Tope Folarin joins Kojo to talk about his debut novel, which follows a Nigerian American from boyhood to his young adult years as he navigates family, faith and identity. Plus, Folarin's path as a writer and D.C.'s literary scene.
Virginia’s governor draws up a new play for legislation to fund roads. D.C.’s attorney calls an early foul on a plan to give the city budget autonomy. And Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley contemplates another push to get anti-death penalty legislation over the goal line in Annapolis. 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
- David Catania Member, D.C. Council (I-At Large), Chairman, Committee on Education
- Corey Stewart Republican Candidate, Lieutenant Governor, Virginia ; Chairman, Prince William Board of County Supervisors
Politics Hour Video
David Catania, D.C. Council member and chairman of the education committee, says truancy is one of the biggest problems affecting the city. Catania said about 30 to 40 percent of elementary and high school students miss two or more weeks of school, affecting graduation rates and test scores. He proposed a two-pronged solution: fire minimally effective teachers and prosecute parents based on a 20-year-old truancy law. Misdemeanor charges could include a $100 fine, five days in jail and community service. Catania also suggests a daytime curfew for students to curb truancy.
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. How are you getting along with your sinuses these days, Tom?
MR. TOM SHERWOODYou know, I think I'm setting a record for blockage, but my doctor is very happy to prescribe more and more medicines.
NNAMDITom is still having an ongoing argument with his sinuses.
SHERWOODMy voice is funnier than normal.
NNAMDISome announcements we must make before we forget. The going-home service for Monica Guyot, the wife of Lawrence Guyot, will take place at Goodwill Baptist Church at 1862 Kalorama Rd. N.W., tomorrow, Saturday, Jan. 12, at 11:30 a.m. All are welcome, and keepsakes, photos, shared memories, cards, financial contributions may be sent to the family, care of Julie Guyot at 507 U St. N.W.
NNAMDIThe ZIP code is 2000 and one. Another important announcement we have to make so that we can stay on the air, Tom. Today is Tobey Schreiner's birthday. I have been instructed to say that our engineer is 26 years old today on his birthday. So Happy Birthday, Tobey. Tobey...
SHERWOODInstructed that he's 26, which means he's not...
NNAMDIExactly right. You have drawn the correct inference, exactly. But Happy Birthday.
SHERWOODWell, we believe in truth, justice, you know?
NNAMDIExactly. But Tobey is who keeps us on the air here every day, so Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday, Tobey. Can Gov. O'Malley end the death penalty in Maryland this year, Tom Sherwood? He is determined to do that, and, of course, there are the Senate vote that he has to get. And the Senate president, Mike Miller, Thomas "Mike" Miller, says that if O'Malley can get the 24 votes that he needs, he will allow it to go forward in the Senate. What do you think?
SHERWOODWell, the House is pretty clear that this will pass, so it's just a matter of whether the Senate has the votes, and there's some question whether they can get to the 24 needed. And I had a note here. One of the state senators who was being counted on as a swing vote said don't count on me so fast. And I'm sorry I can't find his name now on my note. So this will be a nice feather for the governor of Maryland if he can get this done. But at this moment, the vote count is still not solid.
NNAMDIAnd staying in Maryland for a while and Prince George's County, I think one of the people who was tweeting on Sunday that they should take RGIII out of the game was you, Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODYeah. Well, I've never, you know, presumed to tell someone something what to do, but I did, A, tweet one about how horrible the field was, and that's going to be more and more of an issue. The field was ridiculously bad. And it was clear to virtually everyone but the people in the sidelines that RGIII, Robert Griffin III, could not move around very well.
SHERWOODAnd then I have to say I don't know the center's name, but the center who snapped that ball that hit the ankles of the quarterback and made him bend over so awkwardly which ended up making him twist his leg. I don't know -- no one is talking about the center. I just thought that was a terrible snap.
NNAMDII should mention that sitting in studio with us as our guest in the first hour who will probably want to say something around some of these issues. David Catania, he's a member of the D.C. Council, an independent who holds an at-large seat. He chairs the Council's committee now on education. David Catania, thank you for joining us.
MR. DAVID CATANIAKojo, thank you for having me.
NNAMDIMayor Vincent Gray, Tom Sherwood and David Catania, is also saying that it's time to have some more conversation about maybe changing the name of this team, which some people have always found objectionable, and some people feel that the team will never have good fortune until it changes this objectionable name. What say you?
SHERWOODYou know, I've reported since Tony Williams and the mayors of the city, including Fenty and now Gray, have been talking privately in various levels trying to get the Redskins to build a new stadium on the site of RFK. This --the team will have to build itself. The city would do infrastructure. But -- and Gray has been part of that discussion. But I'm not sure -- and I've asked him this that if you're trying to get a billion-dollar business to move back into the District of Columbia, I'm not sure the way you do that is attacking the name, even if you agree.
SHERWOODBut the mayor says, "Oh, well, I'm sure we can have a serious, sober, adult conversation about the name." But the mayor keeps talking about it and others who are not discussing this until maybe later in the future are very upset that the mayor keeps bringing it up, but he answers to the question every time you ask him.
NNAMDITo tell the truth, David Catania, the chances for either one of those things happening this -- the team moving back here or changing their name, both seemed fairly remote to me. What say you?
CATANIAI definitely think we have bigger fish to fry in the city than focusing on whether or not we can get Prince George's County to break the lease with the Redskins and move them back into the city. I mean there just seems to be a lot of moving parts there. I mean we all -- at least I agree that the name is offensive. Perhaps if we feel very strongly about it, those who feel very strongly about it should probably pursue a meeting with Mr. Snyder and see, you know, in a lower-key backchannel way how we come to change names.
