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.
Virginians get ready for next week’s showdown at the polls. A spate of Halloween shootings rattles the District. And a growing number of Maryland politicos position themselves to challenge incumbents in next year’s election. 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
- Brian Moran Chairman, Virginia Democratic Party; Former Member, Virginia House of Delegates (D-46th District, Alexandria)
- Thomas Graham President, Pepco Region
Politics Hour Extra
How did Pepco manage to come away from 2010 with a negative 118 percent tax rate? Pepco Region President Thomas Graham talks about the tax laws the company used in order to receive large tax credits due to “accelerated depreciation,” a process that allows companies to leverage investment dollars to their advantage:
Pepco Region President Thomas Graham talks about service outages and Smart Meters:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. With an election coming up in Virginia, last week, we heard from Republican Tom Davis. This week, we'll be talking with the chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, Brian Moran. But first, our resident analyst, Tom Sherwood, of NBC 4 and the Current Newspapers will be honored on Monday at The Theatre Lab School of Dramatic Arts of Washington, D.C.'s Cabaret Benefit Dinner for his tireless efforts in support of the theatre lab.
MR. KOJO NNAMDITom, I know you've drawn me and others from the media and politics into theatre lab productions where you yourself have performed. But what is it? By the way, welcome. What is it about the theatre lab that pulls you in like that?
MR. TOM SHERWOODWell, you know, I just happened to hear about them from my friend, Jeffrey Slavin, who's the mayor of Somerset there in Maryland nearby, but before that worked in the city. And I went to a party at his house. That's where I met Michael Rogers who is one of the three founders of the theatre lab. And they just talked about it. I said this sounds really great. And in addition to all of the things -- and we're in the theatrical business ourselves, really.
MR. TOM SHERWOODBut in addition to all of the -- just how they have classes to teach people how to speak in public and do some playwriting or performance, they do some -- they do social service work. They go into senior citizen homes. They go into the prisons. They go into the -- to the lives of young children in schools, and they get them to talk about their lives and put on little plays and act out their lives.
NNAMDIAnd I know that they expressed to me their gratitude to you over all these years for (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWell, I'll just help, you know, promote them and give them a little money here or there. But, you know, the thing on Monday night is really nice. They ran out of people to honor, so they asked me if they would -- they could honor me, and...
NNAMDIThat's not true.
SHERWOODWell, yes. I said, surely there's someone else. They're scraping the barrel of the -- but -- so we're going to be there at the event on Monday night.
NNAMDIThey're happy to have you at The Sphinx Club at the Almas Temple at 1315 K Street.
SHERWOODYeah. That's the obscure -- you drive by at that corner. You think, well, that's nothing there. And then you see this kind of elaborate detailed building. You go inside is cavernous.
NNAMDIWell, congratulations to you.
SHERWOODWell, thank you very much. It's a good organization. And I don't directly support lots of organizations, but the theatre lab has been really good. Arch Campbell from -- you know, used to work for us before he went off to some other obscure TV station, given a lot about them, and I just have done so. It's a very good organization. And they spell theatre -- that R-E at the end -- but they're not nearly pretentious.
NNAMDIArch is very happy at Channel 7.
SHERWOODYou've had him on this show.
NNAMDIThere was a time when you worked for another news medium that used to send you around wherever the mayor happened to be. Once you actually went to the Virgin Islands when the mayor was there. But this past week, you were not in Tampa, Fla. when Mayor Vincent Gray and two council members went there. Apparently, you didn't even know about it, or did you know about it after the fact?
SHERWOODAfter the fact, did report on it. Deborah Simmons of Washington Times reporter -- columnist mentioned in her, I guess, online -- I never saw it actually in the printed paper -- that, oh, by the way, you know, the mayor and two council members had gone off to Tampa to look at the training facilities of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where it just so happens Bruce Allen, who's the general manager for the Redskins -- was before he came here.
SHERWOODAnd so we all checked into that, and it turns out the city is trying to get the Redskins' Dan Snyder to move all of its training facilities and the Hall of Fame facility and all that to sites around the old RFK.
NNAMDIBut they didn't want to tell us ahead of time so that people wouldn't get too excited if it didn't happen, and then it would like another failure on the part...
SHERWOODYes, but two issues here. One is they didn't want us to know because they wanted to go down and do this quietly 'cause the negotiations were quiet.
NNAMDIThey wanted to go hang out at the beach without letting us know.
SHERWOODBut the problem is -- and (word?) from the TOP and others have said this, the mayor's public schedule lied for which the mayor's office has apologized for. He said he was having meetings in the John Wilson Building during the day when, in fact, he flew down at his expense, and the council members, I'm told, paid theirs. And they flew down and came back the same day, but they lied about the mayor's public schedule, which could be a very serious matter.
SHERWOODThe chief of staff says it won't happen again. They'll try to find -- they have to find a better way to not tell us what they're doing when they don't want us to know.
NNAMDITampa Bay beaches, anyone? Any progress at all (unintelligible)...
SHERWOODAnd that's where the Democratic -- and the Republicans are going to be there for their convention.
NNAMDIAnd we'll be there, too, for that convention. Any progress at all in getting Redskins' training facilities in Washington?
SHERWOODWell, yes, it still -- you know, this has been on since -- Mayor Tony Williams already wrote it -- stories in the Channel 4 about that and with Fenty, that the city ultimately -- leadership would like to have the Redskins -- and I believe Dan Snyder would like to do this -- would like to build a new stadium on the site of RFK. Environmental issues are there. The city does not want to get into a situation with the baseball stadium where it pays a lot of money, but it will certainly help and just consolidate all the Redskin stuff actually in the Washington Redskins neighborhood of RFK.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll be talking to Thomas Graham, the regional president of Pepco. But the federal government has now a new snow evacuation strategy for federal employees.
