Kojo chats with two reporters who spent the past year following the launch of Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, D.C.'s new school for boys of color. Their stories are now featured in "Raising Kings," a collaboration between NPR and Education Week.
D.C.’s “mayor in waiting” lunches in the White House. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell considers more than hundred proposals to put his government on a diet. And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley takes a seat at the head of the table of the Democratic Governors Association. 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
- Thomas Graham President, Pepco
- Mary Margaret Whipple Member, Virginia Senate (District 31, Arlington)
Politics Hour Extra
Pepco President Thomas Graham talks about bringing automated technology that could limit power outages and improve service for customers. He also talked about why putting power lines underground is often too costly to be practical:
Pepco President Thomas Graham discusses alternative energy initiatives, including the future of bringing solar and wind power to the region:
Virginia State Senator Mary Margaret Whipple talks about being the first woman in a leadership role in the General Assembly, and discusses why there are so few women in elected office in the state:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to “The Politics Hour” featuring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, Mayor-elect Vincent Gray had lunch with President Obama this week. You were on hand. And that's important. But D.C. got another kind of recognition this week. One that we feel must be celebrated right at the top of the show. It's that important. So forgive us for a minute or so while we dance and sing, because at 74 years old, D.C.'s own Chuck Brown finally got nominated for a Grammy Award for this...
MR. KOJO NNAMDINow, that's something to celebrate, isn't it? February. The Grammy Awards will on February. And that's Chuck Brown and Jill Scott. The song is called "Love."
MR. TOM SHERWOODThat was nice. That should be your new theme song instead of that sad, mournful thing you have starting this show.
NNAMDISeventy-four years old, it is something to celebrate, because even though Mayor-elect Vincent Gray had lunch with President Obama this week -- and it was a hopeful lunch -- Mayor-elect Gray saying that this is the beginning of what he thinks will be a good relationship. He wasn't really able to get any strong commitments on anything, not that we expected that.
SHERWOODWell, I -- you know, as I've said on this show before, if the president would just do something in Washington other than go to our restaurants and sporting events, I'd be happy. So I don't know what Mayor Gray elect -- what he had like. But it would be nice if the president would do something in the city that shows some kind of commitment to something in the nation's capital. But Gray came out, he was very -- you know, he had -- he went over at noon. He met with his White House staff. And then he had a 45-minute or so lunch in the private dining room right off the Oval Office.
SHERWOODHe had stir-fry beef with broccoli and then gulf...
NNAMDIWhy is that even important?
SHERWOODWell, it's important because they had gulf shrimp gumbo, which is important because, you know, (laugh) they want people know that gulf shrimp doesn't have oil on it. And so that's -- it's important what they eat.
NNAMDIWell, he talked about the Homeland Security and relocating in Southeast on the (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYes. There's great fear that Homeland Security will just isolate itself over there on the hills overlooking Washington and no one in Ward 8 or 7 or anywhere else will benefit from the jobs over there.
NNAMDIHe talked about voting rights and the taxation without representation license plate, apparently, asking the president to put it on his car. The president was not (unintelligible).
SHERWOODOh, that -- I don't think, I think he said that didn't come up. The license plate, he did not. I thought he said he didn't, I didn't come up.
NNAMDIOh, I think he said he mentioned the license plate, but the president made no commitment.
SHERWOODHe may have mentioned it to the staff.
NNAMDIWell, (laugh) that the president made no commitment on that. Talked about school reform, which the president supports.
SHERWOODRight, he does.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of school reform, George Parker out and Nate Saunders in at the Washington Teacher's Union. Why?
SHERWOODYeah, this is -- well, you know, a lot of people are saying that the teachers gave up too much job security for this groundbreaking contract last spring. But you know, 4,000 teachers, fewer than a thousand voted. And so it wasn't like there was this wholesale rejection of George Parker. But it does show that, you know, Adrian Fenty, Michelle Rhee and George Parker all worked on that contract for three years. All three of them are out of jobs now, although Fenty lost for far more reasons than his school reform efforts.
NNAMDIYeah, I thought it was significant that more than 1,400 teachers voted in favor of the contract and the vote to oust George Parker was a lot lower than that.
NNAMDIA lot of teachers seem not to want to be overly involved or engaged in internal union policy matters.
NNAMDIWell, in general, in unions, having been a president of The Washington Post union for two years, I can speak to him about this. You know, there are many members but there are only a few people who are truly active.
NNAMDIBecause people can be referred to by the title of their highest office once they leave it, should you be referred to as Mr. President because you were president of The Washington Post (word?) ?
SHERWOODI think my title might have been chairman.
NNAMDIMr. Chairman, is that how you like to be referred to in future?
SHERWOODI just don't wanna be ignored.
NNAMDILead in the water (laugh) in the District of Columbia. It seems to be that that's been like a ping-pong ball in D.C. politics for the last decade or so.
SHERWOODI think whenever The Post gets tired and it needs a story for the front page, you know, they go to the water fountains. You know, that -- this story's been around for a decade. And the most recent story was just a CDC, Centers for Disease Control, confirmation that in the mid-2000s that the city was not doing well with the lead replacement lines, that it was stirring up more lead than it actually was helping. And so -- and of course, the city stopped that two years ago.
SHERWOODBut then the report comes out and it sound like it's fresh news. George Hawkins, who runs DC Water, said, you know, we were aware of this a couple of years ago. We've changed our policy. The water in this city meets the EPA standards and has for the last five years. Because if there's anyone who's concerned in a private home, who's concerned about water in the city can call the water department, they will come out and test your water. If it's something to do with the lines leading into your home, he says, we will fix. It it's inside your home, if it's lead paint or if it's, you know, lead pipes, you have to fix it.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. There's someone who would like to comment on the Teacher's Union. Katelyn, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
KATELYNHi, Kojo. Hi, Tom. How are you?
