Solar energy projects are sweeping the region, from rooftop and community solar panels to large-scale farms. We'll talk about community solar programs, bigger solar projects and how these intersect with state legislation.
Maryland is wrestling with how to fund its public schools, and one person in the middle of that debate is Alvin Thornton, Chair of the Prince George’s County Board of Education. He joins us to talk about what the state’s recently passed $855 million education funding bill means for Maryland and Prince George’s County in particular.
Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been the subject of sexual assault allegations, which he denies. This week, his attorneys sent letters to prosecutors requesting that they open criminal investigations into those allegations. He joins us to talk about his political future in light of these allegations, his take on Virginia’s primaries, and the recently announced special session on gun violence.
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
- Antonio Olivo Reporter, Washington Post; @aolivo
- Alvin Thornton Chair, Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education
- Justin Fairfax Lieutenant Governor, Virginia (D)
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour starring Antonio Olivo of the Washington Post. Tom Sherwood is away. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Our resident analyst today is Antonio Olivo of the Washington Post. Antonio, welcome. Thank you for joining us.
ANTONIO OLIVOI'm happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Joining us in studio now is Alvin Thornton. He is Chair of the Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education. Alvin Thornton, good to see you.
ALVIN THORNTONOh, thank you Kojo for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to talking with Alvin Thornton, let's talk a little bit about what's going on in D.C. The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner is leaving the city government to work for, guess who? Amazon. Except that apparently he won't be moving to Virginia. He'll be working in an Amazon office located here. What, if any, is the significance of that?
OLIVOWell, this is a sign of Amazon wanted to do some damage control after what happened in New York, and their decision to uproot and not have another headquarters there. There are a lot of concerns in the region over escalating housing costs and traffic congestion and things of that ilk, so essentially a message to the region that they want to engage.
NNAMDIAnd I guess he's supposed to be working on economic development in the region. It is ironic, of course, that he was once the City Manager for Takoma Park, and now he's working for Amazon. Takoma Park referred to by some people as the People's Republic of Takoma Park. But he's now working for Amazon. And the D.C. Council passed a budget.
NNAMDIBut before the Mayor can either sign off or veto or do whatever she does with that budget, that budget has to be certified by the Chief Financial Officer, Jeffrey DeWitt. And he told the Council, no that's not happening because the Council improperly diverted money from the Washington Convention and Sports Authority. So I guess the general impression would be that the Council would say, okay, we'll change that. Instead the Council said, no, we're not doing that. You're the one who's making a mistake. And apparently according to the report in the Washington Post by Peter Jamison the Council even considered suing the CFO. What's going on here?
THORNTONWell, I mean this is a problem in various forms. First, I would imagine that the concerns about the bond holders getting nervous over allocating funds that are dedicated to one source going to another. They're probably already nervous that this conversation is even taking place. And I think the larger point is that what we're seeing is years of neglected problems coming home to roost. Public housing in Washington, D.C., I think the estimate was something on the order of $2 billion dollars' worth of needed repairs over the next 17 years and maybe $25 million over the next 2 years. That is a lot. And the District is anxious and desperate to find money to fix those problems. And we're talking about lead paint and things that to run safe for the people who live there.
NNAMDIAnd that's where that Council move came from. If you have questions or comments for Alvin Thornton, the Chair of the Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education you can start calling now (800) 433-8850. You can send us a tweet at Kojo Show e-mail to kojowamu.org, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. This week a group of Prince George's County students file a lawsuit challenging the mandatory fees for summer school classes. Students must pay $100 for a half credit along with a $25 registration fee. Why are there fees like this for summer school in Maryland, when there are not during the regular school year?
THORNTONWell, first of all districts with exception I think of a couple in Maryland charge fees for summer school. Teachers have to be paid, and facilities have to be provided for. Prince George's County does provide those costs also. All those districts also provide reductions or waivers in some instances for students, who are free and reduce families. And so we have been filed with the lawsuit by ACLU and I won't go into the particulars, because obviously we are preparing our response.
OLIVOStudents who qualify for free or reduced priced meals pay half the fees for summer courses.
OLIVOBut in some other Maryland counties including Montgomery County those fees waived for low income students. Why doesn't Prince George's County do the same?
THORNTONWell, we are looking at -- ours used to be full cost, and we've reduced it to 50 percent. Those are cost factors. We have 62 percent of our students are free and reduced cost families, which is a major, major cost factor. And so what we've been trying to do, and I'm certainly one of the -- personally, one of the most aggressive advocates for a state concentrated poverty funding concept that allows school districts to address these kinds of structural and systemic issues. This was a part of the Thornton Funding, which took place in 2002 and now it's a part of the Kirwan Funding. I'm on the group that's going to be helping to write that particular formula.
NNAMDII was about to say, later this summer you'll be in a work group tasked with calculating a funding formula for every school district in the state. Is this one of the things you'll be pushing for?
