Montgomery County State's Attorney John McCarthy discusses his efforts to address gang violence. Plus, D.C. Councilmember Trayon White joins us to recap the "grocery march" protesting food deserts east of the Anacostia River.
Politicians from throughout the Washington region start sorting out what the White House’s new immigration policy means for the Washington region. Virginia lawmakers pull the plug on a controversial streetcar project. And reports about a plea deal rejection spark new speculation about a public corruption case involving D.C.’s mayor, all in the final weeks of his administration. 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
- John Vihstadt Member, Arlington County Board (I)
- Michael Hough Member Elect, Maryland Senate (R-4th District); Member, Maryland House of Delegates (R-District 3B, Frederick, Washington Counties)
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 a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, welcome.
MR. TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with John Vihstadt. He is a member of the Arlington County Board. He is an Independent. He'll be joining us in studio later. Joining us in studio right now is Michael Hough. He's a member-elect of the Maryland Senate, a Republican who's currently a member of Maryland House of Delegates. He's going to represent a district located in Frederick and Washington Counties. Michael Hough, thank you for joining us.
REP. MICHAEL HOUGHYeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
NNAMDIIf you have comments or questions for Michael Hough, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can sent email to email@example.com. Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow. Tom and I are usually in the habit of discussing a few issues that don't necessarily have to do with your district first, but you can feel free to jump in if you will. I guess, Tom, the biggest political news we got in the District of Columbia this week was that back in September Mayor Vincent Gray turned down a plea deal that was offered by the U.S. attorney.
NNAMDIHe was apparently not in the room when the plea deal was offered, but his attorney says, "We are not going to plead guilty to anything." Apparently the deal was to plead guilty to one felony count. And so it would appear that having rejected that deal, this is likely to go to trial.
SHERWOODWell, the mayor will first have to be indicted or have charges brought against him.
NNAMDIThis is true.
SHERWOODI mean that -- we're still not there yet.
NNAMDII skipped a step.
SHERWOODWell, I'd give credit to Mike DeBonis, for The Post, who broke that story.
SHERWOODYeah, I hate to do that, too, but, you know, we can only be so nice as a media person.
NNAMDIWe had him on earlier in the week. He got enough credit.
SHERWOODBut it is important. You know, we've had this long-running investigation. A year ago this week -- in fact, just yesterday, a year ago Ron Machen said at the Hill Center in an hour-long interview I did with him -- I asked him why in the hell is this thing taking so many years if it's so clear cut? Why don't you just bring charges against the mayor or not? And he says, "There's there there." Famous -- it got to be the City Paper's quote of the year. "There's there there."
NNAMDI"There's there there."
SHERWOODAnd so it is -- the mayor has said he has nothing to plead for. His lawyer says -- would not, in fact, confirm that the offer was made -- has just simply said, "If he is indicted we will go to trial. We will ask for a speedy trial. My client is not guilty of any of this." And if the problem's been -- even the prosecutor on this show has said, "Look, we know basically what the beach looks like. Our job is to gather every grain of sand in order to bring a charge and prove what we think we already know." And that's where we are.
NNAMDIWell, they do seem to be doing it grain-by-grain.
SHERWOODBut it is difficult. You know, they have been -- one thing Michael reported and we confirmed also, is that the prosecutors have been re-interviewing people, people who have plead guilty, people who…
NNAMDIWhich is usually an indication that they're preparing for trial.
SHERWOODThat is correct. That something is going to happen. And so I believe something will happen. One question is, will the mayor get out of office January 2nd, at high noon, without having charges been brought or will something happen between now and then? And I don't know the answer. I think it's a real…
NNAMDIOf course, in the case of Governor McDonnell, in Virginia, it didn't happen until after he had formally left office.
SHERWOODRight. But again, the prosecutor says, "When we have it, we bring it. We're not -- we don't do the gyrations that you reporters do."
NNAMDIThere's clearly a sentiment in Washington for this thing to come to a head in some way or the other because it has been lasting for so long.
SHERWOODBut, just remember, Jack Johnson, I think -- wasn't he under investigation for five years in Prince George's County? It was a long time. At least that county was under investigation for that period of time. Ray Nagin, in New Orleans, I mean, they had several years. They -- and they waited until -- they didn't wait. They indicted him after he was out of office. He's now serving, what, 10 years in jail. The clock of the criminal prosecution is different. The court of law is different from the court of public opinion.
NNAMDIGot to move on quickly to another deal that the incoming mayor or mayor-elect Muriel Bowser in the District of Columbia says she wants a stadium for the D.C. United soccer team. She just does not want it to include a swap for the Reeves Municipal Center on U Street Northwest.
SHERWOODWell, that's like saying you want a ham sandwich, but you don't the ham. The Reeves Center swap is one of the reasons to get Chip Akridge, the developer to sell his land in Southwest Washington, near the Nats ballpark at a cheaper rate then he would if we were just simply selling his land. It's somewhere around $25 a square foot he's willing to sell his land -- critical land needed for the stadium in Southwest, if he gets to buy the Reeves Center.
NNAMDIWill he not accept anything else?
SHERWOODWell, if he doesn't, the price of his land in Southwest goes from $25 a square foot to roughly $70. It triples almost. And so -- and then if he has to be paid more, than Mark Ein, who has some property, may have to be paid more. Pepco, which has a power plant, may have to be paid more. And then suddenly you're looking at exceeding the city's debt cap on what it can borrow. And so the whole thing could unravel.
NNAMDIIs there some other building she may have in mind to trade instead of the Reeves Municipal Center?
SHERWOODNo other building to my knowledge has been mentioned, at least publicly or in the media.
NNAMDISo we're going to have to find out exactly…
SHERWOODIf she doesn't want it done, she'll -- to have two votes it has to have the first vote, like, December the 2nd or so.