KATELYNI'm calling because I took Bill (sounds like) Turk to task a bit. And that was that, you know, I'm reading The Washington Post, which I do by the way, and it says Washington Teacher's Union president, George Parker, loses run off election. Well, you know, I'm looking at the (word?) , the whole idea of why are we dealing George Parker losing? The question is Nathan Saunders won and, you know, needs to be held accountable and, you know, try to reach out to the youth, the parents, the rest of the (unintelligible).
NNAMDISo you're saying in the story is that Nathan Saunders won and not George Parker lost?
KATELYNWell, the thing is, you know, as journalist and media people, myself included -- that how you frame an issue. Is -- you know, there's always a tricky part of that. And the idea that Bill starts off with this whole thing about George, oh, gosh, he lost and rather than that Nathan Saunders won. And also there's gotta be labor unrest, you know? And I'm saying, okay, guys, get over it. Here's the thing. If we all live in west of the park, east of the river, inside out, whatever you want to call it, and everyone pitches in and keeps the reform going, then at the end of the day, the whole issue should be get the bad teachers out, get the good teachers in...
NNAMDIThat could indeed, Katelyn, be the whole issue, but I think that both Bill Turk -- Tom Sherwood and I are talking about what is the most newsworthy about the Nate Saunders victory, and that is the fact that it apparently came as a result of that long negotiated contract that resulted in a significant degree of discontent with Adrian Fenty, with Michelle Rhee and ultimately with George Parker, right, Tom?
SHERWOODAnd the people who were upset are the ones who apparently voted, and that it is the news that Parker got basically kicked out. Nate Saunders is a blank slate to a lot of people in the general population who don't really know him. And it's up to him to -- as he will step up and to be the president and show us what kind of teachers' union president he's gonna be, but that's a story to be written.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Katelyn. A lot of people in the Washington region got to know their power companies well this year from the snowstorms last winter to the violent storms that knocked out power and knocked down trees this summer. We think you should get to know your power company executives even better so that's why we have Thomas Graham in studio. He is the president of Pepco. Thomas Graham, glad you could join us again.
MR. THOMAS GRAHAMThank you. I must not have acted up too much last time, you invited me back.
NNAMDIYeah. Well, you acted up but not enough to get our listeners upset, so we're calling you in.
SHERWOODWe have extra lines today for the people who wanna call in and compliment Pepco and all the work -- hard work it does.
NNAMDIWe don't take compliments on this broadcast.
NNAMDIBut you can call 800-433-8850. The feedback has not always been great for Pepco. At one point, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley complained that people in developing countries have more reliable access to power. How have you responded to those frustrations, and what has Pepco done to improve its service?
GRAHAMActually, thank you for the question. We've been very busy over the last few months. We implemented a six-point plan, five-year, $256.5 million reliability enhancement plan for our Maryland customers. And in the District of Columbia, we've committed $318 million for reliability enhancement measurements.
SHERWOODWhat does that mean reliability enhancement measures? Is that cutting down the trees near my power lines?
GRAHAMThat is -- there are several areas. One happens to be vegetation management, so we're doing a lot of tree trimming. I've been in Montgomery County a number of times, and there hasn't been a time that I've been there that I haven't seen or heard a tree trimming crew hard at work. So that's part of it. At some point, we're gonna look at select undergrounding. We're gonna put in distribution automation devices. There are some feeders that we have particular trouble with. We're providing them a great deal of attention right now, and we're doing a lot of replacement of underground cable.
NNAMDIDelegate Brian Feldman in Maryland in the general assembly, he's from Potomac. He drafted a proposal that would require the Maryland Public Service Commission to set reliability standards by the year 2012 and would reduce utilities profits incrementally for failing to meet those standards. What do you think about that?
GRAHAMWe have no problem with standards. We have standards in other jurisdictions. We're more than willing to work with the delegates and members of the state legislature. But we also know that there's an open case with the Maryland Public Service Commission right now, and I'm sure they will be examining our response in February. They will be examining our response in July and August. And out of that, may very well come standards.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Thomas Graham. He's the president of Pepco. I'm inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom?
SHERWOODYou're not the only power company in the area, so give us just a thumbnail sketch. How big is Pepco, how many customers and what area do you cover might help guide some phone calls in.
GRAHAMSure. We have 782,000 customers. We serve all of the District of Columbia and the majority of Montgomery County and Prince George's County.
NNAMDIHere is Connie in Silver Spring, Md. Connie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CONNIE(unintelligible) trying to get in (unintelligible).
NNAMDIConnie, believe it or not, you're actually on the air right now so end whatever conversation you were having on the side and join us. Connie, it's your turn.
CONNIEI guess, I better plug myself in.
NNAMDIWell, Connie is obviously involved in another conversation. We'll have to get back to Connie later. It's my understanding, Thomas Graham, that you have installed automated switching in certain neighborhoods that will help produce fewer and shorter outages. How does that work?
GRAHAMI'm pretty excited about that. As part of an application that we submitted to the federal government, we've received $150 million to fully deploy AMI technologies throughout our service territory. Part of that is just...
SHERWOODWhat is AMI?
GRAHAMAdvanced meter infrastructure. So...
SHERWOODI love this language.
NNAMDINot that we know what advanced meter infrastructure is.
GRAHAMOkay. Well, what you've heard a lot about is the smart grid.
