Maryland Senator Ben Cardin joins us to talk about the youth movement against gun violence, Russian sanctions, and more. D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh shares her thoughts on relief for high water bills and news that D.C. Public Schools is taking over an all girls charter school.
Maryland lawmakers debate a same-sex marriage proposal in Annapolis – and Gov. Martin O’Malley joins us in the studio. Meanwhile, a war of words explodes among members of the D.C. Council. 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
- Martin O'Malley Governor, Maryland (D)
Politics Hour Extra
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) said that he believes the voters in his state will ultimately get to have their say on the issue of same-sex marriage. He said that if the legislature passes it, the issue will go to the voters:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. We'll be talking very shortly with the governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley. But first, the important stuff. How was your vacation, Tom?
MR. TOM SHERWOODI had a good vacation. I took a trip up to Philadelphia for one day. I took the Amtrak. I bought the solo ticket. I sat in the quiet car where there was no one talking loud.
NNAMDIAnd where you made sure there was no one talking loud.
SHERWOODYou know what...
NNAMDII'm sure you'd have reported them if they did.
SHERWOODYou know, the conductor's look will just make you shut up.
SHERWOODBut that was...
NNAMDII love the quiet car.
SHERWOOD...it was terrific. It was just -- there was no problem. I saw Alan Greenspan on the way back.
SHERWOODHe was not in the quiet car. I would have listened to him, you know, for some stock tips.
NNAMDII'm surprised you didn't question him by virtue of him not being in the quiet car. But what you missed while you were gone, we mentioned the -- at-large Councilmember David Catania and United Medical Center...
SHERWOODI heard that, actually.
NNAMDIOh, yeah, because you were back by then.
SHERWOODI came back, but also played it to make sure I heard it all.
NNAMDIWhat was the shouting match between the councilmember, David Catania, and Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry? It simply -- it had to do with a retreat that they were having at the convention center in which, apparently, Councilmember Barry raised questions with CFO Natwar Gandhi about the United Medical Center, and Councilmember Catania didn't like it one bit.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Councilmember Catania has indicated that he is not going to put up with any foolishness, and he has a very -- a strong will and a (word?) sense about him. But on Monday -- I think it was Monday. The council, for some reason, had to have a retreat, so they went to the Washington Convention Center, which immediately made me and Mark Segraves, of TOP Radio, go right over there because they told us it'd be closed doors.
SHERWOODAnd there's nothing like a closed door, you know, to get my attention. And so they did close the doors on the first part of the meeting, but then when Nat Gandhi came to talk about city finances, I had to leave. My camera wasn't in the room, but then I did hear several people tell me later that -- just what happened. Barry asked Gandhi a question about the hospital. And Catania muttered something which created a flash where they both started cursing at each other.
SHERWOODBut Gandhi -- I mean, Catania believes Barry has done little to do anything to help that hospital, while he -- Catania has spent years trying to make it float.
NNAMDIWell, we've got to get to Gov. Martin O'Malley, but there's a slight prelude before we do that involved with music because the governor, as you know, is a member of a band. And we had hoped if he had come in studio, that he would be able to sing for us again.
SHERWOODOh, he wouldn't.
NNAMDIWhy wouldn't -- what are you going to say?
SHERWOODHe's not an a cappella singer.
SHERWOODYou have some kind of guitarist stuck in a corner.
NNAMDIHe has sung for us a cappella before. But we thought that, by way of music, we could talk a little bit about the prospect of a casino coming to National Harbor. It is what the Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker apparently wants. And when we thought about the casino and slots and gambling, we remember this from the year 2010.
SHERWOODLet the record show I did not go to Atlantic City last week.
NNAMDIDid not go to Atlantic City.
SHERWOODI went to Philadelphia.
SHERWOODThat was very nice, though, you know, we could have -- maybe we could just turn the whole state of Maryland into one betting parlor.