NNAMDIWe're going to find out exactly what she has in mind. Our guess is Michael Hough. He's a member-elect of the Maryland Senate. You can call us with your questions or comments for him at 800-433-8850. He's currently a member of the Maryland House of Delegates, but he will be representing in the Senate a district located in Frederick and between -- in Frederick and Washington Counties.
NNAMDIThere's going to be new leadership in Annapolis this coming January. But I'd first like to ask you about the local impact of a decision from leadership at the highest level in Washington. Last night President Obama announcing that he would reform our immigration system through executive action. What, in your view, will be the local consequences of that action in Maryland?
HOUGHI think there's a lot of confusion to see what it means because obviously there's an executive order. We've got to see who that includes, who that doesn't. So at this point it's really hard to say how that's going to affect Maryland and Maryland state government. Obviously the state of Maryland had already taken steps on this issue. It was -- we've had debates going back and forth on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants. In fact, Maryland I think is the only state east of the Mississippi that provides driver's licenses for illegals.
HOUGHSomething that I'll never -- myself and others have opposed because the argument is you have to have a national real reform of this issue. And so it doesn't leave us anywhere, as far as I can tell, but the status quo. Because most of these individuals are still illegal. The five million he's talking about were probably never going to be deported anyways. And so from just my looking at it, it's -- I don't think it really changes a lot. There's still confusion and there's still need for something to happen at the federal level.
HOUGHAnd just my -- putting my political hat on, is I think that the step that he took probably makes it very hard for anything to happen at the federal level. When you start off a relationship -- and you see this at the state level -- that Larry Hogan, he's coming in. A Republican with a Democrat legislature. He's sitting down with the leaders, trying to work together. You want to start off on those terms because things will get ugly as, you know, they go forward sometimes.
HOUGHYou'll have these fights, things like that. But you at least want to start off on the right foot. But when you haven't even had the new Republican Congress sworn in yet and the president starts off by really sticking his thumb in their eye, I mean, that…
NNAMDIBut he would argue that he's not starting off. He just doesn't want to start over. And if he has to start off with this new Republican Congress, as far as he is concerned, it will be starting over a process that extended so long during his last term that it probably won't get done before the end of his second term. How would you respond?
HOUGHI would respond, is that you've got to remember there's a lot of new members elected to the House. There's new members elected to the Senate. So you are starting new. Every two years in D.C. you start over again. You've got a new majority leader in the Senate. You've got new members that are just newly elected. They've never had the chance to vote on this, look at legislation. Both chambers have -- the Senate has passed…
NNAMDIWell, when he looks at the new members and he looks at their orientation, I'm pretty sure he's making the calculation that sense they are likely to be more conservative than the members who preceded them, the likelihood or probability of a vote -- it might be even less than it was before.
HOUGHWell, he's basically, you know, helping to insured the probability that there won't be a vote. Because if you look at them, they'll say, "Why should we go and pass a bill? Because if we pass a bill, if you don't like it, is it going to be like Obamacare where you just do executive order after executive order after executive order to change it, you pick and choose which parts to enforce or not?"
HOUGHAnd so I think not only politically is he really, you know, sticking his thumb in the eye of Republicans, but also, if you look at it, there's got to be a lot of distrust because there's a lot of Constitutional questions that are being brought up by doing this. He's assuming the role of the legislative and executive branch. And this is really new ground he's treading on.
SHERWOODWell, the House Speaker Boehner today -- didn't President Bush, too, he did quite a few executive orders, too. I don't want to get bogged down to that discussion. But Boehner today -- first of all, I was very impressed how he shushed the press when they started to clamber questions at him. He says, "You know what the rules are." And they all just shut up immediately. I'm sure that -- everyone would like to be able to control the media that way.
HOUGHYeah, I haven't learned that trick.
SHERWOODYes. It's pretty tough to learn that. But Boehner -- what was it -- grumbled that the president had exceeded his authority and just said what you said, that he set -- he has set off on the wrong foot in order to reach accommodation. But others have said, some Democrats, just some observers, Boehner himself was unable to pass immigration reform. His -- the farther right part of his wing just -- the party didn't want to do it. So he couldn't get it done either.
SHERWOODSo isn't there blame across Congress that this is one example of how the House, the Senate and the president have not been able to work together, even when they all say they want to do it? It's -- they just can't do it.
HOUGHWell, I think part of this is how our process works. And we know that when there's contentious debates -- you look over time at legislation -- or rather you look at the civil rights legislation, how long that took to get through, you look at -- take tax cuts for instance, take the Bush tax cuts. Imagine if President Bush had come in and said, "Well, there's a lot of debate on this. I'm tired of this going back and forth. So I'm just going to do an executive order to the IRS and tell them to collect less money because that's the way to solve it."
HOUGHAnd people would be very upset. So we have a process set up in this country, just like a process in the Maryland General Assembly. Whereas if a bill is going to come up and go forward -- and this has been, quite frankly, a problem with -- Governor O'Malley has done this a couple times -- taken executive action. There's supposed to be public hearings, public input, there's a whole process set up. And as far as Speaker Boehner goes, the House had already said that they wanted to pass a series of bills.
HOUGHAnd Reid told them, "Don't send me a series of bills. You send me this one bill or we're not voting on it." So there was an impasse between both the House and the Senate. You're not going to have that impasse anymore because you've got Republicans controlling both branches. And so they deserve the courtesy of trying to pass something.
HOUGHAnd quite frankly, I think this president has overstepped his bounds. And I think you're right to say President Bush and other presidents have done it. This has been something that's been really since post-FDR, where the executive branch has continuously done these sort of things.
SHERWOODLet's -- can we go to state politics?
NNAMDINot quite yet.
NNAMDIYou do have some experience with immigration in the past. You've worked with the organization ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, that engages in legislative debates across the country. And was apparently fairly influential in passing the immigration law in Arizona. So what is your view about what our immigration law should be?
