Kojo and Tom Sherwood chat with D.C. Council Member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large)
Virginia’s attorney general paves the way for undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition benefits at the commonwealth’s public universities. Meanwhile, D.C. begins issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants who’ve been in the city for at least six months. And the region’s largest electric utility announces plans to be taken over by a Chicago company. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; NBC 4 reporter; and Columnist for the Current Newspapers
- Aisha Braveboy Democratic Candidate, Attorney General, Maryland; Member, Maryland House of Delegates (D-Prince George's County)
- Irvin Nathan Attorney General, District of Columbia
Watch A Featured Clip
Would Washington, D.C. be better served by an elected attorney general?
D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan weighed in on the issue during his appearance Friday on Kojo Nnamdi’s weekly “Politics Hour.”
Watch the conversation below
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current newspapers. Tom Sherwood, good to see you.
MR. TOM SHERWOODYeah, good afternoon. It's a great, beautiful day.
NNAMDIBeautiful day, unlike so many of the days we've been having recently with extreme weather. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Aisha Braveboy, she is the Democratic candidate for attorney general for the state of Maryland. Joining us in studio right now is Irvin Nathan. He is the attorney general for the District of Columbia. Irv Nathan, thank you so much for joining us.
ATTY. GEN. IRVIN NATHANPleasure to be back with you, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, you got some explaining to do. It would appear that as a result of a recent development having to do with the writer George Pelecanos being hired by HBO to be writer on a long-delayed biopic of former mayor, now Ward 8 councilmember, Marion Barry, prompted a series of angry tweets from the former mayor, protesting that this biopic was being made, and promising to have one of his own made before this one came out.
NNAMDIHe said he is upset with you, Tom Sherwood, for hiding behind your HBO contract. And that you or George Pelecanos shouldn't be participating in this at all. Spike Lee, the director, he made no mention of him at all.
SHERWOODOr Eddie Murphy as the -- who would play Barry in the HBO scheme.
NNAMDIHis point being that white people should not be writing the history of black people. How -- what caused all of this?
SHERWOODWell, I think the City Paper did a little update on it. How Barry wants to -- and his book is supposed to come out, I think, this time in June. And he wants to do a biopic. HBO -- let me just be clear about this. HBO, several years ago, two or three times now has bought the right to "Dream City."
NNAMDIWhich, by the way, is now available digitally.
SHERWOODThe update -- the 20-year update.
NNAMDIIt was out of print. The 20-year update is available digitally.
SHERWOODAnd so HBO bought the rights and said, you know, and have Harry Jaffe and I to be consultants, if necessary. And I can tell you it hasn't been necessary. But they bought the right. And it's not news that George Pelecanos, who is a terrific writer -- people are familiar with his crime stories from around here.
NNAMDII love George Pelecanos.
SHERWOODHe's probably been on this show. But, no, he was involved last summer. I'm not sure why this is…
SHERWOODThis is not new. We -- Harry and I met with George last November or October, some period of time back then. He asked us some questions. You know, for people who don't know George Pelecanos, other than being a great writer, has done episodes for "The Wire," for that highly acclaimed show.
NNAMDIYes. He does episodes for "The Wire," he writes for "Treme," he's a…
SHERWOODSo he -- we went to his house and had dinner.
NNAMDI…Washington, D.C. based crime writer.
SHERWOODYes. And -- but we went to his house for dinner back last fall. And we had…
NNAMDIHey, George, you never invited me to you house. I'm sorry.
SHERWOODWell, you know, they want people that have something to say. But -- as opposed to moderating and host. But anyways, we had a nice conversation with him. And we encouraged him to make sure that he get the real flavor of Barry, just not the crime of the Vista Hotel, which people need to remember, Barry was not convicted of that Vista Hotel sting. There was a hung jury on that.
SHERWOODSo anyway, so Barry apparently saw this, has done a lot of tweets, there's been a lot of back and forth, people ranting and railing, you know. I've always said this -- I've said it on this show -- I have the greatest respect for Marion Barry as a person and the things he has done and does as mayor and a councilmember.
SHERWOODI just have the greatest respect for him. And I know the whole story. We told it in "Dream City." But that doesn't mean I sugarcoat anything he says or does that is not -- that I think is not good or is shown not to be good. So I just do that. It's HBO's decision what they do with the movie.
NNAMDIWell, the former mayor was protesting that he doesn't think that the history of himself or other black people should be written by white people.
SHERWOODWell, and I can't address that.
NNAMDII do not think that he would like HBO to use our former analyst Jonetta Rose Barras's book, "The Last of Black Emperors," about Marian Barry, because even though she is African-American, I don't think he would want them to use that book either.
SHERWOODOne of Barry's friends called me today and that person knows the history I have with Barry, going back to the late '70s.
NNAMDIOh, this is true.
SHERWOODAnd they -- and I said to that person, I said, "Look…
NNAMDIIt's an on-and-off relationship.
SHERWOOD…when -- no. It's just a continuous relationship where he's a public official and I'm a reporter." I said, "When Marion Barry passes from the scene, it's going to be Marion Barry, served four terms as mayor and was arrested in an FBI sting in the Vista Hotel in 1990, died today at X." And I said, "When I go, it's going to be, Tom Sherwood, a little known journalist who made his reputation on the life of Marion Barry, died today at X." So this story of Barry and my covering it, is we're intertwined regardless of what people say good or bad.
