria, the shooting deaths of the three people. Can you give us an update on what that is? Is he yet now a suspect in this case, or where do we stand on this horrible crime?
HERRINGWell really, I can't comment because of the pending nature of it, and...
SHERWOODCan you confirm if there was the extradition order?
HERRINGI really can't confirm that right now, and...
NNAMDIAs far as we know, Tom mentioned that he has been linked to the case, but I guess what people are...
SHERWOODI mean, yeah.
NNAMDI...curious about is exactly what those links are, because we haven't seen them as yet, but as the attorney general said, he cannot comment at this point, so I doubt that we can find out any more.
SHERWOODCan I go back?
NNAMDIBut go back.
SHERWOODOK. Well, you're doing a statewide tour, I think you're going to 22 different jurisdictions. You started this week and you're gonna be, I think, in Lynchburg next week, which is not the hotbed of Democratic support in some cases. What are you finding as you go around the state when you put out your position on the same sex marriage thing?
SHERWOODYou know a lot of people in the state, whether you like it or not, really thought this was something that ought to stay in the state's constitution, they are just against same sex marriage. What kind of emotion are you seeing as you go around the state and as you prepare to go to Lynchburg?
HERRINGWell, I've gotten...
SHERWOODThat's Jerry Falwell's country, is what I'm trying to say.
HERRINGCertainly there has been some criticism from predictable circles, but overall, I think there's been, from my point of view, widespread support from across the state. And what I have tried to stress is that my analysis was following the law, following...
SHERWOODDo you have a personal opinion on the subject?
HERRINGI do, and I support same sex marriage. I don't believe as a matter of policy the state ought to be discriminating against anyone, but again, as the state's attorney general, it's important to separate the policy from the legal analysis and the legal conclusion. And what I would tell people who may disagree is, you can have those disagreements as a matter of policy, but we've got a constitution and the state has to comply with it. As we're taught at a young age, when a state law or state constitution conflicts with the United States Constitution, the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land.
NNAMDII got a question about this, so gentlemen, please don your headphones. That question asked to the constitutionality and how you deal with it, comes from Chris in Arlington, Va. Chris, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
CHRISYes, hi, thanks for taking my call. I mean, I -- while I sort of agree with what I'm hearing from the attorney general about the ultimate -- sort of where he came out on the issue of same sex marriage, I think his passion in terms of that's what the law requires me to do is a little disingenuous. I mean, I think the Windsor decision was clear as mud when it comes to -- and in fact, it took DOJ to task for declining to defend the law, sort of choosing a side.
CHRISI mean, I think that's -- even though I like what he's doing, I'm a little -- and the Windsor decision decidedly declined to say state bans on same sex marriage are unconstitutional. So I'm a little concerned with what I'm hearing, because this was what I...
NNAMDIWell let me get straight to the point. You think the...
CHRIS... (unintelligible) pretty political decision.
NNAMDIDo you think the attorney general is imposing his own point of view to decide when to...
CHRISI think he's doing exactly what Attorney General Holder did. And while I like the outcome in this case, I'm concerned about the precedent going forward, where attorney generals -- because for whatever reason they feel like, you know -- to say it was required by law, it wasn't, because the Supreme Court decided not to rule on that. They said, you know, we want states to sort it out, and then, instead of sorting it out, the AGs just said I'm gonna do exactly what the AG just did.
NNAMDIWell, Mark Herring, she's concerned about how regularly you can use this. Are there other areas of the law where you might feel compelled to take a similar stance?
HERRINGI think this is something that has to be done very sparingly, that -- and in this particular case, it was one that involved a fundamental constitutional right. So this is something that an attorney general -- certainly I did not approach very lightly. It's one that you have to give due consideration to, separation of powers. But if an attorney general believes that a law is unconstitutional, and that the Supreme Court would probably strike it down, particularly when it involves fundamental constitutional rights, it is within the authority of the attorney general to take the position I've taken.
HERRINGGetting back to the Windsor case, the caller's quite right, the court did not reach the ultimate issue about whether state laws that ban same sex marriage are constitutional, but Justice Kennedy writing for the court said, state laws that treat same sex couples like second class citizens, violate due process and equal protection.
HERRINGIt also set back the Proposition 8 case to California, effectively nullifying that state's ban, which was one that was by -- was a constitutional amendment to California's constitution. And many, many courts since Windsor -- I don't think one federal court has ruled differently since Windsor, all have struck down bans that were in question there, and other states' attorney generals have also followed what I did.