NNAMDIWell, let's see what the governor of Maryland thinks about that because Gov. Martin O'Malley now joins us by telephone. He's a Democrat. Gov. O'Malley, thank you so much for joining us.
GOV. MARTIN O'MALLEYKojo, Tom, thank you. And let me say that that was not my band.
SHERWOODWere they singing your tune? What about -- let's get right to, you know, that was big news.
O'MALLEYNo. They weren't singing my tune. I would hope that we could kind of resolve this issue for a while. I understand that County Executive Rushern Baker has an idea that he's proposing, and I look forward to sitting down and talking with him about that. You gentlemen may recall four years ago Prince George's County was pretty unanimous in their opposition to any slots locations being in their county.
O'MALLEYAnd so we sent a referendum, a moderate bill that had five locations. A couple of them are -- or one of them is up. Actually, two of them are up. The others are in various stages of being built and going forward. And so this is a new one on May, and I look forward to hearing from them. But I'm not one of those that peddles the notion that none of us will have to pay taxes if we just have enough gambling.
SHERWOODGovernor, I talked to Sen. Muse who's not too excited about this, but more importantly, whether he's for or against it, was that he said he was surprised by it. Did the -- did Mr. Baker in any way send you a note or message or a phone call saying he was about to make this extraordinary proposal to build a -- have a billion-dollar casino in the shores of the Potomac?
O'MALLEYOh, yes. In fact, he -- we were actually supposed to have met on the day that he announced it, but I got a little bit crunched and had to move some things around in order to work with the speaker on a bill that's now before the General Assembly. And so -- but I look forward to talking with him about it. It's not a new idea. I mean, it's one that's been percolating around here. President Miller has a tremendous amount of patience for gambling issues.
O'MALLEYAnd so it was not part of our budget. I mean, there was some that said, oh, golly, don't propose that anybody pay another penny for anything. Maybe we can do something and expand gambling. And that's not the direction which we went when proposing our budget. I do understand the county executive, you know, who operates under some different parameters and some other county executives given the sort of tax cap in Prince George's and also their need to come up with their piece of the funding for the remake of Prince George's County hospital.
O'MALLEYSo I look forward to talking with the county executive and hearing him out.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. If you'd like to join the conversation, call 800-433-8850, send us email to email@example.com, a tweet, @kojoshow, simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there.
SHERWOODGovernor, before we go on to issues that you want to talk about, this casino proposal, will this be something we would have to go through the legislature or have to be a referendum? What is the process if some people know they will have a chance to weigh in on this?
O'MALLEYYeah. I would imagine it would have to be another referendum.
NNAMDIIt's been a...
O'MALLEYThat would probably come up -- I mean, if it were passed this year, it would come up in the fall. I guess, it would come up in the fall. It's a big idea. And perhaps there's been a change of heart within his delegation. I don't know. Perhaps they're thinking that more likely that this goes on the referendum in '14. I really don't know.
SHERWOODNational Harbor needs help.
O'MALLEYBut I look forward to talking with him.
NNAMDIGov. O'Malley, it's been a big month for supporters of same-sex marriage. Washington's governor just signed a gay marriage bill into law. The New Jersey Assembly just sent a bill to the governor's desk there. And in Maryland, where you're supporting a bill, lawmakers seem to be in the final stages of their debate. But at this point, they seem to be running into some stumbling blocks. Where are you still looking for votes? What is it going to take for a bill to get to your desk in Annapolis?
O'MALLEYWell, this is all coming to decision time shortly. I do believe we have more support this year certainly than we had last year. And lots of times, people make their final decisions at the deadline. So I'm hopeful enough, optimistic that the House of Delegates will join the Senate and join other states that have found a way to protect religious freedom and the rights of individuals equally. And that's why I can't be with you guys in studio today. I just had to stay close to Annapolis.
NNAMDIYeah. Whose arms are you twisting today?