GRAHAMAnd the smart grid is really the ultimate enabler for many other things, like electric vehicles, like renewables, but it -- part of that is employing technology -- deploying technology on our system, like distribution automation devices and are really in -- what that does and a really good example is we have a situation in Fort Washington several months ago and a circuit went out of service, and a circuit serves typically, let's say, 1,100 customers. Within a very short period of time, we were able to reroute services using this technology. So instead of 1,100 customers being out of service for four hours, 200 customers were out, and it took 51 seconds to take place. So we think this is something exciting. We made a commitment of about $15 million to put this type of technology on our system, and we believe our customers will benefit greatly from it.
SHERWOODDoes that -- I don't want to get too much in the weeds on this...
SHERWOODIt reroutes electricity around whatever has gone out so the homes can get the power?
GRAHAMIt will work around the fault. So if a tree has come down on...
SHERWOODIt's like Christmas lights.
SHERWOODIf one goes out, they all go out.
GRAHAMWell, if a tree would went out -- or a tree would go out and some other major fault took place and it required the whole line going out, if we had that technology in place and the ability to reroute and work around that fault is available, we can do that in a very short period of time, so not all of those customers are impacted.
SHERWOODYou know, this is a city of trees, as that used to be the slogan and still is. I know there are huge tree canopies all over the region. But, you know, you see the power lines and it's such an, of course, an endless battle to keep the power lines from being caught up in the trees. Is it just that much more expensive to get underground wiring in places or do every -- does every new place that you go into, you put the wires underground or are they gonna be above ground? How does it -- how do you decide if it'd be underground or above ground?
NNAMDIA lot of people have been clamoring for power lines to be buried underground. And where do things stand with those requests?
GRAHAMWell, certainly, they clamor right up to the point where we talk about the cost of undergrounding service. So very recently, in the District of Columbia, Shaw Consultants did a report. And in that report, it stated that the cost of undergrounding would be anywhere from $3.5 to about $11.2, $11.3 million per mile. We have about 14,000 miles of overhead circuits right now. So very quickly, that number gets into the billions. And then as that issue has been looked at across the country, it's been determined that it's -- that the benefits aren't great enough in comparison to the cost to underground everything. So that's why we look at selective undergrounding. And so we'll look at a particular area, and if we've done lightning arresters, if we've done animal guards, if we've done tree wire, if we've done everything that we can to improve service, and we feel that a portion of that line can be placed underground and will improve reliability for that customer, that's something we wanna do. So we have about $10 million set aside to do that type of work.
SHERWOODAnd then of course if you do underground wiring, then at some point, that's gonna need repair or whatever and maybe wires will blow up manhole covers like...
NNAMDITearing up the streets again.
GRAHAMOkay. Well, let's not go there.
GRAHAMLet's go back. Let's...
SHERWOODWe can drag down any positive thing you say...
GRAHAMYes. I know.
SHERWOOD...right on to you.
GRAHAMYeah. I got that.
GRAHAMBut let's talk about the positive benefits for our customers. And what it will do, it will shield that wire from the environment. In February, we got 36 inches of snow. In July, we had winds up to about 90 miles an hour gust. We had toppled trees that certainly had an impact on our service. So there are benefits in that sense. The downside is, when you put the service underground, the duration outages will probably be a little longer because now we can't see the damage and we have to dig. So that's the downside of it. But we do believe, in select situations, undergrounding is a good thing for our customers.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Camille in Beltsville, Md. Camille, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMILLEHi. I just had a question as to why it's difficult to get a live body at Pepco for something other than a power outage or paying your bill. A lot of the things that I've called for are either streetlight outages or I needed Pepco to check service to my house, they go to recording, and you just don't get any follow up or acknowledgement. And it's hard to follow up with a live body to get answers. And I'll take my response off the air.
NNAMDIThank you for your call, Camille. Thomas Graham?
GRAHAMWell, certainly -- it's certainly something I'd like to follow up with you on. But we do use more technology today to order to -- in order to address the questions of our customers. We do have customer service representatives that are working during business hours. But we do rely on technology quite a bit.
SHERWOODDo you have -- everyone complains about automated systems, you know, on hold. Do you have like a place where you have a phone -- people answer the phones or a room filled with people?
GRAHAM833-7500. That would put you in touch with the call center. 202-833-7500.
SHERWOODAnd where's the call center?
NNAMDINot in Mumbai, we hope.
GRAHAMThey're -- no.
SHERWOODI was gonna say any foreign country. I was gonna see if he said it.
NNAMDIWell, I mentioned a city.
SHERWOODThat's what I was asking. Is it a local or are they...
SHERWOODAre the people who are...
GRAHAMIt's within our service territory.
SHERWOOD...trying to help the customers, customers themselves?
GRAHAMIt's within our service territory.
GRAHAMAnd they are Pepco employees.
NNAMDIDo you have to say that it's a life-threatening situation before you can actually get a real-life human being?
GRAHAMNot necessarily. But I would say that when there is a life-threatening situation, we believe it's imperative that you do speak to someone so we know what that situation is. And really a good example is, if there's a downed wire. You know, we consider that to be a safety issue and we wanna know about it. We wanna respond as quickly as possible to that.
NNAMDIOn to Joe in Bethesda, Md. Joe, it's your turn. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi. Good afternoon, gentlemen. I never really believe everything I read in the printed media from the paper that will go unmentioned. But I have to say that I believe them in the things that I read now. And I will give you -- there's no way the CEO can understand what really goes on down at our level. But I will give you just this one example, and that should understand the frustration that we feel. In front of our house in Bethesda, about two houses down, there's a transformer with branches in the wires. And when it rains and winds, the sparks pop out of that thing 30 feet. And you can hear popping and crackling and almost blew the other day. We called, six times, Pepco. My wife looked out the window and said, hey, Pepco's here. And there was a van there. And I said, well, did they do anything? No, they didn't. They drove off. No tree company ever came. The problem exists to this very second. And we called Pepco back. Oh, no. That ticket's been closed. We (unintelligible)
NNAMDIWhere exactly is your location, Joe?
