On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The Chair of Virginia’s Republican Party, Jack Wilson, is preparing for the 2019 legislative elections after a contentious General Assembly session. He joins us for a look into his party’s strategy to win more seats in the Virginia statehouse. Then, after a week that saw several traffic deaths in the District, we check in with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen about how he thinks D.C. should do to keep pedestrians and cyclists safer.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, I'm Martin Austermuhle sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer with the Washington City Paper. Tom, thanks for being here again.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
AUSTERMUHLELater in the broadcast we'll be talking with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen from Ward 6 about cycling, about police, about justice in the city. But first joining us from a studio in Richmond is Jack Wilson. He's the Chairperson of the Republican Party in Virginia. Good to have you here, Jack.
JACK WILSONIt's good to be with you.
AUSTERMUHLEBut before we get to the Virginia politics and what's going on in Virginia, let's talk about the other state in our region, Maryland, specifically Maryland Governor Larry Hogan -- who we'll get to in a second -- but first I want to talk about the delegate race -- sorry, the speaker of the House of Delegates in Maryland. There is quite a little contest going on for who is going to be the next speaker. Mike Bush died April 7 and now there's going to be a vote to decide who succeeds him. So, Tom, there's been news in this race today. Catch us up on what's going on.
SHERWOODWell, first of all the legislature will convene next Wednesday to decide who the new speaker will be. Speaker Michael Bush had been there -- the longest serving speaker, 16 -- 17 years. There were three candidates up until today. Derek Davis from Prince George's County, who was on The Kojo Show last week's Politic's Hour and Maggie McIntosh from Baltimore City, both of whom have been leaders of the legislature under Bush since 2003.
SHERWOODAdrian Jones, who was the Speaker Pro Tem under Bush, today dropped out. And she is African American and she endorsed Derek Davis and Davis is trying to win enough votes. You need 71 votes to become the speaker. And Davis will now have about 45 votes in the legislative Black Caucus, but he may need some Republican votes to win.
SHERWOODMaggie McIntosh, who's also running and has been the leader in getting votes, she's up in Baltimore. And she said she wouldn't seek Republican votes. And so it's kind of tearing the Democratic Party apart.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd we were just talking about this before we went to air. This issue of when you have someone serving in politics for a long time in an elected office that has gained a lot of power. If they don't cultivate some sort of heir apparent or give a sense that they want someone to succeed them, you get these sorts of kind of internal fights over, who will eventually succeed them. But then again on the flip side, having an heir apparent isn't always a good thing. You don't want a hand selected successor.
SHERWOODWell, it's interesting that, though, the people who are competing for it are people who rose to power, because of Speaker Bush and he didn't make a decision. He had been sick for two years. So he didn't make a decision. So in the next few days will be an extraordinary battle behind the scenes of who's going to get the votes for Wednesday.
AUSTERMUHLESo staying in Maryland --
SHERWOODI should say just briefly.
SHERWOODWhoever wins whether it's Maggie McIntosh or Derek Davis it will be history making for the General Assembly in Maryland, because only white men have been the Speaker of the House in Maryland, and this would a change no matter who wins.
AUSTERMUHLEExactly. And staying in Maryland and we're going to get to you, Jack in Virginia. But we may get your opinions on this one. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan somewhat considered the anti-Trump republican, very popular governor of Maryland. His, you know, approval rating somewhere in the 60 plus 70 somewhat percentage range. He, again, is toying with the idea or at least expressing the idea that he may eventually try to challenge President Trump in a republican primary.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd he was up in New Hampshire this week and he was talking about it. He said he's still seriously considering it. He hasn't committed yet. But, Tom, is this for real? Is he just doing it to get some national attention? Do you think he's really considering it and is just kind of going through the motions here?
SHERWOODWell, I have no actual evidence of it, but it feels to me like he's a stocking horse leaving a spot open for maybe someone like John Casicks of Ohio to get into the campaign. But the governor very popular in Maryland has been to Iowa. He's now been to the Politics & Eggs breakfast, a must stop in New Hampshire. He said he would go to 16 other states. He's looked at the primary process in the Republican Party.
SHERWOODSo is he serious about providing maybe an alternative to Trump? Yes. Is it serious that it was going to be him? I'd rather hear the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, what he thinks about it and whether Larry Hogan has ever been invited to speak in Virginia to the republicans there.
AUSTERMUHLESo, Jack, you've been asked a question. What do you think?
WILSONWell, frankly, obviously anybody that wants to seek the Republican nomination is free to do it, but given the president's popularity with the Republican base I think it would be an uphill challenge for anybody to challenge the president in the primary cycle. I think the president is very likely to be the Republican nominee and I think the party is gearing up to reelect President Trump in 2020.
SHERWOODDo you have any connections with Larry Hogan? He's one of two governors in the country, who are elected in democratic states. He got reelected. He has 70 percent approval rating. What is your general view of him even if you think he should not be maybe challenging President Trump?
WILSONWell, I think the governor from what I know about him is a good governor. Obviously winning in Maryland is not an easy task as a Republican. He's advanced a number of conservative issues. And I would welcome the opportunity to have him come to Virginia to have talk to Virginia republicans about how it is and how you win as a Republican in a blue state. I just don't see challenging the president being a very wise move for really any Republican at this point.
