Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich is running for County Executive with public financing and plans to take on developers. Kim R. Ford is challenging fourteen-term Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton for her seat. We talk to both of them about their campaigns and look at the biggest political news of the week.
Terry McAuliffe will become Virginia’s 72nd governor later this week. His inauguration coincides with the opening of a legislative session where lawmakers are likely to focus on everything from mental health to ethics. But the story isn’t settled just yet for the man McAuliffe will replace, as rumors continue to swirl about whether federal prosecutors are preparing to press corruption charges against outgoing Gov. Bob McDonnell.
- Michael Pope Northern Virginia reporter, WAMU 88.5; political reporter, Connection Newspapers; Author, "Hidden History of Alexandria, D.C." (The History Press)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the future of the world's largest Shakespeare collection, which is located right in the heart of Washington, D.C. The director of the Folger Shakespeare Library joins us in studio. But first, a new chapter in the Old Dominion. Terry McAuliffe will become Virginia's 72nd Governor on Saturday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHis inauguration coincides with the opening of a new legislative session in Richmond where lawmakers are likely to focus on everything from ethics to reforming the Commonweath's mental health system. But the final chapter still isn't settled for the man McAuliffe is replacing this week. As rumors swirl about whether federal prosecutors are prepared to press corruption charges against outgoing Governor Bob McDonnell. Joining us to explore the stories to watch as Richmond gets back to work is Michael Pope.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe is a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He also covers Virginia politics for the Connection Newspapers. Michael, I haven't seen you since last year. Happy New Year.
MR. MICHAEL POPEHi Kojo. Happy New Year.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us. You, too, can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. What are your expectations for Terry McAuliffe as Governor in Virginia? How has he lived up to those expectations so far with his appointments for key positions in the Commonwealth? 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Michael Pope, Richmond will reopen for political business this week. The General Assembly gets back to work Wednesday. Inaugural festivities kick off for incoming Governor Terry McAuliffe Saturday.
NNAMDIThe legislative session will only last for 60 days. What are the issues that you expect are likely to define that window and take up most of the focus of the Commonwealth's lawmakers?
POPEWell, most of the issues that are going to dominate in the upcoming General Assembly session are the same ones that we've been hearing about for months during the campaign. At the top of that list is expansion of Medicaid. This is part of President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Also, expanding pre-K is at the top of McAuliffe's agenda. Improvements to the mental health care system, of course, are going to be much talked about in reference to what happened recently with the, with the State Senator and his son.
POPEEthics reform, touching on an issue you already mentioned there with the current Governor, outgoing Governor. And then also reforming school standardized tests. That's something McAuliffe campaigned on and I would expect that there would be some discussion of that during the General Assembly session.
NNAMDILet's talk about the budget process for a second. How does it work? It's my understanding that Bob McDonnell already had a chance to propose the budget for the next year. What kind of mark was he looking to leave with the spending plan he floated in his final days in office?
POPEWell, the, Governor McDonnell issued his budget December 16th. And there actually has been some interesting politics on that, since that time, because the Appropriations Chairman Delegate, Chris Jones, this is the House Appropriations Chairman, informed the incoming Governor that he would not be considering any amendments from the new administration. So, basically, what the General Assembly members are going to debate and talk about is Governor McDonnell's budget, until we get through the end of the General Assembly session, and at what time there is a veto session.
POPEThat's basically when the General Assembly session is over and finished with, and that's the time that legislators are going to consider any amendments from McAuliffe.
NNAMDIAfter the 60 day period is over? Okay.
POPEYeah. Right. So, basically, it's the prerogative of the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee as to whether or not he or she wants to consider amendments from the new administration. And some chairmen do and some chairmen don't. Apparently, this is not a new thing, because McDonnell actually faced the same issue. This is basically, you know, Chairmen of, especially Appropriations Chairmen, want to make sure that everyone knows how important they are.
POPESo this is the, you know prerogative of the Appropriations Chairman. Interestingly enough, though, if you go back further, you know, before McDonnell, Kaine and Warner were both allowed to submit budget amendments when they first came into office. So it really, sort of, has to do with the personality of the Appropriations Chairman and kind of what tone he wants to set.