O'MALLEYPeople -- I'm sure people have all sorts of visions of torture chambers and -- but it's really -- this is not an issue that's new here. We've all been talking about it. It's one that's been about that there's been a tremendous amount of discussion and heart searching and wrenching about within the Democratic caucus. And it's a tough one for a lot of people and with -- hopefully, with understanding and concern and care and a reliance on those issue -- on those values that unite us, like our belief in the dignity of every individual.
O'MALLEYWe will find a way forward. We've had a couple of Republican delegates who stepped forward. Hopefully, we might even get a couple more, and that's -- those are all of the things that we're working on. And having conversations that, frankly, are -- for the most part, have been at a pretty high and respectful level of discourse.
SHERWOODJust before coming up here, I last checked in Annapolis the House was supposed to meet -- the House of Delegates was supposed to meet at 12:30. Was that still the agenda today? Was that -- had been pushed back from yesterday to the afternoon to the evening and then today to 12:30? Is it still on for minutes from now?
O'MALLEYI believe so. We had a glitch yesterday. And our hearts and prayers go out to Delegate Veronica Turner, who unexpectedly had to undergo emergency surgery at Anne Arundel. And she and her husband are both taking care of her health, as they need to right now. And we hope and trust that she'll come through this. But that was an unanticipated wrinkle that happened yesterday, and so we continue to talk and work and forge the consensus necessary to move forward.
O'MALLEYThere's been -- on all of these issues, and through our history, there's usually an interchange between the courts and the ballot box and the legislative process. But the arch of history always moves in the direction of greater respect for the equality of every individual and for the rights and the equal rights of individuals.
SHERWOODThere has been a delay in the -- one of the concessions to get this passed is delayed to, say, won't take effect in October, but would take effect in January, which we anticipate, giving the people who oppose a chance to have a referendum. Obviously, you wouldn't be in favor of a referendum or would oppose it if it came about. But governor in New Jersey, Gov. Christie, has said he thinks the people ought to vote on it. Why shouldn't people vote on it?
O'MALLEYWell, I think they will. I mean, it's -- it may be a nuanced difference. We have a referendum process here. The DREAM Act that we passed, for example, will be on the referendum in the fall. And we did not send this one directly to ballot as we did with the issue of, you know, the slots issue. But it -- there's not a doubt in anyone's mind that the signatures will be collected to send this to the voters.
O'MALLEYSo ultimately, the voters will have their say on this. The difference, I think, the -- with what's going on in New Jersey, as Gov. Christie, I think, is trying to have his cake and eat it too. He's saying that he's all in favor of sending it directly to the voters, and yet he says if the legislature passes it, he'll veto it, these issues that involve the rights of -- the equal rights of the few, and presenting that to the general public to vote upon.
O'MALLEYThere are some, like John Lewis, who have said that if that's how civil rights had proceeded, there would never have been a referendum to strike down Jim Crow and segregation and other things of that nature. So the likelihood, though, is, Tom, for all of those histrionics, this issue, if we pass it in the legislature as I believe we should, will go to the voters because...
NNAMDIExcept for one possibility, Gov. O'Malley, the District of Columbia's human rights law actually kept the matter from going to a -- for a referendum here. How does that work in Maryland?
O'MALLEYWell, I don't believe that the -- I don't believe that that's possible here under our statutes and Constitution and procedures. The things that cannot go to referendum are things related to the budget. But virtually, everything else, as a standalone bill can be petitioned to referenda.
NNAMDIThe governor of the state of Washington, Christine Gregoire, said that part of our support for the bill was driven by younger people in her state standing up for gay marriage. Do what degree do you see generational rifts in Maryland on this issue?
O'MALLEYWell, there's definitely a generational shift happening here. Younger people, kids that are, you know, my kids, they just scratch their heads and look at us old folks in our 40s and 50s and wonder why we're having problems with this. And they don't feel threatened or fearful in any way by allowing churches to decide how to define sacraments and their belief system, and also making sure that the rights to stands civility out of a courthouse are done equally for all individuals.