SHERWOODWell, they don't really. They have a preliminary plan.
NNAMDIYes. Well, leave the office by the time we tell you to go home or stay put until we say the roads are safe. Stay in shelter.
SHERWOODThe Post reported -- The Washington Post reported the story, and I got a copy of the draft plan. But here's the deal. You're a federal worker. It's 1 or 2 o'clock in the afternoon and you know a snowstorm is coming. But your agency is not being let out because, you know, they're going to do some kind of scheduled organized release. So they say -- they want you to stay to 4 o'clock. And, you know, you've got two children in the Arlington County public school or up in Bethesda or out in Prince George's County.
SHERWOODAnd you're going to sit on your hands and wait for some bureaucrat and some agency to tell you, you can go home. No, you're not.
NNAMDIYou're going to leave...
SHERWOODI'm taking leave. I've got an emergency family leave. I've got to go get my children. So it's very difficult how they're going to make this thing work. They do need some organization.
NNAMDIHow about the other end of the spectrum, the stay in shelter? If you don't -- if you're not in that situation where you have to pick up children and the time has passed when they told you to leave, then just hang around till it's all over, midnight, 2 o'clock in the next morning or maybe daylight the next day.
SHERWOODYeah. But -- yeah, you never know what you're going to do -- they were calling this for a couple of last years shelter in place.
SHERWOODBut they decided that sounded like too -- like you're stuck. And so, now, they're just trying to tell people stay put.
SHERWOODSo they want you to stay put. Well, people don't want to stay put when their families and their own livelihood are at stake.
NNAMDIWell, of course, if they allow us to move beds and other facilities into the office to make it a little more comfortable and convenient, we might want to comply with that.
SHERWOODWell, as long as the -- maybe the bar in the lobby could stay open or something. No, but, you know, it really do -- it is a matter of getting people home to their families. In times of crisis, people want to go to their families, and they -- there does need to be better regional coordination. This office of personnel plan is not the end all, be all, what's going to happen.
NNAMDII guarantee you we'll be hearing more about this later. Last week, we talked with former Congressman Tom Davis, a prominent local Republican, about how your party -- about how the Democratic Party in Virginia is hanging by a thread to the one arm of Virginia's government left under its control, the Virginia Senate. Joining us now by telephone is Brian Moran. He is the chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.
NNAMDIHe's a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates, whose district included parts of Alexandria. He joins us by telephone. Brian Moran, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. BRIAN MORANGood afternoon, Kojo. Great to be with you. Thanks for the attention you're paying to these races.
NNAMDIThe Republicans, frankly, seem to like their chances of grabbing the mere handful of seats they need to take the Virginia Senate away from you. It's just going to take two seats. How do you see it?
MORANWe're confident we will maintain control in the state Senate because the alternative is an extreme right turn for Virginia politics. Frankly, it will probably result in a U-turn in all the progress we've made in Virginia. We have made critical investments in public education and higher education. I just -- I'm at the campus of University of Virginia this afternoon rallying with college Democrats because they understand the importance of these elections for their future and Virginia.
MORANAnd so we feel confident. We have great candidates, and they have the resources to run strong campaigns. So we really feel confident we'll be able to win next Tuesday.
SHERWOODBrian Moran, Tom Sherwood, nice to talk with you.
SHERWOODThat's a beautiful campus. It's nice to be there. But what Senate race is in that area that you're trying to bolster by your presence there? What's...
MORANSure. This is the -- Edd Houck, a longtime member of the state Senate, serves on the Senate finance committee. Actually, his day job is in education, public education. He's a strong candidate. And we are rallying the college Dems here on behalf of Edd. I just drove -- for all your listeners, Kojo, I encourage them to take a drive through the Virginia Piedmont this weekend, take a deep breath, not worry about their 401 (k) s or debt and taxes.
MORANIt's a beautiful drive from Gordonsville through Chancellorsville, out here to Charlottesville and just want to take a minute to do a little Chamber of Commerce plug for the Commonwealth of Virginia. It's a lovely drive.
SHERWOODAre the leaves at peak -- is it the peak season for leaves or the leaves -- are they on the ground yet? What is the status? You know, I haven't been...
MORANOh, it's -- the foliage is lovely. It's just a beautiful part of the country and beautiful part of Virginia. And it makes you -- you know, the environment is very important, the preservation, land preservation, something Tim Kaine fought for while he was governor, and it, you know, reinforces why we do the things we do with respect to making sure our candidates get elected to preserve our environment and invest in education and make sure Virginia is the type of place you want to live and work and raise a family.
NNAMDIIf you have questions for Brian Moran, chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party, about how the Democrats are likely to fare in the upcoming elections or anything else, you can call us at 800-433-8850. That's 800-433-8850. Or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tom?
SHERWOODI know you don't like to do this with people -- who is the opponent of Sen. Houck?
SHERWOODI just will say, I want to see if your lips can form the name.
MORANA fellow by the name of Reeves.
SHERWOODIs there anything particular we should know -- since you're the Democrat and you obviously -- you think your incumbent is the person to keep, why is the person who's challenging him not the person?
MORANWell, I don't care to...
SHERWOODWhat do the negative ads say? Let's be clear. What do the negative ads say?
MORANOh, you know, they're -- really, what's happening, Tom and Kojo, in Virginia this year, a lot of the Republicans are running national campaigns. They're talking about national issues. They're -- and, frankly, I think that's a disservice to Virginia voters. There's important issues in Virginia, balancing our budget and investing in transportation and -- particularly important to us in Northern Virginia.
