On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
As the D.C. Council prepares to vote on the 2020 budget next week, Council Chair Phil Mendelson joins us in studio. Then we hear from Speaker Adrienne Jones, who became the first woman and African American to become Speaker of Maryland’s House of Delegates last week. Then we speak to Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker, about a town hall he recently organized that drew opposition to Governor Larry Hogan’s highway expansion plan.
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
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking with Tom Hucker, who's a member of the Montgomery County Council. We'll also talk with Adrienne Jones, the new speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. But first up, Phil Mendelson, who is chair of the DC Council. Council Chairman Mendelson, welcome.
PHIL MENDELSONIt's good to be here. Thanks, Kojo.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He is a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the District, Tom, the race for Commonwealth's attorney for Arlington County. Apparently, one of the candidates -- the primary challenger to the incumbent -- has accused the incumbent of refusing to prosecute police officers in cases of brutality. And that has apparently raised the ire of the police department.
SHERWOODYes. This is a defense attorney, Dehghani-Tafti, I think is how she pronounces her name. She's running an aggressive campaign in the June 11th primary, saying that the Commonwealth attorney for Arlington should not prosecute marijuana cases, because it's unfairly racially discriminatory, that cash bail is a bad thing, because it's discriminatory, that the police need a tougher check on how they police. That's the campaign that she's running. I tried several times to get a handle on how the campaign is going, or any polling, but I could not find any.
NNAMDIShe does not like the fact that the police department apparently investigates itself. Later in the broadcast, we'll be talking about different counties and their approach to police investigation, having police in other counties do it. But that's, as I said, later in the discussion. The Metro board was supposed to meet this week, and it was widely expected that they might be disciplining their chairman, Jack Evans, the Ward 2 councilmember for the District of Columbia. But that meeting didn't happen, and so there was no discipline for Jack Evans. What happened?
SHERWOODWell, it's a lot of internal stuff inside metro system, but the Ethics Committee apparently was meeting, and either could not reach a decision or did not reach a decision, and so it's not going forward. The two meetings that were scheduled this week were cancelled for any briefings, per the board -- again, all internal. So, you can read the tealeaves or the smoke signals. It appears that the committee's decided it's not going to do anything. So, it may be -- we'll have to find out more, if somebody internally at Metro can tell us, but it appears the Ethics Committee is, if not decided, appears not to have a decision that he's done anything wrong.
NNAMDIOn to Council Chair Phil Mendelson. You are threatening to block issuing permits for construction of city government buildings as a way of pressuring the mayor to fully implement the short-term rental regulation that was passed unanimously by the Council. What is at the root of this conflict?
MENDELSONWell, it's a conflict that could end in a second, because all that we're requiring is that a report that was promised seven months ago be delivered to the Zoning Commission. The issue has to do with short-term rental housing, like Airbnb. The Council passed legislation last fall, and one of the consequences of that legislation would be that what is now a broadly illegal activity -- because it's inconsistent with zoning -- would be legalized, and that people could homeshare. And that would increase the availability of legal housing, and also take some of the pressure off of apartment buildings, where we're seeing illegal, short-term rental housing.
MENDELSONIn order, though, for the law to change, the Zoning Commission has to act, as well. The Council asked the Zoning Commission, the Zoning Commission met immediately -- this was last October -- and asked the Office of Planning to submit a report. That's the standard procedure before a zoning case can proceed. And the Office of Planning, seven months later, still has not issued...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And so what action are you threatening to withhold? There was some concern that you were going to withhold funding that could affect schools and other...
MENDELSONIt would just be the issuance of government permit -- permits to the government. It wouldn't affect the private sector, at all. And, as I said, it's a threat that could be resolved in a second. That report's written. I mean, I was told in January that that report would be ready by the end of January.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do you know why the mayor doesn't want you to have it?
NNAMDIBecause the mayor's office says that they're moving as quickly as they can to produce this report.
MENDELSONThat's nonsense. And when the Zoning Commission last month asked for when the Office of Planning would present the report, the Office of Planning not only refused to give a date, but gave a very formulaic answer. And I've talked with higher-ups in the administration, and clearly, they're blocking the report being issued.
SHERWOODWell, you know, this is one report about Airbnb-style rentals in the city, but the larger issue is that you have said that the mayor's 2020 budget, going forward, is undisciplined, that she is undisciplined. It has been very harsh words. The mayor seems to -- administration seems to have ginned up the whole city government on Twitter to attack various criticisms from the council about various agency spending. You've been very harsh in your terminology of talking about the mayor. She, as we all know, was quite harsh about you a couple years ago. It looks to me like there's a real -- between the mayor and the council, there's a real serious breakdown, politically.
SHERWOODAnd, secondly, Wednesday night, when you had your preliminary meeting with the council members on the budget -- I watched several hours of this multi-hour thing -- there were personal and racial strains between the council members themselves. It looked like you were having a hard time keeping all that down. There were questions even about whether Mary Cheh's Ward 3 Committee, Transportation Committee could raise taxes to cover things. That got to be a fight. There was a racial discussion on the soda tax, residential permit parking.
NNAMDIWe've got calls on all of those issues, already.
