With controversies swirling around the DC Public Schools system, including Chancellor Antwan Wilson's daughter being able to bypass the lottery system to transfer schools, what is next for education in the District?
The chairman of the D.C. Council shakes up the Wilson Building with new committee assignments. Maryland politicians sabre-rattle over repealing the state’s new “Dream Act” law. And Virginia’s governor rolls out a plan to cut federal transportation funds for the Commonwealth. 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
- Jim Vance Anchor, NBC 4
- Tommy Wells Member, D.C. Council (D-Ward 6); Chairman, Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation
- Neil Parrott Member, Maryland House of Delegates (R-District 2B - Washington County)
Politics Hour Extra
“We need a strong chair that can operate our government in a way that restores and feels good confidence to the people we govern,” said D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells after D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown’s re-shuffling of committee chair assignments earlier this week:
D.C. Councilmember Tommy Wells talks about his conversation with Council Chair Kwame Brown about his committee chairmanship re-assignment:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Later in "The Politics Hour," Maryland Delegate Neil Parrott, he's the General Assembly member who gathered the signatures to force a suspension of Maryland's version of the DREAM Act, leading to a referendum on whether undocumented or illegal immigrants brought here as children should be allowed in state tuition rates at public colleges.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIOf course, our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. But Vance is in the house today, Tom.
MR. TOM SHERWOODI yield.
NNAMDIOur guest analyst is Jim Vance, NBC 4 anchor, which means we've got at least 100 years of Washington broadcasting gathered in this room here today.
MR. JIM VANCEIs that a good thing?
NNAMDIIf we can't solve all of the region's problems, nobody else can, but I doubt whether we can solve all of the region's problems. Jim Vance, thank you so much for joining us. Good to see you.
VANCEKojo, thank you. It's a pleasure, man. I don't think there's a day goes by that at some point or another I don't catch a piece of your show, man.
NNAMDII really appreciate it when I caught...
SHERWOODAlready it begins, the complimentary stuff.
NNAMDIWell, we do watch it a lot of the time.
VANCEI'm serious about this.
SHERWOODThe warning signs are (word?) .
NNAMDIYesterday, NBC 4 aired an interview that Jim Vance had with President Barack Obama. Congratulations on scoring that, by the way.
NNAMDIIt also aired the debut of Washington, D.C.'s official new cocktail, the Rickey, with a promise to reveal the ingredients of the Rickey tonight. Guess which story we're more interested in?
VANCEI don't want to speculate on that.
NNAMDIWell, the Rickey is Washington's official drink, and July is official Rickey month. It's gin or whisky, fresh lime juice and club soda.
VANCEMay I say or ask made official by whom, and what was the criteria? What were the other candidates for it? Do you have a list...
VANCE...there of what the ingredients are?
NNAMDISee, this is what you have...
VANCEIt is not interesting.
NNAMDIWhen you get real reporters in the studio, these are the kinds of questions that you get.
SHERWOODI do believe it was the J.W. Marriott. It was the original site or the original cafe or bar saloon scudo or something like that.
NNAMDIWell, Jack Evans was in the picture, so I guess that's...
SHERWOODJack had to walk across the street to the Wilson Building. It took him three minutes to walk across the street.
VANCEIs he one of the judges?
SHERWOODHe's getting something for free.
VANCEIs he one of the judges or something?
VANCEWho are these people? Who made it the official -- nobody asked me.
NNAMDIWhat's the process, Tom Sherwood...
NNAMDI...to make it an official...
SHERWOODIt's a public relations gimmick, and you have just made somebody very happy by even mentioning it.
NNAMDIOkay. Onto to the interview that Vance had with the president of the United States. He asked President Obama about his stand on voting rights. President Obama offered his unwavering support, but then, there was this.
VANCEWhen you get done with Karzai and Cantor and others, will you be able to be our public champion on that regard?
PRES. BARACK OBAMAWell, you know, I've been pretty public in my belief on this. It requires action by Congress. Congress has a tendency to move slowly on things even when they're directing the...
NNAMDIWell, it looks like he might have punted, Jim.
VANCEWhich did not surprise me, Kojo. You know, I want to say something in defense of President Obama, and I know that Mark Plotkin will probably go apoplectic about this.
NNAMDIOh, he mentioned that name, on this broadcast, of that show that nobody listens to, but go ahead.
VANCEI'm sorry. But I am not upset, frankly, personally, as a resident of the District of Columbia, that my president has not put voting rights on the front burner. I am of the opinion that he has a couple of other things on his plate right now that he might better pay more attention to, and that I want him to pay more attention to, as a matter of fact. And I mentioned on the broadcast last night in a conversation with my co-anchor after the piece aired that I am hopeful that in a second term, if there is a second term, that Barack Obama might then find time to be more of an advocate for voting rights.
VANCEI do believe he believes in the rightness of -- how could he not? I mean, it's a no-brainer. But the fact that he is not, thus far, made it a priority issue, it really doesn't upset me that much, but you have to ask the question if you have a couple of minutes with the president of the United States. I only had seven minutes, by the way.
NNAMDIAnd indeed, you did ask the question. Of course, the number to call here is 800-433-8850. I can't wait to hear what you have to say, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODWell, I know the president has things that are more immediately important than voting rights in the city, but there's nothing -- if I can just disagree with my good friend Jim Vance -- there's nothing more important than fundamental rights. And so while the president must solve the debt problems, must fight two wars, must do all the things that he is doing as president of the United States, I don't think it would hurt him when he's at the next five guys or if he goes to the Thomas Sweet shop in Georgetown or he goes somewhere where he can't -- it's a -- by the way, the food is good here, but the democracy is not so good.
SHERWOODAnd we'd like to fix it. That would be international headlines. So I would just say that. I would like -- he doesn't have to make it a front burner thing. He can just wiggle his little pinkie, and that would be enough for me.