SHERWOODAnd Governor Hogan did say New Hampshire -- that he would not go on a quote "suicide mission," but he would just continue to probe at this, but he's not yet a candidate.
WILSONRight. And that -- you know, obviously, he's got the opportunity to go speak to people and listen to people. But if you start looking at the statistics and the polling, the president is very popular among the Republican voting electorate. And so for anybody to think that they'd have a reasonable chance of knocking off the president in a renomination contest, I think is a stretch.
AUSTERMUHLEJack, one question. Well, one significant issue is that absentee voting starts today for state and local primaries in Virginia. Every seat in the legislature is up for election this year. And we know that two years ago it was probably tighter for Republicans than you guys would have been comfortable with. But you, obviously, want to kind of maintain the position or expand the position you have in the legislature, get more seats, kind of get a little more solid control of things. What are you doing and how do you feel moving into these coming elections?
WILSONWe are very confident with our candidates heading in to the General Assembly elections this November. You're right. We've got a few primaries and other nominating contests to get through this spring, but we lost 15 seats in the House of Delegates in 2017. Many of those seats are our seats -- were good Republican seats. I think some of our elected delegates were taken a bit by surprise by the enthusiasm on the Democrat side. But we're not going to be surprised this November, our candidates have been working hard since 2017.
WILSONAnd we're fielding a very great set of challengers in a lot of those 15 seats that we lost. So I'm pretty optimistic on the House of Delegates side that we're going to regain some of those seats that we lost. We got the State Senate up this time. They were not up for election in 2017. So they clearly are not going to be surprised by the democrat enthusiasm. And I'm optimistic that we're going to hold our majority in the State Senate as well.
SHERWOODMr. Chairman, you're from Chesterfield County, which is a suburb of Richmond. It's kind of like Montgomery County is to the Washington D.C.
WILSONAlthough perhaps a little bit more conservative.
SHERWOODWell, I meant only geographicly speaking.
SHERWOODAnd, of course, you've been active in that county for a long time as land use attorney and the party politics. But your own county has seen Democrats win in the County Attorney and other -- is there a problem that you see for the party that Virginia is not a purple state anymore. That it has become a Democratic state and you guys are fighting a tougher battle than you might have been fighting four, six years ago?
WILSONIt clearly is a tougher battle than we've had. We've had a lot of demographic shifts up and down the I-95 corridor. But, frankly, I think what we have failed to do in more recent elections is our articulate our Republican, our conservative Republican message to voters. And I think we may have taken some of those middle voters for granted. And I think this election cycle you're going to see a more targeted message to those voters that have traditionally been our republican voters. And we're going to bring them back into the fold this November.
SHERWOODYou must be feeling pretty good that confederate monuments have not arisen as an issue. I know that that tore apart the state in the Corey Stewart Senate campaign last year and other cases. And as you just suggested, I know you're a Reagan Republican. You said that in October when you talked to us here on the show, but do you think the party is going to stay away from things like confederate monuments and just focus on traditional bread and butter Republican issues?
WILSONWell, I think -- and that's what you saw this session at the General Assembly. I think after the midterm elections, I think we in Virginia's Republicans took a look at those midterm elections both in Virginia and around the nation. And I think what we recognized is we did need to focus more on those kitchen table issues that matter specifically to those voters in our suburban corridors. You know, issues like school safety and transportation issues and economic issues such as tax relief, etcetera. And that's what we saw come out of the Republican hill General Assembly this past session.
WILSONA lot of common sense issues were addressed and solved including almost a billion dollar tax cut to Virginia voters. So I think that's the message and that will continue through this cycle with both, you know, General Assembly races as well as our local county races throughout the Commonwealth.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd that actually ties in to my question, I mean, you know, we air in the Northern Virginia region and the 2017 election only left one Republican state delegate representative standing in Northern Virginia. So how are you going about convincing folks in Northern Virginia, kind of suburban voters who, you know, aren't naturally potentially Democrats? It could go both ways. They could be independent minded. How are you going to sway them to kind of comeback maybe to the republican fold?
WILSONWell, I think it's twofold, one, again, running on the successes of the Republicans in the General Assembly this past session showing what Republican leadership looks like. And fortunately for the republicans running this November, we've got a real contrast with what Democrat leadership looks like. While the democrats, the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general were avoiding the press and in complete disarray given their various scandals, the Republicans that were in charge of the General Assembly put their heads down, got the work done and had a very successful legislative session.
WILSONSo I think that contrast alone shows those middle voters what the distinctions would be between a Democrat led General Assembly and a republican led General Assembly. And that alone I think will help our republican candidates throughout the Commonwealth including Northern Virginia.
SHERWOODIt was fairly big news when Terry McAuliffe, the former governor of Virginia, said he would not run for president, but that he would focus the next six months on trying to help the Virginia democrats gain control of the State Legislature, House, and Senate. They're just one or two votes behind. Senator Mark Warner, Senator Tim Kaine, both Democrats have been going around the state supporting the Virginia local Democrats. But, of course, the Democrats are having terrible trouble with Northam and Fairfax and Herring kind of sidelined this year. That's definitely something you didn't foresee when you became chairman of the Republican Party. It does provide quite an opening for you.