MORANAnd so we're really encouraging these candidates to start talking about local issues and what they'll do for the Commonwealth of Virginia rather than talking about national issues. In fact, a candidate in Northern Virginia, a Republican, just last night, compared the president's health care package to the war in Iraq. You know, in that race, we have a candidate by the name of George Barker. He's a terrific legislator. And the veneer is starting to come off some of these Republican candidates that, you know, they're running on national issues.
MORANThey're running very partisan campaigns, and they know very little, actually, about how -- Virginia doesn't operate...
NNAMDIBut even though they may be running on national issues, Gov. Bob McDonnell often mentioned, as a possible vice presidential candidate, nevertheless, seems to poll very well throughout the state of Virginia. According to a Christopher Newport University/Richmond Times-Dispatch poll, he has a 69.6 percent approval of his job performance. What issues, what arguments do you look to in order to build a case for what he and his party are doing in Virginia or for Virginia?
MORANWell, it will be interesting to see how these elections turn out, Kojo, because Bob actually needs to be careful of what he asks for because he's certainly campaigning and investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in some of these state Senate candidates. And, frankly, if, somehow, the Senate does go Republican, there's going to be some extreme legislation going to his desk for him to sign. He's been able to appear moderate on some issues because he's had the check of the -- the check and the balance of the state Senate of Virginia, which is currently in Democratic hands.
MORANAnd if the likes of Dick Black whose sole motivation for running is to outlaw abortion and overturn Roe v. Wade, those types of bills will reach the governor's desk, and you're going to have Gov. McDonnell, who may talk a moderate game. But it'll be interesting to see what position that places him in.
SHERWOODMr. Moran, of course, is a Democratic Party chairman. But other people have said the same thing, you know, Jeff Schapiro in -- Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter, was saying that, you know, McDonnell could end up winning the Senate with the Republicans but losing the battle 'cause it will force a lot of conservative issues on his plate, just as he's trying to raise his national profile.
MORANWell, at least -- yeah, I think that's the concern we have, you know. Also, the governor proposed $700 million on cuts in public education. The Senate of Virginia stopped that. The Democrats stopped that. And so those sorts of cuts to public education will become a reality if the Republicans somehow are able to capture the Senate, and so...
SHERWOODNow, let's do the math. You've got 40 senators, and the Democrats have, what, a two-person majority. What is the majority?
MORANIt's 22-18 right now. Democrats are...
MORAN...of course, the majority, and I'll also be campaigning this afternoon in Lynchburg, where there's an open seat. And we have a real opportunity to pick up a seat. So we're actually confident we'll not only maintain the majority, but we'll actually have an opportunity to pick up a couple of seats. There's another race in your listening area in Loudoun, where we have a candidate by the name of Shawn Mitchell, successful small businessman.
MORANHe's running against Dick Black, who does represent a very divisive right wing agenda that doesn't help the citizens of Loudoun put -- you know, fix their transportation problems or attract smart economic development in that area.
NNAMDIOur guest is Brian Moran. He is chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party. He joins us by telephone. He's a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates whose district included parts of Alexandria. Our resident analyst is Tom Sherwood. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Brian Moran, Tom Davis said last week that if Republicans do get control of both chambers in Richmond and the governor's mansion, that we will likely see a transportation plan finally come out of the place.
NNAMDIIs it worth it for Democrats to work with Republicans on that?
MORANWell, first, I was very skeptical that we'd see a transportation plan that actually does any transportation. It may be one that will subtract funds from mass transit in Metro. I'm not sure what the transportation plan would be 'cause they have fought us every step of the way for the decade while I served in the legislation, when we tried to improve transportation and relieve traffic congestion, particularly in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads.
MORANSo, one, I would disagree with my friend Tom Davis, but I'm not sure that they refuse to talk about any additional revenue. And so I really am at a loss to think of how they would try to help transportation and relieve our traffic (unintelligible).
NNAMDIHere is Richard in Woodbridge, Va. Richard, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICHARDYeah, Kojo, thank you, and also, Mr. Moran, thank you, all the Democrats, what you guys are doing. I've already voted already. And what I'm -- Bob McDonnell is trying to, you know, make himself look good on the national level, but, actually, not helping the homeowners that are losing their houses in Prince William, and also the people that when they have the floods, you know, he is not helping them.
RICHARDAnd not only that, so many things that the Republicans are doing to cut education to, you know, basically become like (word?), you know, poor in education and so many things. So, you know...
NNAMDISo, Richard, you are calling to underscore your support for the Democratic candidates?
RICHARDYes. And I have voted already.
NNAMDIHere's Tom Sherwood. I think he has a question.
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Moran, this gentleman says he's already voted. I think it's either today or tomorrow is the last day you can vote in person as an absentee ballot. Was there any effort…
SHERWOODWell, at the end of the...
MORANTomorrow in person absentee. That's correct.
SHERWOODWas there any -- in past elections, there have been efforts to run up the vote totals by getting people to go vote in advance in some early voting states. Is there any effort in these campaigns to have early voting done by people voting the absentee, like this gentleman did?
MORANWe get many -- yes, absentee voting, particularly in the Northern Virginia suburbs, we've really emphasized over the last several elections because, as you well know, any traffic congestion in Northern Virginia, a storm of any sort, people won't make it home in time to vote. So we've really encouraged absentee voting. Virginia still, however, requires an excuse. You can't just absentee with no excuse. You have to be out of town. There has to be a legitimate reason that you're not going to be able to vote on Tuesday probably.
SHERWOODYou can always say you're stuck in traffic, and that would be true most any time.
SHERWOODYou know, now, last Sunday -- and that last Sunday, I ventured into...