CATANIAI think sometimes when you have kind of a public announcement like this, people tend to get their backs up and back themselves to a corner, and they won't really -- they're not really open for change. But as far as the stadium, I think we have very, very big fish to fry in the city, and, you know, spending another billion dollars on a sports stadium isn't one of them.
SHERWOODWell, you clearly were very -- you were one of the continuous critics of the baseball stadium, and the cost of that was to the city. Even Jack Evans who is the leading advocate for bringing teams into the city has said that in no way could the city spend any money on the stadium, other than any normal infrastructure things that the city...
SHERWOOD...would do for any business.
SHERWOODSo at least that's good news for you?
CATANIAIt is good news, you know? And again, you know, that fight is water over the dam at this point, but I mean the stadium did wind up costing us well over $711 million. The taxes generated by that stadium only pay a fraction of the cost of debt service, leaving the taxpayers through this baseball tax to fund more than three quarters of the cost to that stadium for the next 20 to 25 years -- again, dollars that we might have put elsewhere. But in the future, it's good to know that that many members of the Council are no longer willing to fully fund billionaires.
NNAMDIAnd Episcopalians voted at their convention last summer to authorize an official liturgy for blessing same-sex unions. And now, the Washington National Cathedral announced this past week that it will now hold weddings for same-sex couples. No surprises there necessarily, but since the cathedral is the seat of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Washington diocese, Tom Sherwood, that makes it significant.
SHERWOODWell, yes. You know, the Rev. Gary Hall said in a statement that, you know, we've discussed this issue for decades now, and we enthusiastically affirm, he said, each person is a beloved child of God. And, you know, the Episcopal Church has problems -- issues far larger than whether to accept same-sex marriages in the church. You know, they're having tremendous trouble with their actual numbers of congregants.
SHERWOODSo this was a step forward. There was another step forward in the same area. The minister who -- from Atlanta who had been picked to give the benediction at the Obama inaugural has withdrawn because of some anti-gay remarks he made 15 years ago. And he said that he would withdraw rather than allow his parents to be a major flashpoint over this issue.
NNAMDIWell, the National Cathedral, care to comment?
CATANIAWell, you know, as a person who authored our marriage quality legislation here in the District just a few years ago, it's extraordinary how much progress we've made on the subject, not only in this area, but, you know, in the country. And I think the fact the Supreme Court has taken up two measures that will impact marriage equality this year, it's really, I think, you know, an overused phrase but a tipping point.
CATANIAThere's no question in my mind that it is inevitable, you know, sooner rather than later cross country. But as a citizen, as a person who happens to be gay, it's extraordinary, having lived in the city 25 years and always -- and viewed that the cathedral with such reverence to know that it's really is a welcoming place for all people.
NNAMDIDavid Catania, he's a member of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who holds an at-large seat and chairs the Council's Committee on Education. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's an NBC 4 reporter and a columnist for The Current Newspapers. Now, to the business at hand, for the first time in six years, David Catania, the D.C. Council has a stand-alone education committee, and you're the man running it. Going into this, how would you define what you consider to be an appropriate relationship between the Council and the school system?
CATANIAKojo, may I just make a quick comment? A couple of weeks ago, there was -- one of your commentators...
NNAMDIWell, I was going to circle back to the health committee, but go ahead.
CATANIAWell, a couple of weeks ago, one of your commentators made a suggestion that I had somehow been derelict when it came to the smoke-free legislations several years ago. And if I could take a second to respond, I've informed this person in the past of, you know, the inaccuracies of his statement.
NNAMDIMark Plotkin, yes.
CATANIABut, you know, there's no dissuading him from the narrative that he wants. But the fact of the matter is I became chairman of Committee on Health in December of 2005. I co-sponsored the bill that was introduced in May of 2005 for smoke-free, and took it through the committee process and brought it before the Council in October. Far from, you know, any suggestion of holding it up, I was actually -- made it a top priority of my committee. It was part of a three-leg strategy to reduce smoking in the city. That was one part.
CATANIAThe other part was the continuous raising of tobacco taxes in the city, from $1 to $2.50 a pack, coupled with using $10 million of our securitized tobacco funds to have the first ever, in the history of our city, local support for smoking cessation. All three of these items taken in conjunction resulted in a decreased prevalence of smoking in that five-year period, from 21.6 percent of our population to 15.9, a more than 25 percent reduction. And my efforts were recognized by C-Change, a national cancer group, by the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society. So, you know, the...
SHERWOODAnd Smokefree D.C., I think, also, right?
CATANIARight. So the entire advocacy community and all those related to the subject, you know, have given the committee accolades for our work in the strategy. There's only one person who fails to recognize that or won't.
NNAMDIWhat, it is your understanding, is the nature of the accusation about there being a relationship between your allegedly holding this up and the issue of earmarks?
CATANIAYou know, it is bewildering to me that we're talking about something that happened seven years ago. I think the public record speaks for itself.
SHERWOODCan we just say that -- Carol Schwartz is an at-large member who was very much against this and ridiculed it on the Council about the smoking ban, and that she thought other ways you could discourage smoking. But she was the leading proponent -- or opponent of the smoking ban.
CATANIAWell, you know, as it relates to earmarks, the issue was, you know, many of us have -- because of a mutual aid society, we respect each other's chairmanships. And, you know, the smoke-free measure was before Mrs. Schwartz's committee at the time in the prior Council period. You know, that was something that, you know, I supported, you know, the appropriate referral.