WILSONWell, it does and, again, it's very unfortunate I think for Virginians generally to see what's happened with the Democrat leadership in Virginia. It was somewhat shameful to be made fun of on Saturday Night Live and elsewhere, because of what our democrat leaders were doing. But it has shown I think, again, Virginia voters the distinctions between what democrat leadership looks like and what republican leadership looks like.
SHERWOODCan I ask one -- if I could very quickly.
SHERWOODOne of the problems -- you know, you mentioned how Trump has the support of the party. He doesn't have the support of the people of Virginia. He's in the low 30 -- or high 30s or low 40s. I can't remember the precise number. But it's a very low number for the President of the United States in Virginia. Although he has said, according to Politico that he thinks he can win Virginia, which he lost to Hillary Clinton.
WILSONAnd I think -- I've had that same communication. We are gearing up to have the republican national committee bring in some resources along with the president's reelection campaign actually coming in to Virginia this year to help with our General Assembly races and then staying right through to November of 2020 for the president's reelection. So the numbers are there. We are starting a robust voter registration effort in Virginia to register more of our voters many of which are in the rural areas and are significantly under registered. And I think you put those things together coupled with the democrat disarray, Virginia is going to be in play in 2020. And we're going to make a great push this November to show that Virginia is not a blue state and we can turn red again.
AUSTERMUHLESo if you're just tuning in to The Politics Hour the person you just heard is Jack Wilson. He's the Chairperson of the Republican Party in Virginia. We're talking all things politics in the upcoming elections in Virginia. We just got a call from someone in Arlington, who had to say that there is -- their assessment is that all the people that they know, all the Republicans they know in Northern Virginia are going to be voting Independent or Democratic. And we also have a call from Randy from Virginia who himself says he's a former Republican and has a problem with President Trump. Hi, Randy. Are you there?
RANDYHi, I am. Can you hear me?
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. Absolutely. Go ahead.
RANDYFantastic. Mr. Wilson, I appreciate your comments. I will tell you that I think that your optimism in overstating the support that current Republicans and former Republicans and Independents actually have for the Republican Party both on a local level and state and national level, especially for the current administration and support of Mr. Trump. And here in Virginia just based on the -- what's happened in Charlottesville, what's happened with some of the environmental issues we're coming upon, I really think that there's been a great shift in the, moral competency of some of the Republicans who are -- who believe standing with the president is going to offer them.
WILSONWell, chairman of the party I've had the privilege of going all around the Commonwealth to speak to various Republican clubs, women's clubs, Republican committees, dinners, events, and the enthusiasm level for the president is as high as I've ever seen it. And the enthusiasm level for a number of our legislative candidates is extremely high. We've got some great candidates running up in Prince William County. You know, again, trying to take back some of the seats that we lost. We've got, you know, a great candidate in D.J. Jordan. We're challenging Delegate Tran, the patron of the late third trimester abortion bill with a great candidate there Steve Adragna. So there are those I know that are not happy with the president, but as the Republicans around the Commonwealth, I think the enthusiasm for his reelection is high.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd so we have another caller. This is Joe from Fairfax and he has a really important question. I think that deals with outreach to voters, because obviously the Republican Party, the Democratic Party, any party has to reach minority voters who are increasingly important in a lot of elections in a lot of states including Virginia and parts of Northern Virginia. But, Joe, go ahead.
JOEHi, yeah, thanks for taking the call. A former republican, always a conservative, I tend to vote republican. But the question I have is -- I saw this particularly in Northern Virginia. I'm in Fairfax here and you go through a lot of Republican things. But it seems like the party has been very poor at outreach to a lot of communities that have really strong Republican or conservative values, the Asian community, the Hispanic community, even the African American community. And I think one of the biggest allies we could get is the Asian community, highly, highly entrepreneurial, lots of small business owners. You know, generally and I just don't see enough outreach there.
JOEThe second, corollary to this is what's being down to bypass the mainstream media and apologies to your host there. It's nice you have him on, but it's common knowledge at least upon independents and conservatives and liberals maybe. Don't think so.
JOEBut it's common knowledge is -- it's that Republicans rarely get a fair shake from any mainstream media outlet. And it's encouraging to see what you're doing to just, you know, bypass them. It's good that you're on a show like this. But in order to -- you know, we just need to bypass and reach out to these communities a little bit more I think.
AUSTERMUHLEMr. Chair person.
WILSONWell, and you're right and that's one of the things that when I got elected chair I said the party needed to focus on as more engagement with those communities that we have not been engaged with in the past. And, frankly, this goes back to the president and what he's accomplished as president has given us an opportunity in the African American community especially to tell what a Republican leadership can do for the African American community, lowest unemployment among that community in history. Low employment, great economic opportunities, job growth, etcetera, we also have a Republican president, who got through a criminal justice reform that has been on the table for many many years. Those are issues that I think can resonate in the African American community.