JOEIt's Milstead Drive. It's a matter of record. And when they said -- I said, can I speak to a supervisor? It -- no one came on. And I thought to myself, you know, this is just crazy. I -- now I understand what they're writing about. This is, in my mind (unintelligible)
NNAMDISo you're saying that you were actually told by a live human being that you would be speaking to a supervisor and then you were put on hold indefinitely?
JOERight. Well, indefinitely is a figure -- is a subjective term. Longer than one would have imagined.
NNAMDIWhen did you hang up? When did you hang up?
NNAMDIHow long before you hang up?
JOEIt's like 10 minutes.
SHERWOODWhich is a long time when you're on hold.
NNAMDIOh, yeah. Thomas Graham?
GRAHAMCould you give me a cross street?
JOEIn -- on Cordell Avenue, there's a power pole there that's almost bent like 30 degrees. And I look up at this thing and I'm saying, I'm really pretty sure that a new pole should be put there. And I don't wanna beat everybody up. I'm just saying I had this experience. The problem still exists and so I think that Pepco's got some service issues that they really need to look hard at.
NNAMDIOkay, Joe. Thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODHow many service calls -- not counting when you have a huge storm like a snow storm or the sudden -- in general, how many service calls do you handle in a given period of time? Obviously, thousands but over -- there's no...
SHERWOODNo set number?
GRAHAMYou're saying outside of...
SHERWOODYeah, just the number of times people call you in a year for service calls, for...
GRAHAMI don't know that offhand. But I would really like to get back to Joe. You know, that's something that I would like to take care of myself. And so now that you're speaking to an executive of the company, I can tell you that next week we will be out there and we'll take a look at that situation. In fact, when I leave here today, I'm going out into the field with some of our customers in Montgomery County so I can see firsthand, exactly, what their concerns are and see how we can address them in a timely manner.
SHERWOODIs the caller still on the line? You can give us a precise address?
NNAMDINo. Joe did hang up but he gave us an -- at cross street and all the rest of it.
NNAMDIWell, see the power company submits to the power of the Politics Hour. Here is Linda...
NNAMDI...in Columbia, Md. Linda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LINDAHi. I recently had occasion to report a faulty street light in College Park. The automated systems reporting just gave me only 10 seconds to report the pole number and location. You can't really appreciate how hard it is to spit out that information clearly within 10 seconds until you try it. It took me several tries. I understood then that you need to use automated systems, but if you could give us 20 seconds for this, it would be really great.
NNAMDIHey, Linda. Thank you very much for your call. Sounds like an excellent suggestion to this very...
SHERWOODShe was very efficient too. That was like 17 seconds (unintelligible).
NNAMDIOn to Patty in Silver Spring, Md. Patty, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
PATTYI'm calling as a representative of an association that has 75 homes. We were written up in the Washington Post during Snowmageddon and again last June when we lost power in Snowmageddon. It was 92 hours. In June, it was another 60 some hours. And what we're wondering is if Pepco has any plans to work with neighborhood associations. So that when the power goes out, as an officer of the association, I can tell you exactly how many homes are without power. It will reduce the number of call to the Pepco Center. And what happens when we call and talk to them as an officer, they say, no, each home has to call. And we were thinking that this is an idea that Pepco might wanna look into.
GRAHAMActually, the call-in process today is critical for Pepco to evaluate where the problem is. Certainly, I can appreciate the point that you just made. But as we receive phone calls, it allows us to isolate exactly where that fault maybe. So it is critical -- and the majority of the customers do not call in. And we recently had a situation in D.C. where after a day, a customer finally called in to say their out of service and we did not know they were out of service. But as we move forward with the AMI, Advanced Metering Infrastructure, and have our smart grid in place, and slowly roll out the benefits to that, we'd be able to ping the system. And we'd be able to know that a customer is out service and be able to do a much better job at the diagnostics. But today, we need our customers.
NNAMDISo you're saying that a call from a representative of a neighborhood association is less effective in pinpointing the exact homes than calls from those homes themselves?
GRAHAMIt would because, are you saying that every home in that community is out of service or is it with just in one -- within one block?
GRAHAMAnd I'm not sure that association president would know that information.
SHERWOODDo you have the technology that if I were to call you from my home, that the -- your technology would just show from the very fact I called from a location would -- that would be automatic or do you have to hear from me tell you, I'm at such and such address?
GRAHAMWell, I believe as you call in with that number, it keys into that number to identify that's -- that particular service location.
SHERWOODWell, that's good.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Patty. Thomas Graham, you can't make capital improvements -- the kind of capital improvements that Pepco is planning to make without spending money. What can customers expect to happen with our rates, as you invest more money in improving the strength and reliability of the grid?
GRAHAMWell, you know, that's a very good question 'cause there are some major initiatives that we have right now. The deployment of AMI certainly is one. But we -- what we've been able to do is secure a 50 percent buydown of the cost of that from the federal government. So that was a $150 million for all of our customers in the District of Columbia, also in Maryland. We have our reliability enhancement program. We've invested an additional $190 million and accelerated and become more aggressive with some of the activities that are involved in that particular program.
GRAHAMAnd then finally our last major initiative is our Mid-Atlantic Power Pathway project, which is critical at the transmission level to providing reliability for our customers. So as these costs are incurred, certainly we'll be making applications to the Public Service Commission, but it's really up to the Public Service Commission to make the determination whether the costs are prudent.
NNAMDIThe Maryland Public Service Commission approved the rate increase for Pepco, effective July 29th. That -- excuse me -- that extra money will mean an average increase of about a dollar a month for residential customers and that will raise about $7 million for Pepco. So at some point down the line, I'll be looking for a hike in my Pepco bill, won't I?