SHERWOODSo, on the one hand, the Council's fighting pretty hard with the mayor. She's publically fighting back on social media. And the councilmembers themselves seem to be at odds seriously with each other, particularly McDuffie and Cheh. What's going on? Is there...
MENDELSONWell, I would...
SHERWOOD...everybody drinking Trump water?
MENDELSONNo, and I think you're reading too much into the disagreements, as if they are personality conflicts. They're policy disagreements, and the fundamental policy disagreement has to do with whether we raise taxes and fees at a time when our revenues are growing. Our revenues are $2.2 billion more today than they were when Mayor Bowser first came into office. And yet she's proposing about $120 million in new taxes that'll fall almost entirely on the commercial sector, as if taxes don't matter to the commercial sector. But we know it will affect rents for businesses and retailers.
MENDELSONAnd so that's where a lot of the tensions...
SHERWOODWell, no, I appreciate there are real serious issues, but we're talking -- at this meeting Wednesday...
MENDELSONSo, you're talking about in the 10th hour, when I got a little testy with somebody?
SHERWOODWell, not you personally, but I'm saying, when we were talking about a 1 cent increase on the soda tax. And Mr. McDuffie said that that was a lot for poor families and African American families, he specifically, I think, mentioned. To which Mary Cheh said, quoting, "Basically, he is comfortable carrying the water for large corporations." I hear a lot of talk in this body about racial equity. Here he's staring it right in the face, and he won't support it. " And then he...
MENDELSONWell, there was a lot of rhetoric around that issue...
SHERWOOD...but then he comes back...
MENDELSON...but, Tom, I wouldn't read too much into that. I mean, really...
SHERWOODWell, I'm not. I'm reading what they said in...
SHERWOODLet me finish what McDuffie said.
SHERWOODIn response, he said, if Mary Cheh, quote, "sincerely cared about racial equity, she would sign onto his bill for racial equity." There looked to be more than just fighting in there. It looked like real personal tension there.
MENDELSONI think there was only fighting in there and not more. I mean, the fact is, is a lot of arguments were made about the soda tax and I believe we should not be raising taxes, including the soda tax. And on the one hand, the argument was made by some that increasing the tax will change behavior. That's a good thing, because we don't want people to spend their lives just drinking soda. And then other...
SHERWOODThat's what Mary Cheh said, that this...
MENDELSONAnd then other people were saying, well, this will hurt -- sales taxes are regressive, and this will hurt poor people more than anyone else. Folks were having it both ways with that argument, but what it really came down to was: do you support higher taxes or not? And that's really what was going on. And then, secondarily, there was an argument which had come up the week before, which is whether a committee that doesn't have jurisdiction over taxes should be raising taxes.
SHERWOODWell, that's a big industrial issue.
MENDELSONYeah, that's what was going on...
NNAMDIWell, speaking of the soda tax, here's Kathy in Washington, DC. Kathy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHYThank you. I'm calling, the vice chair of the DC chapter of the Sierra Club, and we were very surprised to see the resistance to a very modest 1 percent increase on the soda tax. We think that that's very rational, especially in a time when you are looking to fund a lot of programs. This soda tax is, you know, something that would help lower income families in the long run.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Would you like to know where the chairman stands on the soda tax?
KATHYYes. And I'd like to -- and he said that he doesn't support it, and I'd really like to understand why.
NNAMDIGo ahead, Chairman Mendelson.
MENDELSONWell, I don't think that putting a 1 cent tax increase on soda is going to change behavior. I don't think that the current tax -- which I think is 5 or 6 cents -- has changed behavior.
SHERWOODIt's 7 cents. It would go to 8.
MENDELSONTaxes rarely affect behavior, other than when the taxes get high. And the soda tax isn't going to get this high. The people decide that they're actually going to move from the city. So, I think the behavior issue is inconsequential. I think that the government needs to live within its means. Our revenues have grown $2.2 billion in the last four years. Our local budget, our local funds, funds that we raise from taxes and fees are over $8 billion a year. And what we are arguing is that we don't have enough money to do all the things we want to do. We can tighten our belt.
NNAMDICity Administrator Rashad Young says that the blocking of building permits would prevent school construction over the summer. Do you agree, and if so...
MENDELSONNo. And what I said to Rashad yesterday -- we met, and it was a constructive meeting -- was I said, Rashad, you can release that report tomorrow and this issue goes away.
NNAMDIAnd what did he say?
MENDELSONI think he took it back to discuss with his colleagues.
NNAMDIWell, this business of school construction has a lot of people concerned, in particular about what's happening at Banneker High School. I got a letter from Natalie Hopkins, who's been on this broadcast before, a longtime writer, scholar. She says she's an advocate of all things DC. But she would like Banneker to be built in Shaw. She writes: I would greatly support proposals to rebuild Shaw Middle School in a different location. However, with your vote on Tuesday, you have an opportunity to do something very important in the history of the city: To create a space that can be a beacon to academic excellence for generations to come, available to any and all who come to Washington, including the residents of Shaw.