WILSONAnd our entrepreneurial approach and our conservative values I think do reach into the Hispanic community, the Asian community, and we've got candidates this year throughout the Commonwealth that actually mirror that diversity in the Commonwealth. So we're really optimistic that when you look at what the Republican General Assembly looks like in 2020 when they take office that you are going to see a very diverse set of Republicans, women, African Americans, etcetera, who represent the conservative values of the Republican Party and so I'm excited about where we're going.
WILSONWe've got more to do. Frankly, the governor and the attorney general's blackface incidents have actually opened doors. We had an incident where the governor was trying to do a fundraiser up in Northern Virginia. We had some Republican activists who were trying to protest the governor doing that and were joined by about 60 folks from the NAACP protesting. So this has opened up some opportunities for us to reach out and show that Republicans share the values that many of these communities hold dear and we actually are the party that will advance their values.
SHERWOODMr. Wilson, I think you do have a very tough battle with African Americans for a variety of reasons. But on Latinos and Asians and on the immigration issue, President Trump has -- you know, his effort to build a wall and the things he said about other foreign countries and some words I won't repeat here on this program, but has really made it sound like the borders to American in his opinion are closed. It's not just illegal undocumented workers coming to this country, but it just seems to be against racial minorities and Hispanics are a growing browning of American aspect of this country. And how do you get over that image that Trump presents that the Republican Party is not hospitable to people unless they're absolutely here only on a legal basis?
WILSONWell, I think that's --
SHERWOODWhether it's the Dreamers or, you know, undocumented workers.
WILSONWell, again, the president has made it clear that he is for immigration. It's just got to be legal immigration. And, frankly, the president's stance on illegal immigration resonates in the Hispanic community. Those that stood in line and did what they were supposed to do to come here legally are some of the most vocal supporters of the president's attempt to build the wall. So I sort of reject the characterization that the Republican Party is sort of an anti-immigrant party.
WILSONWe welcome immigrants. They build to the fabric and help the fabric of the nation, but there's a path to do it and it's a legal path. And so I think we can reach out to those communities with our economic message and our values that most of them hold dear like we do. Frankly, Delegate Tran's late third trimester abortion bill that got so much publicity in this last session at the General Assembly is opening doors into African American churches and Hispanic churches, because those people are as horrified by the prospect of Virginia becoming like New York or California when it comes to abortion.
WILSONThat is not something that sits well in the African American community. And that's given us opportunities to reach out and show that Republicans are the party of life. That Democrats on the other hand almost come down as the party of infanticide. And so we have opportunities. We're going to take advantage of those. And the immigration issue clearly is something that we have to go around the mainstream media to articulate the president's message, because I think too many times it's mischaracterized.
AUSTERMUHLESo we're going to take another call. This is from Iman in Chantilly, Virginia. And he has a question about senate seats. Go ahead, Iman.
IMANGood afternoon. Thanks for taking my call. I think what the chairman is talking is (unintelligible). The reality is how is he planning to win election on Fairfax and Loudoun County? Most of them has been changed. Some educators move in this area. They don't need the rhetoric for racism and attacking other culture. And (unintelligible) he just say that. He's saying we have a value. We don't want abortion. You tell the woman that bring the children and we're going to cut the Medicaid. When the child is born, we're going to take the Medicaid. We're going to cut the welfare that if she needs help.
IMANSo you can't have both ways. Either you have to have a Republican that we used to know or stand for something. And when they see something wrong, they speak up. The Republicans that we know right now who cannot stand up against Donald Trump, I will not support them any means necessary. I need a Republican, who can bring people together not to divide the people.
AUSTERMUHLEAll right. Mr. Chairman, got a response?
WILSONWell, again, I'm not exactly sure what the question was, other than, you know, it's another perhaps Republican or a former Republican that's disenchanted with the President. But we do have Republicans that are articulating the issues that matter to Virginians. It didn't get much publicity, but the Virginia State Senate, this past session -- obviously, through the Republican House of Delegates, as well -- passed a number of healthcare reforms to make healthcare more accessible and better for Virginians.
WILSONAnd so, we're clearly focusing on beyond the abortion issue, that there is a healthcare crisis in the nation. It affects Virginians, as well, and Republicans are doing what they can to address those issues. So, I sort of reject the notion that we don't care about people after their born. That just isn't the Republican approach.
SHERWOODI think that's -- you just summarized it. I think that people criticize the Republic Party, say you're pro-life until the person is born, and then you're against Medicaid, you're against early childhood. But you just answered that. That's pretty good. Looking ahead, who do you have coming into the state to campaign for the various Republicans running around the state? Give us an idea of what we can expect, heading into the primaries.
WILSONWell yeah, we've already had the Vice-President came in and did a large fundraising event for our joint Senate and House caucus members. I think that was at the end of last month. The Vice-President has indicated he'll be available to come in and campaign. We're still in the early stages of the process. We still have to get through, you know, a few nominating contests, as well. But I'm anticipating we are going to have an all-hands-on-deck approach. I think the Republicans at the national level recognize the importance of retaining our majorities in the House and the Senate, and we'll do what is necessary to make sure that happens.