NNAMDIAnd that's what Barry, himself, was tweeting about today. Last election night we stayed up quite a bit. It was April 1st. We thought we were being made fools of because the election results came out so late. And now the board of elections says there is a new explanation for the screw-up, why it happened so late, that it was "a broad computer network failure that's going to cost us in the vicinity of $4 million."
NNAMDI"Two million dollars in new electric voting machines and perhaps another $2 million in computers." But why has it taken so long for them to decide that this was what the problem was?
SHERWOODWell, I think they've been trying to figure out what the problem is. You know, the problem is in this city, more maybe than the fire department, there's always been a problem in the board of elections. It seems we get started, get the engines running and then something dies, something causes problems. And I was out -- the very first precinct I went to on Election Day, the guy's telling me, "Well, they forgot to give us pencils," you know, for people to mark the ballot, which is a pretty important thing to have.
SHERWOODAnd from there it went into the board talks about -- Mr. Tatum, the director, talks about the electronics. And I'm just thinking -- I mean, I fight with our computer system at Channel 4 every day and people who have a computer system probably fight with it here, too. But, you know, I don't understand why there isn't an emergency declaration to make sure these things work the week before, so everybody knows what they are. And I just don't understand why that causes a problem. It's just more embarrassment for the city.
NNAMDIIrv Nathan, do you have anything to do with this at all?
NATHANI don't. I don't have nothing to do with the election board or its problems. I agree that election returns should be decided very promptly. And I think it's for the Council to look at this and if appropriations are needed they should make it and get it ready for the next election.
NNAMDIHave you been involved in negotiations with HBO over the biopic having to do with Marion Barry?
NATHANThat is another area that I have had nothing to do with.
NNAMDIYou're absolutely sure of that?
SHERWOODI just want, you know, I want him to subscribe to HBO and watch it.
NATHANI do subscribe to HBO. And I'm looking forward to the biopic.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Irvin Nathan, attorney general of the District of Columbia, give us a call at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. A few weeks ago the D.C. Council moved to sue Mayor Vincent Gray and the city's chief financial officer over its right to spend locally raised dollars, budget autonomy.
NNAMDIThe lawyers for the council told us last week -- they were here -- that a referendum passed by voters last year to give the city that power carries the force of the law, that Congress had a chance to move against it and didn't. You've taken the position that it would take an act of Congress to change the city's home rule charter, and just change -- and thus change the status quo. Why is this your interpretation of the law?
NATHANFirst, Kojo, let me make it clear that I support budget autonomy for the District. And more importantly, the mayor supports budget autonomy, and in fact, even went to jail protesting the lack of budget autonomy. But, you know, yesterday was Law Day, and the president issued a proclamation saying that the rule of law is the cornerstone of our democracy. And I agree with that. And the rule of law means that any laws that we don't agree with, including the Congressional statute on budget autonomy for the District, the only way to change that law is through an act of Congress.
NATHANIn 1973, in granting home rule to the District, a compromise was reached. And in that compromise it was provided in several ways in the statute itself, that the Council would not have the power to appropriate its funds. The basic compromise was that the Congress would retain the power of appropriations for the District. This was put into the statute in three different ways. First it said that the Council could not enact any law that would take away the functions of the federal government.
NATHANAnd of course one of those functions is Congress and appropriating the funds, which it had done for 100 years before the 1973 law. The second, it said, was that the statute could not provide any means to change the budgeting and the roles of the Congress, the president, OMB and the general accounting office with respect to the budget. And the third, it said that no official or employee of the District could spend any funds, any government funds, without an act of Congress, without an appropriation.
NATHANAnd provided that any city official who did spend any money would be subject to criminal prosecution and administer of sanctions. This is the same conclusion, by the way, that the GAO came up with and said that this law is nullity. Now, let me say that this is not a legal conclusion that we came to lightly. I asked career lawyers at the office of attorney general, including people who had been there for over 30 years, to give me their unvarnished, objective opinion as to the legitimacy of this law.
NATHANAnd unanimously, without any dissent, each of them said that this law is null and void, is not authorized by the home rule act passed by the Congress in 1973. And the only way to change it is by an act of Congress, which has been recognized by all prior councils because they have repeatedly gone up to the Hill and requested budget autonomy from the Congress. It's obvious that they have tired of that and they've decided to take the law in their own hands and pass this provision of a Budget Autonomy Act, which the legitimacy of which will now be resolved in court. And we welcome that court resolution.
SHERWOODNot being the lawyer, my understanding is the fundamental issue in the suit is that when Congress did, in fact, do the home rule act, that there was then established the District Fund or the D.C. Fund…
SHERWOOD…the revenue fund, and that monies flow into that for the city to spend. And that that was approved by Congress, so therefore the monies that flow into the District Fund can then be spent by the city.
NATHANWell, that's quite fallacious. It is true that in 1973 that Congress set up this separate fund, but in that same statute they made clear that all appropriations from that fund, as well as any other source, would have to be approved by Congress, would have to be appropriated by Congress. This is not anything new. And for 40 years after the statute was passed, the process has been that the mayor proposes a budget, the Council adopts a budget, the president sends that budget to -- the mayor sends that budget to the president, who, in turn, sends it to Congress for enactment.
NATHANAnd that is the way that has been done since the Home Rule Act was passed. And that was the understanding of Congress at the time, and every local administration and every council since that time.
SHERWOODYou're not going to get the D.C. vote award of the year for…
NATHANI don't think so.