HOUGHI think there's no doubt at the federal level that there's definitely problems with it. I mean, we hear this constantly. And, you know, in the state of Maryland, when farmers comes in, people in the Eastern Shore come in, that there is a lot of people that necessarily don't want to become citizens of the United States. They want to come here and they want to work. They want to send money back. And they just want that opportunity.
HOUGHAnd so because of the way the system set up, employers are unable to really bring in people to do these sort of, you know, work in agriculture or a famous one is for Christmas trees. Christmas tree season is coming up. Well, people have to go and cut down all these trees. Typically they bring in a lot of immigrant workers to do this. Well, they'll -- they're unable to do it because of the Visa and green card rules and all that now that are set up.
HOUGHSo the system is definitely broken. You need a national solution to how you do it. The states are trying to do these hodgepodge things of -- it's just not going to fix it. So you really need a national solution. And I don't think the president's actions -- I think it takes us further away from that.
NNAMDIMichael Hough is a member-elect of the Maryland Senate. He's a Republican who is currently a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He joins us in studio along with Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst, who's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Questions or comments for Senator-elect Hough, call us at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org and watch the live videostream there. Tom?
SHERWOODYou were the assistant minority leader in the House -- we'll go back to state politics here. And you've been elected to the Senate. You defeated David Brinkley, an incumbent Republican, right?
SHERWOODThought he was not conservative enough and was not -- I just got a text from Bruce DePuyt from News Channel 8.
NNAMDINever heard of him.
SHERWOODJust some obscure journalist here in the city. He writes to me, he says, "Senator David Brinkley, from Frederick, the man Delegate Hough ousted, is rumored to be Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan's budget secretary. Hough savaged Brinkley over taxes and spending in the primary. Would he oppose," would you, Mr. Hough "be opposed to Brinkley being nominated for this key post, budget secretary, for the incoming Republican governor?"
HOUGHYeah, I've been getting questions like this about -- I get these emails all the time. I heard this person's getting appointed to this, this person's getting appointed to that. You know, I don't want to hypothetically comment on any hypothetical appointments because the governor hasn't named anybody. There's tons of rumors going around. So I'd rather just wait and see, you know, who Governor Hogan appoints. And, you know, taken them at a case by case basis.
SHERWOODHim in any position in the administration -- Larry Hogan administration for Mr. Brinkley?
HOUGHWell, I don't know. I mean, it's not up to me. It's not my call. I mean, Senator Brinkley have a cordial relationship after the primary. That's over with.
HOUGHAnd if, you know, if Senator -- if Governor-elect Hogan wants to use him as an administration, that's Governor Hogan's call. I mean, we don't have an acrimonious relationship. We just had a difference of opinion in a primary. And, you know, quite frankly, we've worked together well after that.
NNAMDIWell, one of the differences of opinion you had is that Senator Brinkley says that given the political realities in Maryland, working with Democrats and making compromises are necessary. He essentially said that your more ideological approach defies common sense. What do you say and how will that inform the way you engage in the Senate?
HOUGHI think the race that I had -- and so people know, I was running against somebody that had been in office since 1994. So had been there for, you know, almost 20 years. And I think my race was sort of a microcosm of what happened statewide, in that people wanted change. And the big issues in my race were the same as the issues statewide. And actually it's kind of funny, because a conservative red county like Frederick County, especially the district that I'm in, to see that, the micro cause and the issues we were debating on was his votes for the budgets, which I said the budgets were out of control, spending was out of control, taxes we talked about a lot.
HOUGHI had taken a very strong stand, just like Larry Hogan, against taxes. And of course the failed Maryland Obamacare exchange as well. That was another big contention. So my race really echoed the same things that were talked about at the state level. And I think I -- you see with mine that it's very unusual for somebody to get -- to take out the minority leader, somebody who's been there for 20 years, and get him with 70 percent of the vote. That people very much wanted change in Annapolis.
HOUGHPeople are very upset with the status quo and particularly on the issues of taxes and spending. That people looked at it and they just said it's out of control. They couldn't take it anymore.
SHERWOODYou know, Doug Gansler, the Democrat, ran on that. He had some issues in his campaign, but that's the campaign that Doug Gansler ran on.
SHERWOODThe 40 tax increases. The state spending. All kinds of things.
HOUGHYeah, and I heard that. It was very interesting. At the state party somebody said to me, they said we're going after the Doug Gansler Democrats. And I think he saw that. I mean, if you look at the numbers in Montgomery County, the fact that Larry Hogan got 40 percent in Montgomery County, some place that you look as the bluest of the blue jurisdictions, it shows that there were a lot of people in there that probably have never voted for Republican, that just couldn't take the out of control taxes and spending.
HOUGHAnd I think it's a positive. It reminds me sort of what you see in Massachusetts and other states. In Massachusetts, you have a long history of Democrat majorities in the legislature, but they put in Republican governors historically because they like to have that check and balance.
SHERWOODAnd so here's your issue. You've got a $600 million current budget deficit in Maryland right now, and it looks worse going in the out years. People are asking, how can the incoming Republican, working with a Democratic legislature and a Republican governor -- how can the governor do the tax cutting that he wants to do, the state spending that he wants to do and meet the deficit at the same time?
HOUGHWell, he's in a great position because -- not a great position starting off. He's inheriting a bad position. But he's in a good position to affect change on taxes and spending because of the fact that the governor of the state of Maryland is one of the most powerful governors in the country. And one of the things they can do on the budget is when they introduce a budget, the legislature can only remove funding. They cannot add funding to that budget. So he has a great chance to go in there and streamline spending.