AUSTERMUHLESo, I have one question, and this kind of got dropped in a couple minutes ago, and I feel like we have to focus on it. You have to, with Virginia politics. The things that happened earlier this year with the governor, the lieutenant governor, the attorney general. I mean, especially the issue of black face. I mean, for you, as a party leader, is there a message that you send out to candidates or people hoping to run for office and say, you know, if you have something that could be dug up, you know, address it ahead of time? Or kind of maybe don't opt to run if there's something that could be very controversial, like the black face situation was with the governor?
WILSONWell, I think that, you know, it goes without saying, and that a lot of times, the local folks, as people are getting ready to run, they'll be talking with -- if it's on the House side, for example, with Speaker Cox's office and others in the Republican House caucus. And so those messages are communicated that, you know, you've got to be careful -- you have to assume that if you've done something, it'll be on the front page of, in our area, the Richmond Times Dispatch, or in your area, perhaps the front page of the Washington Post. And if it's something you can't have written there, then perhaps you might not want to run.
SHERWOOD(clears throat) We talked a lot about the elections this year, but 2020, with the presidential race the party lost three seats, Republicans in the House. What are you doing to address those issues? Because that takes (clears throat) a year or more to get candidates ready to run for the congressional seats. Talking about Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria, all Democrats who defeated Republicans.
WILSONRight. Well, and, again, I think when we get to 2020, not only will we have those three seats to regain, we've got a United States Senate race in 2020. Mark Warner's seat is up for reelection in 2020. So, we're going to be mounting, in 2020, a very vigorous campaign. Frankly, I think what the Democrats in Congress are doing is already helping our cause. We don't have candidates yet in those three congressional districts, but as the Democrats in Congress continue to pull further and further to the left, it makes it difficult for a Spanberger or a Luria -- Wexton probably goes to the left, anyway == but Spanberger and Luria, who tried to pretend that they're in the middle of the Democrat Party, they're getting pulled further and further to the left as the Democrats go further and further to the left.
WILSONSo, we lost the 7th Congressional District and the 2nd Congressional District by very narrow margins. I'm really optimistic that we're going to field some very strong candidates in those two districts and win those back. We will also have a candidate, I'm confident, in the 10th. That has trended away from us over the last couple cycles, so that'll be more difficult. But I'm very optimistic in the 7th and the 2nd that we'll win both those seats back in 2020.
SHERWOODQuickly, before we let you go, you're an attorney a long time in Chesterfield County, again. How much time do you spend as the party chair? You've succeeded John Whitbeck, who's now running for chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. But how much time is it taking from your -- you have a small law practice.
WILSONIt varies, but I, you know, have the flexibility of having a practice that I can fit things in. I can travel on the road and go speak to Republican groups, but at the same time, make phone calls while I'm driving to clients...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Hands-free, though, hands-free.
WILSONOf course, hands-free. (laugh) That's right, I got the Bluetooth going. But it all works, and it's just a balancing. And, obviously, when everything was going on with the Democrats, I was being asked to be on a lot more programs than I am now. So...
SHERWOODAll right. Well, drive up here to Northern Virginia and into the District and come see us in the studio.
AUSTERMUHLEWe'd be happy to have you. And if you been listening, that was Jack Wilson. He's the Chairperson of the Republican Party in Virginia. Mr. Wilson, thanks so much for coming on.
WILSONThanks for having me.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd I just wanted to stress, we had a caller say earlier that there are kind of stereotypes about the media being liberal, but here on the Politics Hour, we want politics. We want disagreements. We want debates. And that means Republicans and Democrats alike are invited on to handle Tom Sherwood's prying questions.
SHERWOODYeah. We're talking about Larry Hogan, the governor of Maryland. He has yet to come on. Any day of the week...
AUSTERMUHLECome on, Governor Hogan.
SHERWOOD...Monday through Friday.
AUSTERMUHLEBut, yes. I am Martin Austermuhle, and I'm sitting in for Kojo, if you're wondering who the heck I am. You should tune in after this short break. We're going to have DC Councilmember Charles Allen with us. So, stay with us.
AUSTERMUHLEWelcome back to the Politics Hour. I'm Martin Austermuhle, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. As usual, we've got Tom Sherwood, our resident political analyst, giving us the politics of everything in the Washington region. And we are joined by DC Councilmember Charles Allen. He represents Ward 6. Good to have you, Councilmember.
CHARLES ALLENThanks for having me so much.
AUSTERMUHLESo, you just ran up here from a rally down at the Wilson Building which, we'll get to, but I think we want to start with another issue that was in the news in DC this week. There was video that was circulated by the local Fox affiliate of a nine-year-old boy who was being cuffed. This happened in Columbia Heights. There's some debate as to why he was being cuffed, but it reminded lots of viewers of an incident a couple weeks ago -- I think it was in your ward -- where a ten-year-old who had been suspected of being part of a robbery, was also cuffed.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd it brought up this kind of discussion. I know the Attorney General has chimed in, you've spoken about this, about how police handles kids. I mean, is there a problem -- is there...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is there a policy?
AUSTERMUHLE...is there a policy? Is there kind of like -- is this just isolated cases caught on video? Like, what's going on with house kids are being approached by police? Is there a problem you guys are looking to address? What are your thoughts?