NNAMDIAnd then there is this from Angela in Ward 4. Angela, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANGELAHello. How are you? My name is Angela, and I am a Banneker alum, both my husband and I. And my daughter is now an alum, because she graduated from there last year.
NNAMDIWhat would you like to happen?
ANGELAWhat I would like to happen? I would like Banneker to move to Shaw. I believe there are a lot of misconceptions onto why this should not occur. The main misconception is Banneker deserves to stay where it is, because they believe that it has all of the resources that it needs outside of the aesthetics. And when you build from within the school, where it is now, the children will not get the resources that they need. Banneker was built as a middle school, and it is constructed to hold middle school children.
NNAMDIAnd let me ask the chairman to explain what's going on, and where we are. Natalie Hopkins writes: building Banneker in that high-profile location in the middle of Shaw would be a monument to black excellence, because everybody knows that Banneker is the top-rated high school in the city, and that its student body is predominantly black.
SHERWOODBut just to be -- the other side of that is, the people who live there...
SHERWOOD...want a middle school. They were promised a middle school, Shaw Middle School...
SHERWOOD...and they're not getting it. So, this is the changing nature of the city. Where do you stand on all these educational issues?
MENDELSONWell, the mayor surprised everybody last August when she announced that Banneker -- which has been planned to be modernized at the existing site -- would move and displace, in fact, terminate the plan's longstanding promises to build a middle school where this Shaw, former Shaw school is. It was a complete change after years and years and years of promises to modernize Banneker where it is, and, as I said, to build a new Shaw.
MENDELSONThe fact is, is that Banneker is a great school, and the Council has, over the years, last several years, expressed impatience with the fact that the executive has put Banneker's modernization at the bottom of the list. Banneker not only should be modernized, but it can be expanded. It is below capacity right now -- not by much, but it's below capacity. My understanding is that the waitlist was either very small or nonexistent.
MENDELSONYes, it's enrollment should grow, but the goal of our school system should not be to double the size of Banneker when we have other high schools like Anacostia and Ballou that are losing enrollment. We, instead, should be growing the enrollment, improving the quality of all of our high schools instead of just focusing on doubling the size of one, no matter how good it is.
SHERWOODOkay. Bottom line, do you think Banneker can be improved where it is...
SHERWOOD...and a middle school can be built in Shaw.
NNAMDIAnd that's what the letter I got and most of the callers we're getting are opposing. They say they don't have the resources of the Shaw community to be able to advance their position in the way that the residents of the Shaw are able to do. And this obviously has to do both with race and gentrification.
MENDELSONWell, but I don't think that's the issue at all. It's been a longstanding policy of the government expressed explicit policy that Banneker would be modernized. And, in fact, last year, the year before, the Council said: why is Banneker at the bottom of the list for modernization? And it's a good school, and it should be moved up.
SHERWOODAnd that neighborhood is, in fact, in the midst of a significant gentrification. It's not an isolated factor in...
NNAMDIOkay. Can we move onto the budget?
SHERWOODWhat about the Freedom of Information Act?
NNAMDIThat's what I was going to, as a part of the budget. The version you published last week includes two proposed changes to the District's Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, that some transparency advocates worry would make it harder for journalists and DC residents to access government emails and other documents. What exactly would these changes entail, and how do you respond to criticism that they would make the District government less transparent, less accountable?
MENDELSONThere's a lot of sensitivity around Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.
SHERWOODAs well there should be.
MENDELSONAnd the provisions and the proposal I put forth last week are, I would say, minor, and they are to clarify that what can be requested, it relates to government business, as opposed to private business, personal business. Second of all, that the request has to reasonably describe what's being requested. It can't be a fishing expedition. And I would like to emphasize -- because some folks think this is only about the Council -- this is about all agencies of the government. And, in fact, our general counsel who brought this to me has worked with other agencies.
MENDELSONSo, just to give you an example, because I asked our general counsel this morning to give me some examples of requests. We received a request in the last year asking for information from January 1st, 2016 to the present that included a number of search terms, including the words Jew and Jewish. That's a lot of documents. It's a very general, broad, unspecific request. We received another request asking for all documents from January 1st, 2017 to the present, between a particular councilmember's office, including staff, and DCRA. That's a lot of documents, and it's very broad. It's not asking what did Mendelson's office correspond with DCRA regarding 3150 Connecticut Avenue. No. It's all correspondence.
MENDELSONAnd we received another one regarding a very prominent lobbyist. I'm not sure I want to mention his name on the air. And I just learned when I saw this today, and my staff from January -- no, from 2004 to the present. So, I'm hesitant to mention the name. We'll just say, Tom Sherwood, every email to or from Tom Sherwood and my office since 2004. It is, under the current law, arguable whether if my daughter sends me an email on my official account -- which she shouldn't -- regarding her doctor appointments, whether that's FIOA-able, because that's correspondence on a government server, even though it's unrelated to personal business. And surely I'm not hiding anything when it's my daughter's doctor appointments.
SHERWOODNothing in the law prohibits a general counsel for your Council or for any agency to say to the person requesting additional information...
MENDELSONTo try to narrow the request. No, you're right. You're right. But it's also quite possible that the person will refuse, and I believe one of these requests to a person refused to negotiate. And this is government resources on a fishing expedition.