THORNTONAbsolutely. As we push forward. We have a nationally, as you know, a growing concentration of poverty among our children. In Maryland it's a growing concentration of poverty, particularly two Western Maryland counties like Somerset and Allegheny and Baltimore City and Prince George's. So while this is a particular case involving Prince George's, it is a systemic and structural issue that we're trying to address. I hope that the Kirwan formula, which I will help to write, will have a poverty index multiplier that will allow school districts to fund this kind of demand -- legitimate demand on the part of lower income families.
OLIVOOne of the Maryland General Assembly's major accomplishment in 2019 was passing the -- what is known as the Blueprint for Maryland's Future, which provided additional public education funding for Maryland schools over the next two years. For people who might not be following this, what's in the bill? And what are your takeaways?
THORNTONI call it the three B's. And this is the 65th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education that ended apartheid and separateness based on race in our country. That was a 1954 decision. In 2002 Maryland passed what we call Bridge to Excellence, which carries my name Thornton. Which said that we will not have high performance expectations that are not aligned with available resources that is equitably and adequately provided. That was a very visionary and aggressive act on the part of the people of Maryland. It's been 17 years since then and now we're updating that with what we now call the Blueprint for Maryland's Future which carries the name of Dr. Kirwan, the former Chancellor University of Maryland.
THORNTONMy hope for that is that that formula, which should be restorative and redistributive so that resources follow kids to the municipal and zip codes in which they live. It insolates them from artificial differences based upon economic status in the family income. So I'm very encouraged about the leadership that we're seeing from the General Assembly, the pressure that we're seeing from the people of Maryland, and hopefully the Governor will join us in this, because this is a major national statement to the nation about how you make sure that wealth does not determine kid's access to education and family status does not also.
NNAMDIThis has been mentioned before. You had the unique experience of having sat at the helm of a previous statewide education overhaul known as the Thornton Commission, as this one is the Kirwan Commission. Are there lessons the state could draw from your commission that could inform the current conversation around education funding?
THORNTONYes, the great lesson is that when you invest in children, and you create a governing consensus that integrates leadership that is child centered, great things happen. As a result of the Bridge to Excellence or so-called Thornton Maryland went to number one in the nation, because of investment in its children. That's the lesson we can learn. And so now in 2019 if we do the same thing, which is appropriate the $2.9 billion that has been documented Lee said as necessary, we have integrated leadership from our Governor, the General Assembly. And County Exec leadership in this case our County Exec, Dynamic County Exec Alsobrooks, and the school board, people like myself and our CEO, that great things will happen. That's the lesson.
NNAMDIBut I do recall that there were some problems with funding of the Thornton --
THORNTONRight. There's always different -- right. (laugh)
NNAMDIThis one seems to be moving ahead a bit more smoothly. We'll get to Governor Hogan in a second.
THORNTONYeah, but a bit more smoothly, but there was funding. And we had it -- this was a $1.3 billion dollar. In December it dropped, the formula dropped on the General Assembly, but the General Assembly got the spine and the backbone, and came up with revenue, primarily based upon casino based gambling, etc. And so this particular group that I'm on led by Dr. Kirwan, will have to come up with funding recommendations and that's going to be a culmination of a number of things. I certainly have my ideas, but I won't put them out there right now.
OLIVOWell, you mentioned Governor Hogan and he's not a fan of this new education funding. But he did let it become law last month without his signature. And his concerns were the cost, and the fact that it didn't establish a long term funding solution. What do you think about that? Is it a problem to you that this only sets funding for two years?
THORNTONMy hope would have been that the complete $2.9 billion proposal would have been funded, adopted by the General Assembly. Obviously I'm appreciative of the two year down payment, because in the case of Prince George's we'll get $53 million dollars in the first year, which is going to help us with some of these issues.
THORNTONMy hope would be now that the Governor with our Senate leadership and with our House leadership, Speaker Jones, the new speaker and Senator Miller will come together with the powerful educational leaders and first of all have agreement at this level that is what is proposed is necessary. Now how we do it is something that we need to debate, but we're not going to push back about the need to fund our children's education.
THORNTONWe're not going to do that. We didn't do it in 2002 and the results are obvious and we won't do it this time.
NNAMDIYou're listening to the Politics Hour. Alvin Thornton is our guest. He's Chair of the Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education. Our guest analyst is Antonio Olivo. He's a reporter with the Washington Post. Tom Sherwood is away. The second issue that Governor Hogan flagged was what he called a lack of sufficient academic accountability. He's concerned that the extra education spending won't necessarily lead to academic gains for students. Do you share that concern and how do you think the state should ensure accountability in how this money is spent?