NNAMDIChris, thank you very much for your call. But some people were surprised that after the Bostic ruling, you supported Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones to be the next chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. He is a pastor who has not declared support for same sex marriage. The last thing I saw he said is that his position is evolving. Why did you feel he was the right person for the job, and where do you feel that your party has to be on this issue?
HERRINGWell, as I said, on a matter of policy, I support it. I've known Mayor Jones for a long time, and he has worked tirelessly on civil rights issues, he has been a champion for a lot of Democratic issues and values. He's served as mayor very well, and I think he's gonna strengthen our party and help us win elections, which is what...
SHERWOODAnd has he been actively opposing same sex marriage, or engaged in anti-gay rights, equal rights organizations?
NNAMDIHe opposed it in the past.
SHERWOODI mean, in terms of proactively -- I mean, speaking out, doing things like that?
HERRINGNo, I don't think so. I think he has, as mayor, has taken steps to be very inclusive in reaching out to the LGBT community in Richmond. And I think it's just a personal question on the marriage issue itself, and as you said, I think his most recent statement is that it's evolving. Oh, and this is an issue that a lot of, you know, millions of Americans over the last few years...
NNAMDIEven the President said he evolved.
HERRINGMillions of Americans have changed their view and a lot of Virginians as well.
SHERWOODLet me, let's move the conversation forward.
NNAMDIYes, Tom is evolving.
SHERWOODYes, moving ahead. Julie Carey, again, was asking -- and we talked about this -- she said she wanted to know, in the light of the same sex issues, are you reevaluating recently passed and restrictive abortion laws by the legislature forcing clinics to meet hospital physical plant standards, like wider hallways, wider doors, things that are -- some people believe, who oppose them, are designed to put the clinics out of business, and that there are legal suits there which the state may have to defend. Are you in any way reassessing how you might defend or not defend those laws?
HERRINGThere are cases -- there is a case pending right now challenging those. I am looking at that and can't comment further on it, but I will say that as a matter of policy, I don't think it's good for the General Assembly to come between a woman and her doctor. I think as a matter of policy what we ought to be doing is trying to make sure that women have more access to the health care needs. The clinics that are under discussion provide a lot of services, including cancer screenings, prenatal services, and it's important that women -- and women rely upon these clinics. And so I think it's important that we work to try to improve access and accessibility.
NNAMDIThere are also people who feel that the General Assembly and the government should not come between them and their firearms. Your predecessor Ken Cuccinelli has started a self-defense law firm that focuses on, among other things, gun rights. Virginia's gun restrictions have been chipped away bit by bit in recent legislative sessions. What concerns do you have, if any, about how easing those restrictions may impact public safety?
HERRINGWell I do have a concern about the impact on public safety and the measures that have been repealed were repealed -- you know, when I was in the Senate, I was opposed to the repeal of some of those measures, like one gun a month law, the guns in bars restriction, and I do have concerns about the amount of gun violence on our streets. People should have a right to feel safe when they walk down the street. They should, you know, as a parent, you should not be afraid to send your child to elementary school. And I am concerned that if we loosen those up too much, it's gonna be more difficult for us to give people that level of safety that they need.
NNAMDIWe have a question about that from Jerry in Vienna, Va. Jerry, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JERRYKojo, thanks so much for taking my call. In a few weeks we're gonna mark the seventh anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre. And Mark, you ran in part upon common sense gun reforms to prevent gun violence. How would you evaluate the recent 60 day legislative session, and how will you be using your office to build awareness of the public health crisis in gun violence?
NNAMDIAttorney General Herring.
HERRINGI would say in terms of efforts to prevent more gun violence, not a lot was accomplished. There was a measure that was passed to prohibit celebratory gunfire, but I think more needs to be done to bring universal background checks. That is something that is supported by, you know -- it's a bipartisan, non-partisan issue, and it's hard to believe that after, you know, almost seven years after Virginia Tech, and all of the other tragedies, that we don't have the gun show loophole closed. We don't have universal background checks, and we need to keep working toward that.
SHERWOODI want to go back to this 22 county, city tour that you're doing. The press release -- I think it said something from your office said that you are gonna have some quote, "new ideas on threats," responding to threats. That sounds really ominous to me. What kinds of threats are you talking about? Are you talking about terrorism, are you talking about ordinary crime? Or everything?