HOUGHI remember the first year that we were down there -- really the first two years. We went to the administration. We got up on the floor of the House and we said, just level fund spending for these two years. And this will greatly help us. It'll avoid all these tax increases. It'll avoid future deficits. And O'Malley wouldn't do it. Every year, year after year, it was at least a 3 to 4 to 5 percent spending increase. Every year it was over a billion dollars in new spending at a time when the economy was in terrible shape, revenues were falling. And so it was completely irresponsible. So…
SHERWOODWhat was the money spent for overall? Was it education funding? Was it highway? What was the money -- why did O'Malley want the money -- for people who don't know the history.
HOUGHIt's hard to say. I mean, there was just money going basically everywhere. I mean, it was just going into all these departments and things like that. And so what happened was, too, when the economy fell off, Maryland -- like a lot of other states -- readjusted and cut spending in the lean years. Maryland never did that. Maryland got a bunch of stimulus money to hold off the cuts and then after the stimulus money ran out, then they went and increased all these taxes. But the tax increases have had the opposite effect.
HOUGHIt's been driving businesses and driving people out of the state of Maryland. So what you're seeing is we're just digging the hole deeper for ourselves. So what I think going forward, the big picture is, I mean, just by doing no harm…
NNAMDICan you cut taxes in the short term?
HOUGHI think you can. And I'll you why. It's because the tax…
HOUGH…rates -- well, the one that I think there is most bipartisan consensus on -- and people agree -- is that corporate tax that was raised, really has done harm to the state. It's not helped. It's been driving businesses away from the state of Maryland. So I think you -- when you see that and then also I think the personal income tax is one that we should talk about. If we're going to talk about the corporate one I think the personal is another one. And the corporate income tax does not bring in a lot of revenue.
HOUGHAnd so I think a number of these taxes have actually been destructive and have done counter to what they're supposed to do, primarily the corporate and the personal income. They've driven people out. They've actually hurt revenue, not helped it.
NNAMDII want to move from taxes to investments, but first I need to go to the phones where a few callers have been awaiting us. One of them being Gerald, in Owings Mills, Md. Gerald, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GERALDHey, how you doing?
GERALDWell, I want to first of all say congratulations to the state senator. The -- my question is -- you just brought up the Eastern Shore and Christmas trees. So, you know, everyone is out of work right now, America's out of work, so why don't you get Americans to come and cut the Christmas trees?
NNAMDIHe's talking about the people who you say came -- just come to want -- want to come here to work, don't necessarily want to live here. But he feels that they're taking the jobs that Americans need.
HOUGHWell, look, there's just -- let's just be honest about it. There are people that are coming in the country -- on the Eastern Shore it's not Christmas trees. We hear it all the time from the seafood industry, that they have immigrants that are coming in, that they need these immigrants to fill these positions. And what I'm saying is that I don't think that these people necessarily are coming -- they want to become citizens of the United States. They just want to -- basically, if you had a guest worker type program come in, that they could get jobs under there, under those.
HOUGHSo I just think it's a fact of reality that in this country, since probably the 1950s -- if you look at the farming community, agriculture, different things like that -- we've had immigrants come in and do this kind of work. And so I think we need a guest worker program going forward. And the -- our Visa program has also been a problem. It's been something that I think both parties recognize that we need to reform.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Gerald. One more from Manny, in Woodbridge, Va. Manny, your turn.
MANNYThank you, Kojo, for having me on your show. Well, for taking my call here. What I wanted to, you know, pose this question to the new senator. First of all, congratulations to you, Senator. But I don't think, first of all, that whether or not the president had waited for the Republican -- the new Republican Congress to come in it would have made his job easy. As a matter of fact, I think it would have made it much harder for him. I would say you now have an opportunity to go ahead and basically put together a new bill, put together an immigration bill that he can sign or at least do his job, you know.
MANNYThe Senate has totally not done anything the past six years. They have stymied him at every turn. And I don't see where anybody can say that, oh, he shouldn't have done this. He should have waited, you know, on the new Congress comes in. So you have an opportunity now to do your job. And go ahead and…
NNAMDIHere's Delegate Senator-elect Hough to respond.
HOUGHI don't think he should have done it in the first place. I think the question is -- it's really an unprecedented step. I mean for the president to get on there -- he gave a very moving speech. A number of the language he used was actually very good. I wish he would have used that to talk about legislation. But then he gets on there and lectures us and lectures Congress. And when -- and I'm a political science major.
HOUGHAnd just something about it, it very much bothers me that the role that he has taken, whether you look at immigration, Obamacare, climate reset -- "I have a pen. I have a phone. I'll do things on my own." That's not how our system's set up. It's just not. Our founders, when they set our system up, were very afraid of a monarch or a King George and so they set up a separation of powers and different branches of government. And what we see here is an overstepping of that bounds.
HOUGHAnd had this been a Republican president doing this, Democrats would be very upset as well. So I think it's a terrible precedent. And I think that, you know, if we get a Republican in there next time, and they decide to take up these same sort of powers and started issuing executive orders, you'll see the other side very upset about it because this is not the way our system is supposed to be set up, especially when you are rebuked, as he was, by the electorate.
HOUGHI mean, let's face it. This was a bigger Republican wave since -- bigger than 1994. This is probably one of the biggest Republican waves ever. And then to come back and act how he has, I just think it's a terrible precedent.
SHERWOODI think the dysfunction of Congress -- well, we could talk about that endlessly. I want to ask about the incoming governor. I'm very interested in what Governor Hogan's going to do. In his campaign, in addition to running on a strong economic platform, he downplayed and did not take the bait, I would say, when media and other people asked him about gun control, abortion, social issues of that sort, he said, "I'm focused on the economy."
SHERWOODDo you see the legislature, do you see yourself who's also a conservative -- your -- the Sportsman caucus and other caucuses -- do you see yourself going to the legislature in Annapolis focused on the economy or do you see an opportunity for social legislation, turning back maybe the gun laws or changing the gun laws, abortion, those types of things that, as you know, rile up the other side.