MORANI know. If you live in Woodbridge, like Richard does, you're probably not going to get home by seven o'clock if you work in the District of Columbia. But I thank Richard for voting, and I think he makes a very valid point with respect to public education. We -- we've -- you know, it's critical for our economy to make the necessary investments in education. It not only helps your workforce, but it also attracts new businesses and jobs to the commonwealth, which is so vitally important and certainly for these young kids here at UVA and all across Virginia.
MORANLast week, we were at William & Mary with college Democrats. They're excited. They're certainly excited about next year. But they recognize this year on Tuesday, Nov. 8, that their future is at stake as well, and particularly...
SHERWOODWell, Mr. Moran, let me -- on that point of excitement, I was in Virginia. I actually drove around in Alexandria. I wasn't lost. I actually, on purpose, went to Alexandria and to Rowe and some other places in Northern Virginia. I was -- I saw some (unintelligible) on. I was taken -- I was surprised by the absence of campaign signs on street ways and corners. Usually, I always see this blizzard of signs.
SHERWOODI didn't know if the laws had changed about what the limits are or simply there was less dependence upon those types of signs. I was really struck by the absence of them. Is there some change there that we should know about?
MORANNo. I have a very large billboard in front of my house on Duke Street. So I don't know. I see it every morning and evening, leave and come back from work. But I know the signs are out, and a lot of folks have challenges with signs. But, you know, they do remind people there's an election, and, certainly for campaigns, it's important to get the name (word?) out because so many people are focused on next year's election.
MORANYou know, this one is critically important to the future of the commonwealth. Whether it will be transportation, public safety, education, economic development, job creation, this is indeed critically important. And we're trying to do everything we can to bring, you know, to educate people about the candidates as well as to make sure they vote by -- vote on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
SHERWOODLet me ask you a question. We focus mainly on the Senate where the race is very tight. You're trying to maintain control. Of course, you're the minority party in the 100-member House. What are your expectations? What's the division now? What's your expectation Tuesday?
MORANYeah. It's, you know...
SHERWOODAnd be honest. You're in Virginia, you know, under oath.
MORANWell, it's a -- we only have 39 Democrats out of 100 members of the House of Delegates right now, so...
SHERWOODAnd on Tuesday, what do you think you might have?
MORANWell, we're hoping to maintain at least 39, if not pick up some seats. We have some really strong candidates running. The challenge we have, Tom, is that these districts were drawn by the Republican majority. So it's very -- they're very difficult, you know, frankly, to pick these seats up because they are -- do have -- historically voted for a Republican candidate. And so we're focusing on the House as well.
MORANWe're supporting House candidates as hard as we can, but the Senate being the only check right now on a Republican complete control of the gears of government has been our primary focus, to maintain that majority.
NNAMDIHere is Annabelle.
MORANThere's also some very important local races as well that Fairfax County -- and we have board of supervisor's races in Prince William and Loudoun as well. So there's a lot of local races at stake as well.
NNAMDIHere is Annabelle in Alexandria, Va. Annabelle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNABELLEHi there, Brian. How are you? I don't know...
MORANFine. Good afternoon, Annabelle.
ANNABELLEDrove down Duke Street, and I didn't see any sign out there for you. But, at any rate -- now, I'm not going to ask (unintelligible) candidates push for rent control. My question is with many of the Democratic folks who are running for office, they have stated publicly, and I think Barker is one of them, that they don't really want to align themselves at this time with the president, with President Obama.
ANNABELLEI can't remember the other person further down in southern part of the state (unintelligible) or Hampton Roads or whatever. How do you feel about that? What impact is that going to have in the election? And as far as turnout goes, well, I can't predict that. I'm an independent voter. I wonder -- I wanted to ask you that question.
NNAMDIOkay. Here is Brian Moran, Annabelle.
MORANThat's a good question. When the president came to Virginia, I actually went to Emporia -- and to Virginia because I had heard those reports. And I would certainly want to show my support in there. I was joined by a number of legislators and local officials. So, you know, I think what has occurred is that our candidates are running on issues and their experience that would -- in running against their opponents and their opponents is attempting to nationalize these elections.
MORANThis isn't about Barack Obama. This is about the future of Virginia. This is about balancing our budget and making investments in education and in making sure we can attract employers to Northern Virginia and the rest of the commonwealth. So, I think, it's more a result that Republicans are trying to run a national campaign, and our candidates are saying, wait a minute. I'm George Barker. I've been working on health care issues and education and economic development.
MORANAnd so, I think, that's been a function more of the type of campaigns that have been around. I'm confident our candidates have been able to pierce that sort of nationalization of these races.
NNAMDIAnnabelle, thank you for your call. Brian Moran, you've been on the job for a little less than a year now. A few weeks ago, The Washington Post reported that there was some grumbling from your fellow Democrats, that you've been too quiet, that you haven't been putting yourself out there enough, so to speak. How would you respond to those concerns?
MORANI guess I'm just quizzical. I mean, I don't think I've been ever been accused of being soft on Republicans nor vocal. I'm happy to talk to anybody who's willing to listen and certainly enjoy being on your show this afternoon. And I'm out here in Charlottesville today, and we'll be down in the great southwest tomorrow. And we've been canvassing in Virginia over the last several months, and we're going to do that right up until the polls closed on Nov. 8. This is important.
MORANI really feel very passionate about the issues in Virginia. I live here. I'm raising my kids here. My kids go to public school. It's imperative we invest in public education and make sure we have teachers in the classroom that are qualified. And I'm a regular commuter. I commute. So...
SHERWOODEverybody in Virginia commutes. Did president -- former President Clinton raise some money for the Democrats? I saw some Fairfax County Republican email that he raised a lot of money for you guys, so they were urging the Republicans to try to match it in the closing days.
MORANWell, I don't know about the matching. They don't have to match it if they don't want to. They have plenty of money. The -- President Clinton was very kind to come to Virginia and help us, and we're very appreciative of his support, that he did that.