VANCEI couldn't agree more, except that that wouldn't mean a damn thing. Pardon (unintelligible).
VANCEYou have to lay -- no, because what he said yesterday is relevant. I can't do this by myself.
SHERWOODAnd that's true.
VANCEAnd so, you know, making a gesture at Twinkies or whatever you call it, the cupcake shop or whatever...
SHERWOODI've got (word?).
VANCE...it might be cute, might get a little bit of attention, but it's not going to sway Shelby's mind or anybody (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYou know, the real problem is that Congress, you know, is not that interested in getting us the voting rights because the Republicans are worried about it.
NNAMDII think the president has made a political calculation that if he is to seek a second term, there are issues that he does not want to advocate right now because he does not want to drum up unnecessary opposition from those people in the middle whom he feels he has to win in order to get a second term.
SHERWOODBut remember, in the last budget deal, you know, he bargained away the city's...
NNAMDIYes. And everybody was very upset about that.
SHERWOODAnd that's what started getting the mayor the people arrested and that kind of halfhearted voting rights stuff.
NNAMDIYou had an interview of your own with another former executive, this one slightly less important of the District of Columbia, former Mayor Adrian Fenty. What did you extract from Mayor Fenty?
SHERWOODWell, the main thing is, you know, he -- for seven months, he -- really pretty much since the September primary, but certainly since the January 2nd inaugural, he has just been, you know, missing. He just hasn't done anything to show any kind of publicity, and he said he's doing that on purpose. But he's joined a new law firm now, and he made himself available. The basic thing he said was despite the appeals from some people that he get back into elected office, he is not going to get back into elected office.
NNAMDIBut you also wanted to know if he wanted to play a more prominent...
NNAMDI...role in city matters generally.
SHERWOODYou know, I said maybe you become a commentator, you know, like other failed politicians have moved into our distinguished business, but to his credit, he said he'd leave that to the experts like you.
NNAMDIWell, you don't ask Sharon Pratt Kelley whether she wants to become more involved in the city's affair. You didn't ask...
SHERWOODShe's very busy. She's already is involved with city affairs. She's leading the group that's going to bring the international AIDS convention to the city next summer. So she's quite busy. She didn't have time to opine on anything.
NNAMDIAdrian Fenty says private life is private life. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Our guest analyst today, Jim Vance, he's an anchor at NBC 4. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Joining us in studio now as we come to the if it wasn't for bad luck he might not have any luck at all portion of the broadcast is Tommy Wells. He's a member of the D.C. Council. He's a Democrat from Ward 6, and as of this week, he is the chairman of the council's Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation. Tommy Wells, thank you very much for joining us.
MR. TOMMY WELLSThank you, Kojo. And, you know, I'm not sure whether I'd be more honored or intimidated already, you know. You and Tom are pretty sharp guys, but adding Jim Vance to the show is pretty heavy stuff. So I'm very honored to be here with Jim Vance.
SHERWOODAnd you walked in here pretty well, even though you've been kneecapped by the janitor. (unintelligible)...
SHERWOOD...need a key (unintelligible).
WELLS...no visible wounds.
NNAMDIYou didn't hobble in here. You started the week as chairman of the council's Committee on Public Works and Transportation. You were a member of the Metro board, two assignments that you apparently coveted, and then, Chairman Kwame Brown moved to reassign you to the parks and rec committee and to take you off the Metro board. That move was backed by a 12-1 council vote that you described as a "Lord of the Flies" kind of moment. Can you tell us exactly what was said in that conversation you had with Kwame Brown on Monday night and maybe what conversations you've had with your colleagues since each and every one agreed to vote you out of committee...
NNAMDI...out of that committee?
WELLSI will say that meeting Monday night was Kwame Brown asked me to his office to say that he was making committee reassignments, and so Kwame and I then, you know, kind of friends over the years because we play basketball together and such that I helped him get elected. I worked hard for him in Ward 6. So I went in and sat down with him, and he said I want to talk about committee assignments.
WELLSAnd I know that a lot of you are all concerned about Vincent Orange having a committee, so he said this is Vincent Orange's committee, and he went over that.
NNAMDIWas that, in fact, the concern of yours?
WELLSI do think that every councilmember -- you know, there should not be a councilmember without a committee.
NNAMDIBut it's not something that you were, like, losing sleep over of whether or not Vincent Orange would get a committee?
WELLSWell, no. But, again, I think that Vincent Orange deserves a committee, and he's a very capable guy, having been on the council before and brings a lot to the council. So he did -- I was concerned like others about that. Then, the councilmember or the chair said and I'm assigning your committee to Mary Cheh. And if anybody knows, you know, Kwame Brown well, you know, he's got a very deadpanned sense of humor.
WELLSAnd so I looked at him and said, okay, you're kidding, right? Then, he said no. And so I said, again, all right, you're kidding, right? And he said no. So I really don't want to ever do anything I'd regret, especially ever acting out of anger to anyone, so I said the meeting was over. And as I was walking out, he said, well, don't you want to know what committee you've got. So I listened, and then, I left. And so that is exactly what went down that evening.
SHERWOODHe is insisting, to me and everybody else he spoken to, the chairman is insisting he did this for the well oiledness of the council that it will run better, things will get done. He even told one columnist or somebody that he thought you'd be happy with this change. I would just say, is he telling the truth?
WELLSWell, as I think a lot of folks...
SHERWOODThe answer is no, but would you then go ahead and explain why he's not?
WELLSWell, I think as folks know that I was disappointed that in the short time on the council I was able to -- through the budget support act, make a lot of changes. I started right off the bat. My first meeting was about transportation was in Ward 7 and 8 about improving transportation in Ward 7 and 8, and had already begun to lay the groundwork for, again, you know, rediscovering the bus service, things like that. And I, you know, the green alley initiative, there's a lot of things that I teed up very quickly and felt like that was going to make the city a better city.