SHERWOODIf a person refuses...
MENDELSONSo, let's narrow it.
SHERWOODWell, but if you narrow it, then you leave it to bureaucrat people and agencies to decide what's too broad, what's too this or what's too that. And when it comes to personal matters, as Peter Jamison in the Washington Post wrote, the current law says that, exempted from FOI inquiries, quote, "it is information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." Why doesn't that cover your daughter sending you a note to your email address?
MENDELSONWell, it might cover my daughter's email about her doctor appointment, but it's not so clear how much that covers regarding a constituent request. So, you're a constituent, you have a request for me to intercede, because Healthcare Finance Agency is not being responsive with your Medicaid claim with regard to your therapist, you're seeing a psychiatrist.
SHERWOODWell, that could be a healthcare issue. But here's the bottom line. Whether you can agree or disagree that you are unnecessarily narrowing or not, the objection laws is that you put it at the end of a budget support act -- I think that's what it's called. And why not hold a public hearing on such -- you say it's not that big of a change, but clearly, every journalist I've spoken to and community activist says it is, how about a public hearing? And several councilmembers Wednesday night spoke right up and said they don't want this in the budget. Will you consider taking it out and have a public hearing and stand alone up there?
MENDELSONWell, I recognize it. I'm sitting at a table with two journalists, but it's in the interest of journalists that they have as unfettered, unrestricted access to government documents as possible. And...
NNAMDI(overlapping) We also like public hearings.
MENDELSON...and so a fishing...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) No, that's too long.
MENDELSON…expedition from a reporter is not...
NNAMDI(overlapping) But your characterization of a fishing expedition may simply be that the reporter does not want to disclose his or her real intent of doing an investigation, because that will alert people to the very subject matter he or she is trying to...
MENDELSONWell, but I think if you would ask...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But I still think...
MENDELSON...if you would ask for all correspondence between me and my office and DCRA Consumer Regulatory Affairs regarding at Connecticut Avenue...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) There is a sense -- there is a law...
MENDELSON...but all correspondence?
SHERWOOD...there is a reasonableness aspect of this law where you could, A., have more staffers who deal with these things, and, B., more aggressive in working with someone who's trying to get the information. You don't just have to do everything someone says in an FOI. If it's an unreasonable request, I think the law covers that.
MENDELSONAnd there's government resources tied up in redacting documents...
MENDELSON...and government resources tied up in negotiating with you, Tom. And, Tom, you're a pretty reasonable guy, but there's some...
SHERWOODMost of the time.
MENDELSONYeah, most of the time. But there's some requests that are -- and I tried to indicate with these examples...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The law allows for discussion.
NNAMDISo, public hearing or no?
MENDELSONWell, there's going to be a larger bill, and there will be a public hearing on that. There's no question...
NNAMDIWe're running out of time very quickly, but yesterday, the City Paper released...
MENDELSONWell, why's the clock so fast?
NNAMDIBecause we have brakes in...
SHERWOODWe talk too long.
NNAMDI...we have brakes in the show now, and we never used to have brakes in the show before.
MENDELSONI thought this was noncommercial.
NNAMDIThe City Paper released their best of DC issue, and they chose Mayor Muriel Bowser as the, quote, "best covert Republican." But Loose Lips columnist Mitch Ryals mentioned you as a runner-up, saying, quote, "He's an old white guy who doesn't like raising taxes and ranked second to last among DC council members on the Jews United for Justice campaign fund scorecard for progressive causes." What are your thoughts on that, um...
MENDELSONWell, that's not a two-minute answer. First of all, last I checked, Republicans like to cut taxes and cut taxes when there isn't a revenue to support that. And that's not where I am at all. I believe very strongly in stability with regard to what the cost is, of doing business and living in the city. And to the extent that we can help people, we should do that in terms of where our tax burden is out of line. But I am not a Republican when it comes to -- in fact, I'm reminded of a massive, massive tax cut a number of years ago where my colleagues were called Republicrats by Culver King. I was left off that list.
MENDELSONWith regard to that ranking, that ranking including multiple votes on Initiative 77. And, yes, there's some people who think that it was not progressive...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Now he wants to speak at length.
MENDELSONBut the fact is that Initiative 77 hurt restaurant workers. Not to prompt to...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But the bottom line is, you were...
MENDELSON...it hurt workers, and workers were opposed to it.
SHERWOOD...you were opposed last year by a very progressive person, Ed Lazere. And you won re-election because you said, I am a progressive, you're a real...
NNAMDIPhil Mendelson is a Democrat. He is chair of the DC Council. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) And he's going to hold a hearing on the FOI Act.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be talking with the new speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Adrienne Jones, and later on with Tom Hucker of the Montgomery County Council. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now in studio is Tom Hucker. He's a member of the Montgomery County Council, representing District 5. Tom Hucker, welcome.
TOM HUCKERThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIWe'll be talking with you later in the broadcast. Joining us now by phone is Adrienne Jones, who is the speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. Adrienne Jones, thank you very much for joining us.
ADRIENNE JONESThank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIFirst, congratulations to you.