SHERWOODIn Senate District 39, we just mentioned that briefly, you've got one candidate, Miller Barker, and then you got the other -- see, I made a mistake. It's Miller Baker and George Barker.
NNAMDIWe talked about that before.
SHERWOODYeah. That just...
SHERWOODAre there any other confusing races in the Northern Virginia area that we ought to clarify? Watch the names when you go in to vote.
MORANWell, we have George Barker, Edd Houck. We have Barbara Favola in the Senate. That's a good race. Toddy Puller. So I'm just going to give you the Democratic names, Tom. I'm not...
SHERWOODAll right, well...
NNAMDIWhy are we not surprised?
SHERWOODYou know, I'm just trying to, you know -- I think, Tom Davis, when he was here, he was very bipartisan. He would mention all the names as was necessary. But, what about yourself, are you going to be in any future campaigns? Or is that just open...
NNAMDIA lot of big jobs opening up in Virginia in 2013.
MORANI'm chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, so I...
SHERWOODYeah, but you don't have to take an oath for that job.
MORANI know. I don't get it. I don't get paid either for the job, but I do still feel very passionate about these -- about the future of Virginia. And I just think we're in much better hands with Democrats in control of the state Senate. The -- you know, and they've been able to run in the sensible center because of the extreme natures of several of these Republican candidates. And I think that's where Virginia is, where, you know, we voted with President Obama in '08.
MORANWe voted for a Republican governor. I mean, there are a lot of Virginians are very discriminatory about their candidates. They look at the individual, and we've very much been a moderate and moderately governed commonwealth. And I think the -- a majority of the state Senate in Democratic hands will provide that necessary balance to the governor and Gen. Cuccinelli and allow Virginia to continue to prosper.
NNAMDIBrian Moran, thank you very much for joining us. Good luck to you.
MORANMy pleasure, Kojo. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIBrian Moran is the chairman is the Virginia Democratic Party, former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Tom Sherwood, we'll be talking shortly with Thomas Graham of Pepco. But first, I wanted to make a note about the passing of Jim Murray at 85 years old. Jim Murray, who was a top civilian official in the D.C. police department, he was recruited by police chief Jerry Wilson back in 1969 out of the D.C. sanitation department's personnel office.
NNAMDIIt was a year after the King assassination. Racial tensions were at their peak in the District and in the nations. Two presidents had made a national issue of the District's surging crime rate. Local leaders recognized that one way to diffuse tensions would be to make the police department more representative of the city's population. Jim Murray, according to former chief Isaac Fulwood, tried to get the department into the future, and Fulwood, of course, was one of the few African-American officers at the time. He later became police chief.
NNAMDIIt was the southern department, Fulwood said, Jim Murray was one of those people who were saying, you must change. Jim Murray passed this past week at 85 years old.
SHERWOODYes, he did. He did a wonderful thing and probably worked so hard he had to go become a priest after the hard work he did.
NNAMDIYes, he sure did.
SHERWOODBut, you know, there were -- when the city was first getting (word?) and all that, there are a lot of people who not only didn't want African-Americans to be in charge, they weren't totally interested in having African-Americans on the police force or any place else. So it was a major cultural change, and Jim Murray deserves a great credit for that. It was -- if you look on The Washington Post website, maybe you can see a very nicely done obituary by Emily Langer.
NNAMDIAnd Council Chairman Kwame Brown said he's won assurances from Congressman Darrell Issa, California Republican, that the House will not move forward with the proposal to require criminal background checks on new city hires. Issa had introduced a bill that would require the checks of city's accepted service positions. However, in exchange for Brown pledging to move forward with a council proposal along those lines, Issa has agreed to withdraw his proposal.
SHERWOODWell, that was very nice of the congressman from California to -- but the one thing that Chairman Brown didn't tell people in his press release is that he not only promised that the council itself would move the legislation, he said he would do it within 60 days before the end of this calendar year. So again, it's a congressional interference of the city's legislative calendar, but, you know, we'll see how the legislation goes. I'm sure there will be no problem. I think Muriel Bowser will hold a hearing in the middle of November or very soon on this legislation, and it'll become law because the Congress wants it.
NNAMDIJoining us now in studio is Thomas Graham. He is the regional president of Pepco. Thomas Graham, good to you see. Thank you for joining us.
MR. THOMAS GRAHAMMy pleasure to be here.
SHERWOODAll dressed up today.
NNAMDIAll dressed up and no place to go 'cause he's staying right here.
NNAMDIHelp me with some math here.
NNAMDICorporations, it is my understanding, are supposed to pay 35 percent of the profits in taxes. Pepco Holdings made $229 million in pre-tax profits last year, and, according to a report by the nonprofit Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, $229 million in pre-tax profits. But Pepco turned around and claimed $270 million in federal tax credits. In other words, instead of paying 35 percent on that $229 million, Pepco ended up with a minus 118 percent tax rate. How do you do that? How does that happen?
GRAHAMWell, first of all, thank you for the opportunity to be here. Second, PHI paid $1.2 billion in taxes.
SHERWOODJust say what, PH -- Pepco Holdings?
NNAMDIPepco Holdings, Incorporated.
GRAHAMPepco Holdings Incorporated. So that consists of Pepco, Atlantic City Electric, Delmarva Power and Pepco Energy Services. So we did pay taxes, $1.2 billion. What we do is we take advantage of tax law changes that took place in 2008 and 2010 time period, which was a way for the government to encourage investments. And during that very same period of time, we invested about $2 billion in the infrastructure.
GRAHAMAnd as a result of that, our customers benefit by the additional investment, but through that tax law change, there was an accelerate depreciation that's called bonus depreciation. For -- so for that $2 billion investment, we received accelerated depreciation for about 50 percent of that.