SHERWOODDo you agree...
WELLSI think those things...
SHERWOOD...those things should pay you back? I guess, just the basic -- you agree this was political pay...
SHERWOOD...I know you don't want to get into it, but you disagree that it is, but you don't want to discuss it.
WELLSI think the most important thing is the bigger picture that what residents care about is the quality of their lives, is the city moving in the direction they're comfortable with and can they -- do they have confidence in their government. I am absolutely not going to get involved at all about what motivates people to do anything. I know that I would not do anything differently than what I've done on the council.
VANCEI think that there might be a larger issue here about which I am concerned, and I think maybe some other city residents as well. And that has to do with one more interruption, hiccup, hindrance, whatever you want to call it against this city's ability to gain traction, credibility, any other kind of positive element like that by one more move that whether Councilmember Wells says it or not seems to be petty, small minded and an act on a person who's already drawn considerable amount of attention to himself and would cause one to wonder why would you draw even more attention to yourself at this particular time in your career and in the city's effort to move forward?
NNAMDII'm glad that Vance used the term hiccup, because there have been a lot of questions about how this will affect the staff of the various committees that now have to shift gears after you've been doing this for six months. And now, Mary Cheh is gonna be taking over this committee. What do you see as being -- how this will all unfold?
WELLSWell, a couple of things. One is that I do believe it's wasteful in terms of government time. I have spent quite a bit of time whether it be getting to know garbage truck drivers before they go out on service, so I know what they do. Been on the trash transfer stations, been to the aquifer, been to Blue Plains. I've done quite a bit. I can tell you about buses, they lease their tires. Goodyear keeps the air pressure in there.
WELLSI mean, I really have put a tremendous amount of time to fully understanding how we move the circulator over east of the river, how we expand the popular Bikeshare program so it serves more of the city. So I have put a tremendous amount of time into that. And, you know, frankly, the -- in terms of staff, the director -- I've got a great committee. And the director of my committee is exceedingly smart, young man. And to the best of my knowledge, I think I can get him to stay and work on projects for me.
WELLSI think that to get everyone up to speed is very difficult. But let me also say, I called the new chair of the committee Mary Cheh. I said, I'd like to meet you as soon as possible to tell you what I know, anything that I can to be helpful, what was helpful to me in learning this committee. And so...
SHERWOODWhat did she say?
WELLSShe appreciated it. And I didn't expect her say anything different. And so she appreciated it. And I also told her, my staff is available to her staff and that they'll start a briefing process, because it's really about delivering services to Washington, D.C., residents. It's -- that's, you know, what we need to motivated by, not about the personalities. And so that's why I did that.
NNAMDIGentlemen, don your headphones again, please, because we have Peter in Washington, D.C., on the air. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERYes. First of all, good afternoon.
PETERI agree totally with Kwame Brown making the decisions to remove Tommy Wells. I think that is within his purview as the council chair to make changes wherever he sees fit. And it doesn't have to be a reason that he's angry with Tommy Wells. I think giving the committee to Mary Cheh, who is a very qualified to chair this committee, very qualified -- and I think it's the right to thing do. You make changes. That's what government is all about.
VANCEBut you make them for reasons, too, don't you? And should those reasons be good reasons?
PETERWell, I think it would improve upon our public transportation and public works. Mary Cheh is very aggressive. She gets into things. She gets things done.
NNAMDIPeter, what would be your criticism of the way Tommy Wells is running the committee?
PETERWell, Tommy Wells just tend to be -- takes too long to make decisions. You might say that's deliberate, but he, again, takes too long. And I actually, I'm angry at another issue, which one -- in which -- the ones dealing with the youth services, supporting the new director who I think is totally unfit for that position. So -- but that's another story. But I think he's too deliberate. He takes too long to make decisions. He never comes out forcefully. You never know where Tommy Wells stands.
NNAMDIHow would you respond to that, Councilmember Wells?
WELLSI think that's one of the only times I've ever heard that. I appreciate it. A lot of people do find me to be a little bit strident and I have been, I think, fairly assertive. And I have -- again, I've not held back at all. In fact, that maybe why I might be sitting in this position. But if I were more circumspect and more cautious, there -- you know, he's talking about somebody else. But I do think that there's people that are upset about the -- about Mayor Gray's appointment to DYRS. And we've got a new mayor. And I, you know, the city elected him so I did support the mayor.
NNAMDII wanna go to one more caller. Peter, thank you for your call. Here's Dan in Washington, D.C. Dan, your turn.
DANYou know what, I'm in Ward 5, and I have to say, you know, with Chairman Brown's ups and downs, I've tried to sort of support him, give him the benefit of the doubt with financial and discretions, but I'm really upset about this move. It seems clearly political. It seems like payback. And, you know, I can only assume that, you know, Brown has sort of made some decision that he's only gonna serve one term, and he needs to do what he has to do to sort of get whatever lobbying job he's gonna get and when he transition throughout the council.
DANYou know, this is just really -- it's just incredibly upsetting that they're moving people who are very effective in the position. I don't know what the previous caller was talking about, but clearly Wells has sort of proven himself to be somebody who is about, sort of, smart growth, had been supportive about people we're thinking about, sort of, how the city should plan for the future. And it's just one more things...
NNAMDIWell, Dan, thank you very much for your call. The uninformed speculation, gentlemen, is how this is likely to affect the future of Chairman Kwame Brown itself. There have been -- there has been some reaction in the media. Nobody has taken a poll yet. But just in terms of being out and about, I'd like to hear what you've been hearing from people this.
SHERWOODWell, Harry Jaffe, my good friend and co-author of "Dream City," wrote a column today that I'm still trying -- I'm still swinging around my head like some -- well, let me just go on to what he said. He said that Kwame showed that he's a strongest chairman in the history of the D.C. Council. And I just cannot disagree with that more -- there are 180 degrees something -- more sharp than 180 degrees opposite opinions. I just wouldn't be. People I have heard have said two things. And some of the closest people to Kwame Brown have said this, so it's just not my opinion.