GRAHAMWell, I think, you're also looking for an improvement and reliability and improvement in the quality of service that we provide. The electric utility industry is very capital intensive. And it requires a lot of investment, a lot of the money that we receive. We have to reinvest right back into our system. So whatever we receive and those dollars will go back into the system, our customers will benefit from that.
SHERWOODCan I ask about alternative interview?
SHERWOODPeople hear about winds power, solar power...
NNAMDIAnd I have a question from a listener on that, but you started first.
SHERWOODWell, shall we yield to the listener?
SHERWOODI just wanna know what the -- what's going on in these areas. A lot of people think it's got great promise but...
NNAMDIThat would be Antonio in Montgomery County, Md. Antonio, you're on air. Go ahead, please.
ANTONIOHello, Kojo. I just had a quick question. Is -- has Pepco hired any actual technicians to improve service? And secondly, is there are any -- are they doing anything to incentivize homeowners to invest in solar panels, maybe buy back some of the energy that's not in use, or just lower their bill? And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIThank you, Antonio. Solar panels.
GRAHAMCertainly, there's some federal dollars out there. Net metering is also available for those customers who are moving towards solar. So that is something that we're working with our customers on. Big picture -- Maryland has their EmPOWER Maryland programs or EmPOWER Maryland goals, 15 percent reduction by 2015. We're working very closely with the state of Maryland to make sure that's achieved. Something else that Maryland has a great interest in renewables, offshore. So there have been a number of proposals out there. And that's why the transmission, the bulk transmission project that I talked -- the bulk line that I spoke about earlier, is so critical, because that line -- that offshore wind has to connect to something.
GRAHAMAnd, you know, to be honest, where we are right now -- we're probably looking at over the next 10 years about 20 percent increase in electricity. So at 2015, that line has to be in place. And if these renewables are gonna come offshore and at the point, it's been identified where they do come onshore, that line has to be in place. But we are really at a critical period of needing to go -- needing to have this line approved, getting all the title, all the permits that we need to move forward. If you think that this last summer was bad on distribution reliability issue, a transmission reliability issue is times 1,000.
SHERWOODSo new technology is not a threat to your business model, but I was intrigued the other day. I saw a power -- a solar powered parking meter.
NNAMDIDid you use it?
SHERWOODNo. I put my hand over it to see if I could break it. But...
NNAMDIAccording to reports, utilities filed with the Maryland Public Service Commission, Thomas Graham, compare to...
NNAMDI...to customers of neighboring Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, Pepco customers lost power 61 percent more often in 2009 when they were no major storm outages. What accounts for that?
GRAHAMWe're working on that. That's why we have a reliability -- has been planned in place. We are totally committed to improving the reliability service to our customers. That's why we've made the additional $100 million -- $190 million investment. The caller earlier talked about, do we have additional technicians. We have every tree-trimming crew that's available. We have every line technician contractor that's available right now, working on improving service reliability for our customers.
SHERWOODAre there jobs available for people who wanna get into this world? I mean, a lot of high school students who don't wanna go on necessarily to college. But how do you get the technical skills become the kind of person that, you know, to work the crews out in the field or need to know what to do. Do you have training programs or anything like that?
GRAHAMThat's great a question. We're just gonna come down to its partnerships, I think, with the junior colleges. Goodwill has a training program.
SHERWOODI like to call it community colleges.
NNAMDINow, let me tell you how Tom Graham got to where he got. First, he met a Jamaican guy (laugh) who taught him...
NNAMDIThen he started playing soccer in high school...
NNAMDI...then in college, then in the pros, then coached, then he went to Bermuda for a cricket festival and learned how to play cricket, and then he got to be the president of Pepco.
GRAHAMThat's the career path I followed. You're right.
NNAMDIThank you very much. (laugh) I advised him along that career path all the way. But Thomas Graham, thank you so much for joining us.
GRAHAMThanks for the opportunity.
NNAMDIThomas Graham is the president of Pepco. You're listening to the Politics Hour, featuring Tom Sherwood, where we'll take your calls at 800-433-8850. Tom Sherwood, other council members in the Prince George's County council seemed to be piling on, so to speak, telling the elect-council member Leslie Johnson, the wife of county executive Jack Johnson, not to take her seat when she comes to power. When...
NNAMDIOn Monday, as a matter of fact, when they are all sworn in. We had the outgoing Prince George's County's states attorney, Glenn Ivey, here, who also said the same thing.
SHERWOODWell, that's gonna be -- as one of our reporters, Pat Collins, said today. He said that's gonna be the wildest inauguration ever. (laugh)
NNAMDIYes, it will.
SHERWOODWe ought to cover it live, he said, you know, because you're gonna have Jack Johnson on the way out, Rushern Baker on the way in, and whether Leslie Johnson, the wife of Jack Johnson -- whether she takes her seat as elected councilmember. You know, there's one thing -- she obviously, she's not guilty of anything illegal yet. And so some legal people have said to me, well, you know, it will be very foolish of her not to take the oath of office, because she takes the oath of office, and then if she has, in fact, done something wrong, she can use that as a negotiating tool that she will resign her office, you know, that does happen in white collar crime.
SHERWOODI will resign my public office as part of the deal if, you know -- to whatever happened. That's looking down the road. Monday is gonna be a very interesting day. It will overshadow Montgomery County's inauguration of Ike Leggett. He hasn't made enough bad news to, you know, get a lot press coverage. But then we'll see how that's gonna work out. But she is under pressure, you know, not to take the seat. You know, she could take this oath of office and then step aside maybe, do something like that. But the problem is there are nine votes, and you'd leave them with an eight person council and you wouldn't have a majority.