NNAMDILet me talk about -- ask about accelerated depreciation for a second because accelerated depreciation, it is my understanding, is where you're allowed to write off your capital investments faster than they actually wear out, and then deduct from your taxable income the falling value of these investments. Why, pray tell, are you allowed to write off your capital investments faster than they're actually wearing out?
GRAHAMThat'd actually be a question for the IRS, but I would say that the intent was increased investment. It was also during the -- a period of time where the economy was on the downturn. So one of the things that a utility is, it's a tremendous economic driver. We create jobs. We make investments. We keep things moving.
GRAHAMSo we did take -- and we did take advantage of it. But, Kojo, I would say, it's no different than as a taxpayer. And if you're a homeowner and you have mortgage interest, do you take advantage of the mortgage interest on your taxes? Or if you're interested in...
NNAMDIWhy are you picking on me?
SHERWOODOr if somebody donates to a public radio station, is that a tax deduction? But you're saying you follow the laws and...
GRAHAMWe follow the law.
SHERWOOD...and, if do invest the money, then you can write off the capital gains. But do you get to write off all those ads? I told Bob Hainey, your press person, I was going to ask this. I don't know if he whispered it in your ear.
SHERWOODThe number of ads I've heard about cutting down trees, and I've seen it on TV where more than -- you know, connecting you more than power lines and all that, do you -- is there a publicity budget you can tell me how much you guys have spent? 'Cause I know you had a bad last year, and you're trying to let people know you're doing good work. So I'm not criticizing the ads. I'm just wondering. How much are you guys generally spending for that, a barrage of ad campaigns, for which all the radio and TV stations say thank you?
GRAHAMWe don't actually have any cutting-down-the-tree ad campaigns going on right now, but we do have a lot...
SHERWOODYou did have some very recently about we've cut down trees, how many trees, limbs trimmed.
GRAHAMNo. We do talk about...
SHERWOODNot cutting down trees. Cutting limbs, you know?
NNAMDII have numbers...
SHERWOODWell, I don't want any environmentalists calling. (unintelligible) Limbs not trees.
GRAHAMNo. You're not taking me down that road.
NNAMDII've got numbers on that. But go ahead.
SHERWOODYeah, but it's limbs, not trees. I made the mistake. I didn't mean they cut down trees. They do limbs that get in the way of the power lines.
SHERWOODWell, is there a budget...
SHERWOODIs it a couple million dollar ad campaign? Is it...
SHERWOODJust a ballpark figure, I'll take, not a precise figure.
GRAHAMRight. Well, none of that is funded by ratepayers. That's all out of our pocket, and that information is proprietary.
SHERWOODOh, do you -- proprietary means you can and I'd tell on you.
NNAMDIOh, I was about to ask another question before I heard that word, that information is proprietary. Why can you not divulge that information?
GRAHAMIt's contracts that we have with the existing bodies throughout the region, and we just choose not to share that information.
SHERWOODWell, can I find it, digging through your filings that you all -- the filings you have to do?
GRAHAMI'm not sure it'd be in the filings because, again, it's not paid by ratepayers.
NNAMDIThomas Graham is the regional president of Pepco. He joins us in studio. If you have questions or comments for Tom Graham, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com. You can send a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversations there. From a public relations perspective, one might have been led to believe that the past couple of years were pretty rough on Pepco, the massive outages during storms, the reports about the company's reliability.
NNAMDIBut what would you say to the person who looks at the story about that negative tax rate that I mentioned earlier and says, looks like the past couple years have actually gone pretty well for Pepco?
GRAHAMWell, let's talk about...
NNAMDIStarting from an investor standpoint.
GRAHAMLet's talk about reliability. So reliability -- we'll go back to 2010. 2010 was very challenging for us. There are things that we have to take responsibility for, and we do. We're moving forward now. We've been very aggressive over the last year with an advancement of a reliability plan and also a number of process improvements. And I think our customers are starting to see the difference. Our first test for that was during Hurricane Irene. We did a very good job in terms of preparation.
GRAHAMThat's some of the feedback we received from our customers. You know, over the last year, we've trimmed about 2,300 miles of tree lines. By the end of the year, it will be at about 3,000 miles. We renewed or replaced cable in about 230 miles. And by the end of the year, we should be around 300 miles of cable. We've been very aggressive with respect to implementing AMI, advanced meter structure, so there's infrastructure, so there's a lot of smart meters that are going in right now.
GRAHAMAnd they're -- but they're in a process of improvements. As I said earlier, we're a great economic driver. So what have we done, we've been -- we've increased the number of customer service representatives. That's gone from 40 to 80. We've increased the number of phone lines that have been available for customers. That's gone from 300 to 644. We've increased the number of contractors that we brought in, and that's gone from about 120 to over 300. We increased the number of tree trimmers from 150 to 350.
GRAHAMWe have new techniques with respect to communication. Our customer is going to report outages now using apps. We have about 6,000 customers, either BlackBerry, iPhone or the Droid format, that can report an outage on an app. During the last event, over 21,000 customers either took advantage of an app or other services we provided to report an outage on the Internet. So we've been very, very busy over the last year, trying to improve the quality of service for our customers, trying to improve the quality of communications with our customers as well.
SHERWOODWhat about the concern you have as kind of a catch-22, in some respects, of rising expectations? After all the criticisms and the announcement of the sustained plan over many years to do all these things...
NNAMDIAnd after hearing all of those statistics, my expectations are now very high.
SHERWOODThat's right. You listen to that, and someone who's sitting at home is very excited that, okay, maybe Pepco is going to be on the job. And, of course, if his or her power goes out, all that doesn't matter, right?
GRAHAMWell, I understand.