SHERWOOD… (unintelligible) you know that. But, you know, they are -- one of the persons who is involved in this said, look at the difference, in Virginia you have an elected attorney general, Mark Herring, who took a stand. And I'm not -- he was not going to bring the power of the attorney general's office to fight the same-sex issue or to defend the law. Just this week Mark Herring said that, the children of undocumented workers who meet the residency requirements are entitled to state tuition and that he is actually taking the position.
SHERWOODThe criticism of you has been that -- is that because of your previous employment on the Hill as a lawyer to the House, is that you represent the views of the House, rather than pushing and supporting -- pushing this to get a resolution. That this resolution -- this referendum was passed by the voters, went through all the processes, went through the oversight at the Capitol Hill. No one derailed it at any point. And that you derailed it.
NATHANWell, I appreciate your saying that. It's completely untrue, of course. In the first place, I…
NATHANWell, let me say, let me explain way it isn't accurate.
SHERWOODBut my recitation of the facts were accurate, you're just saying you don't agree with it.
NATHANWell, no. Your interpretation is not accurate. My only role now…
SHERWOODWell, I was telling you what they say.
NATHANYeah, I understand.
NATHANI know that they say…
NNAMDIYou forgot the part about him being a lackey of the Congress, but go ahead.
SHERWOODWell, I was going to read from…
NATHANWell, that's the…
SHERWOOD…it, but I think I got that point across.
NATHANAll right. Look, my only role is as attorney general for the District of Columbia. My obligation is to uphold the law as we have it from the Congress, from the Constitution and from the City Council, when the law is valid. I have no interest in promoting the interests of the House or the Congress, and I have no obligation to them and no interest in doing that.
NATHANI'm trying to protect the District of Columbia. And in particular, the representatives of the District of Columbia, the 33,000 employees who would be subject to criminal and other sanctions if they were to follow what this Council has done.
SHERWOODHas anyone been charged under the Anti-deficiency Act, as it's called?
NATHANThere are sanctions that have been -- I don't know of a criminal prosecution, but there are criminal penalties for it. But there have been sanctions. And of course you understand that…
NNAMDIWell, there are a lot of our listeners who don't know what that is. So can you explain what the consequences you think the city might suffer if this is done? I guess, that's where the Anti-deficiency Act comes into play.
NATHANYes. Well, the consequences would be that, first of all, individuals who spend money that are not appropriated by Congress would be subjected to loss of employment, sanctions, civil sanctions, civil penalties, as well as the potential for criminal penalties. But more importantly, the city itself would be in trouble because contracts that are let and paid for by appropriations that are not appropriated by Congress could be set aside by the courts. People who didn't get those contracts would complain about the -- saying that it's unauthorized to pay this money.
NATHANAnd we'd have those issues to deal with. People who got licenses, their opponents would say the licenses are not valid. Even our lawyers who go to court to bring cases, prosecute cases or to seek civil sanctions, would be opposed by opposing counsel and saying you're not appropriately here because you're paid for properly, you're not authorized by the Congress to be in these roles. We would have tremendous difficulties if we follow this law and we would not have those difficulties if we had…
NNAMDIWell, the supporters of the law say that Congress hasn't done anything to stop budget autonomy since we voted for it last year. What leads you to believe that they will?
NATHANWell, first of all, it is not accurate to say that they have not done anything. What Congress did was they asked the GAO, which is the independent agency with the most expertise in appropriations and budgeting, for an opinion of the validity of the law. And the GAO came back with an opinion that said this law is totally null and void. It is a nullity because it is not permitted by the Home Rule Act and because it violates two federal laws, the Anti-deficiencies Act and the Budget Act.
SHERWOODAnd Darrel Issa -- I'm sorry.
NATHANAnd the second thing that happened was that the committee with oversight over the District has said in a written report that this -- "We appreciate the opinion of the citizens of the District of Columbia, but this law has no effect. It is not valid." And Mr. Issa, as Tom started to say, he said that this is sort of the equivalent of a succession. That it's an illegal act that is not approved. So the Congress has not taken action in the sense of setting it aside, which it could and which it may in the future, but it has made every indication that it does not find this law to be valid.
SHERWOODCould you just tell us where we are in the legal battle? The Council decides to sue the mayor and his chief financial officer for their decision to not…
SHERWOOD…follow the law as the Council sees it.
SHERWOODAnd so they filed it in Superior Court. Then it was moved to federal court on your…
NATHANWe moved it to federal court.
SHERWOODAre you representing the mayor and the CFO in this?
NATHANOur office is representing.
SHERWOODWhere -- what is the status of the case at this moment?
NATHANThe status of the case is before Judge Emmet Sullivan, a Federal District Court judge, an excellent judge who previously had been a Superior Court judge. He also served on the highest court in the District, the D.C. Court of Appeals. And is now a Federal District judge and is familiar with these issues. And he is going to hear our argument on this on May 14th. And we filed our brief earlier this week. And there'll be a few more briefs filed and a lot of people are gearing up to file Friend of the Court briefs with the court on both sides of the issue.
NNAMDILet me take one more bite of this apple.
NNAMDIThe lawyers for the Council, that we had on last week, said that there is a mechanism for amending the city's charter. And that the provision that requires Congressional approval before spending local dollars, that that's one of the provisions in the charter.
NATHANYeah, I heard that, Kojo. And…
NATHAN…it is true, that there are provisions for amending the charter. However, what they left out is is there are provisions in the charter that say, "Here is what you cannot amend." In Title XI it says, "Reserved to Congress, limitations on the Council." And there are the three limitations that I described for you. The Council cannot pass any legislation that takes away any function from the federal government.