NNAMDILast week, we talked about exactly how this happened, despite the fact that you had dropped out of the race, that you had thrown your support to Delegate Dereck Davis and his run against Delegate McIntosh. And then you got the unanimous support of everyone in the House. How surprising was all of this for you?
JONESVery much so. Very much so. It was a whirlwind day, lasting about four or five hours to the final outcome. So, the main thing, that we were able to bring the Democrat Caucus together. So, I think that Speaker Busch would be very pleased of that outcome.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Yeah, but before you brought the Democratic Caucus together, when you yourself were campaigning for this position, you crossed party lines to seek out Republican support during...
JONESI did -- that is not correct.
NNAMDIOh, you did not.
JONESNo, I did not.
NNAMDIOh, I know Mr. Davis did that.
JONESI can't speak for Mr. Davis, but I did not do so. And the reason why I had to back out, because I didn't have enough votes, because they were, you know, splitting between two candidates. And people previously thought that I was not interested.
SHERWOODMadam Speaker, this is Tom Sherwood. Congratulations again.
SHERWOODYou, in fact, wanted to be the speaker. You had been the pro tem under Michael Busch for 17 years?
JONESSeventeen, yeah. Mm-hmm.
SHERWOODIs that it? You also chose, frankly, not to campaign for the job before his burial. I remember you telling the Baltimore Sun...
SHERWOOD...that you had a respect for him. And people had interpreted that as if you weren't really that interested in getting the job. But then there was that traumatic meeting with the caucus that met for several hours, and you were the compromise candidate. And I'm sure Speaker Busch would like that, but tell me this: what did you learn most from working so many years with Speaker Busch that will guide the way you run the General Assembly? For people who don't know, the speaker has extraordinary power to appoint inside the House.
SHERWOODWhat did you most learn from him to -- because, you know, people are going to start complaining at some point about you, but what do you plan to do?
JONESWell, I don't anticipate -- if they really knew me, I don't know that complaints would go -- everybody's going to have complaints, but...
SHERWOODRight, right. Just the politics of the job.
JONESPolitics of the job? I'm planning to do the job as being the best in governing and residing over the members of the House of Delegates. I am a -- for the last three weeks of the session, I was performing the job. So, I did not get any complaints about my performance. I work with everyone. We have a lot of new members. And during these nine months prior to going to the January session, I plan to be in various areas of the state, meeting with the various delegations, because I'm a visual person. And I want to hear, because everyone's area of the state, they have different needs and concerns.
SHERWOODExcuse me, Madam, there are six standing committees. Will you have the power -- can you change the committee (clears throat) chairmanships right away?
JONESThe chairmanship is one of the positions and one of the duties that the speaker has. I've been in the job exactly nine days. In terms of making -- I am not, at this point, ready to discuss that, because we're involving different people.
SHERWOODBut you do have the authority at any time to change the chairmanships? Or do you have to do it every year or so? You can do it at your...
JONESYou can change -- the speaker has authority to change at any time.
NNAMDIMadame Speaker, Republican Governor Larry Hogan has had a sometimes contentious relationship with Democrats in the General Assembly. How well do you get along with the governor, and does your reputation for consensus help you there?
JONESWell, the governor -- for the last several weeks, we have worked together in terms of our bill signing. I'm planning, in the future, to meet with the governor, one-on-one. And, you know, we do know each other, and, you know, we'll take it from there.
NNAMDIPossibly to the governor's surprise, a new poll shows that Maryland GOP voters widely favor the incumbent President Trump over Larry Hogan for the White House. The governor clearly had had some presidential ambitions. He's been moving around, going to New Hampshire. How do you feel about whether or not Governor Hogan should run for the Republican nomination?
JONESThat's a decision he has to make. He has to make that determination.
SHERWOODWell, this Democratic Party was close to splitting up over whether the Republicans should be included in the vote. I know Dereck Davis from Prince Georges County and Maggie McIntosh from Baltimore City, I think they were the two who were talking about accepting Republican votes and not just depend on the caucus. But do you think there are continuing rifts in the party or is that over?
JONESNo, I don't see that. The whole purpose of coming together as we did was to unite the party. Both members, as you may or may not be aware, when they went to the floor, they both nominated and seconded my nomination to be the next speaker.
SHERWOODThat's good. You went to the inauguration of the new mayor, Jack Young, of Baltimore after that terrible -- what's been going on in Baltimore. What did you say there, and if the state has a lot of authority to help Baltimore, is there something you have in mind -- you're from Baltimore County -- you have thoughts of what the state maybe should do to help the city of Baltimore?
JONESWell, for one thing, it's best to have communications with the leaders there. I plan to meet with the mayor. What I had say that, you know, we have a new mayor that's looking in terms of what's best for the city during this time. And I think that by strengthening -- what my quote was, "Strengthen Baltimore City means a healthier, safer Maryland." And so we're going to be, you know, in communication and, you know, working together. So...
NNAMDIAdrienne Jones is speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates. Madame Speaker, once again, congratulations and good luck to you.