SHERWOODSo are you concerned at all that there's -- 'cause we're going into winter. It's going to be an expected, kind of routine winter for the region, that you are prepared. But would you be prepared when, you know, we have some outages that you just couldn't get to fast enough, and that's what the news media focuses on?
GRAHAMYou know, we're a -- one thing we can't do, we can't control the weather. But, certainly, all the process improvements that we've been working on over the last year, all the effort that we've put forth in the infrastructure, improving infrastructure, putting on new technology in the infrastructure, we believe those things will pay off. But the test will be, you know, when an event takes place. But it is a -- and it's a five-year plan that we implemented. In Maryland, we've committed $256 million, in the District of Columbia, about $318 million.
SHERWOODA five-year plan, and this is just -- we're in this -- ending, like, the second year now or what?
GRAHAMNo, this is year one.
GRAHAMThis is really our one year anniversary. We pushed it as hard as we possibly can. There are so many resources on the system right now, you know, working every day to improve system reliability. But it is a marathon. It's not a sprint. And some of the things we talk about -- you know, I understand, you know, increasing expectations, but the truth is we respond to events that take place.
GRAHAMIf we're hit very hard by a storm and we have considerable tree damage again, you know, we'll restore service as quickly, as safely as possible. But those process improvements and the work we've been able to accomplish over the last year certainly will help.
SHERWOOD(unintelligible) Matter of fact, quickly, the freak storm that came through this last weekend kind of missed this area but caused havoc Northeast.
GRAHAMIt did, yeah.
SHERWOODAnd there are people who are still without power, apparently. That's...
GRAHAMIt was hit very hard in the Jersey area, Pennsylvania area and further North. Massachusetts, I think, they had about 27 inches of snow. And what we're able to do -- because it was not an event for us, we were able to provide other utilities with resources. So we sent about 500 crews up North, and they've been going on for a week now. So you can imagine going away from your family, working 16 hours a day, being in an area that's unfamiliar, you know, it's a little bit challenging.
SHERWOODAnd people are complaining that the power is not back on 'cause that's what happens in these situations.
GRAHAMThat's what happens. So, you know, much of what we experienced last year, I'm sure those utilities are experiencing this year. But certainly, I can appreciate the frustration of the customers for being out of service that long.
NNAMDIHere is Herbert in Washington, D.C. Herbert, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MR. HERBERT HARRISThank you, Kojo, for taking my call. Mr. Graham, good afternoon. Herbert Harris with the D.C. Consumer Utility Board.
GRAHAMGood afternoon, sir.
HARRISAnd I'm calling 'cause I'm encouraged by your rosy depiction of your performance. And I'm glad that after the first of five -- this five-year plan has been a success. But I guess the question that most D.C. customers are questioning is, where have you been the last 10 years leading to Pepco being rated the worst -- one of the worst corporations in America by Business Insider magazine?
HARRISOne. And, two, why is the company so (word?) opposing the nomination of Elizabeth Noel to the Public Service Commission, especially based on her stellar performance as a consumer advocate and a person that even worked with the corporation on a number of opportunities and situations...
NNAMDIFor our listeners who may not know who Elizabeth Noel is, she is the former people's counsel of the District of Columbia, and Mayor Gray has proposed her as the -- as a member of the Public Service Commission which oversees utilities and Pepco. Not to mention the Washington editorial page has voiced objections to Elizabeth Noel's...
SHERWOODAnd Councilmember Yvette Alexander has not yet moved that nomination.
NNAMDINow your turn, Thomas Graham.
GRAHAMOkay. Herb, thanks for the question. I will start with your first one. For the record, we have met the standards for the District of Columbia with respect to reliability. As I mentioned earlier, you know, there's certainly an additional investment that was needed. We've made that additional investment. We'll continue to make those investments to meet -- to better meet our customers' expectations.
GRAHAMWith regard to Ms. Noel, no one has questioned the qualifications of Ms. Noel. She's committed 30 years of service. For 18 of those years, she was the people's counsel. What has been brought to question is her ability to serve because she has been party, substantially and personally involved in so many pending cases that are before the Public Service Commission now. She would have to recuse herself from the number -- a number of cases.
GRAHAMThe majority of those cases, I believe, some of the data that we've looked at would be about 85 percent of the cases. So, you know, the question is, do we want to -- does the mayor want to bring someone, and does an additional person want to be added to the commission, that can only work part-time and for a position that pays $146,000 and so critical to the operation for the utilities that are regulated?
GRAHAMWould that be -- would that hamper also the ability for the commission to operate properly? The commission only consists of three commissioners right now. If there is one commissioner that would continually have to recruit -- or recuse themselves from issues that they substantially participated in previously, does that bring the commission to a grinding halt? And that is the concern. No one has ever questioned the qualifications. It's the ability to perform.
SHERWOODWell, she would -- since she's not here, she would say that there are not that many cases that are pending that would affect her ability to judge. She says it's only a handful. So -- but that's a dispute. I don't know who resolves that dispute.
SHERWOODBut who -- the Public Service Commission is a very powerful commission in town. Who are the members? Is it -- is Betty Ann Kane the chair?
GRAHAMShe's the chair.
NNAMDIBetty Ann Kane is a former at-large D.C. councilmember.
SHERWOODRight. And who -- I'm sorry. Who's...
GRAHAMLori Murphy Lee.
SHERWOODLori Murphy Lee. Okay.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call, Herbert. We move on to Steve in Germantown, Md. Steve, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVEHello, Kojo. Good show as usual. I was wondering, whenever I hear, you know, about companies, especially a regulator one, I always wonder how much of -- you know, is the total cost influence are paid effectively to government? So, say, in a year, let's say, I have $1,000 in utility bills, how much of that, as a percentage, is taxes, and how much of that is effectively a pass-through for complying with those regulations? Is that closer to 1 percent, 10 percent, 30 percent?