NNAMDIMost people that I have talked to have expressed some level of incredulity and some level of confusion about what's going on.
SHERWOODLet me summarize very quickly what Kwame Brown's closest advisers say. On the one hand, they agree with what Jim Vance said, that was pretty stupid that when your campaign committee of 2008 has just been thrown into the criminal investigation world, the best thing to do is keep quiet and just tend to your job and don't make waves.
SHERWOODOthers say, look, Kwame Brown has had these problems with the SUV with -- now with the criminal thing. He had to assert some leadership to prove that he was chairman of the council so that other council members wouldn't run over him. So those are two different answers.
VANCEIsn't there some credibility with the old saw that -- there is a time to be quiet. There is a time to take a low-profile. Sometimes, less is a great deal more, and the concern that I hear on certain streets really isn't so terribly critical of Kwame himself, rather of the imprudence of his move at this particular time. This may not be the best time for Tommy to assert his strength on the chairmanship. By the way, wasn't Henry here when John was council chairman? I mean, he...
NNAMDIHe may have...
VANCEKwame Brown's got more credibility than John Wilson, for goodness' sake?
SHERWOODWell, yeah. The building's named after John Wilson for a reason. But, you know, I would love to hear the Ward 6 councilmember weighing on the politics, but he's trying to take the high road. I think he's gonna float off the ground. He's trying to take the high road.
NNAMDIOut guest is the Ward 6 councilmember Tommy Wells. He's a Democrat. As of this week, he's chairman of the council's committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation. What have people been saying to you, Tommy Wells?
SHERWOODWhat are the most negative things people are telling you, that you should've been more of a collegial guy?
NNAMDIOh. What did you do to cheese off 12 people?
SHERWOODThey did vote 12 to one.
WELLSWell, let me say my colleagues did what they thought they had to do. Now, since then, of course, individuals have come up and talked to me and said, you know, what they've had to say to make peace with me. But, you know, we also went through a real tough time. I had -- it was kind of bruising, but I just won a victory on re-districting. I just won a victory on the budget vote, and you know, I think a lot of China was broken. But, beyond that, this can’t be about people. It really can't, and I'm not gonna participate in that.
WELLSWe've really got to make it about moving our city forward and, you know, I won’t go through the whole campaign speech, but that's really what our residents elected us to do, and they didn't elect us to have all this other mischief.
NNAMDISpeaking of timing, we took note that the first people to break the news about the committee re-assignment, where the folks at Greater Greater Washington, the online community that promotes so many of the smart growth policies that you've made a part of your platform, and they described you, at one point, as the leader of a progressive caucus in the Washington, D.C. council, and that caused to come to my mind. Exactly how does one define progressive these days in terms of the D.C. council?
WELLSWell, I think that we got a lot accomplished that everybody knows about, whether it'd be same-sex marriage, the bag bill, kind of things that other jurisdictions still have not been able to do yet, and I think that progressive -- there's a lot things that are, you know, that are considered progressive and in interestingly bringing up our own president that progressives really are impatient, and they don't believe in incrementalism, that you do what's right. Whether be in global warming and the other issue is sustainability and social justice that...
NNAMDISpeaking of social justice, there's a report the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that indicates that the District of Columbia government has not been particularly assertive on the issue of housing discrimination against minorities and against people with disabilities and issues of race and class and discrimination used to be a core element of progressives. That somehow seems to be disappearing. What is your own feeling about this?
WELLSWell, I think the progressives really are results-oriented, that you can pass laws, you can make pronouncements, but what are the results? What's the evidence-based practice? And so I think progressives would be extremely upset about any discrimination that results in discrimination, whether it'd be by race, class, disability.
WELLSAnd the thing is, is that there's new ways to go about solving it, and instead of just, you know, saying that this is awful, that it's got to be solved and solved now. That's what I mean by no incrementalism. It gets done now.
NNAMDIWhat do you see as the future of what has been being called the progressive caucus on the council? Do caucuses even exist anymore on the council? Are there any people on the council at all who are -- who consider themselves part of a group or who are even friends?
WELLSWell, again, it's really about the power of ideas. It's not necessarily about the power of one person having influence over another person, and so it's ideas that moves the District forward and those that gather around it. You know, there's stuff that I voted for where I may not be happy with the guy next to me or the guy, you know, the down the (word?). But if it's a good idea and a great idea, that's what we're gonna do, and I still believe the council can do that.
WELLSI think we will do that. And that's, you know, progressive caucus is more about agreeing on the issues, not necessarily we're having a beer together at the end of the day.
SHERWOODAnd -- but you've got to get seven votes. I remember when David Catania first got on the council, and he was just a thorn in everyone's side. And so I wrote this column, I said, Catania needs to learn how to count to seven. And so the next time he saw me, he came out to me, he said, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. But the fact is, you have to -- even if you don't like each other in some cases, you have to work together. If you get anything done, that's true in any legislature in the world.
WELLSBut, Tom, remember when the funding was zeroed out for the street cars.
SHERWOODYes, in the middle of the night.
WELLSAnd -- that's right. And what it really took was not just getting at seven votes. It took the public, the community that cared about that issue to come forward and help reverse that vote. And so one way you get seven votes is not necessarily being nice to everybody, but it's really moving an agenda that people believe in and that when they see that the city's upset about something, a lot of people have said about something, they'll change their minds.
WELLSThat's what we saw on re-districting and how are we able to keep Ward 6 together, and it's how I got that victory. Not by being nice to everybody, but really, you know, my loyalties to the residents of the city. If, you know, that's how we move an agenda.
SHERWOODThis sounds like a campaign for chairman.
NNAMDIOn to Shirley in Washington, D.C. Shirley, your turn.