NATHANIt cannot pass any change that changes the way the budget is appropriated by the Congress and the president. And it cannot change the fact that no District employee can spend any money that has not been appropriated by Congress. Those are specifically off-limits to the charter amendment process.
SHERWOODPolitically, I just, you know, as a citizen of the city, I certainly want us to have full rights. We're the most un-American city in America, the nation's capital. And I'd like us to have the full rights. But what worries me as a reporter is that I sat and listened to Judge John Farren when the city wanted to sue for voting rights. And it went all way through the courts and the courts said, well, this is a political matter. The Constitution gives the Congress full legislative authority over the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODAnd so I keep telling some of the voting rights activists that they've gotten very excited and said, this is the time, this is -- we're going to get. And I'm just wondering if we're all just in for a big disappointment at the end.
NATHANWell, that's what I'm afraid of. And that's what I was telling the Board of Elections back a year ago when they wanted to put this on the ballot. You're setting up the citizens for disappointment because this is not valid, it is not appropriate, it will not be enforced by the courts, it will not be accepted by the Congress. The mayor, you know, accepted -- he signed this bill because he didn't want to keep away from the District -- the voters of the District -- a chance to express their opinion on this. And of course they did.
NATHANAnd of course they want budget autonomy, as the mayor does, as I do, as any right-thinking person would want budget autonomy. It's appropriate that people get to spend or direct how their hard-earned tax-money is spent by the local government. But it has to be done in a lawful way and the only lawful way is to come from Congress. And the president has proposed that the Congress give the District budget autonomy.
NATHANA number of senators and members of Congress, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, have proposed and are pushing that legislation. We support that legislation fully. So I agree with you, we should have budget autonomy. It's very important to have it have it in the right and lawful way.
NNAMDIWhat if Judge Emmet Sullivan rules in favor of the council later this month?
NATHANWell, I, you know, I think that's highly unlikely. The judge knows the law and we'll have to see what happens, but we'll wait and see what the judge does.
SHERWOODOn this fundamental issue, if you were to lose in court would that bring the question whether or not you should be the attorney general since you didn't defend the city on this?
NATHANNo. I don't…
SHERWOODBecause you're defending the legal principles. I understand the distinction.
SHERWOODWould that give you some pause to think about whether you'll continue as attorney general if you lose this case?
NATHANNo. You know, first of all…
SHERWOODI mean, you'll probably will be out in January.
NATHAN…my term is over in -- the beginning of January in any event. I don't plan…
SHERWOODWill you be leaving for sure then?
NATHANOh, absolutely. I'll be leaving and it's up to the next mayor to choose an attorney general. I'm very proud of the record that our office has established over the last three and a half years. We've had great victories for the District. I consider this a great victory to stand up for the rule of law. And of course we'll abide by any definitive decisions of the courts.
NNAMDIYou told the Washington Post that you do not accept the premise that it's worth trying unlawful acts to get to budget autonomy. Can you elaborate? Some people see this in much the same way as they saw the Civil Rights movement.
NATHANYeah, well, yeah…
NNAMDIThat there are unfair laws.
NNAMDIAnd we find unique ways of protesting them.
NATHANNo, no. I think that protesting laws is perfectly appropriate. And of course I support notions of civil disobedience like Martin Luther King, Gandhi. The difference is that those are individuals who accept the consequences of an unjust law and request that the people who are in a position to change the law, do so, and they do it.
NATHANThe difference here is that people who are sworn to uphold the law, like the Council, as well as ourselves, they think this is an unjust law, and they've changed it and pretend that it is lawful, what they've done, as opposed to disobedience to the law and protesting, as the mayor did when he went up before Congress.
SHERWOODWill they -- they're not -- they didn't uphold the law on the attorney general election. I mean that was just -- that was a slaughter and clear sight that the not going forward with the attorney general election. What's your view of that? I think you were not particularly in favor of an elected…
SHERWOOD…attorney general, but it was all done legally, right? It should have been on the ballot?
NATHANYes. It was done lawfully. But, you know, let me say about the attorney general election. I was asked by the Council whether they had the authority to postpone the election. And I told them because, again, our career people looked at this question and we read the statute. We said, yes, you have the authority to postpone the election, which, by the way, has been affirmed by the courts that have considered it to day.
NATHANIt's still in litigation. But I also said that I didn't think you should postpone the election because the people voted for it, they expected the election to be held in 2014 and you shouldn't deprive them of their expectations. Let me say that the irony to me, though, is the reason that the Council proposed an elected attorney general was to have an independent attorney general who would tell the law as it is and that officials, including, obviously, the executive branch, but also presumably the legislature would follow the advice of the independent attorney general.
NATHANI am an independent attorney general. I cannot be fired by the mayor, except for cause. And as an independent attorney general, with the advice of the career staff, I've advised the Council repeatedly that this approach to budget autonomy is not lawful. And the same folks who pushed for an election are disregarding that advice because they don't like that advice and they want to make their own decisions.
SHERWOODWould you have run for the elected attorney general post?
NATHANNo. I'm too old to run for the office. So I don't (unintelligible).
NNAMDIDo you think the city is served better or worse by the attorney general position becoming an elected one?