O'MALLEYAnd they're not threatened by gay couples who are a minority, great minority in our country wanting the same civil rights when it comes to equal protection under the law for their household and their children's future and well-being. So it definitely excuse and -- guys and all of the countless one-on-ones I've had with members of the House of Delegates, you can see that generational shift in the House of Delegates as well.
O'MALLEYAnd so there's not -- I mean, this is -- it's over the long term and this is usually been faster than many of us might have predicted, but over the horizon here and the years ahead, I think that you cannot deny that people should be treated equally under the law.
SHERWOODWe just -- Governor, we just had a national blow up over religious freedom and the issue of contraception. What in this bill -- just so people will know, that there is an acknowledgement of religious disagreement over this issue, what is the religious freedom aspect of this same-sex marriage bill?
O'MALLEYWe went through -- we were informed, Tom, by the other states that have passed this, and we lifted out every phrase and every clause that any of those other states included in their bills that made it very clear that the state has no business defining sacraments for churches with telling churches who they should and should not marry or having anything to do with their belief system. So it shields religious leaders and employees of those institutions from liability.
O'MALLEYAnd we've really been very, very explicit and probably have more language in this, making religious freedom explicit, than any bill that's ever gone to this point and legislative consideration. We drew from all of those other bills that have already passed. And I think that's why you've seen greater numbers of -- I mean, it's a broader coalition supporting this bill this year than last year.
O'MALLEYBut you've also seen some pastors who last year might have even been opposed who are now in a position to say, look, I don't endorse as a pastor in my religion. I don't endorse, "a gay lifestyle," but I can endorse this bill because it protects the freedom of religion and also protects rights equally among individuals. Remember, we're a pluralistic society, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We are people of many different faiths, and the way forward in a pluralistic society is always through greater respect for the equal rights of all.
NNAMDIWell, you tweeted yesterday and I'm quoting here, "If there's a common thread running through our efforts together, it's the thread of human dignity." As a matter of faith, is that how you square your stance on this issue with that of many people of religious faith?
O'MALLEYIt is. I mean, Kojo, I wouldn't be, you know, I wouldn't be in public service were it not for a prime-moving belief in the dignity of every individual and in our own individual responsibility to advance the common good. And in a pluralistic society like ours, that common good is a very, very important fabric, that web of mutuality, as. Dr. King described it, and we have to find a way to keep this fabric together.
O'MALLEYAnd the way to do that is by elevating the dignity of every individual, by realizing that we need one another and that we must treat each other with respect and, yes, with dignity and with equal rights under the law. That's not to say that you're not free to worship however you choose, that's not to say that you're going to be directed how to define sacraments or what you teach your children, but it is to say that we all have to get along and we have to respect rights equally under the law.
O'MALLEYLook, part of the way I came to this, Kojo, is if you look at this through the eyes of children, of gay or lesbian couples in our state, it is not right, and it is not just that they should have lesser protection under the law than the rest of the children of Maryland. We all want the same thing for our kids. We want them to live in caring, loving, stable, committed households that are protected equally under the law, and that's what this bill does while also protecting religious freedom.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, and another issue here is Steve in Silver Spring, Md. Steve, you're on the air with Gov. O'Malley. Go ahead, please.
STEVEExcuse me. Hi, Gov. O'Malley.
STEVEI just wanted to ask you about this latest censure issue with Sen. Currie. And I understand it has been carried out. And my concern was whether or not the state was going to take any further action on it, in particular, Shoppers Food Warehouse egregiously bribed -- I guess that's the best word for it -- Sen. Currie, and they seemed to have escaped without any retribution at all.
NNAMDIFor those of our listeners who are unfamiliar with it, that case was recently concluded in court, and Sen. Ulysses Currie was not found guilty of accepting bribes from Shoppers Food...
SHERWOODFound not guilty.
NNAMDIWas found not guilty, not found guilty, so not guilty.
SHERWOODNo, I wasn't -- I did -- I'm not sure what you said.