NNAMDII am not sure I understand the question. Let me see if Tom Graham does.
GRAHAMTo some degree, I don't know the exact percentages, but, you know, if you were to break down a bill, right now we have divested our generating assets. So we provide a service, SOS, standard offer service. We go to the open market, and we purchase the commodity for our customers. That represents about -- it's over 70 percent of a bill.
SHERWOODThe cost of the -- just the bare cost of the -- of power itself.
GRAHAMYes, because that's on the open market, something that we can't control. So the distribution piece, the remainder of that is a combination of distribution, taxes and things of that nature. The distribution piece is maybe around 16 percent. And so the remainder of that would account for taxes and maybe the transmission side.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIWe move on to George in Clinton, Md. George, your turn.
GEORGEHey. How are you doing, Kojo? Tommy Graham, I haven't talked to you since tots and teens day.
NNAMDIGlad we could bring you together.
SHERWOODWhen you were both tots and teens or when you had children in Tots & Teens?
GEORGEAnd I got to tell you, my man...
GRAHAMSo now you expose me as Tommy now, okay.
GEORGEI guess I can call you by your first name, Tommy. Hey, look, my man, I got to tell you. I'm so disappointed, man. Our electricity out here in Clinton goes out if you just breathe too hard outside.
GEORGETwo weeks ago -- three weeks ago, man, it was a beautiful day, no rain, no snow, sunny outside, no electricity, you know? I mean, it just boggles the mind.
NNAMDIWhat reason will you give him for that cut in service, George?
GEORGEI wasn't giving any reason. Well, I called in, but there was no reason that was given. And it was like the neighborhood was out. And then last week, you know, again in Clinton, where the businesses were, a whole block was out. And then the weather is really bad, and it seems like your bad luck is my bad luck 'cause everywhere I go, electricity is out. And sometimes it's weather, and -- but a lot of times it's not weather. It's just out, and it's like, what's going on, man?
NNAMDIAre you aware...
GEORGEAnd then -- and another thing, is there any way you can put meters on a residence so we could see how much we're spending from one day to the next? Is that possible?
NNAMDII just got a smart meter put on my own house, but, Tom, go ahead.
SHERWOODDo you know how to read it? Are you smart enough to read it?
NNAMDII'll take the fifth on that one.
GRAHAMSo one thing I would say is I'd ask you to stay on the line, and I'm going to get your phone number and your address, and I can see exactly what's taking place. But in Maryland, we -- as I mentioned earlier, we have a reliability plan that we launched last year. It's additional $90 million investment in Maryland. We are executing that. We're going to continue to execute that till the quality of service improves.
GRAHAMSo in that particular part of town, I'm not familiar with a particular issue that's taking place. Now, with respect to is there a meter that you can put in, that you can read, we are on the verge of launching one of the largest projects in the country. We want to be a leader in that area, in advanced meter infrastructure. So in the District of Columbia, we are getting in -- at the final stage of installing 280,000 smart meters. In Maryland, we've just started that process. And let me just close out. In D.C., we'll finish at the end of this year.
SHERWOODWhat is a smart meter, though?
NNAMDII got an email from Stacy about that.
NNAMDI"I have great praise for Pepco now," says Stacy. "Having been a D.C. resident on and off for the past 14 years, I appreciate that they have had less than a stellar precedence -- presence here. But I'm not one to hold on to the past, especially since they've made great efforts and strides in the most recent year. My question for Mr. Graham is, do the smart meters eliminate jobs? If so, how many? Were those people able to find alternate positions, or were they let go?"
GRAHAMOkay. I'll just finish off in Maryland. Maryland, we have about 34,000 of these smart meters that are installed. Altogether, it'll be around 550,000. So we'll finish...
NNAMDIWhat does a smart meter do?
GRAHAMThe smart meters, at this stage, it's essentially a meter change-out. So we're putting in a more technology -- technologically advanced meter that will ultimately enable customers to do many things. One of those benefits will be outage detection. So, essentially, you could ping the system during a major event. And I could tell you -- if you're out of service. I don't need you to call in to tell me.
GRAHAMNow, we did use this technology in our Delaware territory during Irene. And what it was able to do is about -- able to save is about 600 truck rolls to customers who we weren't sure if they were out of service.
NNAMDIAre they causing jobs to be eliminated?
GRAHAMYou know, there's retraining that'll take place over time, so we're retraining our workforce. But we have vendors that are doing that installation right now.
SHERWOODAnd there would be remote reading of the meter, like a...
GRAHAMYou can remote read it.
SHERWOODYou have one person drive along in a car...
GRAHAMAnd you can...
SHERWOOD...and read the meter without going up to look at it.
GRAHAMAnd you can read it on the Internet, so you can tell what your usage is. So that's going to be of great value to our customers.
NNAMDII just got a note passed to me. "Is there a raise in the works for one Bob Hainey?" Do you know?
SHERWOODHe's holding on.
NNAMDIOh. Oh, it's signed Bob Hainey.
GRAHAMShameless, shameless, shameless.
SHERWOODI saw his fingernails. He's holding on by those fingernails. He's lucky to be out there.
GRAHAMNo, I'm not aware of a -- any plan for that right now.
NNAMDIThomas Graham is the regional president of Pepco. Thank you so much for joining us.
GRAHAMSure. My pleasure.
SHERWOODAre you ready for the -- we got 20 seconds. You're ready? Well, you have less than that, five seconds.
NNAMDIFor the winter to come?
GRAHAMWe are ready, as ready as we can be.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Tom, always a pleasure.
SHERWOODHave a great weekend.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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