ALLENWell, I'd say when you look at the video of the reportedly nine-year-old, it's not just the handcuffs. It's hearing that young person scream, watching the trauma of being chased down, essentially grabbed by the scruff of his neck and taken to the ground. I don't think we, as a city, want to see nine-year-olds in handcuffs. And I've had a conversation with the Attorney General around this, and what we're doing is getting a full copy of what are the policies and procedures that MPD has on how they are treating juveniles.
ALLENI've already talked with Karl Racine. We're starting to talk with national experts to do a full review of that. If it takes legislation, then I'll move legislation, but I don't think that's what we want to see. I don't think that's the way that we expect policing to do, and the hurt and trauma that it creates. That young person will never forget that encounter, but so many other people will never forget that encounter, as well. And it does damage to the community policing work that we really say that we're working toward.
SHERWOODHave you called up Chief Newsham and said, what's the policy?
ALLENWell, he has a formal request in, which we have sent to him and to the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety, as well, asking very specific questions, and specifically for what those policies are. We also need to make sure that when we work with our officers, how do you help equip and train them, that when they're talking to or enacting with an eight, nine, ten-year-old, that's different than how you interact with an adult. And we need to have all of them be equipped, have the tools necessary to be able to have that deescalate a situation. Because what I saw on the video is what I think a lot of people saw, which was an escalation of that encounter.
SHERWOODThe policy tends to be -- as I understand it from the police department -- is that if you have someone who's suspected of a crime -- and I realize we're getting in dicey territory when you talk about ten years old -- is that you have to isolate them so that they don't create -- most people, adults, in fact, are in fact handcuffed immediately to keep them from acting out.
SHERWOODJust as a matter, as a parent, as a human being, what do you do to -- what would you do? What would your policy be of a ten-year-old, some of whom, you know, have access to guns in their homes, and who knows what's happening. They're not just all innocent little children, because of the tough environment they live in. The police say we can't assume that this is just a pleasant little ten-year-old child, here. I mean, it sounds like it's a tough position for the police officer to be in, where you want to be respectful of a small child, but also knowing they're in very violent circumstances.
ALLENWell, and I would say that the example you're giving is probably a young person who's also experienced and witnessed a lot of trauma.
ALLENWhat we're also seeing, though, is how do you -- the work of the police officer is not easy. We are also asking our police officers to be so much more than just someone who is enforcing the law. That's a very inherently difficult job. Part of what we want our policies, our procedures, our trainings to do is to give them the toolset to be able to recognize, how is it that I want to interact with an eight- or a nine-year-old? How do I interact with someone who's older?
ALLENBut also in the event that MPD does need to be able to have that conversation with that young person, I believe there should be a different way to resolve that than in handcuffs. We're talking about a very small person, as a child. Can you accomplish the same thing in different ways? When we talk about the example on H Street, could that young person, if they did need to move him in that vehicle, could they have done it in a way where you have the family member in the vehicle with them? Or two officers, so that he's sitting between them?
ALLENPart of the reason for handcuffing, the police will tell you, is for their own safety and for the safety of others. So, how do we accomplish what those goals are and do it in a way that respects that young person and decreases, deescalates the trauma that's taking place?
AUSTERMUHLESo, that's the voice of Councilmember Charles Allen. He's joining us in studio today, and you can join us, of course, by calling 1-800-433-8850. You can email us at email@example.com, or you can Tweet us @kojoshow as Black Lives Matter, DC just has. And they're asking: are you going to support Mayor Bowser's plan to fund more police? We believe a vote to fund more police is a vote against black lives. This is dealing, obviously, with the budget debates that are happening in the Wilson Building right now. You're going to vote next month on the mayor's budget proposal. So, throw the question to you: what do you think about the mayor's proposal adding money to the police department so she can increase hiring?
ALLENWell, we're going to be voting, actually, next week.
AUSTERMUHLEOh, there you go.
ALLENSo, we have the committee vote -- well, the committee vote is next week.
ALLENAnd I had a conversation with the mayor yesterday. We've been working, as the committee does, to hold oversight hearings on our budget and the proposed budget. And we will be making changes. There will be changes to the Metropolitan Police Department budget. Those changes are not finalized. That'll take place next Thursday, so I'll continue the conversations with both partners and the executive, the amazing group of advocates and allies and partners around the community. There will be changes to the budget. It's how we make them, and we're continuing those conversations over the next week.
SHERWOOD(clears throat) The department's about 300, roughly 300 officers below authorized strength, and so they're going to continue to hire, if they can. And also, there's an issue with the senior police officers' retention. There's something like 70 sergeants and detectives that are on the force. But if you don't approve the budget, these officers and sergeants may have to leave the force.
ALLENWell, last year...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do you want to continue that -- we pay them extra money to stay, when they could easily retire, given the retirement benefits.
ALLENWell, make sure folks know we're talking about the senior police officers, and we're talking about officers who have served a career, they've retired and they're being rehired back in.
ALLENThey have three levels, so they can come in as an officer, they can come in as a sergeant and a detective.