NNAMDIHe was found not guilty of accepting bribes from Shoppers Food Warehouse. So, technically, that may not be the correct term. But he is being censured in the general assembly. Gov. O'Malley, your thoughts.
O'MALLEYYeah, this is some late-breaking news for us. It's my understanding that those actions did happen, and that the part of the censure was that they -- that the senator is no longer to serve on certain committees in the Maryland General Assembly. It's my understanding that he accepted the censure, and these proceedings kind of go on a little more behind closed doors than some others.
O'MALLEYAnd as you might imagine, it's something the legislative branch takes care of. I'm reading here that the -- they found that -- where are we here? Well, you guys have the news as soon as I do. But it's my understanding that that what's they've done and have been barred from certain committees.
NNAMDIYup, that's indeed the case you're saying that you go along with what the general assembly has decided?
O'MALLEYYeah, well, you know what, gentlemen? Can -- if you'd...
NNAMDIWe're getting ready to take a break now anyway.
O'MALLEY...I'd like to -- let me catch up. I've had my eye on another piece of business...
O'MALLEY...right before I was on the phone (unintelligible). This stuff is just breaking down here.
NNAMDIWe are aware of the piece of business, making its way through the general assembly. We're going to take a short break. When we come, we will continue our conversation with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.
NNAMDISteve, thank you very much for your call.
SHERWOODI have a very important question for the governor when we come back.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We'll get your question or comment in too. The number is 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back 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 is Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. He's a Democrat. He joins us by telephone. We are taking your calls at 800-433-8850, or you can send email to email@example.com. You had a pressing question for Gov. O'Malley, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODYeah, confirmed -- Governor, are you still there?
NNAMDIOh, Governor is not there right now.
NNAMDIThat gives us the opportunity to talk about a few of the other issues that you and I would normally talk about before we get to the guest as soon as the guest was ready. On this occasion, we didn't get an opportunity to talk about those things. Talk about the One City Summit that took place last...
SHERWOODIs that still going on?
NNAMDIIt might still be going on. It cost the city $600,000. But people who participated in it say they had feel that having the opportunity to both give and hear ideas about the city's future worked well for them. Private donations covered about $50,000 of the $600,000 cost, but some people are saying, hey, why have it at all?
SHERWOODMayor Gray is in danger. A lot of his friends don't like it when I say this, but I'm just going to say it 'cause I've heard it from enough people 'cause he's in danger of meeting too many times. We went from a mayor who wouldn't talk to anyone or meet with anyone to a mayor who won't stop. And so the mayor had the $600,000. I think, it's more than -- all the bills were not in. I haven't seen the final tally. But on Saturday, about 1,700 or plus people came, a very good turnout.
SHERWOODPeople sat at their tables, and they voted on various issues about what should be done. What I never understood was four days before that summit, the mayor gave and stated a District speech, in which he just said what he plan -- had done and what he planned to do in the coming years. And then four days later, he had all these people there to ask him what should we be doing. So it seems like they should have been reversed. He should have had the speech after the town hall, but it's a lot of money.
SHERWOODThe mayor has had a summit. He's had cabinet retreats. He's had youth summits. He's meeting with the ANC members. He's doing a lot of meeting and greeting and discussing, and he's very honest about all these issues. I don't doubt that. But some people are saying that the meeting is not the doing, and they want to see more doing. And, of course, he just bristles when I say this, but they want to see more doing rather than all this meeting.
NNAMDIWell, federal prosecutors have empanelled a grand jury to hear testimony about the 2008 re-election campaign of Washington, D.C., Council Chairman Kwame Brown. That's according to somebody who says they've already testified before the panel. Do you know any more than that?
SHERWOODYes. That was "Loose Lips" in the city paper who quoted someone who had been before a grand jury that's been empanelled to look at the 2008 campaign expenditures and revenue collections of Kwame Brown's campaign for his at-large seat before he ran for chairman in 2010. And, yes, I've talked to people as early this morning, all of whom are involved and confirmed there is, in fact, a grand jury. It's not clear yet who has gone before them. But this is another step in what could be, as I like to call it, a centipede of steps with so many shoes to drop.