SHIRLEYYes. Kojo, I've never called your show before, although I listen regularly. And the reason I'm calling is I'm really terribly frustrated in the polls by the direction the D.C. government has taken as shown by this latest move. You know, I have to (word?) it out, what is -- why is Kwame Brown doing this? And I, as voter, have to conclude that Kwame Brown is doing it simply because he puts his own ego and his own power above the interest of District residents.
SHIRLEYAnd Tommy Wells maybe above the fray, but for those of us who live in the city, we've seen him as hardworking and effective. And I have a question and that is -- I've written Kwame Brown about this and, of course, received no response as a voter, but what are we to do us voters to try and influence this and the direction? I realized it's too soon for any kind of recall referendum. What options are there for us as voters other than simply writing and getting no response to show our displeasure and our concern about the direction that the district government is taking?
NNAMDIBefore I ask Tommy Wells to answer that, Vance, she referenced what you said earlier, and I got the impression that what your concern is, is perception.
VANCEWell, yes, perception. But also as it -- at least two results. The city does not operate in a vacuum. There are bottom ratings, all other kinds of things and other relationships that are important for the success and the progressive -- for the progress of the city to move forward. And we are burdened right now by scandal.
VANCEYou know, I have the privilege and the opportunity to travel a little bit. I am sick and tired of getting off a plane in -- I don't know -- Portland, Ore. And, you know, somebody ask you, you know, where you from, and you mention Washington, D.C. And they sneaker or they laugh or they grimace or groan, whatever the case may be. We had been moving away from that.
VANCEHere we are now with what people -- I think most -- many people generally agree is a responsible, bright, intelligent, committed mayor; good, bright responsible, intelligent people on the city council, but we can't get past the crap. We can't get past the odor to begin the process of moving forward. And I think that there needs to be some brightness and these kinds of things that are going on. And the move that Councilmember Brown just made does not tend to increase the wattage...
NNAMDIThis subjected Vance to the suddenly dropping chair trick that we do here on our guest on "Politics Hour." While he gets his chair back up, Tommy Wells, could you care to respond to Shirley's comment about what you think voters can do?
WELLSYes. Thank you, Shirley. And I think that a lot of people have asked me about that. And I think the person who answered that best was a provocative article last Saturday by Colby King, where Colby King said, you know what? Not is the time -- because we've moved up to primary date to April, now is the time to start vetting candidates. Figure out how you're gonna make -- you know, bring me some, you know, some colleagues that are more to your liking. And so I -- that's what you do, is that we've got another election cycle coming up. We've got two at-large candidates, four Wards.
SHERWOODAre you suggesting here that people should run against the incumbents now? Are you...
WELLSI'm saying that...
SHERWOOD...declaring more on the incumbents are up next year?
WELLSI think that the voters should vote and be sure that they -- if they're upset with the representation, they should exercise political activism.
SHERWOODWhat about the recall effort for Kwame Brown and Mayor Gray?
WELLSI, you know, recalls in D.C. are almost impossible. But also, these gentlemen were both just elected. I really don't want to, you know, say anything about a recall effort.
SHERWOODYou're not endorsing -- or are you -- you're not opposing it?
WELLSI am -- well, I'm not endorsing it. I'm not, you know, I'm really focused on serving more at six.
SHERWOODOh, don't go back to that good governance speech.
WELLSI -- well, I...
SHERWOODI can't stand it.
WELLSI am. I'm not focused on trying to take another guy out or something like that.
SHERWOODI'm going to write that answer out.
WELLSI am gonna create a great, you know, we've got one of the greatest...
SHERWOODOh, here we go. All right.
WELLS...stories of Ward 6 in the city.
SHERWOODLet's take another call.
NNAMDIThen let's go to Oscar in Washington, D.C.
SHERWOODTake another caller.
NNAMDIOscar, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
OSCARYou know, I'm quite disappointed in Jim Vance. I mean, he got off a plane and I can understand why these things take place and why you take it so personal upfront. Somebody ask you something's going in D.C., you don't know what the intent is. But, again, every day, great things are going on in D.C. despite, yes, the shortcomings of some of the council people. But, by and large, the city is taking care of business every day. And I can't see...
OSCAR...why you feel that it's a slight to you that when somebody asks about Washington, D.C. and some of the shortcomings of our council president.
VANCEI can tell you why. Because exactly of the point that you just made. There are absolutely marvelous and wonderful things going on in Washington, D.C. Why is it then, therefore, that the city had to suffer under this odor now of scandal when there is so much positive going on, on the other side. I take it personally because I live here. I identify myself with Washington, D.C., and I want people to recognize that I am proud for good reason.
NNAMDIOscar, if you were a resident of the states of Illinois and you had a governor like Gov. Blagojevich, would it not bother you about the perception of the state of Illinois after what the governor allegedly did?
OSCARNot the perception because the criminal justice system took care of that problem. The city moves forward. I mean, these things happen in politics. Politics is what it is. Yes, we do not -- we want honest politician, but I find it kind of disingenuous on Jim Vance as far -- and I'm sorry to pass judgment because he's passing judgment. Yes, these things take place, but I don't see how the city is suffering. Every day I see people out having a great time, seem to be taking care of business, enjoying the city. I don't see that...
SHERWOODYeah, most of those people are commuters and they don't pay taxes here. But, you know, how it suffers is when you have this -- as Jim Carter -- this odor of scandal is that you can't get members of Congress from Nebraska to pay attention to your voting rights if he or she is concerned about whether or not your mayor's gonna go have charges brought against him for campaigns, or whether Kwame Brown has hundreds of thousands of dollars of uncounted for money in this 2008 reelection campaign.
SHERWOODWhether or not anything criminal was done there, that's a criminal investigation with this chairman going on. And then you got Harry Thomas in Ward 5 who is a big advocate or is a big advocate for children. And he's got questions about -- a criminal question about whether or not he missed -- spent $300,000 on his own self. So I just think those are issues that mar the image of the city just as the scandals in Indiana and in Illinois and all these other places, in New Orleans, in Maryland, scar those places when they happen.