HOUGHYeah, I think -- those things will always be issues. Whether we have a Republican governor or a Democrat governor or whatever, there'll always be debates. And quite frankly, one of the things that those of us who are Republicans down there, quite frankly, are on the defensive most of the time on these issues. We're not actually down there driving these things.
HOUGHIt's, you know, O'Malley and them that are really driving these -- especially under O'Malley. O'Malley really, in my perspective, wanted to be run -- wants to run for president. Was pushing a lot of…
SHERWOODIs running, is running.
HOUGHIs running, yeah. Was pushing a lot of hot topic, hot button, you know, national issues through the general assembly. I was on the judiciary committee, so we got them all.
SHERWOODOkay. Will you seek to change the gun law?
HOUGHI'm sure there'll be bills in. I don't have bill drafted on that yet, but I mean…
SHERWOODALEC doesn't have a bill? Sorry, that was a joke.
HOUGHActually, ALEC doesn't have -- I don't think -- they don't do anything anymore on guns, but I don't know of anything yet. There's going to be debates on it, for sure. And I'll give you an example. I'll tell you one thing that I'm -- that I've heard about. That gun bill that was put through had so many problems. And I'll tell you one. I was out knocking on doors in a little community in Frederick County. And they do fox hound hunting.
HOUGHThey have the dogs there and they're telling me the stories. And one of the things they told me is they have these starter guns. They're like caps. You can't shoot like a real bullet through them. They're like almost cap guns. But they -- he said in order to get a starter gun now he had to go through the handgun qualification and he had to go through all this paperwork.
HOUGHIt's like the typical bureaucratic, you know, nightmare. You can't believe it. So I just thought, that would be something. Right there would be a piece of legislation to exempt starter guns. But there are problems in that law that…
SHERWOODI'm surprised that would even be covered in the law.
HOUGHExactly. I don't…
SHERWOODMaybe a clerk made a mistake.
HOUGHI don't know.
NNAMDIWhen it comes to cutting spending, the guest who's going to be joining us in a little while was one of the catalyst for Arlington County moving this week to pull the plug on its long-planned streetcar projects. There are some who would like for Maryland to do same thing on transit projects like the Purple Line. Where would you like to see things go?
HOUGHYeah, I hope there is a change and a reform of how we do transportation funding. And for one thing -- the one problem is when you do mass transit is, not only the cost of putting it in place, but what is going to be the cost for subsidizing it in future years? And that's one problem I have. But the other thing is that we have seen from this governor a hyper focus on basically -- in governing -- was Prince George's, Montgomery and Baltimore City.
HOUGHAnd my constituents saw it very much so, to the point where we were -- we were putting in all this money through our gas tax revenues and we're not getting it back to fix our roads in Frederick County. And that has been a frustration. 270, up through Frederick County, northern Montgomery County is probably one of the most congested roads in the country.
SHERWOODCan it be any bigger?
HOUGHIt's only two lanes. It's two lanes going up through by us. Up in…
SHERWOOD270 is two…
HOUGHYeah, 270 going into Frederick County, it turns into two lanes. So it is not -- it has not been expanded since President Eisenhower was there. I mean it's essentially the same road. And so -- and whether we grow or not in Maryland, we've got people coming down from Pennsylvania that are using that road. And so our folks in Frederick County, folks like myself are saying, let's take the money that we put into our gas tax revenue and we should have at least the majority of that money -- not -- I think right now we're talking 30, 40 percent of your gas tax revenues are even going back into roads. They're going to…
SHERWOODSo the -- I lost track. Is the Purple Line on your -- on the target list for you to not fund?
HOUGHI don't think -- I think the priority should be -- funding and fixing our roads should be the first priority before we go fixing…
NNAMDISo you won't lose any sleep if the Purple Line dies.
NNAMDIRunning out of time very quickly. You and other Republicans have made it clear that you feel tax cuts are a part of your plan to make the state more competitive economically, but if you were opposed to things like the Purple Line what investments do you think are a part of that solution also?
HOUGHWell, actually we passed a -- a good bipartisan bill that we passed and I think we can build upon was actually -- to give credit, the lieutenant governor put through a private -- public/private partnership bill which talks about how you can leverage government revenues and work with the private sector. And we see this in Virginia right now, where they've expanded 495. They're doing -- they're working on expansion right now to 66, I-66. And they're doing this by leveraging private investment.
HOUGHSo they did a $1.9 billion expansion on the beltway, and they only invested $400 million of state revenue. That was a great deal for them. And those are the kind of things that I think going forward, as Republicans, we have a great chance to really put forward innovations and reform the way government has worked in a number of positive ways that have been stuck sort of in the status, you know, the status quo fighting these things back. And that is one example where Virginia, on tax policy and transportation, has really done a better job than us.
NNAMDIYou're going to have a lot of convincing to do in the general assembly. Good luck to you.
HOUGHYeah, thank you.
NNAMDIMichael Hough is a member-elect of the Maryland Senate. He's a Republican, currently a member of the Maryland House of Delegates. He's -- he'll be representing a district located in Frederick and Washington Counties. Once again, good luck.
HOUGHYeah, thank you.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. We'll be joined shortly by John Vihstadt. He's a member of the Arlington County Board. You can start calling now, 800-433-8850. If you want to see what he looks like you can go to the live videostream on our website at kojoshow.org, where you may also ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, the mayor of the District of Columbia has decided -- or not the mayor. I'm sorry. In this case, the D.C. Council has decided to pass legislation overhauling the city's civil asset forfeiture program. That's the program under which police officers -- and it's not only happening in police departments, not only in the District, but around the country -- siege large numbers, large amounts of cash and property…
NNAMDI…from people who they suspect of being involved in the commission of crimes, but who have not yet either been charged or been convicted of those things. And those people, nevertheless, find it very difficult to get that money back. And invariably those police departments use that money for their own operation.