SHERWOODDo you support that program?
ALLENI have. We've supported it. Last year, we worked together with MPD and with the mayor to provide an extension. The mayor's now come back and asked for another extension, but this time, asked for a five-year extension. The reason the senior police officer program was created was because we were facing a retirement bubble through MPD, where MPD hired a huge group of officers all at the same time, and they were...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) In the early '90s.
ALLEN...and they were working their way through to retirement. So, as any committee should, we have an oversight role and that is to take a look at it. We have stabilized our retirements and attrition with MPD. The force numbers have stabilized where we aren't seeing that huge attrition. So, now, the question seems to shift and say, are there great skills? Is there talent and leadership in the sergeants and detectives that we think make a better police force? And those are some of the questions that we're wrestling with. And, again, we're continuing the conversation, and the vote will be next week, I understand.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, you don't know what you -- whether you're going to support this program or not, at this point?
ALLENI have supported it in the past.
AUSTERMUHLESo, we have a question coming in, over the phone lines. This is Richard from Rockville, and he's returning to the subject we started with, which is the issue of children and how police handle them. Mr. Councilmember, if you could put on your headphones, I'd appreciate it. Richard, go ahead. You are on the Politics Hour.
RICHARDYes. We have to live with basic laws, and if you break the laws, there are consequences. And I don't see why a child that breaks the law and something serious can't be restrained for the safety of the police officers -- because I've seen some ten-year-olds that have really done some, you know, horrific things -- and for the safety of the child and the safety of the police officer. I don't see any reason why they can't be restrained. Maybe it'll teach them a lesson.
SHERWOODWell, one of these children was not -- suspected of the robbery, was not involved.
ALLENWell, Tom, let me go right to that, which is, you're talking about: what are the consequences? Well, so the young person who was handcuffed, detained for hours and then taken away, turns out -- as the Attorney General did an incredibly rare statement, for the AG to step out like this -- said this person is completely innocent, had absolutely nothing to do with that robbery and assault. So, I'm not sure what lesson we taught by taking a ten-year-old, detaining them for hours, putting then in handcuffs, putting them into a car, driving away for something that they were completely innocent of.
ALLENThe damage that that does -- and that's why we have to talk about this. That's why we have to be able to reform and make changes, because the damage inflicted by that interaction, by all the people who saw it on social media, all the people who it touched, does a lot of damage to the community trust in policing. That's why we're talking about it, and that's why we're looking to be able to make changes.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd you're very right, that it was very rare for the Attorney General to say anything about it. He had to get a judge to let him...
AUSTERMUHLE...talk about it, which doesn't often happened. Real quick, I don't want to stop the conversation, but I was told we have to take a quick break. This is the Politics Hour. I'm Martin Austermuhle, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Stay with us. We're going to be back with Councilmember Charles Allen and Tom Sherwood, talking more politics.
AUSTERMUHLEWelcome back to the Politics Hours. I'm Martin Austermuhle, sitting in for Kojo. We're not sitting down with Councilmember Charles Allen. He represents Ward 6 on the DC Council. And another big issue that came up over the last week -- actually, exactly a week ago -- was a well-known cycling activist advocate, Dave Salovesh, was killed on Florida Avenue. And there was a pedestrian killed not two days later in Anacostia, both by speeding cars.
AUSTERMUHLEThere is currently, I imagine, a protest outside the Wilson Building for, you know, folks who want safer streets. They're saying that the city is not moving fast enough on this. Where do you stand on what's going on? Do you think the city is moving aggressively enough to protect non-motorized users of the roadways?
ALLENEasy answer on that is no. We are not doing enough. We're not doing it fast enough, and we're not treating it with the urgency that it requires. We had 36 people that were killed last year on our roadways. We've had eight thus far this year. You know, I also do expand that out, about why you bring urgency. We've had over 50 people killed in homicides this year. We've had dozens of people die from opioid overdoses this year. Every one of those lives is tragic. Every one of those needs to be valued. And we need to, as a city, have a response with the urgency that is requires. So, this is why I have -- on all those other fronts, I continue to push, and on this one, I'm going to continue to push, as well. We're not doing enough, period.
ALLENWe think about Dave, and I think it's important to remember to recognize each one of these people are also a very well-rounded, full person. Dave has also got a family grieving for him, has a daughter who no longer has a father, has a partner who is now -- she'll be raising her daughter by herself. Dave has friends. He was involved in his school. He loved to bake bread. This is a guy who had a whole richness to him beyond just being a very strong cycling advocate. And I think that's something to just keep in mind: each one of these lives has so much more of a story that doesn't get told often.
SHERWOODWell, in the case of David Salovesh, he was killed, he was on Florida Avenue Northeast, near 12th and Florida. A stolen van crashed into...
ALLENThat'll be a driver of a van. The van didn't drive itself.
SHERWOODA driver of a van, a 25-year-old driver of the van crushed him up against a tree. But I went back and looked at this, and just a block away from there -- and I was there at the Ghost Bikes ceremony over the weekend. There's lots of calls, like today. But I went back and looked at the record, and you've said your legislation is to push faster to get Florida Avenue -- which can be a six-lane speedway, in some places -- get more work done there. But I went back to Ruby Whitfield, who, roughly six years ago...