NATHANWell, I think the citizens have voted in favor of it. I understand that decision. We elect so few officials in this District. We have no senators, we have no voting representative in Congress. I think if the people want an elected attorney general that is fine. I think people, in truth, don't understand exactly what the functions are of the attorney general. For example, we do not have any prosecutorial authority over felonies, over adult crimes. And I think a lot of people think that we do. Those are handled by the U.S. attorney's office.
NATHANAnd the principle job is to defend the city in litigation and to render independent judgments on the law and those kinds of judgments are generally better if they are not politically influenced, but are an objective determination of the law.
SHERWOODWith the elected people in the city, now, who killed this law for an elected attorney general, don't want another seat of power where they can be criticized, either just in the court of public opinion or elsewhere. That's one of the reasons they killed it or they wouldn't say that.
NATHANWell, I don't know all the reasons that they did it. When we had…
NNAMDIYou're being diplomatic now.
NATHANWe had made suggestions of changing the reporting relationships of the agency council and that is what led them to say maybe we're not ready yet to decide this question. And let's postpone it for the next cycle.
SHERWOODThe Twitter world…
SHERWOODExcuse me, I was just going to say the Twitter world is having some objections to his position that this is pretend legislation on the budget autonomy.
NNAMDIWhy am I not surprised? Here is…
NATHANI didn't say it was pretend.
NNAMDI…Talib (sp?) in Washington, D.C., who has a whole new setup to suggest for the District of Columbia. Talib, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
TALIBKojo, and Atty. Gen. Nickles (sic), let me say, first of all -- I'm sorry. Not Nickles. In fact I wanted to say how refreshing it was that the Attorney General Irvin…
NNAMDIIs not Nickles.
TALIB…well, was so remarkable un-apolitical in comparison to our former, you know, political attorney general.
NNAMDIPeter Nickles, yes.
TALIBAnd I think that we should all commend him for depoliticizing the office. As you know, I served a point as a special counsel to the mayor.
TALIBAnd I would have certainly -- had I served as a special counsel to the attorney general, on this last issue I may have encouraged him to perhaps recuse himself in making that final decision and put it up to perhaps a panel to do that of career, you know, counselors in his office, just because of the fact that he formally served as the general counsel to the House of Representatives.
TALIBAnd so, you know, naturally people would attack him on that basis. And clearly, you know, I think that because this issue of self-determination is so fundamental and it's really, as he said, it's beyond reason for people of reason in the District of Columbia to accept this, for, you know, the mayor to have himself been arrested and not perhaps taken one more step in the act of protest by, you know, allowing it to be moved forward…
NNAMDITalib, what you do you think we should do?
TALIBWell, my idea, again, going forward, is perhaps we should begin thinking about the District more so as a state. And I wanted to ask the attorney general whether or not we should adopt a provincial type system, similar to what the districts of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island have, where you have a governor and a bicameral legislature, as opposed to a city council. And, of course, I mean an elected attorney general being a component of that.
TALIBAnd whether or not, you know, in those types of scenarios, decisions that may be tough, like the one that he had to make, might be viewed in a different way and, in fact, even processed in a different way because we would have more, you know, elected officials, for example, the ANC officials would become, you know, perhaps state legislatures and be given a little more authority.
NNAMDIOkay. Got the picture. Here's Irv Nathan.
NATHANWell, I want to say, I support statehood for the District of Columbia. I believe, you know, we have population that's larger than Wyoming and Vermont. We have all the responsibilities of a state in many ways, with respect to our healthcare system, our education system and many others. We have compacts with other states in this area in matters of common interest. And I think that the District should be fully represented in Congress, have a voting representative or more in the House and two senators who are elected and represent our views. I think we ought to do all of that and get it in a lawful way.
NNAMDIIrvin Nathan is the attorney general for the District of Columbia. Thank you for joining us.
NATHANMy pleasure. And thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom Sherwood, we have grown used in this city, in this area, to bashing Pepco whenever we feel that Pepco has not performed appropriately or up to standard after, especially, winter storms. Well, as a former politician said, "We're not going to have Pepco to kick around anymore," because the utility operator Exelon is buying Pepco holdings for $6.8 billion.
NNAMDIThe deal has not yet gone through. It has to be reviewed by what seems like hundreds of regulatory agencies. But Exelon is clearly a big player. It runs power companies in 47 states. And it had expressed interest in buying a regulated utility for more than -- for quite a long time -- for more steady returns, apparently, is what the report says. Do you think this'll make any difference?
SHERWOODWell, you know, public utilities…
NNAMDIThey own BG&E, by the way.
SHERWOODYes, BG&E. You know, Pepco has had a history of lots of complaints, like many public service communities, agencies around the country. It's spent a lot of money trying to fix issues. It acknowledged a couple years ago, after Rachel -- whatever, I've forgotten. One of the horrible storms. It acknowledged that it had allowed its maintenance and attention to all those issues slip. And they've been working very hard. Well, you know, once you lose a reputation it's hard to get it back. And they have done a great deal of things to get back. And there's even an effort to…
NNAMDIOver the past few storms we haven't really had any major problems. But this was a particularly rough winter.
SHERWOODWell, but, you know, this was the luck of the draw. It depends on which way the wind blows. But, you know, but there's -- planned a billion dollars to put wires underground and some people are even questioning whether that's a smart thing to do when in some areas where lines are underground there are still problems, then you have to dig up the lines, as opposed to go up in cherry-pickers and fix them. So I think we don't know.
SHERWOODI think we -- it gives a good opportunity to see what this larger corporation is going to do to continue a path of better service. Because the city just is growing by leaps and bounds. You know, we expect to have another 150,000 people living here in the next 15, 20 years or so. We cannot have a power company that doesn't serve the needs of the business community and the people who live here.