SHERWOODAnd we should have some sense of moral outrage about them. We're not a court of law where we have to wait 'til everything is judged. There's a court of public opinion and ought to be heard.
NNAMDIOn to Chris in Washington, D.C. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISYeah. Hi. I just have one quick comment about what you just said, which is that I travel a lot. And the most common thing that I hear from people in other cities in other states about why D.C. shouldn't have voting rights in Congress is because we can't run our government. And I had other things but other people who have called have said them, so thanks.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, that's -- you know, it's unfortunate. That should not be the standard but that is, in fact, the standard. People do dismiss you. They -- by belittling you. It shouldn't be the standard, but that's how people judge you.
NNAMDIBecause you don't make news nationally and internationally when you run a city, right? You don't make news nationally and internationally when you have a decent and good quality of living in your city. The only thing people read about are the bad things that happen in your city. And so, if you travel, that's what people tend to refer to.
SHERWOODYou know, people in Maryland, they didn't try to take the voting right away from the people in Maryland when Marvin Mandel went to jail. And I've said this before when Illinois, in the last 30 years, three governors have gone to prison, they haven't taken away the voting rights of the people in Illinois. So it should not be about the image, but it's a practical matter. You can't make progress if you send a slug in a bag of scandal.
NNAMDIGetting back to Councilmember Tommy Wells before...
VANCEHe's still here?
NNAMDI...before all of these...
VANCEHe's still here?
NNAMDI...happened, Tommy Wells, there was a great deal of speculation that you were thinking of running for higher office, specifically running for mayor or for citywide office. Are you?
WELLSThis -- we just had an election, and I think it's in everybody's interest that the people that we've elected are successful, and particularly the mayor. And we will be better off as a city if Vince Gray is successful and that his agencies -- everything works. That this is not about, you know, the next office for anybody.
SHERWOODWell, would it be better off...
WELLSEverybody (unintelligible) not just have an election.
SHERWOODWould it be better off if Chairman Kwame Brown is successful?
WELLSWe need -- we need Kwame Brown to be able to run an effective council. There's a role for chair.
SHERWOODUntil the next election?
NNAMDIHe keeps plugging away. Say something. Give him something, Tommy Wells.
VANCEGive him a yes or no.
WELLSAll right. I'll tell you this, and I don't know, you know, Vince Gray was an extraordinary chair. We are -- approval rating ratings were at 67 percent, which is bizarre almost for an elective body. That has plummeted. And so we need a strong chair that can operate our government in a way that it restores and fills good confidence by the people we govern. And we're not there right now just in terms of the polls.
NNAMDITommy Wells is a member of the D.C. Council. He is a Democrat from Ward 6. He is now the chairman of the Council's Committee on Libraries, Parks and Recreation. Tommy Wells, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
WELLSWell, let me -- thank you very much. I...
NNAMDIThey never wanna leave when you tell them they got to go.
WELLSI can tell, but one thing...
SHERWOODIt's that saying, don't let the door hit you on the way out.
WELLSA lot of our city, including me, loves parks and they love their recreation centers and they love their libraries. And so, I don't want anybody to think that it's a loss of prestige because now we got to make those things great because those things help make a great, livable, walkable city.
SHERWOODIf they are not in consequential, in fact, that that's...
WELLSThat exactly right. And so I'm excited.
SHERWOODAnd if you don't get those swimming pools open on time, I'm gonna be standing in the bottom of an empty one, saying why not?
WELLSAnd it's true. Now I have oversight of the office of planning. What better, you know, can we get.
NNAMDISee you later, Tommy.
WELLSThank you, gentlemen.
SHERWOODOkay. You have to open the door. He's not gonna...
SHERWOODTommy Wells is a member of D.C. Council, a democrat from Ward 6. You're listening to "The Politics Hour." Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Our guest analyst today in known to friends and family as Vance. He's an anchor at NBC 4. He is Jim Vance. And just briefly before we go to our next guest, it's my understanding, Tom Sherwood, that Gandhi is going to get to be Gandhi pretty soon.
SHERWOODYou know what? I was just hearing about that, and, you know, he's got an -- I have to say Natwar Gandhi has enough to do with the city's budget issues and (word?).
NNAMDIThe city's chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, will be playing Mahatma Gandhi, icon of the human race, in a theatrical production set to debut next month, "A Tryst with Destiny." And he will be playing the role of Mahatma Gandhi. He's a well known poet. He's from the same area of India as Gandhi was, and people say he looks a little bit like him.
VANCEDoesn't necessarily look like.
SHERWOODWell, you know, okay.
VANCEWe gonna leave it at that, won't we, Tom?
SHERWOODAll I -- there's a really cool statue of Gandhi, not Nat, but Mahatma Gandhi on Mass Avenue, right there at Q Street in Mass. It's really cool. So if you want to see the real Gandhi.
NNAMDIWell, I'm rooting for you, Natwar Gandhi, to do well in this (word?).
SHERWOODMaybe we'll have come in and do some of the lines on the show here.
NNAMDIWell, he's a frequent guest on the show. Photos across Maryland are going to decide the faith a new law that would give in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrant brought here as children. Joining us now is Neil Parrott. He is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Washington County. Delegate Parrott, thank you for joining us.
MR. NEIL PARROTTOh, it's a pleasure being on your show this afternoon. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIGlad to have you. You gathered the thousands of signatures necessary to put this law up for referendum. Why did you go to the trouble of doing this and what do you think the chances are for repeal once this goes up for a state-wide vote?
PARROTTWell, this is a bill that barely passed on the last day of session in the Maryland legislature. Every Republican and over 20 Democrats in the House General Assembly voted against the bill, so it had bipartisan oppositions. And actually, as we were sitting there debating if -- we actually didn't think it was gonna come forward this year. I sent out a questionnaire on Facebook and just asked people, hey, if this gets passed, do you think we should try and take this to referendum?