CATANIAYou know, in the process of our budgeting, you know, Carol have been -- and I don't want to talk about her because she's not here. But there was, from my point of view, a lack of respect for the chairmanship of the Committee on Health which I chaired. And so, you know, I was open and, in fact, did introduce a measure that circumvented her committee after the fact and brought us smoke-free.
SHERWOODAnd could you say...
NNAMDIAnd I'll be sure I will be hearing from former Councilmember Schwartz on this issue.
SHERWOODAnd just having been recently, like, to Florida and other places where there is smoking in restaurants and bars and in public places, it's extraordinary, the assault that smoke has on you when you're used to a...
NNAMDIThat's why you got that problem you got now.
SHERWOODRight. It could be, you know, I wonder if it's suable.
CATANIABut in any event, this issue, as far as I'm concerned, I just wanted to take a moment to respond to what was a three-legged strategy to reduce smoking in the city that's been very effective.
NNAMDIYou put a lot of energy into your work on the health committee. How would you compare that challenge to the one you're facing now with the education committee?
CATANIASpring training. Absolutely. You know, what is at stake here is so -- it is the future of our city. And in the last week and a half that I've been chairing this committee, you know, we have been having really almost round-the-clock meetings on everything involving organizational development to budgets to truancy, to free lunch issues, et cetera. The state of the finances -- and this is not disparaging towards our chancellor. She and I are going to have a great working relationship.
CATANIAIt really is a commentary on the work of the chief financial officer in a complete and total absence of transparency in our budgets. These numbers don't add up, and you can't track them. You know, the amount that we spend in per-people formula is a fraction of the amount, frankly, we spend on the total schools. I can't track $200 million in expenditures from the moment we put it in the Treasury to how it comes out.
CATANIAYou know, we have issues of transportation, of school readiness, of truancy, of safety, of transportation, of special ed, of achievement gap. Across the board, there are challenges. My first year, I intend to focus on two fronts. Number one is getting the handle on the budget and the second is getting a handle on what I'm insisting we called child abuse, which is habitual, chronic truancy, which is robbing children of a chance of an education in the future.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, gentlemen, because we have caller, Melvin, who wants to continue this discussion on education. Melvin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MELVINGood evening. Quick question -- I have two quick questions. One I'll use to segue in. First of all, a note, Councilman Catania, that you've been a firm believer in oversight. Do you believe that there's a role right now or for Ronald Machen to look at how federal dollars was used in -- fraudulently used in regard to the recent story on cheating -- test cheating within the public school system?
MELVINAnd the second one, I'm looking at the school system. The school system over the last four years has continuously shrunk in terms of enrollment and academic achievement. Will you be looking at the performance of Chancellor Henderson 'cause I can't see how she continues in this role with -- based upon the results that we are recently been getting?
CATANIAWell, thank you for those questions. On the first issue, it's my understanding that the following entities have looked at the cheating scandal. The U.S. attorney has already looked at the issue, the inspector general from the Department of Education, our own inspector general. And so, you know, we've had a number of sets of eyes on this issue. And, in fact, there is a -- an article, a column yesterday for the council's committee on education to weigh in on the issue.
CATANIAAnd the chancellor and I have spoken about it, and what I'm keen to do is to look at and investigate, testing integrity going forward. The parties that were responsible were not for what has happened in the past. And by the way, all those organizations have cleared the DCPS of widespread cheating. There is one allegation that was sustained and the person was terminated. But I do think testing integrity is going to be a focus of our efforts.
CATANIAAs it relates to accountability, going forward, I'm going to expect accountability from our system and responsibility from our parents. And, you know, achievement, I think there's a great deal of impatience for quick achievement and quick advances in our city. But you've got to build a strong foundation, and that goes to per pupil formula, that goes to the caliber and quality of our teachers. And it goes all the way up through to accountability for our chancellor.
CATANIASo no one will be immune from the oversight of the committee. But at the same time, you know, what I want to look at is a strong foundation that is evidence based and data driven and with high expectations. And hopefully, we'll have a chance to talk about -- one of the things, I think, is one of our biggest problems is truancy. And you look at our graduation rates, they overlay almost, you know, entirely with truancy. So, for instance, Kojo, if I may -- Cardozo has 33 percent of its children who've missed 20 days or more a year. Twenty days of the school year is essentially (word?).
NNAMDIThat's one-third of the kids.
CATANIARight. So in Anacostia, 45 percent of the students have missed...
NNAMDIThat's almost half.
CATANIAThat's right. Ballou, 46, Roosevelt, 40, Spingarn, 43, Dunbar, 36, Woodson, 31, you know? And so when they have graduation rates that are less than 50 percent, it's self-evident. But it's not just our high schools where truancy is a problem. In our elementary schools, I've got many elementary schools where 30 percent or 40 percent of the kids have missed two weeks or more. And so once you start cheating the child of an education in elementary school, you compound it with time. And you...
NNAMDIBut, you know, you mentioned school accountability and parent responsibility. The school accountability part, going from Michelle Rhee to Kaya Henderson, what we've tended to be focusing on, how does one focus on and get results in the area of parental responsibility?
CATANIAWell, on the accountability side, we have this impact evaluation system, which evaluates highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective teachers. Our system currently permits minimally effective teachers one more bite at the apple. So we're putting minimally effective teachers in classrooms right now. It's about 14 percent of our workforce. The evidence suggests that a new teacher would produce better results than a tenured, ineffective or minimally effective teacher.
CATANIAWe fire ineffective teachers on the spot. But minimally effective get another year. Who here wants their child in the classroom with a minimally effective teacher? No one. That has to stop. We need to look at the distribution across the city of our highly effective teachers. We need to look at our effective ones and invest in them so they can become highly effective. With respect to parents, we have a law in the books for 20-plus years that if your child has two unexcused absences, that is a misdemeanor in the city, minimum $100 fine and a five-day jail sentence.