SHERWOODKwame Brown says he hasn't be called. He doesn't know much about it. His lawyer, Fred Cooke, said, I don't know any much about it. You know, they haven't called him. And -- but this is a typical way a grand jury works. The prosecutors begin with the lowest rung, who was in charge of something, bring them in, and then find out what happened to the money, and they do an exhausting -- just as Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney, said on this program, it's exhausting, detailed look at everything involved.
SHERWOODAnd it may not look good, and it may not be criminal. We have to find out if it's criminal or not, that it just doesn't look good. I mean, it does not look good that the chairman cannot, to this day, explain where several hundred thousand dollars came from and went in his 2008 campaign. But not looking good is not necessarily criminal, and that's where we are with this grand jury.
NNAMDIIn the case of D.C. councilmember -- former D.C. councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., a lot of that groundwork was done by the D.C. attorney general. I guess, that is not the case in this situation. Tell us -- remind us what the process was in the case of Harry Thomas Jr.
SHERWOODWell, it wasn't -- the city did start this because there was the city's Board of Elections and Ethics. There was -- the campaign finance office that audited the 2008 campaign discovered irregularities brought -- the campaign apparatus of Kwame Brown and repeatedly trying to understand it. And finally the Board of Elections, having seen the audit report, said, we must turn this over to the U.S. attorney.
SHERWOODAnd the board chairman at the time, Togo West, said, we see possibly criminal activity here. And that's how the Kwame Brown thing went forward. Now, Tommy -- Harry Thomas Jr...
NNAMDIYou can't stop calling him Tommy Thomas, can you?
SHERWOODWell, that's, you know, everybody know -- I've known him for a long time. And the people know I like him, but I don't like what he did. And so I'm trying not to say Tommy 'cause we say Harry Thomas Jr. in the news stories.
NNAMDIAnd in his situation, what happened?
SHERWOODIn his case, he got elected in 2006, and immediately starting -- started having grant moneys from the -- federal grant moneys passed through the city government after...
NNAMDIBut in terms of process, same grand jury situation?
SHERWOODOh, yeah. Well, yeah. Well, he didn't go to a grand jury. You know, they already had a grand jury, but he pled guilty before going to a grand jury. The prosecutors amassed such a case that he pled guilty rather than to face the grand jury indictment and trial. He said, you know, at first, he said, he would, you know, he'd fight this for his honor and his integrity and his reputation and all that. And he said he would go to trial and all of those things. But in the end, there was no grand jury because he pled guilty to the U.S. attorney's charges.
NNAMDIRejoining us now is Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. He rejoins us by telephone. Before I go to the telephones, Gov. O'Malley, there is a question that Tom Sherwood wanted to raise with you.
SHERWOODWell, I have a quick question. Has anything happened on the same-sex debate? Has it started in Annapolis?
O'MALLEYOh, has it started? No, they're still in the caucus right now. I think they're still coming out of committee votes, and then they'll have a caucus meeting. And then, I think, the legislature will go back in around 2 or something (unintelligible).
SHERWOODYes, it's kind of -- it's kind of a molasses process in some cases. Let me ask you a very important -- you heard...
O'MALLEYOh, I don't know. It's moving a lot more quickly. Most things wait until the end of the session, the budget and the likes, so it's moving.
SHERWOODAll right. So -- and we have a question for you. It's in connection with our fundraising here at WAMU.
NNAMDIAllow me to forewarn you. This is probably the most important question you'll get during the course of this hour.
SHERWOODI have -- governor, I have offered to -- my son has a tattoo of the D.C. flag on his right arm, two bars and three stars. And I've offered to have a tattoo myself if someone gives us $5,000. Now, I'm not going to ask you for $5,000 'cause that would be inappropriate. But we will -- do want to ask, and Michael Martinez, our producer, here also wants to ask you. Do you have a tattoo? We figured that you're in band, and you play. You must have a tattoo. Do you?