NNAMDIIt's why Michael Pope covers Virginia politics for the Connection Newspapers, because, well, he understands the process. He's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. We're talking with him about what's likely in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What issues do you think should be the priorities for the Virginia General Assembly as lawmakers get back to work in Richmond this week? 800-433-8850. You can also shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIMichael, it's still not clear whether federal prosecutors are going to move against Governor McDonnell and his family because of gifts they received from the business man Johnny Williams. But several lawmakers have said the scandal has exposed holes in Virginia's ethics rules for public officials. What are some of the proposals that are gonna be on the table as far as ethics is concerned?
POPEWell, one of the big ones you hear a lot of people talk about is making sure that elected officials are required to disclose gifts to family members. One of the key issues and what's happened with the outgoing Governor is that gifts to his wife were not disclosed. Well, as it turns out, there was no requirement that gifts to the wife be disclosed. And so, some people feel like that's a loophole that should be fixed. There has been a lot of talk about creating a commission, like an ethics commission to oversee ethics, and, you know, perhaps even do investigations.
POPEYou know, one issue that I'm interested in, Kojo, as a reporter, is these documents, the personal financial disclosure of forms are filled out in all manner of different ways. You know, like all the local elected officials also have to fill these out for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Alexandria City Council, Arlington County Board. And if you look at these documents, they're all over the map. Some people are very meticulous about writing down every time they go to a Chamber of Commerce rubber chicken dinner, and some people aren't.
POPEAnd there's no oversight over these things. You know, basically, the way these documents work is the clerk is required to accept them, but no one actually looks at them to make sure they're filled out accurately. So, that's, you know, and another thing that's, I know some legislators are talking about is creating some kind of level of oversight over these documents to make sure that they are filled out legally and accurately.
NNAMDIWhat's the latest that you've been hearing about whether prosecutors are going to indict Bob McDonnell? The Washington Post reported before the end of the year that prosecutors were inches away from doing it at the end of 2013.
POPEYeah, well, I am listening for the sound of the other shoe to drop. And I think a lot of people are listening for that sound. Basically, since it hasn't happened yet, and we are only days away from the inauguration, it does seem unlikely that an indictment would happen before the inauguration, which happens on a Saturday. And so, you know, there's not a lot of speculation about, okay, if the federal prosecutors were gonna bring an indictment, would they bring it on the Saturday of the inauguration? That seems kind of unlikely.
POPEThe next day's a Sunday, of course. So, I think a lot of people are interested in what happens on that Monday. Sort of the first Monday of the McAuliffe administration. The -- so the Post has reported that the federal prosecutors were inches away. They had a face to face meeting with the lawyers for McDonnell, and they were persuaded to hold off. It's unclear exactly what motivated them to hold off, so, like I said, we're all waiting for that sound of the other shoe to drop.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Sarah who asks, why on earth is the state of Virginia paying $800,000 for McDonnell's legal defense? What can we, presumably meaning the residents of the Commonwealth, do about this?
POPEWell, everybody's entitled to a defense. And, you know, the Governor did actually donate $18,000 to charity to offset some of the gifts that he personally took from Williams. So, you know, he's made, the Governor, the outgoing Governor, has made an apology. And interestingly enough, I noticed the exit polls on the election showed that McDonnell actually has a 53 percent approval rating from voters, which is surprising. You know, it certainly shows that the Star Scientific scandal, he took a hit from the Star Scientific scandal. But, you know, 53 percent is still pretty popular for the outgoing Governor.
NNAMDIWell, I suspect that some of those who are members of the 47 percent, if you will, want to know why should my tax dollars be paying for his defense?
POPEWell, that's the law.
NNAMDIThat's what I thought you'd say.
POPEPeople, everyone is entitled to a defense. He was sued in the terms of his official capacity as Governor. And so...
NNAMDIThere's your answer, Sarah. But go ahead.