ALLENNot more than 100 feet away.
SHERWOOD...a block away was leaving her church, and she gets struck and killed, and nothing was done. The church members there had all the same kind of outrage and outpouring that we're having now. And I'm just wondering, I think -- were you probably chairman -- you were chief of staff to Tommy Wells in 2013?
ALLENAt the time, yeah, when Ms. Whitfield was killed, she was crossing in the crosswalk, coming home from church. And the city did move and put up essentially what's called a hawk signal, so put up a lighted crosswalk. But that doesn't address the...
SHERWOODApparently, it's not there, because I was there, and they just had an older gentleman there holding a thing. I'm just wondering why now...
ALLENIt is still there, but it doesn't do anything about the design of the street. That, to me, is the fundamental (word?). Yes, a driver of a van is culpable for taking his vehicle up to over 60 miles an hour. But we also have a road that allows you to get to over 60 miles an hour. We've known that street is dangerous, and we haven't done anything about it. We've been spending ten years talking about a redesign of Florida Avenue, and we haven't done it yet. That's why I've pushed legislation to push for it.
SHERWOODWhy wasn't it done for Ruby, as opposed to David?
AUSTERMUHLELet me just break in real quick, because we're running out of time. We've got a lot of phone calls coming in. We also have a Facebook message that kind of touches on the other side of this debate, which is existing enforcement of both driving laws, and also enforcement of pedestrian and cycling laws. And on that note, Scott from Tacoma Park, Maryland has a couple thoughts to share. Scott, welcome to the Politics Hour.
SCOTTYes. Thank you for having me on the program. My comment is that earlier this week, there was a brief discussion of bicycling and pedestrian laws on the program. And someone had called in. We talked about the problem that it causes, particularly on Rock Creek Parkway, because of the narrow lanes and how bad the traffic backup can be. And the commenter also, then, at the end of the comment, said: and sometimes they don't use bike paths.
SCOTTAnd my experience is all in Maryland and DC. But in the last couple years, I've had a number of episodes where I have encountered what I would refer to as Nazi bicyclists, people who intentionally back up traffic. The law allows them to use full lane, and they will ride right in the middle of the lane. In fact, there's a gentleman that I've seen a number of times in Silver Spring, where there are bike lanes, and he refuses to use them. He rides the middle of the car lane. My question is, should that not be a ticket-able offense?
ALLENI can't speak for what it is in Silver Spring, but let me just tell you, our roads have to be for everyone. We are so focused and we have built out so much around how you move around by car. There's going to be cars in the roadway, but our roadway is built for everyone, whether you are a pedestrian, whether you are on a bicycle, whether you are on a bus, whether you're on a scooter. Our roads have to be safe for every single user.
ALLENAnd the way in which we have prioritized the convenience of the car over safety is, to me, the root of the problem. And, you know, a lot of these issues, I think, really sprung up -- when we talk about our region -- go back to 1950s and '60s, when we started building our freeways everywhere. We destroyed communities. But there's a reason why cars funnel in and pour through some neighborhoods, and others not. It is because we have built out our city in a way that is much more accommodating to the commuter than it is to the folks who live here.
ALLENAnd when we talk about transit equity, look at the deaths last year on our roadways. A third of them are in Ward 8. So, this is an issue that cuts across the entire city.
AUSTERMUHLE(overlapping) Really quick, let me give -- I know that Tom has one last question, because we're running down on time. So, Tom, you've got it.
SHERWOODPart of the problem -- I've complained a lot about traffic on this program. The police are not part of the traffic solution. If the President moves through town, there's a cop on every corner to help the President get to where he's going, but there aren't any police during rush hour. They've just abandon policing traffic to the DDOT and to the Public Works Department. When is the city going to address that the city's clogged with traffic>
AUSTERMUHLE(overlapping) You've got 20 seconds, Councilmember Allen.
ALLENWell, in less than two weeks...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Full answer.
ALLEN...in less than two weeks, I'm going to be introducing some very big, bold Vision Zero legislation. And we'll speak to how our roadways must be redesigned for all users. It will also speak to how we can improve enforcement. At the end of the day...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Right away.
ALLEN...every decision has to be around: how do we provide a safer space for all users of our roadway?
SHERWOODBut we need to do it quickly, though. Right?
ALLENAbsolutely. Which is why we're trying to expedite the redesign of Florida Avenue.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Otherwise, it's zero vision.
ALLENThis is the exact conversation we had with Chief Newsham and MPD about: what is their expectation for enforcement?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, on this big, bold legislation that you're going to introduce, I hope you give it to a WAMU reporter. We love getting the scoops on local news. So, that is all the time we have. Councilmember Allen, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.
ALLENThanks for having me.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd thanks for having me along. I'm Martin Austermuhle. I was sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. And coming up Monday, we'll look at measures Virginia is taking to protect the striped bass, which has seen its numbers fall in recent years. Plus, how are local schools dealing with the influx of migrant children in our region? We'll discuss Monday, at noon. I'm Martin Austermuhle, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi.
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