PARROTTAnd I can tell you I've never had a Facebook questionnaire have so many responses. Friends forwarded to their friends, had over 500 responses, 98 percent of them were saying, yes, you got to take this to referendum. We don't like this bill at all. And so with that encouragement and talking to a few other people, I was (word?) to move forward with the process.
PARROTTAnd really, it's Marylanders across the state who got involved, took action, and got their friends, got their family members, coworkers, people at their place of worship and at work to go ahead and sign the petition. And it's just been a huge success. And I'm really grateful to everybody in Maryland who did that. Now, the reasons for the petition are twofold. One, Maryland, we have a $1.2 billion structural deficit.
PARROTTSo basically, we're taking in less money than we're gonna spend in this next fiscal year, and we already know that. So here's a bill that's gonna increase our spending. And the second reason is we have immigration laws that need to be enforced. And, actually, I had worked on a House joint resolution just to say, hey, we need to enforce our existing immigration laws. And the people of Maryland understand that this tries to skirt around immigration laws, and it doesn't enforce what we need to have enforced.
PARROTTAnd so, for those two main reasons that's why people are getting on board and sign the petition and are ready to vote this down. Actually, I have a quote from Sen. -- Democratic Sen. Brochin, who said, "It's important to note that this is not just a Republican effort. I'm a Democrat, and this is bad policy." And he goes on to say, "I think the proponents of this bill are going to be shocked when they see, not just that they're going to lose that referendum but the margin by which they're going to lose by."
NNAMDIHow about the arguments made by the proponents of the bill, whether they happen to be Democrat or Republican that, A, these children did not come in to this country through any action of their own, they were brought here. And, B, they have already been students and many of them outstanding students in the public school systems in Maryland, and being able to keep them in the state of Maryland will be able to add brain power to the state of Maryland to help solve the problems that the state already has. They're already there. They're already in school. Why push them out?
PARROTTWell, I think that's a great question. First of all, these aren't children anymore. We're talking college. They're 18 years old. They can make their own decisions. And the rules in Maryland for this bill, they didn't come here necessarily as children. They only had to be here for the last three years and attend Maryland high schools. So they could have come in at the age of 15. Now, they're 18.
PARROTTAlso, we have a problem in this country with illegal immigration, and we need to work to solve the problem, not to try and attract more illegal immigrants, where they want to get their 15-year-olds or 14-year-olds (unintelligible) and go to school here, get the in-state tuition here, get free high school education, which is great. We need to send a message clearly that we wanna enforce our immigration laws, not try and skirt around it.
SHERWOODSo you think -- this is Tom Sherwood from Cannel 4. So addressing the immigration problem across the national issue and needs some national focus. In the state of Maryland, would you like to see just -- how aggressive do you wanna be against the illegal aliens that come to the state? Do you want more aggression to find them, send them out of the state? What do you want to have?
SHERWOODIt seems like the DREAM Act is just one issue about the immigration issue. How aggressive should the state be in helping the feds root out illegal immigrants?
PARROTTWell, you're right in that it's a whole national problem. And, unfortunately, we've seen a total lack of leadership in Washington, D.C. on this issue. They've punted. And it wasn't just the current administration. It was the previous administration. They've just taken no leadership at all. And as a result, the states have had to take on leadership because they're having problems in their own states.
PARROTTIn Maryland, for instance, there's a report -- a fair report that shows we're spending $1.4 billion dollars per year with the costs associated with illegal aliens being in the state for education, for healthcare cost and for incarceration. And one proactive measure that Maryland has done in the county of Frederick, and it's the only county in the whole state, if someone is arrested in the county of Frederick -- actually, Fredrick County, they are able to ask them if they're here legally or not. They've been trained.
PARROTTAnd if they find out that the person who has committed a crime is an illegal alien, then they are able to take them directly to ICE. And so that's been a very, very successful program in Frederick County, and that would be something else, I think, that other counties should be looking at doing as well.
SHERWOODEvery person who is arrested should be asked to prove citizenship?
PARROTTWell, in Frederick County, they have -- they've been trained by the federal government on how to ask these questions and to find out whether they're here legally or not. And so, if they're not here legally, then they're turned over to ICE. And ICE, at that point will work on punishing the crime and also look at the deportation process if that's appropriate.
NNAMDIDelegate Parrot, here's Jim Vance.
VANCEYeah, Mr. Parrot, it is Jim Vance with Channel 4. I wanna go back to the DREAM Act and the proponents who suggest that there can't be much of a downside with a modest investment to send young people to get a college education. And then, what comes with that is the reaping of considerable income from higher income taxes, better wages and all the other social issues that we do not have to spend money on. How do you respond to that, sir?
PARROTTWell, I think, first of all, we need to look at the big picture, and we need to have compassion on people that are here in this country. And this bill that would give in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens, what that would deal is encourage more illegal aliens to go to school, go to college. And when they graduate, they would expect -- and I would if I were them -- I would expect to be able to get a good job when I graduate.
PARROTTBut that's where I believe this is a false hope. And we're actually hurting these people because we're saying go ahead and go to college, take your loans, just like a normal citizen would, take some loans, get through college. But then when they graduate, the promise of a good job is just not there. It's illegal to hire illegal aliens in this country.
SHERWOODThat, you know, I appreciate that. Why not, just in the course of them going to college, require them to take the steps toward citizenship and achieve both, which would make them citizens -- taxpaying citizens rather than blocking them out? It's just an idea. I'm just wondering.
PARROTTNo. I think that that's the direction that I'd rather see it go. If someone's 18 and they're an adult and they'd like to become a U.S. citizen, maybe a program to help them go through that process would be constructive. But this process, it tries to skirt around a law and say, well, go ahead and go to college. You can still be an illegal alien and take no steps at all to become a citizen.