O'MALLEYI have -- I do not have a tattoo. (unintelligible)
SHERWOODOh, there goes your credibility.
O'MALLEYI can tell you that, on several visits to Ocean City, my teenage daughters talked me out of getting a tattoo. I did -- there was a period of years when I toyed with that, but, between the wife and the daughters, I have remained tattoo-less.
SHERWOODThe Maryland flag will be too complicated.
O'MALLEYI mean, I have a lot of tattoos, most of them are political. A Maryland flag, yeah. It's actually -- I could see where you can do something cool with that.
O'MALLEYBut I'm beyond that. No, I have no tattoos.
NNAMDIOne last question on social issues, Gov. O'Malley. There's a national debate going on right now by the president's policies on contraception. The president has carved out a compromise of sorts on requirements for religious institutions to pay for contraceptives. But the compromise came after some prominent Democrats like Tim Kaine, the former governor of Virginia, objected to the original rule. How do you see it?
O'MALLEYI think there -- that the compromise that the president has put forward right now is very, very reasonable. It allows the exemptions that the churches wanted from the beginning or that the Catholic Church did, I should say. And had this been the compromise that was initially offered, there would be no flap about it. I think that, you know, and so I'm glad that it's in the posture that it's in right now, and I don't believe that any reasonable people would really object to this, which is not to say that the bishops won't continue to fight it.
NNAMDIIndeed, if the bishops continue fight it, where do you think the debate is going to leave the president with Catholic voters?
O'MALLEYI think that -- I think, most Catholic voters, when evaluating the president job performance, I mean, I think, they're primarily concerned about the economy and whether or not our economy is getting better, whether or not we're creating jobs again. I don't see this issue being pivotal.
O'MALLEYI do think, though, that the overreaching of right-wing ideologues and the Republican Party, including a number of their pandering presidential candidates and that unseemly alliance with the American bishops on this may well only work to the president's benefit long term because of the overreaching that most Catholics feel that bishops are engaged in right now on this.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number if you have comments or questions for Gov. O'Malley. We go to Sharon in Beltsville, Md. Sharon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHARONHi, Kojo. How are you?
SHARONGov. O'Malley, it's nice to speak with you. I am the mom...
O'MALLEYThank you, Sharon.
SHARON...of a 26-year-old gay woman who, you know, grew up in the state of Maryland, and we would very much like, when she's ready to get married, for her to be able to get married here where her family is and where she grew up. So I'm really appreciative, and that's mainly what I wanted to say about the effort that you're putting forth for the same-sex marriage bill here in Maryland.
SHARONI'm hopefully, cautiously optimistic that it's going to go well this year. And I'm wondering whether you're feeling the same way. And if it doesn't happen this year, what is the next step?
O'MALLEYYeah. We're all pushing. We have more support this year than we had last year. We've had more people come forward especially in the last couple of days. It's an issue in which the House of Delegates is pretty narrowly divided. But this issue is moving forward. You've seen the other states moving forward. New Jersey just signed a bill which goes on to their governor. So I'm still hopeful and optimistic. I'm pushing. I was working late into last night.
O'MALLEYAnd Speaker Bush and I were meeting with delegates all day yesterday. So we'll have this debate. And I'm hopeful and optimistic that we'll be able to protect religious freedom and rights equally under the law. And that's why this issue is moving. And Maryland has always, in the past, been a leader in our country's history, and I think we can be a leader again now with greater respect for the dignity of all.
NNAMDISharon, thank you very much for your call. Tom.
SHERWOODGovernor, I was just making some notes on our conversation. I was just thinking, well, coming up to the November election, if all things work out as they may, we could have on the ballot in Maryland, the DREAM Act, the same-sex -- Marriage Equality Act, casinos, plus one heck of a presidential campaign.
O'MALLEYOh, those could be big lines at the polls.