SHERWOODIt's a honey pot for police departments around the country. There are two of them. One's they get all this cheap equipment from the Department of Homeland Security. And this is another thing. In the course of pursuing crime, illegal activities they seize properties, thousands of cars, any amounts of money from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands dollars. And in the past -- or until this law passed -- all of this money, all these resources were then used for the -- by the police department. So much so -- as the Washington Post did a very good -- I've now twice today complemented…
NNAMDIYou've praised the Washington Post. I don't know why.
SHERWOOD…The Post. That's it. A terrific story though that explained how this money was being budgeted for, even though that was one of the things you're not supposed to do. They would say, oh, well, we're going to $5 million in the future on this seizing of assets. And it's too hard to get the assets back, so let's plan on spending that money.
NNAMDIIt became an incentive.
SHERWOODTommy Wells, on the judiciary committee, among others said this was not good public policy, not good policing and now it's changed. It'll be much more difficult to seize and keep money from people.
NNAMDIWell, of course, the series of -- in the Washington Post that indicated how widespread this was around the nation probably gave impetus to the D.C. Council…
SHERWOODOh, it did.
NNAMDI…because this Council has been trying to pass this legislation for a while. Legislation that the Council did approve of, Mayor Gray vetoes, and that is a bill allowing sirens for animal emergencies. Mayor Gray saying that currently only the police and fire departments are permitted to use red lights and sirens as provided for in this bill, which would have allowed animal control officers to be able to use them to go after what were called animal emergencies. Mayor Gray says that would lead to too much confusion.
SHERWOODWell, you know, let me just say, personally, I believe living in the nation's capital, we have far too many sirens. Whether it's a motorcade, whether it's police officers. The ones that really irritate me are those really dark vehicles that they just go down the street and…
NNAMDII'm sorry I brought this up.
SHERWOOD…suddenly their grille lights come on and they look like a, you know, a Christmas tree. They're all flashing lights and they start speeding and making U-turns. I mean, we really need to control it. Animal -- the humane society does great work. They have over, you know, something like 15,000 trips a year where they're trying to save the lives of animals. And I just think that -- but Chief Lanier says they're not trained in high-speed pursuits, I mean, in terms -- like ambulance drivers.
SHERWOODThey're not as recognizable. And maybe we could find a different color the lights can flash on their things. But all we need is more sirens in the nation's capital.
NNAMDIWell obviously he didn't approve of this move.
SHERWOODNo, but it was -- I mean, the Council could easily override the mayor's veto.
NNAMDIThis is true. Joining us in studio now is John Vihstadt Member. He is a member of the Arlington County Board. He is an independent. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. JOHN VIHSTADTFor sure, Kojo, it's great to be here.
NNAMDIIf you have -- if you have -- congratulations in more ways than one. If you have questions or comments for John Vihstadt, give us a call, 800-433-8850. A lot of people saw your re-election effort as a one-issue campaign that was all about the streetcars. This week, the political fallout of your victory became apparent when the board voted to pull the plug on the streetcar projects, and the next phase of tough questions about the county's future has begun. So let's start from there. Where does access to transit fit into your assessment of what's causing and what can be done to fix the country's wealth disparities?
VIHSTADTWell Kojo, first of all let me start out in commenting to something you said. The streetcar was absolutely the dominant issue in our campaign, both in our special election...
NNAMDIBut it was not the only issue.
VIHSTADTIt was not the only issue. There were, there were other issues. The streetcar really was emblematic of some growing anxieties about where Arlington County was putting its tax dollars, what should our spending priorities be. We have schools bursting at the seams. We had crumbling infrastructure. There were concerns about neighborhood quality of life.
VIHSTADTSo really it was, I think, a call among the voters, Democrats, independents, greens and Republican alike, to emphasize core services and look at what is working and what is not working. And the voters spoke out strongly with respect to the streetcar, but it was only one significant issue. It wasn't the whole ballgame.
VIHSTADTAnd in fact as the Washington Post said when they endorsed me a few weeks ago, they said notwithstanding the fact that we disagree with John Vihstadt on the streetcar, we feel that another voice, an independent perspective, on a one-party county board that's been that way for over 30 years is important.
SHERWOODAll right, school overcrowding, business development, all of those things in part depend upon the transportation network in Arlington County. So back to Kojo's question, what going forward do you see to handle the massive traffic that is growing in Arlington County? If not a streetcar, what?
VIHSTADTWell, I have actually already reached out to both my board colleagues, as well as the county manager. I had a conversation with the county manager this morning, in fact. I spoke with the chair of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, or CPRO. I've placed a call to the...
SHERWOODThat sounds like a medicine.
VIHSTADTWell, you know, we have all sorts of...
SHERWOODBut what are the ideas?
VIHSTADTWell here's my point. What I'm saying is that I have given my pledge, renewed my pledge. As I said during the campaign, this was never, this was never a decision between a streetcar and doing nothing. What we want to do, and my colleague Ms. Garvey and I agree, and many others, obviously the voters agree, we need to move forward to a modified form of bus rapid transit or BRT.
VIHSTADTCall it what you want to. We want to improve bus rapid transit along the pike, along the Route 1 corridor. BRT can be done at a fraction of the cost, much more quickly with much less disruption and much greater regional connectivity than a 7.5-mile streetcar.
NNAMDIAllow me to say what Dave Alpert of the Greater Greater Washington blog has been saying, and he asked me to ask this. What are you going to do now to ensure that good transit does get built on Columbia Pike, and when you refer to bus rapid transit, he asked us to remind you that the leading bus rapid transit organization defines BRT as requiring a bus lane, which VDOT has said it is not allowed to do on Columbia Pike. So he'd like to hear your view of actual possible transit.