NNAMDISo we'll see how Exelon performs, if, indeed, that buyout of…
SHERWOODThere'll be a lot of public discussion before it's approved.
NNAMDI…of Pepco is allowed to take place. As I said, hundreds of regulatory issues have to go through. The controversy over the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, Donald Sterling, and his racist remarks over the past week may be predictably led to more conversation about the name of Washington football team. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid saying that the NFL should take the initiative in the same way that the commissioner of the NBA did to make a decision about this and change the name of the team from the offensive name that some people think it now has. Think it's going to happen?
SHERWOODWell, I think it's devaluing of what horrible things the basketball owner said, and is on tape as saying the horrific things he said, not only the racist things he said, but the sexist things he said. And some reference, someone said that -- he made a reference -- this girlfriend didn't like it. He could get another girlfriend. It was just horrific. And that is not the same thing as having them fight over this name Redskins. It's just different.
SHERWOODAnd I don't want to commingle the two items. I can understand why people would do it in making a comment on Twitter or something like that. But this is not -- the owner of the football team saying these horrific things and getting away with it. And if people don't like the name of the team, there's a very strong move to get the team name changed. And maybe the NFL -- the NFL has even addressed this issue recently. It wasn't very...
NNAMDIIt seems to be shifting its position somewhat.
SHERWOODWasn't very satisfactory for -- to people, but the fact is these two things are not the same. And I would just leave it at that. And if people can fight to change the name -- and that's perfectly a good thing to do.
NNAMDIWell, our next guest actually represents a district in Prince George's County in the state legislature, so maybe we should have her weigh in on this issue. She is Aisha Braveboy, Democratic candidate for attorney general for the state of Maryland, member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Her district is located in Prince George's County. She's also the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. Should the Washington Redskins change their name? Oh, welcome, Aisha -- Delegate Braveboy. Thank you for joining us.
REP. AISHA BRAVEBOYWell, it's a pleasure to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIShould the team change its name?
BRAVEBOYI think absolutely.
NNAMDIYes. Most Prince George's County delegates seem to feel that way.
BRAVEBOYAnd in fact we had a resolution this year in the general assembly, which just a couple of us signed on to, including myself, asking that the Washington football team change its name.
SHERWOODWe can change it to Prince George's County something or other 'cause it's not Washington at all. Do you want the team to stay? It's a billion-dollar business.
NNAMDIOh, you know they want the team to stay.
SHERWOODWell, that's -- some people, I don't know. Do you? If they don't change the name, do you want them to stay?
BRAVEBOYWell, let me just say this. We have -- there's always been mixed reaction to the Washington football team, ever since they moved to Prince George's County because, unfortunately, what did not occur was economic development around the stadium. And so for a lot of the residents there, they have, you know, difficulty, you know, moving about their communities on a game day. And then there's no real benefits, other than sort of tax, you know, tax credits.
SHERWOODYou get about 20 million a year, I think, out of the -- do you want to say -- do you say the name?
BRAVEBOYThe Washington football team.
SHERWOODThe Washington football -- OK. W-F-T. All right. You get that money, but that's about it, the money.
BRAVEBOYIt's -- and if you look at it...
SHERWOODAlthough they did support you on the casino. The team did support you on the casino.
BRAVEBOYHowever, I did not support the casino. (laughs) But thank you for bringing that up.
NNAMDILet's cut to the chase. For the past four years, you have been a member of the Maryland House of Delegates during...
NNAMDIEight years -- doing a very -- four terms, right?
BRAVEBOYNo, two terms, two four-year terms.
NNAMDITwo terms, four-year terms -- during a very busy time in Annapolis. It's a stretch when the general assembly moved to raise the minimum wage, legalized same-sex marriage, repealed the state's death penalty, but it's my understanding that part of why you're running to be the state's attorney general is because you believe the job can be about protecting vulnerable people. And it makes you angry when you see people taking advantage of vulnerable Marylanders. Where do you see this happening in Maryland? And how does that shape the kind of attorney general you'd like to be?
BRAVEBOYWell, let me give you, actually, a couple of examples. One is about a year ago, I had to deal with an issue with residents in Montgomery County who lived in Sandy Spring in Montgomery County, historic community. These landowners could not get addresses. Could you imagine owning property for over, you know, close to a hundred years and not being able to get an address?
BRAVEBOYThe bureaucracy of the county and state government did not allow, or did not recognize, an access road called Farm Road that the residents and their landowners there knew existed for years. Because the Park and Planning Commission, because the state did not acknowledge the road, these individuals were denied addresses. And so for seven or eight years, they've been battling back and forth with local governments.
BRAVEBOYWhen I found out about it, I held a hearing right there in the community, invited the government. We had over a hundred leaders there from the community. And I put Park and Planning Commission on a timeline. And I said, look, we are not going to ask the question whether or not these individuals would get addresses. The only question I have is, when? And we put them on a two-month timeline.
BRAVEBOYAnd within two months, those addresses were issued to the landowners along that road. See, government has to work for people, not against them. We shouldn't be preventing people from being able to enjoy the land that they own and, oh, by the way, they pay taxes on. So we can acknowledge that they're there for the purpose of paying taxes.
BRAVEBOYBut we don't acknowledge them for the purpose of issuing a building permit or granting an address. That is a wrong. That should never have occurred. And as attorney general, I would have not allowed that obviously to happen in the state. And even as a delegate, I said I'm going to step up and do something about it.