NNAMDIWe'll have to see how that plays out. President Obama's pay freeze for federal workers, not too popular here.
SHERWOODWell, you know, who wants a pay freeze? You know, there's 200,000 federal workers inside the Beltway, and someone said there's as many as 600,000 in the whole Washington region if you -- I think if you go all the way out to West Virginia. And so they are very upset. They don't wanna carry the weight of the deficits and all that, but Obama made a political decision to do this as a sign of he'll cooperate with the new Republican congress coming in.
NNAMDIAnd so much of the talk inside the Beltway has been about cutting spending on Capitol Hill. This week, a reform commission handed Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell a list of more than 130 ideas to trim the budget in Virginia. And now joining us in studios, Mary Margaret Whipple, a member of the Virginia Senate. She's a Democrat from Arlington. Senator Whipple, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARY MARGARET WHIPPLEThank you so much. Nice to be here.
SHERWOODPowerful member. Powerful member to see.
WHIPPLE(laugh) Thank you.
NNAMDIWhat cuts do you think should be on the table when the general assembly gets back to work next month, and what do you expect to be politically feasible?
WHIPPLEI think everybody is looking for efficiencies in government, and that's essentially what the governor's reform commission was trying to do. Most of the changes that have been recommended or things that can be done by the executive branch of simply making agencies, you know, more streamlined fashion, that kind of thing. Fortunately, we're not in the desperate situation that we've been the last few years, with really drastic cuts. Certainly, we're gonna have to be very cautious as we approach the budget this year. And there will have to be some reductions in some areas in order to accommodate some increases and others that are necessary.
SHERWOODOne of the most publicized thing was the governor's plan to privatize all the liquor stores...
NNAMDISee, I knew that's where he was going to go immediately.
NNAMDIHe's got a laser-like focus on that.
WHIPPLEWell, that has gotten a lot of notice...
SHERWOODWell, this is -- this will affect as many people in the state as they're driving and all those too many cars in Northern Virginia, which is a different subject. But it looks like the Joint Legislative Committee, which is a nonpartisan committee that simply says it didn't bring in -- doesn't bring in nearly enough money, so it's not gonna happen. Do you think it will happen, but it just will bring in the money or it's not gonna happen?
WHIPPLEIt's not gonna happen. There aren't even the votes in the House of Delegates in the governors or Republican majority to approve it. So I don't see it happening.
NNAMDIThe government scrap plans to have a special session on his proposal to privatize those liquor stores. He says he's working on a new plan. Where do you think this debate is headed?
WHIPPLEWell, this started last spring, and we were gonna have a special session in the summer and they -- we're gonna have a maybe a special session in September, and then there was going to be a special session in November. This has been a constantly moving target now for multiple months, and so now he says he'll bring up a new plan when the session begins, and I don't think it'll pass.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments about privatizing liquor stores in Virginia or anything else in the budget, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, send us a tweet @kojoshow or go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation.
SHERWOODWell, you know, you can't get to the liquor stores because there's traffic so slow. I know.
WHIPPLEWell, there is -- there are many traffic issues...
NNAMDITom has tried...
WHIPPLEYou know, this is...
SHERWOODI -- this is from someone who, last night, was in Alexandria at the Meals on Wheels….
NNAMDILooking for a liquor store.
SHERWOODMeals on Wheels fundraiser. No, I wasn't at a liquor store. I passed several of them.
SHERWOODBut it is. I mean -- and I was -- I actually went during rush hour, drove down to George Washington Parkway, it was a little bit better than I expected it. But I just -- you're from Arlington and traffic on I-66, everyone wants to widen 66, Arlington doesn't want to. There are some proposals -- put hot lanes on I-395, which is another parking lot with -- bumper to bumper. But Arlington is not interested in that, is that right?
WHIPPLEYeah. But the HOV lanes are not that congested and here's -- here's the problem...
SHERWOODOkay, tell us what -- what good news do you have for this season of joy and good spirits for traffic in Arlington in Northern Virginia?
WHIPPLEWell, in the long run...
SHERWOODNone. Moving along.
NNAMDIYes, she has.
WHIPPLEIn the long run, Virginia needs to face the fact that we need a dedicated, sustainable source of funding for transportation purposes...
SHERWOODWell, you know, the rest of that sentence? In the long run we're all dead.
WHIPPLEWell, (laugh) well.
SHERWOODNothing immediate, right?
WHIPPLENothing immediate. And the Senate has passed a number of transportation plans that have gone and died in the House of Delegates and...
SHERWOODBut didn't Governor McDonnell -- I think, I remember when he ran for office and Julie Carey, of course covered it for Channel 4 mostly, but big Northern Virginia savings plan and he's gonna have all this plan to move things along. Dirt will fly as Governor Baliles said back in the early '80s. Where is the dirt flying?
WHIPPLERight now, the dirt is flying on the Metrorail extension to Dallas, which is a really exciting development for us. And that's something that is all of us look forward to the completion of that. That's the biggest, most important product -- program that's going now. And then additionally, the hot lanes on the Beltway, which I'm very supportive of and I think they're gonna be very helpful because they hook up the HOV lanes on 95 with those on 66 and make it possible for people who come from the south on 95 to go around the Beltway and then into the Tysons corner region. So that's gonna be a new HOV-HOT facility for Northern Virginia. The problem with the one on 395 is that's an existing HOV facility that works really well.
WHIPPLEIt's important to all of us because it is a transit facility. All the buses from Prince William, the carpools and vanpools come there, get a really good, quick ride up to Northern Virginia. We're dubious about the hot lanes. It's gonna be very interesting to see if they do get built, if they really work because they want a standard that -- with the company, the private company that's proposing to do this wants a standard of 45 miles an hour. Well, right now, those HOV lanes are running it 60 miles an hour.