HERRINGWell, what I'm doing right now...
SHERWOODWhen is this tour?
HERRINGAs a new administration, one of the things that I'm doing is looking at our operations internally to make sure that we're providing our services as efficiently and transparently as we can. Another area is, I'm looking top to bottom, what programs and services are we involved in, and then the third piece of that is going out and talking to folks in particular right now, the law enforcement community. I've got 22 stops, 58 jurisdictions will be there.
HERRINGI want to hear directly from local law enforcement and local prosecutors, what are the public safety challenges in their communities, where do they see emerging threats, and how could I as attorney general and our office help them meet those challenges? There's some common themes, from what I've heard. One of them is that public safety is not just about locking people up when there's a crime committed, it also involved a lot of mental health issues, it involves prisoner reentry, and so it's much more broad.
HERRINGAnd I think that's one issue. And certainly -- and again, mental health impacts the criminal justice system in a lot of different ways, takes resources off the street, and...
SHERWOODDid you talk to Senator Creigh Deeds specifically, personally, you, one on one with him about his concerns and what happened with him and his son?
HERRINGHe and I have spoken. It was early in the General Assembly session, and there were some changes that the legislature made. It increased the period of time that an emergency custody order would have effect, so that somebody could be evaluated and a bed found. It also creates a kind of, you know, database in real time so that people will know, officials will know where there might be beds available in the state.
SHERWOODAnd that no one can be turned away now.
HERRINGBut the big issue is funding for mental health services in the community. That's what really needs to be addressed. And so those are some common themes. But there are also some public safety threats out there that vary be region. There's a growing heroin problem in certain parts of the state, in northern Virginia and down in the valley, we heard a lot about that in the Culpeper region. Also some down in Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. Others -- some different drug problems, prescription drug problems.
SHERWOODSuburban drug problems, not just city drug problems.
HERRINGAbsolutely. And it crosses a lot of different demographic groups, and so those are some of the things that I want to hear directly from law enforcement about and how I might be able to help them.
NNAMDIWhat did you make of how the General Assembly responded to former Governor Bob McDonnell's legal situation this year by passing new guidelines for ethics? Some people felt lawmakers passed what amounted to, well, a fig leaf. Others, like Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw said you cannot legislate behavior, and that lawmakers in jurisdictions with tougher restrictions run afoul of the law all the time. He mentioned the District and Prince George's Country.
HERRINGWell, the situation involving the former governor is very serious, and the General Assembly took some steps toward addressing the ethics issues, but it really needs to be stronger...
NNAMDIAre there additional guidelines, you think the General Assembly...
SHERWOODWill you be proposing legislation?
HERRINGYou know, I may be doing that in the future. This session's passed, but in the future...
SHERWOODI mean, I mean, going forward.
HERRINGThe General Assembly did put a cap on tangible gifts. It extended reporting of gifts for immediate family members. And what I've done as attorney general, and the Governor has as well, have much stronger policy for those affecting our offices. So there is a gift ban in place as a matter of policy that I've put in that is a hundred dollar gift ban, both -- it makes no distinction between tangible or intangible gifts, it applies to family members of me and my staff as well. But those are the kinds of things that I think ought to be included, as well as an ethics commission that can have some real investigatory powers.
SHERWOODThe biggest issue in the state...
NNAMDIWe have about a minute left.
SHERWOOD...very quickly. The Medicaid is terribly complicated. A special session starts on Monday. Governor McAuliffe has said he's gonna have a major announcement. Is there any -- are you helping craft any kind of compromise on how the state can cover more adults, 250,000 people in the state of Virginia, but not get bogged down in Medicaid funding? Are you sure, or do you know what he's gonna announce on Monday?
HERRINGI don't. I support the Medicaid expansion. It would bring billions of dollars back to Virginia as well as provide healthcare for hundreds of thousands of Virginians who currently can't afford it. I heard a lot on the public safety tour about mental health, and that would be very helpful. This will be a real challenge for both the Governor and the leadership in the House and Senate to try to reach an agreement.
NNAMDIMark Herring is Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Virginia. He is a Democrat. Attorney General Herring, thank you for joining us.
HERRINGThank you very much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODI want to be called General Sherwood.
NNAMDIThat's not gonna happen.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening to Private Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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