VIHSTADTWell, you know, this back and forth about whether or not either a streetcar or a bus need a dedicated lane, you know, we continue to debate this point. I would point out number one, the Federal Transit Administration, part of the federal government, the Department of Transportation, does not specify or require that bus rapid transit be in a dedicated lane. And the absence of a dedicated lane on Columbia Pike honestly is a much greater problem for a streetcar, which cannot change lanes, which cannot maneuver around stopped vehicles in front of it, as opposed to a bus or a car, which can switch lanes with relative ease.
VIHSTADTSo again, a dedicated lane is not necessary. Would it be desirable? Absolutely. But when you're talking about mixed traffic, when you're talking about regional connectivity, a BRT system has much more flexibility and much more promise for a truly integrated system that's going to go across jurisdictional lines.
VIHSTADTI mean, I would like nothing better than for a BRT to start in Fairfax or even Loudon, go down the pike, course down through Route 1 into Alexandria.
NNAMDIWhat is your argument -- what is the -- on what factual basis do you argue that it has more potential than a streetcar?
VIHSTADTWell, just look at the unfolding red flag of the D.C. streetcar on Eighth Street.
SHERWOODOh, you can't compare the two.
VIHSTADTWell, I think...
SHERWOODThere are a lot of problems with the implementation of that streetcar.
VIHSTADTThere's no question about it, but there cost overruns, budget delays, questions about funding, accidents, the fact that the buses even during this test drive rollout and cars alike were being caught behind the streetcar. I mean don't forget, I can't remember what channel it was on, you know, you had the mayor on the streetcar summoning his limo after the streetcar was not able to maneuver around a vehicle that stopped it. So bus traffic...
SHERWOODBut there are streetcars operating efficiently all around the country.
VIHSTADTThere are some streetcar systems that are operating efficiently.
VIHSTADTA lot of streetcars also have dedicated lanes, and that would've been, you know -- go ahead.
SHERWOODLet's don't -- we're not here to re-argue streetcars.
VIHSTADTAbsolutely not, right.
SHERWOODBut I'll go back again to the question, I know that the board chairman, Jay Fisette, has said no, there are 17,000 jobs that have been lost in Crystal City. One of the things, the businesses that are trying to relocate have looked to have more people come. There's -- the Council of Governments just this week looked at this transportation plan, saying by 2040 there's going to be four million more day trips a day in the city and in the region, more a million of those will be by bike, some by cars.
SHERWOODAnd we are going to be congested. We are all growing, which is a great thing. The economies are good. But what I still haven't heard is -- putting more buses on crowded streets doesn't sound like rapid transit to me. Are you just against the concept of rapid transit?
VIHSTADTOn the contrary, and actually I'm glad you asked the question in that way because I'd like to stipulate right off the bat here.
SHERWOODThat you're for rapid transit. (laugh)
VIHSTADTI literally take Metro Bus and Metro Rail and our local in Arlington ART Bus virtually every day in my commute to downtown D.C. I am a huge fan of multi-modal mass transit. I supported the metro bond. I voted to put it on the ballot with my colleagues. I campaigned in favor of the metro bond. So I don't think...
SHERWOODOkay, good, you're pro-mass transit.
VIHSTADTRight, I just want to...
SHERWOODHow quickly are you going to help Crystal City?
VIHSTADTI have already indicated I have already reached out to those communities. As I said during the campaign, if the streetcar is not going to happen, which now as a result of the statesmanlike vote of my colleagues on the board, four to one, it's not going to happen, we all need to collectively roll up our sleeves, look at bus rapid transit, look at other components of how we can revitalize the pike and Crystal City.
VIHSTADTAnd, you know, the other point I would make is, is transit a key component of any corridor's revitalization? No question about it. But there's other things we can do, you know, zoning decisions, land use decisions, streetscape improvements, undergrounding of utilities. All of these things contribute...
VIHSTADTAll of these things, transportation demand management, all of these things contribute to a corridor's economic vitality. Look at Shirlington. It has great bus service. It doesn't have a streetcar, and it doesn't have metro.
NNAMDIOur guest is John Vihstadt Member. He is a member of the Arlington County Board. he's an independent. If you have questions or comments for him, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you'll see a live video stream. Call us at 800-433-8850. Here's Christine in Arlington. Christine, you're on the air. Gentlemen, please don your headphones. Christine, go ahead please. Hi Christine, are you there? Go ahead.
CHRISTINEI am, thank you. I am a resident of South Arlington, the ugly stepchild of Arlington. But I'm a fairly new resident. And there were just two points that I -- well, one question I wanted to ask and then a point I wanted to make. If you don't have a dedicated lane, isn't that what makes bus rapid transit the rapid?
VIHSTADTWell, it would -- Christine, thanks for your question. I guess I'd like to preface my remarks about your specific question with an observation you made. It really pains me when we get into this argument about a north-south divide in Arlington. I spent all during the '80s in Arlington on Columbia Pike. I lived at Columbia Pike and Courthouse Road. Then I bought a condo in Arlington Village. My son lives on Columbia Pike right now. We come to the Pike all the time for the great restaurants and other advantages the Pike has to offer.
VIHSTADTSo I really view our county as one Arlington. With respect to your specific point about a dedicated lane, there's no question that buses could move more rapidly if they had a dedicated lane, and so could streetcars. But as I said, the lack of a dedicated lane on the Pike, which we can't do because of the document that gave the Pike back to Arlington from the state several years ago, the lack of a dedicated lane is much more of a problem for a streetcar, which finds it impossible to maneuver around the things in front of it, than it is for buses.
SHERWOODWhy do things have to get in front of streetcars? We've had this conversation on Eighth Street. And there has to be a learning curve for drivers or cyclists, delivery trucks, cars, that they have to not block the streetcar. I mean, why does there have to be an assumption that people will just block the streetcars? We had streetcars -- people cross over the tracks all the time. It's just a matter of getting drivers used to a more congested way of getting around town.