CATANIAEven though more than 10 percent of our kids have missed more than a month of school a year last year, there were 27 cases papered out of nearly 5,000 of the most serious truant. And so, you know, and when I've quizzed the attorney general about why that is the case, what I received was, well, we don't believe it works. Well, that is not within your discretion, and you have no evidence to support that.
CATANIAAnd so going forward, if I could, Kojo, what I have in mind is after 10 days, you know, a letter from the attorney general's office to the parent informing them that they are in violation of the law and that this issue needs to be remedied because we will be considering prosecution going forward. After 20 days, I want mandatory prosecution. People say, well, are you talking about putting people in jail? No. I'm talking about mandatory community service of the parent or guardian and the hours equivalent to the hours that child was not in school.
CATANIASomeone from that family needs to be in school. I'm looking at daytime curfews because we have too many kids wondering the streets, and no one feels it's their responsibility to ask where theses children are. Kojo, we can track truancy to test scores. So in our schools that have the highest truancy have the lowest test scores, the easiest way we can improve test scores is have the kids in the classes. One last point: People say, well, just more money will solve the problem.
CATANIAThe truth is our 10 top performing elementary schools with one or two exceptions, receive 20 percent less money than our 10 least performing elementary schools. More money will not put the child in the classroom. More money will not improve their education unless they are in the classroom.
CATANIAI happen to support an enhanced per-pupil formula for our schools that are predominantly Title I, meaning children with free and reduced lunches. I support that. But we've got to know from the moment we put the dollar in the system, we need to able to qualify and quantify the success and efficiency of that money and tie it to results. And right now, I can't do that.
SHERWOODThe minimally effective teacher who -- he or she gets an additional year to bring his or her scores up. You're saying that under this so-called impact system, that would no longer be the case and that is not -- he would not have -- this is not a -- something you'd have to negotiate with the teachers union?
CATANIAWell, that would not have to be negotiated with the teachers union. But right now, if you are part of the 14 percent of our workforce, 2 percent in 2011 or '12 were identified as ineffective and were fired. Fourteen percent were minimally affected, allowed one more year to turn themselves around. I just want to see a show of hands of parents who wanted someone we've determined to be minimally effective teaching their children. I don't believe that exists. I don't believe they should be in a classroom.
CATANIAAnd if, you know, if perhaps the teacher is a first or second or third year teacher, we can have a developing teacher category. But if you've been in the system a long time, teaching a long time and you're still being qualified as or quantified or described as minimally effective, I just don't think you need to be a part of the system.
SHERWOODHow many teachers are we talking about? You say 14 percent. There are like 4,000 teachers. So...
SHERWOODSo that's quite a few teachers.
CATANIAApproximately. But what I'm looking for are additional resources to redirect towards enhanced instruction and enhanced curriculum, and I'm looking at the charter schools, for instance, right now, their budget. We spend $100 million every single year on facilities allotment, not the per-pupil formula, but simply to give them money to buy or rent leased facilities for schools. More often than not, the facilities are not equipped for the education of children, no cafeteria, gym space, et cetera.
CATANIAMeanwhile, we have languishing ample DCPS space. We need to enhance, increase, facilitate -- and I'm considering an independent facilities commission -- so that the charter schools can have access to these empty DCPS properties and we can start saving some of these, what I think to be, wasteful expenditure.
NNAMDISpeaking of parents, you attended a series of recent community meetings on school closures. How did being out in the community among parents influenced your thinking, if at all, on that particular issue?
SHERWOODIn the announcement, this next week, the schools to be closed. Could you give us some insight into that?
CATANIAWell, I'm thrilled to see the enthusiasm among our parents for the system. You know, it's been absent I think, to some degree for a while. But there are parents who are literally fighting to keep their public schools open. And one particular proposal comes to mind involving Francis Stevens where, you know, the parents, actually, were able to get a planning grant from George Washington University and come up with a very creative, very thoughtful presentation that they gave to the chancellor in the hopes of keeping that school open.
CATANIAYou know, look -- this -- we are only going to be successful if we are engaged in our customers, which are the parents and students. Last Saturday -- I spent most of my Saturday at the convention center where we had the charter school fair. All the charter schools showed up and were describing to parents their offerings . Absent from that...
NNAMDIYou think the public schools need to be doing that.
CATANIAI -- absolutely. So when I spoke with Mr. Pearson, the executive director of the charter schools, if next year DCPS would be welcome, he said yes. And I think our public schools need -- our traditional public schools must compete with our charter schools. And in that way, they will both be better. And so, you know, in the weeks to come, if I could, I'm trying to set a slightly different tone.
CATANIAAnd what I see with the education system in the city is very similar to what I saw in health care eight years ago, and that was, you know, institutions and silos afraid to come out and talk, afraid to engage because that never really ended well. So I'm trying to create a safe space where all the entities who are charged with providing excellent education can come together. For instance, having what I've been told may be the first time ever when the charter school board and the State Board of Education sit down and meet together.
CATANIAI mean, it's kind of ironic and interesting that they haven't, but bringing the parties together so we can decrease the cynicism and decrease the acrimony, because we all are on the same page. What's it going to take for us to create world-class schools? And not just to say it glibly, but we need to set expectations of what we expect. We need to be able to follow the money, direct the resources where the need might be, and we need to get about this yesterday.
NNAMDIHere is Peter in Washington, D.C. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETERGood afternoon, gentlemen. I'm been very involved in the school libraries issue. And for a good part in the past nine months, one of the familiar arguments that has been raised is sort of this question of affordability. And, you know, it's no secret that DCPS has a budget of more than $800 million and then awfully spends another $400 million on that -- on top of that, the charter schools, $550 million on top of that and $250 million a year on school modernization.