PARROTTNow, the bill does provide that when they first sign up to go to college, they -- and when they go to college, the first two years have to be in a community college and the rest of the time can be at a four-year university. But it provides that an affidavit, stating of the individual file an application to become a permanent resident within 30 days.
SHERWOODThere you go. Good.
PARROTTSo they have this affidavit. But then, when they go to the four-year university, two years later, do they have to prove that they actually filed the application? No, they don't. All they have to do is show the affidavit that they submitted two years ago. So there's -- this is a very -- it's not proactive at all and it's not serious. This legislation is not serious in trying to help illegal aliens become legal. It's just trying to give them more benefits for being in the state.
NNAMDIYou think that the proponents of this legislation actually sat down and said, how can we give illegal immigrants more benefits in the state of Maryland?
PARROTTWhen the law was being drafted, there were different discussions about even enforcing this in the committee to say, hey, we should actually show that they did file. They are moving towards a path, and we should have a way that if they're not moving down that path, they could even pay the state back. Those things were all turned down. Basically, this is just a simple bill to say, we just wanna give in-state tuition benefits to illegals or give them more benefits.
PARROTTBut the interesting thing is if you are a legal alien in Maryland, you're specifically excluded from in-state tuition benefits. So even -- we have people on work visas. They've been here 10 years. They've got kids that have grown up in our schools, all the way through high school. They are legal aliens. And this bill specifically said, no, we're not gonna give you in-state tuition because you're legal.
PARROTTSo here we have a discontinuity. It just doesn't make sense. And people in Maryland know that this bill is not commonsense and needs to be voted out in referendum, November of 2012.
VANCESo you fully expect to succeed, Mr. Parrott?
PARROTTOh, yes. Yes. We expect -- we know that there may be legal challenges, and we're preparing for that now. And then on November of 2012, we do expect to win. Just like senator -- Democratic Sen. Brochin said, I think the proponents of this bill are gonna be shocked when they see not just what -- that they're gonna lose at referendum, but the margin by which they're going to lose.
SHERWOODWhat's the name of the group that's officially orchestrating the -- getting the signatures and put it on the ballot? What is that called for people who are interested in this?
PARROTTYes. Thank you for asking. It's mdpetitions.com, which is just like your website, www.mdpetitions.com. Anyone can go there to...
NNAMDIAnd, of course -- yes, the website apparently was able to help a lot of people to do it in as simple a way as possible. And some people are saying that your petition drive is going to be a game changer for people in the minority in Maryland, that you've crafted a strategy that will help Republicans and others fight back against laws they don't like on all kinds of fronts in the future. Do you see it that way also?
PARROTTI think it's a wonderful tool to allow Marylanders to get involved in the political process where they've actually been shut out before. It's been just so difficult to go through a petition referendum process. This tool is very helpful 'cause, for instance, people will get thrown out -- their signatures are thrown out 'cause the circulator didn't put their phone number down. This tool makes sure that the phone number is there, fills out all the fields and makes it much easier to make sure that we have a valid petition that goes forwarded.
PARROTTActually, as a result of this website -- and careful checking on our end -- our success rate has been 80 percent of the petitions that we've turned in have been validated as OK, where, in past petitions, we're -- you're talking like 60 percent. So we're very, very pleased with the results that we're seeing.
SHERWOODAnd are the -- and just -- I know there was a controversy, I think, in California about this when the petition on the gay marriage issue or whatever it was, that the petitions were -- the names are public. The name -- are the petitions public?
NNAMDIWell, here's how it worked here. The people who went to Maryland Petitions.com typed in their names, birthdays, zip codes and email addresses into a basic form, just as if you were buying a sweater online. The software then tapped into voter registration data to fill out the petition seat in the precise format that the law requires. The voters then printed out the form, signed it and mailed it to Delegate Parrott. Is that correct, Parrott, Delegate Parrott? That's how The Washington Post reported it.
PARROTTYes. What they do is they -- exactly what you're saying. It pre-fills out the form so that when they print it, they need to make sure that the petition form is there. They staple it to the actual bill, and they sign and date it as the person signing. And if there are other people that are on that form, they'll sign it and date it. And then the person who actually printed out, they are the circulator. So, at the bottom, they're gonna sign and date, after everyone has signed, that they saw each of the signatures taking place, just like before. So it's the same process.
SHERWOODWell -- let me congratulate you. But, again, there's now -- if I'm a reporter, can I go look at all those 55 -- 100,000, 96,000? Can I go see each one and look at it myself and double-check on names? Are they public record, I guess, is what I'm asking?
PARROTTYes. It is public record. And the board of elections, if anyone wants to pay for the printing, can go in and get copies of the actual petitions rather than submit it.
NNAMDIDelegate Parrott, thank you so much for joining us.
PARROTTOh, thank you. It was a pleasure being on your show.
NNAMDINeil Parrott is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He's a Republican from Washington County. We're almost out of time at this point, Tom...
SHERWOODOh, that's too bad.
NNAMDI...Tom Sherwood. I know that's too bad for you. Is there anything else you'd like to add before we go?
SHERWOODI think we should ask Vance to have, you know, concluding remarks, give him 40 seconds of a conclusion remark.
NNAMDIJust like we do with political candidates.
SHERWOODLike a political party.
VANCENo, this is not a political forum. It's not a town hall meeting. I am a little bit intimidated in here. I appreciate the invitation, Kojo, to come on your show. Those invitations have come before, and you noticed this is the first time I'm here.
VANCEIt's in part because you guys know an awful lot of cool stuff, man. And I'd like to come in and just sit at your feet and...
NNAMDIWhat Tom Sherwood and I agree on is that we know the absolute coolest guy in this town, and that would be who?
NNAMDIHe has been our guest analyst. Hopefully, he'll join us again. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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