JONESThank you very much.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, it's Tom Hucker's time. He is a member of the Montgomery County Council representing District 5. If you have questions, comments or denunciations for Tom Hucker, (laugh) you can call us at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Tom Hucker. He's a member of the Montgomery County Council. If you have questions or comments for him, call us at 800-433-8850. Send us a Tweet @KojoShow or email to Kojo@wamu.org. Do you think Adrienne Jones is going to make a good speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates?
HUCKEROh, I'm so glad you asked. No question. I had the privilege of serving under Adrienne as my speaker pro tem for the eight years I served in the House of Delegates. Adrienne is smart as a whip. She's known for her fairness. She is very experienced. She's great at navigating disputes. And, well, let me be kind. You know, in Annapolis, there's this adage that there's workhorses and show horses, and Adrienne is the consummate workhorse. She's the type of person that puts her head down and does the hard work behind the scenes and doesn't seek all the credit, and isn't like some folks who might be checking themselves in the mirror every hour or calling a press conference. She just gets the work done.
NNAMDIWe shall see.
SHERWOODWhy did you -- you were at -- eight years in the state legislature, is that right?
HUCKERI did, yes.
SHERWOODIs that four terms?
HUCKERGuilty as charged.
SHERWOODWhy did you quit...
HUCKERThat's two terms.
SHERWOOD...to run for the county council? That was in 2000 -- what year was that?
SHERWOODIt seems like ages ago, but was just a short few...
HUCKERIt seems like a lifetime ago.
SHERWOODWhy did you do that? That's a significant change to give up that much seniority in the House to be a county councilmember. Why did you do it?
HUCKERWell, and I served with Craig Rice, too, who came in with me in 2006. And then I moved to the Montgomery County Council. I think you asked me that when I was here before. I think it's mostly because a lot of community members were concerned about the vacancy caused in our district by the resignation of Valerie Ervin at the time, my predecessor.
HUCKERAnd, you know, our district on the east side of Montgomery -- where you did a record setting, I think, Kojo, in the community, recently -- has gotten short shrift in the Montgomery County budget for many years. And many people came to me and said, look, we need somebody experienced...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) To get more done.
HUCKER...to fight for us.
NNAMDIYou organized a town hall meeting last weekend about Governor Hogan's plans to add toll lanes to the Baltimore Washington Beltway on I-270. It drew a lot of opposition to the project, including from you, the chair of the council's Transportation Committee. Why did you organize this event, and what did you hear from residents about the highway expansion project? It seems that when we talk about it, we hear more from people who are disgruntled about it than people who are supporting it.
HUCKEROh, well, there's no question about that. And the reason I organized it really was because so many people came forward and said, look. We need an honest, authentic way to get our questions answered and air our concerns before elected officials. And I didn't really expect to be or want to be in this position, but I had intended the State Highway Administration's workshops in Silver Spring and in Rockville. In Silver Spring, 500 people turned out, and they all have questions and concerns, and they raised their hands. And these are managed by SHA as, really, very highly staged managed sort of dog-and-pony shows.
HUCKERThey are 30-minute workshops. They spend 28 minutes going through a slide deck. They make lots of assertions like, Kojo, you'll save 35 percent on your commuting time, and, Tom, you'll save 40 percent. And, you know, you could imagine, people raise their hands and say, that sounds great. How do you know? They said, just trust us. We're not going to share our model with you or our data. You just have to trust us. We're bringing you the solution, but don't ask too many questions.
HUCKERAnd so many people were frustrated with that and asked us to organize something authentic. And on a week's notice, in the rain on a Sunday morning, nearly 1,000 people turned out. If it wasn't, you know, on a rainy Sunday, and if we had more than a week to organize it, I'm sure thousands of people would've been there.
SHERWOODThe Washington Post has an editorial today, saying that the Montgomery County officials -- and in Prince Georges, too -- who are opposing these changes in 495 and 270 and Baltimore Washington Parkway are engaging in folly, thinking that you can do rapid transit fixes and not do more roadways. And the secretary of Transportation for Maryland, Rahn...
HUCKERYeah, Rahn, mm-hmm.
SHERWOOD...Pete Rahn, says that you've got your, quote, "heads in the sand if you think you can't do the things the governor wants to do."
HUCKERWell, let me address the Washington Post, first. They said in the headline to make a dent in commute, Maryland officials need to focus on the roads. I just suggest that they need to -- should focus on the facts. They might be new to this issue, but I think they're not following...
SHERWOODI don't think they're new to the issue...
HUCKERNo, no, not the issue, but the -- I'm sorry, Tom, the question of whether we're proposing solutions. And I have the editorial, and it says that...
SHERWOODSo do I.
HUCKER...they imagine the transit alone can accommodate those million-plus new residents. I don't know any elected officials, at least, that have said transit alone is all we need. We have had a transit-first policy in Montgomery County Council, I believe all the local jurisdictions around here. We don't have a roads-only policy. And this is a roads-only plan. There were 11 alternatives put forth. The secretary scrapped the alternatives that had any transit component at all. What the screened alternatives now present are seven alternatives that have only expansion of roads. And...
SHERWOODSo, you think the Post is wrong.