POPEWell, I mean it's, we would also be interested in following that story because, you know, if there is a federal indictment, then there might be some sort of, I mean, he's already -- McDonnell has already donated $18,000 to charity to offset the gifts, and so you kind of wonder, well, you know, if he is indicted, maybe it's possible that some of that money might be paid back.
NNAMDITerry McAuliffe has already been assembling his cabinet, making appointments to key jobs in the Commonwealth. The Washington Post ran a story this morning about progressives being a little miffed with some of the choices that McAuliffe has made. What's the root of their disappointment?
POPEWell, pro choice advocates and environmentalists and smart growth advocates worked very hard to elect Terry McAuliffe, and they want to see their agenda enacted. You know, people always say elections have consequences and so there are people that worked for the incoming Governor very hard during the election and they want to see their agenda. But, McAuliffe has made a point of being very middle of the road with his cabinet selections.
POPEHe actually is keeping three of the current Republican Governor's cabinet members, and so, you know, like and the environmentalists, for example, they, you know, they feel like there was very strong selections that McAuliffe could have made, but he did not choose those people. On transportation, there's been some criticism of the appointment of the Transportation Secretary, supporting a toll road from Petersburg to Suffolk. So, you know, there is a feeling that his choices could have been a lot more liberal.
POPEThe other way of looking at that though, Kojo, is that McAuliffe campaigned on being a pragmatic problem solver who was willing to get things, you know, is eager to get things done. And the way you get things done is, you know, in Richmond, is by working across the aisle and making compromises. So, I think the cabinet selections sort of are the kind of tone that he set during the campaign. Or at least what he said that he was campaigning on. So, I think we're seeing that in the cabinet selections.
NNAMDIAnd then there's this. Given his closeness with former President Bill Clinton, who had a reputation while in office for what people call triangulation, have any of these appointments, therefore, been particularly surprising to you?
POPEWell, I guess the biggest surprise came last week when the Education Secretary was announced, Anne Holton, who is a former First Lady of Virginia. She's married to former Governor Tim Kaine, now a member of the United States Senate. And she will be the first First Lady to serve in a cabinet. So, that's already some history making that McAuliffe has done. That was probably the most surprising pick.
NNAMDIAnything we can learn about how he's likely to govern based on who he's chosen so far for his cabinet?
POPEWell, Bill Hazel comes to the top of my mind when you ask that question. He is the current, he's the Republican Governor's pick for Health and Human Resources Secretary. And McAuliffe decided to keep him on. That has actually angered a lot of pro-choice supporters, abortion rights supporters because they're like, he did not object to these new, stricter abortion regulations that hold abortion clinics to hospital construction standards.
POPEAnd so, you know, they were more interested in a pick that, you know, would have fought against the abortion regulations. However, you know, here's McAuliffe trying to go down the middle of the road and be pragmatic. And so, you know, on the issue of abortion as one thing, but then if you get into this area of Medicaid expansion, that's going to be a very difficult fight because the House Republicans and the Republican Party has a very solid domination in the House of Delagates.
POPEThey are very much opposed to expanding Medicaid. And so the chatter on that is that McAuliffe, you know, wanted to keep Bill Hazel on in part so that he could push as hard as he possibly could for expanding Medicaid. And, you know, we're talking about expanding health insurance to 400,000 people who currently don't have any health insurance. And so, this is at the top of McAuliffe's agenda to campaign on this very solidly.
POPEBut there's also a money angle to this, too, because the federal government would actually pay for 100 percent of the Medicaid expansion in the early years that actually frees up money. McAuliffe talked about this all the time during the campaign that if Medicaid expansion moves forward in Virginia, that would free up money for, you know, all kinds of things in Virginia. And so that is something that I would expect to see him fight very hard for.
NNAMDIMichael Pope, he's a reporter for WAMU 88.5. He covers Virginia politics also for the Connection newspapers. Michael, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we return, the future of the world's largest Shakespeare collection located right here in the heart of Washington, D.C. We'll be talking with the director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, Michael Witmore when we come back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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