SHERWOODForty-five is not fast on the expressway.
WHIPPLEIt is not. And so, we're afraid of a diminution of service on those HOV lanes. Right now, the private company doesn't have financing to build them anyway, so it's a little one of those things maybe it will happen in the long run, but it's not gonna be happening right now.
NNAMDIOur guest is Mary Margaret Whipple. She is a member of the Virginia Senate, she is a Democrat from Arlington. If you have questions or comments for her, call us at 800-433-8850. Which should be the top priorities for the Arlington delegation or the delegation for Northern Virginia in this session?
WHIPPLEI think most of us are trying to be very cautious about the budget situation. That is the really dominant factor. It's the most important thing we do in Richmond. It is the way we put our policies into action. We're trying to see if we can protect K-12 education, do something more for higher ed and focus on job creation in small businesses, as well as looking at the Health and Human Service programs that are the net -- you know, the network for those who are the most fragile in our society.
SHERWOODYou told the Arlington county board, don't come with this -- the word tax, the tax --
NNAMDIAnything with the word tax in it...
SHERWOODAny word with tax is -- it was bad news.
NNAMDI...is a non-starter?
WHIPPLEWell, it depends on what it is. But...
SHERWOODWell, she said a tough sell, which means at least a little wiggle room to get something to pass.
WHIPPLEWell, what you're talking about is something that the county board had -- is asking us to carry, and I will. It is a continuation of a tax, and I think that that's the difference. I did remind them that it's difficult for anything with the word tax in it to get passed. But this is simply a continuation of a small surcharge on the transient occupancy tax -- one quarter of 1 percent -- that's used for tourism promotion. That has consistently passed over the years. We simply extend it.
NNAMDIIt's known as the transient occupancy tax...
NNAMDI...one quarter of 1 percent.
SHERWOODNo, no. That's a different one. This is a new...
NNAMDINo, that's the same one. It's the same one.
SHERWOODOkay. No problem.
WHIPPLEIt's just to get the sunset extended for three more years.
NNAMDIThis is the first of two legislative requests coming from Arlington for the 2011 general assembly. Correct?
WHIPPLERight. Now there is another one at -- that I carried last year, passed the Senate. It was reported out unanimously from a subcommittee of the House and then faltered into full committee. That one is a tax on the hotel accommodations, intermediaries, the companies like Travelocity.com, Orbitz...
WHIPPLE...and Hotels.com and so on. They have not been paying the tax on the differential between what they charge the hotel and what the consumer pays. And it's really very unfair situation because the consumer doesn't know that the full tax is not being paid. So it's not transparent. If you book a room through Marriott.com or the -- one of the hotel chains, then you're gonna pay on the full tax. If you walk up to the desk at a hotel, you're gonna pay the full tax. And they're trying to say they shouldn't have to pay in full tax and they're claiming it as profit. I just think it's wrong.
NNAMDIHere is Shiva in Fairfax, Va. Shiva, or is that Shiva? You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHIVAHi. My question is specific, regarding the condition on I-66. Is there a plan, or why there is not a plan to extend the Orange Lane -- Orange Line towards Manassas?
NNAMDIWhy -- is there a plan or why is there not a plan to extend the Orange Line towards Manassas?
WHIPPLEIt would be wonderful if we can extend the Orange Line further someday. That is a really in the long run question. At the moment, they're fully occupied with trying to extend rail to Dulles, and that's gonna be a big improvement for our whole area.
SHERWOODMay I ask about that extension? Because if I want to...
SHERWOOD...if I want to take Metro to Dulles, when will I get to do that if I'm leaving from Downtown Washington?
WHIPPLEWe think 2016.
SHERWOOD2016. By then we'll have patdowns on Metro.
NNAMDI(laugh) Hopefully not. Here is Kerry in Fairfax, Va. Kerry, your turn.
KERRYThank you, Kojo. I just wanted to say about the expansion of 66. I think that the proponents of expanding a highway continue to call for it, but they're not proposing any mass transit options. And as we know from our recent history here in the region, the more roads you build, the more houses go up, the more people flood the roads. And so you keep coming back to the same thing. It seems to be that transportation needs to go to mass transit. And with the HOT lanes on 395, I just think the right idea is to not allow those in until they can totally tell us how it is people dump out into D.C. without causing a major backup every day back along the Virginia highways. I think that Sen. Whipple is absolutely right that we should keep opposing these projects until we really focus on alternative transportation, specifically mass transportation.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about that, Sen. Whipple?
WHIPPLEWell, I couldn't agree more. I think that transit is the real solution to our problems. You can't just continue to widen roads and extend roads. They just fill up again and you're even more congested than ever. We have seen the success of transit in this area, and I think that we need to continue to work on developing it.
NNAMDIHere is -- oh, I'm sorry, Tom. Go ahead.
SHERWOODI was just gonna ask about transit. You know, there's a proposal that Gov. McDonnell has endorsed, which would change the governing structure of Metro and give the states of Maryland and Virginia, statewide, more authority than Northern Virginia or suburban Maryland. And the direction of where Metro would go and what Metro would do, I would suspect you probably don't like that idea.
WHIPPLEWell, I'm not wild about it, although I am certainly glad to see this newfound interest in Metro from the state. It's been something that we've been working on for, oh, 35 years or so to try to get the state to participate more extensively in the funding of Metro. But I think the governance issue is a really important and difficult one. It's under discussion now and it's in -- a work in progress.
SHERWOODThe Board of Trade was here talking about it, Jim Dinegar and -- it does seem like, though, who's gonna have the veto authority? How are you gonna decide when the bus lines will pay more. The rail line seems even more complicated.