SHERWOODI think the attorney general's office has a $42 million a year budget, something like that.
SHERWOODWhat does it do for -- a lot of people may not know. What is your role as the attorney general?
BRAVEBOYWell, the attorney general is the top law enforcement office in the state. The attorney general represents the state...
SHERWOODAnd all its agencies.
BRAVEBOY...and all its agencies, boards, and commissions. The attorney general's office is the top consumer protection office in the state as well. And the attorney general's office initiates programs to assist citizens of the state to achieve justice, and especially in the areas, like I mentioned, of consumer rights and also crime and education. So it is an office that has an awful lot of responsibility and absolutely must be independent, must work not for other politicians, but on behalf of the citizens of the state. The attorney general is the people's attorney.
SHERWOODDo you have any view of Doug Gansler who's running for the governor, the attorney general of the state?
NNAMDIWould wait with the...
SHERWOODHe's been fairly activist -- a fairly activist attorney general. Do you...
BRAVEBOYHe has been. And I think he's done an excellent job on issues of the environment, saving the Chesapeake, and we will continue those initiatives. However, I'd like to focus more on some of the civil rights issues. Now, let me...
SHERWOODAnd young people at risk in the, yeah, juvenile justice.
BRAVEBOYAnd juvenile justice. Let me tell you. There is probably nothing more important than getting it right for our next generation. And there are a number of issues that are facing our young people. I have been working for the past eight years with a juvenile diversion program that I helped create in Prince George's County...
SHERWOODI watched it on your campaign -- you know, on your site, you have the little video clip there.
BRAVEBOYOh, yes. And we've helped divert over 2,000 young people out of the criminal justice system, put them back in school, and on a path to success.
SHERWOODEighty-five percent success rate.
BRAVEBOYEighty-five percent success rate.
SHERWOODI'm just saying that just to show that I did look at it.
BRAVEBOYYes. Yes. And let me tell you...
NNAMDIHe's showing off is what he's doing.
BRAVEBOYWell, I'm happy that you looked at it. And I will say this, when we talk about this issue of mass incarceration -- and I've said this a number of times. The only way to truly combat mass incarceration is to promote mass education. And the way you do that is keeping young people in school, focused on learning, focused on education. As a delegate, I raised the dropout age in our state to 18 because students were dropping out at 16. And we thought that was OK, and it wasn't because those same young people were twice as likely to end up in our criminal justice system.
SHERWOODWhat was your position on the decriminalization of marijuana, the...
BRAVEBOYI supported decriminalization.
SHERWOOD'Cause I know Angela Alsobrooks, the state county attorney, she didn't support that.
SHERWOODShe's worried about having more drug use and making marijuana more available to young people who already have enough to overcome.
BRAVEBOYYeah. Well, let me just say this. The -- marijuana is going to be used, unfortunately, by people in our state. It's been -- people in our state have used marijuana for years. People all over the country use marijuana. The question about marijuana use is whether or not use -- your use and potential conviction should be used against you or held against you basically for the rest of your life. You have -- there's a huge disparity between minorities who use drugs or something like marijuana and non-minorities.
BRAVEBOYThey use it at the same rate, yet not -- yet minorities are more likely to be arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. And those convictions not only impact their ability to get employment. But for a young person, it impacts their ability to get loans and grants and go to college. It affects ability for folks to get housing. So I think we can all acknowledge that, you know, we don't want drug use in our society. However, it's happening. And so the question is, what is a smart policy on the use of small amounts of marijuana?
SHERWOODYou're not ready yet for legalization.
BRAVEBOYI'm not yet ready for legalization, but I think decriminalizing it makes sense because it's going to take about 30,000 people out of our criminal justice system and give them an opportunity to be successful.
NNAMDIOur guest is Aisha Braveboy. She's a Democratic candidate for attorney general for the state of Maryland. She's a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. Her district is located in Prince George's County. She's also the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. If you have questions or comments for Aisha Braveboy, give us a call at 800-433-8850. We can go now to Elizabeth in Landover, Md. Elizabeth, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELIZABETHYes. Delegate Braveboy, I'd like for you to address how you plan to continue to work to stop the foreclosure rate in Prince George's County.
BRAVEBOYI'm happy you asked that. You know, I'm the only candidate that stepped up to the plate when former Chief Judge Bell asked, you know, attorneys from around the state to deal with the crisis, the economic crisis that was going on, and that was foreclosure. I'm the only one that stepped up. I was recognized by the Pro Bono Resource Center for my work.
BRAVEBOYI will continue to ask attorneys around the state to step up and help individuals and families pro bono because this issue, while it's not being discussed in the media a lot, our foreclosure rates are still skyrocketing. We still have a lot of families being displaced. We absolutely must continue to focus on this issue of foreclosures. And let me tell you. The other thing that goes along with foreclosures is when the banks buy back the properties.
BRAVEBOYAnd in Prince George's County, in Baltimore City, and other jurisdictions, especially where you see high rates of minorities, a lot of times, what the banks are doing is buying back the properties at the foreclosure sales and not maintaining them. This is again a huge economic injustice because, when the bank doesn't maintain a property that it owns, it's more likely to be purchased by a investor.
BRAVEBOYAnd when an investor purchases property, they're purchasing far less than the fair market value, which brings down the value of everybody's home in the community. So where people who have been paying their mortgage on time, thought they had equity, and now the bank, who happens to be now the worst neighbor in the neighborhood, not maintaining their property, they sell it to an investor. Investor, you know, gets a profit.