O'MALLEYIt's going to be exciting anyway, huh?
SHERWOODWell, at least there'll be -- for the TV industry, I must say that'd be good. That'd be good, you know, paid advertisements for us. So that'll be great.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk some of the...
O'MALLEYWell, we got to -- go ahead.
NNAMDILet's talk about some of the bread-and-butter issues. You mentioned that you think that people will be -- even Catholics who are maybe divided on social issues will be focused on economic issues. The president talked a lot during his State of the Union address about fairness. Your budget has become a part of that national conversation. You're calling for higher taxes on high-income earners.
NNAMDIYou've called for raising the gas tax. What's the philosophy behind the budget you've put together? Some people are joking that this is too liberal even for Maryland.
O'MALLEYThe philosophy behind it is simply the historic and economic turn, that, in order for modern economy to create jobs and expand opportunity, we have to be willing to make modern investments. That was true for my parents. And it was true for my grandparents. Our state has been named -- four years in a row, Kojo -- the number one public schools in America. And it is the only area of budget where we actually increased our investment considerably over the years. It wasn't for free.
O'MALLEYWe all work to do that, and we all benefit from that. One area where we've greatly fallen behind, however, has to do with our transportation networks. We now have the worst congestion at any metropolitan state in the union, and it's only going to get worse. So I -- look, it's an awful time to ask anybody to pay anything more for anything, and none of us paid any tax as much as something that would cause us to pay more for gasoline. But the fact of the matter is there's been a flat 23 cents tax on gasoline in Maryland since 1990.
O'MALLEYThat flat 23 cents on that gallon of gas -- when gas was $1.08, it was still the same flat 23 cents it is now when gasoline is $3.60, so -- and the buying power, as you might imagine over the years, has greatly declined. The buying power of those motor fuel taxes in terms of the bridges, the roads, the tunnels, the networks that we keep in good repair, not to mention the mass transit, is now about 30 percent of what it was then.
O'MALLEYSo we have suggested, first, propose to the general assembly to consider phasing in at 2 percent a year, for the next three years, the sales tax, which, in Maryland, is the 32nd lowest in the country at 6 percent. And also, in phasing in that tax over the next three years, there will not only be an index for inflation, but it will also have a brake mechanism in it.
O'MALLEYSo that if the forecasters are correct, if the price of gasoline is going to spike this year, well then this would be a year when we do not phase in the 2 percent and we wait until a year when the price of gasoline does not go up by that.
NNAMDIGov. O'Malley, we're running out of time very quickly. But you, as a mayor in Baltimore, started a trend towards a framework for data-driven governing, and I can't help but notice that you have now signed on to the Future of Information Alliance at the University of Maryland. Why?
O'MALLEYWell because you guys have signed on to it. Attraction follows you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes. Right, right.
O'MALLEYSo this is -- I've -- I get a little (unintelligible) about this, but I think GIS, the power of geographic information systems, you know, the ability to map, the ability to measure, the ability to demand not only higher performance from our public institutions but to do it in a way so that every citizen can measure whether or not we're improving education, improving public safety, better safeguarding natural treasures like the waters of the Chesapeake Bay -- I think this is exciting and revolutionary stuff.
O'MALLEYAnd no other generation of human beings has ever had the ability to do it as we now have the ability to do it. You saw this happening with the Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars. For all of the predictions of chronic waste fraud and abuse that would come about, none of that happened. Why? Because we actually could see where all of the dollars were going. We knew what programs that we're going through.
O'MALLEYAll of the states monitored it. And so -- but anything -- most of what we've been able to accomplish in these times of budget cut after budget cut after budget cut are the result of better connections, better collaborations and better technology. And that's why I think this information alliance can be an exciting project.
NNAMDIGov. O'Malley, thank you so much for joining us.
O'MALLEYThank you, guys.
NNAMDIMartin O'Malley is the governor of Maryland. He's a Democrat. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for the current Newspapers. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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