PETERAnd it strikes me that this school -- this -- that the education sector in the city is awash in money and that we're awash in choice. But what we're not awash in really is quality. And I'd like to know if Councilman Catania thinks that, you know, that we really, as a city, that we can credibly make an argument that we can't afford good school libraries that are property staffed and properly outfitted. I mean, Anacostia High School at this moment...
NNAMDIOK. Allow me to have him respond to that.
CATANIAWell, I absolutely agree, and this has been something that the chancellor and I have been speaking about. What we have now is called the comprehensive staffing formula where, based on the size of the school, we allocate what we think we should have in terms of either a full-time or a part-time P.E. teacher, music teacher, art teacher, librarian. It's my view that with the money we're spending, we ought to have full time in every one of them.
CATANIAAnd one of the things we are doing is deep-diving into every single budget of every one of the traditional public schools and the charter schools. But my focus, primarily, is on traditional public schools now. So if you were to come to my office, you would see 185 separate binders, 120 -- more or less -- are traditional public schools where I have their budgets, both projected and actual, their truancy data, their school testing performance, their theater programs, et cetera, et cetera.
CATANIAWe -- the dirty secret is that this system is, as the caller mentioned, awash with money. But there's no coordination, and there's no expectation of outcome associated with it. And so, as a result, there's just waste. And, you know, our administration of federal grants comes to mind, Title I and Title II. You know, we have had consistent problems with our grants administration, and so, for the past decade, we've been on what's called a high-risk list.
CATANIAThere's just not been the kind of focus on moving this ball forward, and this is no criticism of chancellery. I mean, I understand people have strong views one way or another. She and I, you know, speak frequently. We have committed to -- we are committed to collegiality and not necessarily consensus because...
NNAMDIOh, you mean, Chancellor Henderson?
CATANIAChancellor Henderson. I'm sorry. You know, we know that both -- we need each other for the system to improve. And so we need open lines of communications, we need consistent lines of communication, and we know that there are going to disagreements. But we're committed to working together, and that's why I'm also trying to bring the other stakeholders to the table as well.
NNAMDIPeter, thank you for your call. Daniel in Brooklyn has another issue that we probably should have discussed even before. But go right ahead, Daniel. It's your turn.
DANIELGood morning, Kojo. Good morning, Tom and Councilman Catania. I think we look like fools with the license plates that were changed to taxation without representation. You know, there's no organized tax resistance to federal taxes at all that I'm aware of. And trying to get the president to put the license on his limousine is just embarrassing when we're not trying to stop paying our taxes, right?
DANIELWe should change the license plates to something like Save the Chesapeake or Save McMillan Park or Free Harry Thomas Jr., something like that. And you had a show, Kojo, with activists for statehood, and I called in, and they said, well, that's a felony, and that's bad. Well, that's how this country was founded.
NNAMDIWell, another caller who fears that the city should be taking stronger action if it wants to have its voting rights in the Congress of the United States. By way of background, you should know that the council, this week, decided that it would have a meeting at the White House to try to persuade President Obama to put the taxation without representation license plates on. There are those who felt that there should have been stronger action. Tom Sherwood.
SHERWOODThat meeting is at 1:15 in the afternoon, and if you're listening to the rebroadcast and we should know something this afternoon. But, you know, this idea that there can be a groundswell of public people who will get together and then not pay their federal taxes until the city gets...
NNAMDINot going to have it.
SHERWOOD...rights of everyone, I mean, it's been tried before. I mean, Walter Fauntroy tried it. Marion Barry tried it. Others have tried it. Even Carol Schwartz, a year ago, said that, you know, she would withhold her own taxes and risk being arrested if no progress had been made towards voting rights or statehood. So that's not really the issue. And the license tag -- I don't remember all the details -- but Bill Clinton had the tag on his car. George Bush, for his eight years, did not. This is a very symbolic, very -- almost superficial thing.
SHERWOODBut, you know, we put that tag on, most people, I think, don't even know what no taxation without representation means in the context of a license tag. I think people will just look at it and agree. That's a good thing. But people here in the city, some of them would like -- Mary Cheh and the council chairman -- would like to see the tag on as a symbolic victory when the president drives down Pennsylvania Avenue. It's a little...
NNAMDIWhat do you say, David Catania? License plate.
CATANIAI commend, you know, Councilmember Cheh for her advocacy on the issue. You know, at this point, I am completely immersed in budgets and in education and have not given it that much thought. But if I might just make one last point...
CATANIA...because I know you have another guest. The committee will be organized thusly, and we encourage and want public participation. We have to have our residents involved. There are four focus of the committee. One is one data analysis, one is on budget, one is one community engagement and the other is on oversight.
CATANIAAnd so, you know, I'm going to actually be giving assignments to my committee members for what I expect from us. A lot, you know, it all can't come on the backs of one person, the chancellor. We've got a shared responsibility here, and we need to understand, first and foremost, why these kids are not in school. And so one of the things I'm hoping to enlist my colleagues to do...
NNAMDIWho are your committee members?
CATANIACouncilmember Barry, Councilmember Alexander, Councilmember Tommy Wells...
CATANIA...and Councilmember Grosso. I want to see us going into these homes. I want individual council members go into the homes fore these kids that chronically truant, and we need to gather information there, not from a perspective that we're from the government and you've done something wrong but from a fact gathering understanding perspective. But at the end of the day, I feel very strongly that until we have parental responsibility, until these children are in the schools, no matter how much we spend, they are not going to learn.