BRAVEBOYThe banks have been bailed out. But, guess what, you don't have equity. You can't borrow against the equity in your home to send your kids to college. You can't borrow against the equity in your home to start a business. Again, we're talking about making sure that we hold banks accountable to the people in our state. And I am the only candidate talking about these real bread and butter issues. We absolutely must hold banks accountable.
NNAMDII sense in you a sense of mission, if you will. And in Virginia, this job, attorney general, has turned into a very active one. New Democratic attorney general has paved the way for undocumented immigrants to receive tuition benefits. Tom mentioned that earlier in the program. He refused to defend its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Tom talked about that too. What is your sense of mission? What do you feel is the appropriate role for a statewide attorney general?
BRAVEBOYWell, the attorney general is elected independently for a reason. That person is not accountable to other politicians. They are accountable to the people. And where you see injustices going on in your state, you have to speak up as the attorney general. And I'm the only candidate for attorney general that has been willing to speak up against the establishment, against the mainstream, to really represent the people.
BRAVEBOYAnd let me give you an example. I mean, we're dealing right now in our state with a travesty. Our historically black colleges and universities in our state have been discriminated against, have been underfunded intentionally, have had their programs duplicated intentionally, and Chief Judge Blake, last year in her decision in this HBCU lawsuit, said that the state was running a dual system of higher education that flew in the face of the Brown decision.
BRAVEBOYCan you imagine a state like Maryland that wants to call itself progressive discriminating against college students? It is embarrassing. And as attorney general, I will not defend the state's position on that issue. The state has not acknowledged its wrongdoing. The state refuses, even after it was found to have been, you know, discriminatory -- it still wants to defend its position and say, we're doing the best we can. It's not enough. The attorney general has to stand up and stand -- and to give the people of this state and all of its students fair and equal treatment.
NNAMDIThere are people who, with the election of Obama, called us a post-racial society. Obviously you don't think it is. And obviously a part of your campaign is to try to remove the last vestiges, or the remaining vestiges of what you see as racial discrimination. You seem to equate the vulnerable population in the state of Maryland to whom you'd like to address yourself with the vestiges of racial discrimination.
BRAVEBOYYou know, it's not really just about racial discrimination. It's also about individuals who had been disenfranchised in our society. And that typically are people who are low income. You know, this year, yes, we passed the minimum wage. I think we passed it this year 'cause it was an election year. I've had this bill three separate years, in prior years, to raise our minimum wage in the state of Maryland because we knew that the people who were making the least in our state could not afford to keep up with the rate of inflation and with the tax increases that the state was passing.
BRAVEBOYI stood up for them. I will continue to stand for those who are economically disadvantaged. Now, many of them happen to be racial minorities. But many of them are not. And in addition to those who are economically disadvantaged, I've stood up for the children with disabilities in our school system. We have children with disabilities who parents want to fairly fight the school system when their IEP's, their Individualized Educational Plans are not meeting the needs of their child. And our -- the way our state system is set up now, it's an unfair fight for parents. So I'm also fighting for them, so...
SHERWOODWell, let me...
NNAMDIOnly have about two minute left.
SHERWOODLet me get into this.
SHERWOODYour opponent's Jon Cardin, a delegate from Baltimore County, and Brian Frosh, delegate from Montgomery County.
SHERWOODThey would -- Brian was on this show, and they talk about things they've done. Tell me this, how are you significantly -- I don't want you to run them down. But how are you significantly different and better than them to be the attorney general of Maryland?
NNAMDIWell, to start with, she's from a Caribbean background.
SHERWOODAnd also the power of the whole state is shifting to the Maryland suburbs.
BRAVEBOYRight. Well, absolutely. But let me just -- what separates me is that, yes, I've been an effective legislator, but I've also been effective out in the community. Again, I personally help families facing foreclosure. I personally help...
SHERWOODAnd these attorneys have not done this type of...
BRAVEBOYNo. No, they did not. I was the only one acknowledged by the Pro Bono Resource Center. I...
NNAMDIOnly have one minute left.
BRAVEBOYAnd I'm the only candidate that is talking about juvenile justice, and not only talking about it, but have been actively participating in juvenile justice. See, it's one...
SHERWOODAnyway, let me just say that Donna Edwards, a congresswoman, today endorsed you.
SHERWOODHave you -- are you in the governor's race at all, I mean, in terms of your...
BRAVEBOYI'm running -- I'm running my race.
SHERWOODYou have an endorse -- Mr. Brown.
BRAVEBOYI'm running my race. I've got Donna Edwards endorsement. It was wonderful to have her endorsement. I have the United Food and Commercial Workers Union endorsement. I also have...
SHERWOODWell, those -- that's the one who holds up Wal-Mart.
BRAVEBOYI also -- absolutely. And I also have the Washington Building Trades Council endorsement...
BRAVEBOY...as well as the Caribbean Political Action Committee endorsement. I knew -- I know you want to hear that.
NNAMDI'Cause her parents hail from Grenada. Aisha Braveboy is a Democratic candidate for attorney general...
NNAMDI...for the state of Maryland. She's a member of the Maryland House of Delegates whose district is located in Prince George's County. She's also the chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland. Good luck to you, Delegate Braveboy.
BRAVEBOYThank you very much.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Always a pleasure.
SHERWOODAnd we'll be back here next Wednesday to talk about the book, "Dream City."
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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