WHIPPLEI feel that Northern Virginia has been very well served by having local governing officials be on the Metro board. They're very responsive to riders and to their constituents. They represent both the homeowners that are paying taxes in general funds and the riders who pay fares. And so they have a good sense of the balance that you need to achieve between general funding and fare payers.
SHERWOODYou just heard that Governor McDonnell is not gonna get that additional authority.
NNAMDIYou speak for Chris Zimmerman on this issue, do you do not?
WHIPPLEI didn't say that.
NNAMDIHere is Merriam in Arlington, Va. Merriam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MERRIAMHi, Kojo. How are you?
MERRIAMMrs. Whipple, I'm very happy to have the opportunity. I wanted to ask your opinion or your thoughts on how we're going to advance environmental education and sustainability, not just in the schools but more towards the community, particularly in Arlington, where we have finally started to come full circle and look at our children, and the importance of teaching stewardship and sustainability in the schools. Is that a commitment that we might be able to expect from the state, that some of those initiatives come down from the state office to the counties so that we might be able to implement some of these plans, greener schools, greener educational learning?
WHIPPLEThat's a really important topic and one that I really and very much in favor of. I've done a lot of environmental legislation and I served on the Chesapeake Bay Commission. We all have a responsibility to be part of protecting and caring for our environment, and the children learns so quickly how important that is. They're so flexible and interested in things like that.
WHIPPLEThe State Department of Education does have some environmental education programs that they send materials and so on to the local school divisions to learn about. Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment is a great volunteer organization in Arlington that does a lot to make people aware. They'll have people go into the parks and remove invasive species. They have sustainability forums, and many opportunities for all of us to learn ways that we can really help. As we look at the new impetus for improving the Chesapeake Bay, each of us in our own communities has an opportunity to protect water quality then can really be a part of the solution.
SHERWOODGood. Can I ask her a question about women in -- obviously, I'm going to -- women in the legislature. You're one of eight of 40 female state senators.
SHERWOODVirginia ranks, like, 39th in the country in a number of women in -- elected to the state legislature. Maryland, by contrast, is 10th number. Why is it that Virginia -- and you broke the ol' boys network when you got one of the most powerful committees, whatsoever -- I'm sorry -- which can – and then you accept...
WHIPPLEWell, now I'm chairman of rules.
SHERWOODChairman of rules. Well, then you control everything.
SHERWOODSo -- but why is it that women have not made more progress getting elected and staying elected in the state of Virginia?
WHIPPLEThere are many places in Virginia where women have not been elected to their local county boards or city councils. And so, until you develop that kind of farm team, I would call it, around the state, then you're not gonna have as much opportunity for people to be elected to the general assembly. It's just a phenomenon. I -- there are many reasons for it. It's changing, I think, a bit. Our numbers haven't changed a lot. But certainly, in the Senate, women are in leadership positions that they've never been in before. When I was elected to be the chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus, which is considered to be a leadership position, I'm the first woman to be in a leadership position in the general assembly ever.
SHERWOODAnd nevertheless, no woman to run for governor. It was Mary Sue Terry but what, 1993?
NNAMDIAnd speaking of the lack of -- go ahead, please.
WHIPPLEWell, and then -- but I do want to say that I'm very proud of the fact that when the Democrats achieved the majority in the Senate, now all seven Democratic women are chairs of committees in the Senate of Virginia.
NNAMDITomorrow, Dec. 4th, the Democratic State Central Committee will be meeting in Newport News to pick a replacement for Richard Cranwell, who is stepping down after leading the party for five years. Who would you like to see lead the party? What are you looking for in a party leader? Candidates include former delegate Brian Moran, who ran for governor unsuccessfully, and former Arlington County Democratic Committee Chair, Peter Rousselot or Rousselot -- how is that pronounced?
WHIPPLEAnd I'm supporting Brian Moran in this election. Brian has terrific experience for the position. And just running for governor and being all over this Commonwealth of Virginia, he knows people all over the state. He has visited all of the local Democratic committees and has great ties with people. He knows how to raise money and he has been as -- he has been my counterpart in the House of Delegates. He was the Democratic Caucus chair there before he ran for governor. And I know the experience he had then in the party and with the local committees. And I think he'll be an excellent choice.
SHERWOODWould he be committing not to run for statewide office again? Because if I were an up-and-coming Democratic from a county somewhere, I might be worried that this will be a head start for him?
WHIPPLEWell, he has a head start already, having won statewide. So I think that's...
NNAMDIMary Margaret Whipple is a member of the Virginia Senate. She's a Democrat from Arlington. Senator Whipple, thank you for joining us.
WHIPPLEThanks for having me.
SHERWOODOne of the most lyrical names too.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, we got this tweet from falcon. "I'm very disappointed you didn't discuss the $188 million gap closing and the D.C. council vote on Tuesday. D.C. needs you to help make this transparent."
SHERWOODWas it -- the council has got to vote on Tuesday and then again, on the 21st. So we got about two and a half weeks to talk about that budget.
NNAMDIThe Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District and Adams Morgan Main Street Group are pleased to invite everyone to join them for Festivus for the rest of us. Ten on Saturdays in December at noon at the Plaza, at the intersection of 18th Street and Columbia Road Northwest. The...
SHERWOODI did that last year. It was terrific.
NNAMDII was about to say it'll be in -- there'll be an Airing of Grievances performed by a town crier and they'll have some celebrity town criers too. Are you going out to cry again?
SHERWOODWell, you know, it's just great. People will just write any little note on the wall that they can think of. Some of them are just obscene, you can't say them. But a lot of them are great. You just stand there and read them. It's a lot of fun.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter at NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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