HUCKERWell, the Post is actually, yeah, reportedly, repeatedly, provably non-false in their assertions on here, because they also say we haven't put forward any solutions. (all talking at once)
SHERWOODWhat can you do? What can Montgomery and Prince Georges -- the legislators, the counties, what can you do to stop this plan going forward, and how much approval does it need for the governor to go forward?
SHERWOODCan you do anything?
HUCKER...can I just get there in a minute? I'm not sure we want to stop it. We want to modify it. It's so sad that we're in this position, because this is such a moment that we've been waiting for, for so many years. The Washington region needs congestion relief, as you know. And we have had so many elected officials and advocacy groups and members of the public asking for congestion relief from Annapolis for years.
HUCKERFinally, we have, now, in the fifth year of the Hogan Administration -- I'm not sure why he waited so long. But in the fifth year, Governor Hogan comes forward and says, you know, here's a maximalist, all-roads plan. And we've said, just work with us. There's some good ideas in here. There's some bad ideas. Go through the ordinary process and work with local elected officials and our top tier transportation experts and our planners to respect our local land-use decisions. And make sure that what we're doing actually relieves congestion, doesn't just enrich a private concessionaire. But so far they've refused to work with us.
SHERWOODMarc Elrich, the county executive of Montgomery County, calls the governor's plan, quote, "stupid.," unquote. It doesn't seem that's a negotiating tactic.
HUCKERWell, he can -- Marc can defend -- the county executive can defend his own quote, but I would say it's ill-conceived. The place to start for Secretary Rahn would be the priorities letter that the county executive and the County Council agree on every two years, and we send officially on our letterhead to Annapolis, and I brought them for you. So, here's our 2014 letter. Here's our 2015 letter. Here's our 2017 letter. And they all ask for relief on 495 and 270. Specifically, they ask for -- they say the corridor to focus on is from Virginia, all the way to Frederick. Why stop at Gaithersburg? All the way to Frederick. And put hot lanes or HOV lanes on the American Legion Bridge on the western portion of 495, on the spur, and then all the way up 270.
HUCKERIf you go north to Gaithersburg, you'll know folks up there go rapidly. If you're driving from here to Frederick, you go from six lanes each way to two lanes.
NNAMDIWhat do you think it will take to get the governor and his people to sit down at the negotiating table with county officials in Montgomery and Prince Georges County? He doesn't seem, at this point, predisposed to do that.
SHERWOODBruce DePuyt wrote in Maryland Matters this week, he just did, last night, a unique interview with the secretary of transportation, seemed not to be open to any of those ideas you just suggested.
HUCKERIt's very curious, and I guess I'll let you reach your own conclusions, but Secretary Rahn, you know, came in, they proposed this before the reelection. And they said, look, we're going to bring all the best minds in the world together to propose solutions, but we can't tell you any details. And he got through the reelection. Then afterwards, they -- and they refused to, you know, request to meet about the details. Then they met with us after the election, and we asked, you know, will you collaborate with us? And he said, yeah, we'll work with you, but there hasn't been any action on that. And they've rejected all of our requests.
NNAMDIThere's this other hot issue. This week, the Montgomery County Council seemed to get County Executive Marc Elrich a little upset after unanimously voting down a new contract with the county's main government union, Local 1994 MCGEO, because of disputes over raises for some employees. We got an email from Donald, who said: why did the council go against Elrich to give the Montgomery County union workers their fair share of pay increase? Who on the Council voted against this? Were these the councilmembers who usually support the developers in the county, especially District 1? What did you see as the problems with this contract?
SHERWOODIt was unanimous, right?
HUCKERYeah, as a compromise. And I'll tell you what was -- I didn't really have a significant problem with the original contract, and I said that at the time. I just want your listeners to be clear, Kojo. First of all, what's really at issue isn't the whole contract. It's called a makeup step that was offered to the county employees. They deferred their step increase during the recession, as did all county employees and all school system employees. And it's only the county employees who have not received their makeup step.
HUCKERSo, at this point, many of these people have retired or moved onto other jobs. It only affects about one in ten county workers, and only costs us about $1.5 million a year. And that's a very small amount in a $5.7 billion budget. So, you know, look, we have budget challenges. It's not, believe me, because we overpay librarians or nurses or social workers. And if previous councils, before I was there, and the last council I served on, we decided to give the makeup step to firefighters and police and teachers and school service employees. How do you deny that, then, to librarians and social workers and nurses?
HUCKERAnd second, how do you give it to the majority white, majority male unions like police and fire, and not give it to the majority black, majority women union, MCGEO? That doesn't make any sense to me. I didn't have a problem with the original contract. The majority of the council did. We couldn't get them to agree with us. So, what we agreed was, as a compromise, rather than allowing the majority to cut the negotiated contract by 25 percent -- it would have been a severe cut. We agreed we would all vote to send it back to the county executive and the union -- which we're required to do under the law -- let them come back with a counterproposal. I'm hopeful they will.
SHERWOODCouncil President Nancy Navarro, who did this and got the compromised, unanimous vote, said that these raises, quote, "seemed out of whack with what the counties need to be doing." So...
NNAMDIAnd also that they are, in her view, unsustainable?