SHERWOODHarrison Elementary has already tweeted here, that's the school that's facing foreclosure, being closed. It says, "How are you going to hold the chancellor's feet to the fire on the truancy thing, and won't making children travel farther to schools rather than neighborhood schools increase the likelihood that there'll be more truancy?"
CATANIAWell, you know, we'll hold the chancellor's feet to the fire on truancy by making her do what is within her power to do, that is to collect the data and forward it. She doesn't come with her own police department. And so what we have is when I have -- I have a series of buck passing going on the subject. I have the attorney general telling me that they could only prosecute or paper -- not prosecute -- 27 cases last year out of the tens of thousands that would be eligible, 27. What I have is a cascade of one excuse after another.
CATANIASo what the chancellor can do is she can implement the south capital bill that I authored last year which requires that every child who misses 10 days that we have root cause analysis as to why that child isn't there and an action plan to fix it, at the same time, making the referral to the attorney general's office and the attorney general doing his job, which is to send correspondence to the guardian or parent informing them that they are currently in violation of the law and that they need to remedy that situation because a stronger penalty is coming.
SHERWOODAre you going to weigh in on the school closings? And that'd be -- I think we're -- are you going to weigh in on the school closings that are announced next week?
CATANIAYou know, here's the tension. The tension is, what is my proper responsibility for oversight and budget? You know, when do we cross the line into the running of the system, which is the chancellor's responsibility? I am...
NNAMDIYeah, Sherwood said we need to be -- we need to look out for that with you.
CATANIAWell, by law, the chancellor -- this is a call for the chancellor to make. I will give her an opportunity the week after she makes this announcement to come and give a public discussion on why she made the choices that she made. But in the end, you know, we all have a role. We have to do it to the best of our ability, but we also have to respect each other's space.
NNAMDIDavid Catania, thank you so much for joining us.
CATANIAThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIDavid Catania is a member of the D.C. Council. He's an independent who holds an at-large seat and chairs the Council's Committee on Education. Tom Sherwood, on to Virginia where Gov. Bob McDonnell says he has found another way of dealing with the transportation problem. He wants to eliminate the gas tax, replace it with an increase in the sales tax.
NNAMDIThe overall plan, he said, would raise about $3.1 billion over five years, also with increased vehicle registration fees and add an annual $100 charge for drivers of alternative fuel cars. No good deal, I guess, goes unpunished in that situation.
SHERWOODYou know, all those are sound. You know, he says we've got to -- every governor since I've been alive, I guess, has said we got to do something about transportation. But, you know, State Sen. Saslaw, Dick Saslaw of Fairfax, called this idea of dropping the gas tax in favor of sales tax lunacy. He said that, you know, 30-something percent of the money comes from out-of-state drivers who are driving up and down the interstates of Virginia.
SHERWOODAnd you're not going to charge these sitting ducks -- I would call them -- gas tax? He says it's just lunacy to do that. And then if you take the gas tax from the people who use the roadways and put it onto the sales tax, that means that the poorest person who never gets into a car or drives on the road, but buys something, food or whatever, in the state of Virginia, he or she is paying for your roads.
SHERWOODSo there's a lot of irritation about this plan. Some people thought the legislature won't even have time, really, to get all this done. But, you know, Virginia hasn't even raised its sales tax -- excuse me, gasoline tax since 1986. It's 17.5 cents. So there are other ways that can -- you can put the burden of more roads -- maybe our next guest will talk about this a little...
NNAMDISpeaking of Virginia, look who's popped up in the studio.
SHERWOOD...on the people who actually use the roads and not the people who just need to get by.
NNAMDIIt's Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. He's also now a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia. Corey Stewart, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. COREY STEWARTGreat to be here, Kojo. It's always a pleasure.
NNAMDIThis is the first time we've spoken with you since you became a commonwealth-wide candidate, so to speak. Republican voters in Virginia will gather at a convention later this year to select their nominee. What do you think are the defining issues that they should be taking into consideration?
STEWARTTransportation, transportation, transportation.
NNAMDIWhat do you think of the governor's plan?
STEWARTWell, it's a starting point for discussion. It's not going to go anywhere, but at least, you know, you got to respect him for putting something out there and getting the discussion going. But, you know, Virginia has kicked this can down the road far too long. By 2017, there will be no -- zero funds left for highway construction in the commonwealth. And by 2018, there won't even be sufficient funds to maintain existing roadways, and at that point, the state will start to lose matching federal funds for road construction and road maintenance. So it's a dire situation.
SHERWOODAnd Maryland is also having the same problem. Its transportation trust fund is disappearing. But what about the idea of eliminating the gasoline tax in favor of a -- an increase in the sales tax, which everyone would pay, whether you use roads or not? Do you -- is that basically an idea that you would consider?
STEWARTNo. I don't think -- yeah.
NNAMDIHe's already said it's going nowhere.
SHERWOODI didn't hear his view.
NNAMDIOf course if he's carrying it, it might go someplace.
STEWARTYeah. Thank you. Thank you. I -- but the truth is is that raising the sales tax from 5 percent to 5.8 percent right now is going to -- of course, will hit the most needy citizens and right at a time when we're clearly still in a recession. I don't think it's a good idea. The gas tax needs to -- we need to take a real good look at that. It was never indexed for inflation, and it's just clearly fallen behind the times in terms of being adequate for the commonwealth's transportation needs. But we should not get rid of it, that's for sure, in my opinion.
SHERWOODYou know, your -- Prince William, you have lots of road issues that you, in your state of the county, addressed that I read. And you've had -- you've addressed some county issues of roadways. But the whole of Northern Virginia, what's happening with the Dulles access from Metro, I mean, it just seems to me that you don't want to be eliminating taxes. You want to be readjusting them, in some way.