VIHSTADTWell no, that's...
SHERWOODWhy not ban the cars?
VIHSTADTWell, that's the whole point. We can't ban the cars. We can't ban the emergency vehicles or other types of vehicles because the state has said we can't have a dedicated lane for the streetcar.
SHERWOODCan you make Columbia Pike a toll road?
VIHSTADTWell, you know, it was...
SHERWOODWith an EZ pass?
SHERWOODOn Eighth Street...
NNAMDIYou mentioned that you see one Arlington. I think Laura in Arlington may beg to differ. Laura, your turn.
LAURAOh, thank you very much. my question is about the women who clean the county's offices and, you know, the floors and empty the trash and clean the toilets in the building near Courthouse Plaza. These women are paid less than -- far less than the county's living wage, and I want to know what Mr. Vihstadt might do about that, to correct that situation. These women are almost all mothers, and they are eligible for food stamps and other poverty-decreasing measures at the taxpayers' expense. So what would he do to bring them up to the living wage?
SHERWOODIs that -- are they under contract, or are they county employees? I wasn't clear.
LAURAWell, it is -- that is how the county doesn't have to -- you know, they subcontract the property management out to the (unintelligible) because...
NNAMDILet's see what board member Vihstadt has to say about that.
VIHSTADTSure, you know, one of the biggest challenges we face as a nation, as well as in the county, is growing economic disparity. It's a problem. So is affordable housing, and that's in fact one of the biggest issues we face in the county. We're only 26 square miles. We're not building any more land. And so we are really in the midst of a very lively, and on -- occasionally contentious community conversation about the competing demands for our limited land, affordable housing, schools, public facilities and the like.
VIHSTADTYou know, as far as a living wage is concerned, it sounds -- and by the way I'm in favor of hiking the federal minimum wage. When you get to deciding whether or not a particular jurisdiction in a multi-jurisdictional area like we are, should set a separate wage, you really get into a question of okay, what is that going to mean for our competitive advantage. If we mandate, say, a $15 wage in Arlington, and Alexandria and Fairfax don't follow suit, you know, what's going to happen with those jobs? How are those employers going to deal with that?
VIHSTADTSo, you know, I'm not opposed to a conversation to talk about this, but I think we have to be cognizant of the fact that we're only 225,000 people in a metropolitan area of over 5 million, and we're only one municipality in really a mosaic of a lot of municipalities. We also have the issue in Arlington, I should point out, you know, we're one of these Dillon Rule states. So we really have to go hand in hand to Richmond to do a whole lot in a whole lot of areas.
SHERWOODWe should be clear the Dillon Rule is -- in Virginia is that local -- the local government, as they'd like to call them, the localities, cannot do anything unless it's permitted by the state.
SHERWOODAnd thus you can't arbitrarily raise the minimum wage.
VIHSTADTRight, I mean, frankly as I believe that...
SHERWOODBut you can pay -- you can require your contractors to pay people decent wages.
VIHSTADTWell, and in fact right, and in fact one of the reasons why we have such good schools in the county and why we have such great county employees in my view is that we do pay very competitive salaries for our county employees and our school system, as well as our contractors.
NNAMDISpeaking of the school system, that's what Gary in Arlington would like to talk about. Gary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
GARYThank you so much, Kojo. Mr. Vihstadt, congratulations. As you know, there is an enrollment boom going on in Arlington. We have about 500 students more per grade enrolled in K through 2 than we do in middle school today. The school board process that they've been going through, trying to site the new schools, has really been looking at lots that aren't big enough to support the type of schools that we're going to need.
GARYAnd I am very concerned that the path we are headed down right now is going to involve buying tons of trailers because we don't -- we're not putting in permanent seats fast enough, and that this is going to be really bad for Arlington's both school quality because the cafeterias and the gyms and the hallways don't get bigger when you add trailers.
NNAMDIYou'd like to know -- you'd like to know what Mr. Vihstadt can do about that?
GARYWell, there's been a lack of coordination between the county. There's been a lack of raising the school revenue share has actually been cut over the past 10 years as enrollment is exploding. And so I think we need greater fiscal discipline across purchasing. We spend...
NNAMDIOkay, allow me to have him respond because we don't have a great deal of time left.
VIHSTADTSure. As I indicated earlier, and as both my opponent and I said on the campaign trail, more seats for more students is -- absolutely needs to be a top priority. You know, the last four or five years we were adding I like to say only now 700 or 800 kids a year. This last fall we actually added 1,200 kids, which is the size of a -- it's the size compared -- middle school -- in between a middle school and a high school.
VIHSTADTSo we absolutely have to do that, you know, and we do have to do a better job, I think, of working with our school board. We've got a couple of new faces on the school board this fall. I'm a fresh face on the county board. I think all of our colleagues, even the long-termers, as well as the newbies like me, we all realize I think that we had to do a better job of coordinating with the school system.
VIHSTADTYou know, the county has its land, and the schools have their land, and I've said that if their school -- if there's county land that would be appropriate to sell to the school system or work out some sort of swap for an additional school, we need to do that. And likewise with the schools. In terms of the trailers that he mentioned, there's no doubt that these learning cottages are not a sustainable, long-term solution.
VIHSTADTThey don't deal with public spaces like cafeterias and band rooms and so forth. So we need to -- we need to have a new revenue-sharing agreement. We need to free up more bond money and so forth.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's -- John Vihstadt is a member of the Arlington County Board. He's an independent. Thank you for joining us. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a reporter for NBC 4 and a columnist for the Current Newspapers. Tom, have a great weekend.
SHERWOODHappy Thanksgiving to all.
NNAMDIHappy Thanksgiving indeed to all, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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