NNAMDIHere is, on another issue, Julie in Tacoma Park. Julie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JULIEHi, Kojo. Thanks. First, I wanted to let everyone know, because they may not, that because of Tom Hucker, our county parks, our playgrounds actually went pesticide-free. So, when the law was being debated by Council in 2015 and parks resisted so much, he carved out that space for our kids. So, thank you, Tom.
HUCKERThank you, Julie.
JULIEBut my question is about the story that unfolded last week when the county won the lawsuit about the private laws aspect. So, I want to ask Tom what his thoughts are about moving forward. How soon the law will get implemented, and how does the council stop pushbacks from the very industry that sued, to make sure they can't shape the language of the law moving forward?
NNAMDICouncil won the pesticide lawsuit.
HUCKERYes. Yeah, the whole county did. Yeah, I was glad to be one of the co-lead sponsors after George Leventhal put in, originally, a bill to ban the cosmetic use of dangerous lawn pesticides in Montgomery County. And then we were sued by some residents and lawn care companies who wanted to continue to use the pesticides. And we originally lost in circuit court. And, very recently, the court of special appeals in Maryland upheld our law. They wrote a very moving decision that began by citing Rachel Carson, who lives in what's now my district and, of course, started the modern environmental movement with her focus on pesticides.
HUCKERSo, Julie, we are working with the county attorney and the DEP to hopefully implement the law as quickly as possible. And part of it, as you know, I think, wasn't struck down. We've been educating our residents about non-toxic alternatives. You can have a very green lawn and a beautiful home environment without spraying cancer-causing pesticides all over them. And we're spending some of your tax dollars to educate people about what the safe alternatives are.
SHERWOODThis is the 20th year for Progressive Maryland. Were you among, or you were the person who started Progressive Maryland, very politically active organization in the state? What's your role? Were you one of the people, or did you do it?
SHERWOODDid you originate it?
HUCKERLegally, to tell you, I'm the incorporator. I walked in the state building and filed the papers. So...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Okay. So, the people started it.
HUCKER...and I was the only staff person -- yeah, volunteer...
SHERWOODOkay. Twenty years, Progressive Maryland has been active. What's it done? What role has it played? This is the Politics Hour. How good has it been?
HUCKERThat's funny. I didn't expect to be asked this, but I'm very...
SHERWOODWell, that's why I ask it.
HUCKER...I'm very proud that Progressive Maryland is still around 20 years after I founded it. And I ran it for six years, and, you know, most nonprofits don't hang in there, especially ones that aren't getting some kind of government funding. And Progressive Maryland has succeeded by getting an awful lot of individual donors from all over the metro area and all over Maryland to support them, because they agree with their issues. And I think it had a big impact.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Do you think it shifted, this time? You've got a Republican governor who's been twice-elected now. A lot of people thought Maggie McIntosh would be the best progressive speaker of the three who were running. And you've got a president who's a Republican.
HUCKERI certainly think they've made a big impact, yeah. I mean, I think there are sort of cultural and policy changes, you know, within the Democratic Party, within Progressive, you know, sort of more generally. But I think there's no question that Progressive Maryland, they passed, you know, numerous bills that they took the leadership on that are now county law or state law, like the state's only -- you know, we're the only state with a living wage bill that I got to sponsor in Annapolis. They also were early push advocates for the Purple Line, which I drive past. It's so fulfilling to see, after 20 years of advocacy, seeing that get built every day, when I take my kids to school.
NNAMDIWell, we only have about 30 seconds left, but Kathryn emails: the county executive has told Animal Services that he wants to move their department out of the police department authority. This makes our offices less safe and less effective. Do you support this move? And if so, why? In 20 seconds.
HUCKEROh, well, that's news to me. I think I'd have to learn more about it. I'm not sure -- did she say where he's moving it to, if not under the police?
NNAMDINo, she did not say that.
HUCKEROkay. Well, I'm definitely going to look into that, and I'm concerned about public safety.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Kathryn, send an email to the councilmember's office.
NNAMDIHe'll understand it. Tom Hucker's a member of the Montgomery County Council, representing District 5. Thank you so much for joining us.
HUCKERThanks so much for having me. Congratulations again on your 20th anniversary.
NNAMDIThank you. That's it for the show today. In case you missed our local highlights from NPR Music's Tiny Desk contest, check out the three bands who joined us in studio this week on Instagram at WAMU 88.5. And don't forget to join us back here on Monday. We'll be talking about the local plants and animals at risk of extinction.
SHERWOODAnd I know you don't want to say this, so I am: I wanted to point out that even though we were very critical of the mayor on some things today, on Monday, the mayor's going to give you an award for your 20 years as the host of The Kojo Nnamdi Show. And sincere congratulations.
NNAMDIAnd thank you very much. And you can bet we'll be celebrating that with ice cream, and you're invited to join us for ice cream, yes.
HUCKERJust first, real quickly, if folks are wondering what they can do to demand public input into the Beltway process, they can sign the petition to the board of public works at tomhucker.com/beltway.
SHERWOODWe'll charge you for that.
NNAMDIAnd that's all we have time for. Until Monday, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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