STEWARTWell, you know, I'm not one who's going to argue for increasing in any tax here, not -- let me...
SHERWOODIncluding the gasoline tax?
STEWARTI don't think we should be increasing the gas tax this time either, but let me throw this out to you. There's a -- in the Virginia biennial budget right now, there's $2.9 billion worth of what we call tax loopholes that are aimed at social policy ends. Now some of these are justified, but most of them were created 30, 40 years ago and were never reviewed. We don't know whether they're effective. We don't -- they are clearly propping up certain industries. And we need to review those and take a look at them.
SHERWOODAnd you actually got an example of one -- a couple of examples?
STEWARTWell, I'm not going to name any examples. I don't want to get myself in trouble, but I do think we need to review that. And I think the -- one of the proposals done in Richmond today would, in fact, take a look at various tax loopholes and potentially eliminate some of them. And that alone, from the elimination of those, would generate $500 million in income.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for Corey Stewart -- he is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor -- you can call us at 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. Virginia's gubernatorial race could be a symbolic one for the Republican Party nationally, which lost both the Virginia Senate race and the presidential election. In your opinion, can Virginia Republicans win back the votes that they lost this past November?
STEWARTVirginia will vote Republican this coming November.
STEWARTWell, there's a couple of reasons. One is, historically, if you look at over the past 40 years, Virginia has always voted for the governor of the party that -- for the opposite party that wins the presidential election. So when a Republican...
NNAMDIThat's always happened, but nobody can seem to exactly figure out why that happens.
STEWARTBecause, I think, Virginia's looking for a balance of power, so to speak. I think they're looking for a balance. Virginia has never been a state that has been far to the right or far to the left. It has, over the past 40 to 50 years, clearly followed the middle road. And the party that veers too far to the right, then the Democrats will win. If the Democrats veer too far to the left, the Republicans tend to win.
STEWARTIt's a state of the great -- a majority of voters are clearly in the middle, and they want to see -- especially on the state level, they don't vote ideologically. They vote for the party that's going to address the problems that confront the average person on a daily basis. And for me, and especially in Northern Virginia, that's transportation.
STEWARTAnd that's why if Republicans retake the governorship, the House, which we will, and if we maintain the State Senate, which we will if we maintain the lieutenant governorship, the lieutenant governor can cast the tie-breaking vote. If we don't address transportation as Republicans, we're going to be in a lot of trouble because we will control all branches of government at that point, and people will blame us if we don't address the issue.
SHERWOODYou suggest -- and some have suggested -- the Republicans, when they veer into the social issues, about which they -- many people feel quite strongly, that that undermines your ability to address what you're suggesting is the actual running of the state government and to address issues like transportation. Do you agree with that, generally speaking, that however strongly you feel about some social issues, that the real goal is to run the state into the next 20 years?
STEWARTAbsolutely. You've got to govern the state. You know, I've been governing the second-largest county in Virginia, Prince William County, 425,000 people. It's growing by 10,000 new residents a year. We clearly got a lot of problems. The only way to govern is you -- you've got to stay focused on the major quality of life issues at hand and not be distracted by some of the social issues. Now that said, I'm a social conservative.
STEWARTIf somebody asks me my view on whatever social issue it is, I tell them straight, I'm pro-life, et cetera. But that's not what this election is going to be about. People are concerned about the economy. They're concerned about the jobs. And in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads, they're considered -- they're very concerned about transportation infrastructure.
NNAMDIA lot of people claim that Virginia lost the Virginia Senate race and the presidential election because the party has not kept up with the nation's shifting demographic. Do you think Republicans have to examine their party platform in order to expand its base?
STEWARTNo, I do not believe that's the case. I think, clearly, the demographics of Virginia are changing very rapidly no more so than in Prince William County. We are now the first majority-minority county in Northern Virginia, and yet, I've won that three times in a row in 2011 to beat my Democratic opponent by nearly 30 points. And this is a county that is majority-minority that voted 57 percent for Barack Obama. Now, why is that?
STEWARTNow, why is a conservative Republican like myself able to win countywide in the next year when Barack Obama is elected? Some of that is due to turnout, increase voter turnout in a presidential year. But a lot of that is because -- not to pat myself on the back but I did not ignore the minority areas of the county. In fact, if you look at my 2011 election campaign, I spent almost all of my time in the eastern part of Prince William County in the areas that have the greatest concentrations of minorities in and around the city of Manassas.
STEWARTAnd that is what we as Republicans have to do is not ignore the minority of population. Instead, we've got to engage it. There was a time when, you know, when Mitt Romney was coming -- going to come to Prince William County. He never made it. But he was going to come out to the western end of Prince William County, which is largely white, mostly Republican. And I advised the campaign not to do that, that it's better to stay on the eastern side of the county where you really going to have to fight for the votes, but they wouldn't do it.
NNAMDIIf you're going to go into the county and deal with the minority, the expanding minority in the county, can you avoid the subject of immigration? Or how do you approach it? You've never been shy about your stance on immigrations, yet a lot of Virginia voters may still associate the Republican Party line on immigration with Mitt Romney's infamous self-deportation policy. As you're seeking statewide office, how will you deal with immigration issues and at the same time distance yourself from what the Romney campaign unfortunately end out -- ended up being perceived as?
STEWARTYou know, Kojo, you had me on your show several times during, you know, in 2007 when we are implementing this policy. You know, it was very controversial then.
STEWARTBut over time -- and we still have surveys done of the population, the -- to determine whether or not it's still popular. It is. Seventy five percent of the population of Prince William County supports our immigration enforcement policy. Why? Because we focus on the criminal element within the illegal immigrant population. It's all about public safety. Somebody has to commit a crime and they have to be arrested before we check the immigration status.
STEWARTWe check everyone's immigration status regardless of race or ethnicity or language spoken. And that has avoided any racial profiling issues. We haven't had one. Our violent crime rate has come down. And that's why this policy is popular not just among Caucasians but also among African-Americans and even now a majority of Latinos as well. So my advice to the Republican Party at national level is we talk about illegal immigration, stay focused on the public safety aspect of it and not on just the average guy who's just trying to find a job.
SHERWOODYeah. You write about this immigration on your website, in your campaign website, which I read this morning also, which you suggest that you can't just complain about things, but this idea of engaging -- and I guess we're not going to hear you complain about the 47 percent of this other issues. It does sound like despite you're being a very strong conservative, which you're quite pride off, that you do want to present at least a moderate conservative view to the entire state, in Northern Virginia, Hampton Road and these other places where there are issues beyond the social issues like immigration.
STEWARTI want to present -- which is what I am. I'm a problem solver.
SHERWOODI look to see if you are being consistent. You are being consistent. I won't take -- give you that.
STEWARTI am. I like to consider myself as a problem solver. I need to be a problem solver when I'm governing a jurisdiction as large, as diverse, as complex, as fast growing as Prince William County. You've got to focus on the problems at hand: transportation, education, public safety.
STEWARTAnd as soon as you veer off those issues, often the issues that people are most concerned about or challenged by, they -- the folks in Prince William County and the most parts of Virginia will boot you out of office because they need their problem solved. They don't need to hear you wax on and on about your ideology. They want to see that their problems are addressed.
SHERWOODAre you supporting Mr. Cuccinelli, the attorney general...
STEWARTOh, absolutely. He is going to be the Republican nominee, and I think he's done a great job as AG. And I'm going to be supporting him strongly for governor.
NNAMDINow, how -- what do you think about the rift? It's barely 2013, and we already see some fracturing in Virginia's GOP base, while Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli became the sure Republican candidate in the race for governor, and you say you're supporting him. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling suggested he might throw his hat in as an independent. Do you think this kind of rift could have detrimental consequences for Republicans in the fall?
STEWARTWell, frankly, I got to say what Bill Bolling is talking about is just shameful. And when you're part of a party, you expect to be supported by the party when you get the nomination. But if you lose the nomination, as he has, by withdrawing, you need to man up, and you got to support the victor. Anything less is just sour grapes in my opinion. He should not be talking at all about running as an independent.
NNAMDIOn, therefore, to the telephone where people seem to be more interested in taxes than anything else, so we'll start with Mark in Great Falls, Va. Mark, your turn.
MARKOh, I just want to point out that reducing or eliminating the 17 cents a gallon tax would basically give 17 cents a mile profit to the trucking industry who does most of the damage to our roads. So not only would we be -- not be able to do new roads but we would be tearing up all of our old roads and not have money to fix that. That's going to affect a lot more of the population than anything else. So I'm just wondering how your guest feels about that.
STEWARTWell, actually, I think you'd be surprised to learn that the trucking industry is not opposed to the gas tax. In fact, the trucking industries has been one of those industries lobbying for an increase to the gas tax because they see it as an alternative. They know that something has got to be done about Virginia roads. But one thing the trucking industry definitely does not way are tolls. And I would agree with him on that. I think -- but to your point, what will happen if you'll eliminate the gas tax?
STEWARTThe -- you're not going to see gas necessarily go down by the same amount because what the petroleum companies will essentially adjust the gas price not based upon cost but based upon the market and the market discussions. And that's why you're going to find more expensive gas sold in the wealthier areas of Virginia.
SHERWOODAnd the diesel tax will actually stay at 17.5 percent also under the governor's plan.
NNAMDIHere's Justin in Herndon, Va. Justin, we're running out of time. Please make your question or comment brief.
JUSTINYes, sir. I wanted to point out an additional negative consequence of the proposed tax increase on retail. It respectively incentivizes people to purchase products online, which the state receives zero benefit from. I know that there's proposed legislation in Congress. We'll see if that happens. And I know that there's a use tax that no one pays attention to.
JUSTINBut if McDonald wants to target growth industries, he should -- the Internet grew this last holiday season by 17 percent, bricks and mortars, zero percent. It'll drive out bricks and mortars stores that pay property tax that support public benefits. Thank you very much.
NNAMDIWhat do you say, Corey Stewart?
STEWARTI completely agree with the caller. Yeah, right now, the competition isn't so much between the retailers. The competition is between the brick-and-mortar retailers, Best Buy, et cetera, and the online retailers. And he raised -- you raised a very good point that this hurts those who are trying to sell retail merchandise traditionally through storefronts and to the benefit of those who are selling online. Nothing wrong with selling online, but why should we be preferring one industry or one means of sales over another?
NNAMDICorey Stewart is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. He's also Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia. Thank you very much for joining us.
STEWARTAlways a pleasure.
SHERWOODKojo, I've got to mention you're doing "Peter and the Wolf" tomorrow. Where are you doing that?
NNAMDIIt's at the Lincoln Theater on U Street with the National Symphony Orchestra. And it is my understanding that you have been buying tomatoes and eggs.
SHERWOODWhat time is it?
NNAMDISee the (unintelligible).
SHERWOODWhat time is it?
NNAMDIIt's at three o'clock tomorrow afternoon. If anybody throws rotten eggs, I'll know that it's you. I will be narrating "Peter and the Wolf." Thank you all for joining us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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