THORNTONOne of the things that came out of the Bridge to Excellence Thornton was what we call Master Plans that must be developed by every district and then submitted to the State Superintendent of Schools, no funds are to be released unless the State Superintendent of Schools certifies that academic performance is being driven by specific drivers. That's the master plan. Now coming out of the Kirwan Commission -- I'm very proud of the very stringent accountability standards that they've put in there, including the addition of what we call an Inspector General Office, which is statewide, which guarantees that those funds are being spent. This is an additional statewide officer, in addition to the State Board of Education. And so to me the accountability factor is in fact to me the most significant improvement in Kirwan over Thornton.
OLIVOAnd Prince George's in particular has had a number of issues, including scandals around absenteeism and graduation rates, and some other concerns. How is Prince George's ensuring those problems are addressed?
THORNTONWell, you know, I am very excited. I came back to the board – this is my fourth time by the way -- chairing the Prince George's County Board of Education, because of my personal commitment to education. So I'm very encouraged by the leadership of our new county executive, who in her recent state of the County address was very eloquent about the vision that she has, as the person who selects, by the way, with the Governor and our CEO. I'm very encouraged by the interim work of Dr. Goldson, our interim CEO. And I'm very encouraged by the growing togetherness of the new board that I'm now leading around the academic performance of our students.
THORNTONSo I think those issues, which were clearly there, are significantly behind us. The General Assembly is with us. The Council is united behind us. And with the board now coming together under my leadership, I think the future is bright.
NNAMDIHere now is Howard in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Howard, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
HOWARDHi, thanks for taking my call. Yeah, I starting teaching in the county for 12 years at High Point High School. I've been retired less than two years. And I understand that part of the time I worked at PG the county is going to make up for pay we didn't receive. But does that effect retirees? Is something going to go into our fund, our retirement fund to raise our retirement? Because obviously my retirement pay is lower, because my pay was lowered during the time I was working.
THORNTONIt's amazing that the national and local state housing crisis economic depression hurt everyone. Equity in our lives generally was ripped out. It certainly hurt our school employees, and during the period of 2008, 2013 to '16 there was a non-step increase. We were able to restore the steps for those who were able to stay with us. And that was one of the great unity efforts that you saw, which was a restoration, the beginning of a 3 year restoration of those that lost compensation. It does not affect those who retired and left. We simply did not have the resources to do that. But we're very excited about the restoration that took place for those who were able, who did not retire and who were able to stay with us.
NNAMDIAnd Howard you have in fact retired?
HOWARDUntil I was 70 and I couldn't continue.
NNAMDIOh, okay, so I guess it doesn't affect you at this point.
THORNTONIt does not.
HOWARDAll right. Thank you.
NNAMDISorry about that. One of the criticisms that the Education Funding Plan that came out of your commission in the early 2000s was the school districts received more money, but weren't necessarily implementing the reforms that your team recommended. What do you make of that critique and do you think it's important to tie funding to concrete reform?
THORNTONWell, I don't accept that criticism of Thornton first of all. I think as I said that as a result of the initial funding in the first three years of its implementation the state went to number one. What we did not do, which was the mistake we should not make now, is that we did not continue the funding. The funding as it became a product of the great economic recession. The will among our state legislators after 2013, because it was very difficult, and so the funding was decreased. The funding, the geographic cost of educating index, the multipliers for poverty, special ed, was simply not increased and maintained. So that hurt for the implementation.
NNAMDILast month the Prince George's County Educators Association, the Teachers Union reached a tentative agreement with the school system to give pay raises to teachers, who missed step increases because of the recession. You just mentioned that.
NNAMDIThis comes after months of negotiations, public testimonies, and protests like last month's Teacher Unappreciation Day, and teachers protested at schools across the county. How would you describe the relationship between the union and the school system at this point?
THORNTONOne of the first things -- one of the things that I'm most appreciative of and I most enjoyed Kojo was after coming back to the board I was somewhat of the lead marshal in the massive march for schools that took place in Annapolis. I still look at that picture. So I'm standing there with our teachers, the Maryland State Teachers Association and others as one of the lead marshals if you will, 'cause I was very excited about the extent to which we now come together to be able to work with PGCEA, which is the Teachers Union to engage in the restorative things that we've been able to do. That's another sign of unity that you've seen with the Prince George's County Board of Education and our teachers.
NNAMDII raise that question at this point, because there's one Theresa in Prince George's County, whose on the phone who will identify herself. Theresa, you're on the air. Go ahead please.
THERESAGood afternoon Kojo. And we've come a long way from when I was an intern working with you years ago.
NNAMDI(laugh) Yes, yes, a lot of years ago.
THERESAThis is Theresa, President of Prince George's County of Educator's Association. And I just want to call and say, it is a new day in Prince George's County. The educators and the school board are working together to improve the quality of our schools for the children in Prince George's County, while our negotiated agreement is it, which by the way was ratified by our members. We got the official word today.
THERESAWhile there are significant compensation enhancements, which will allow for the retention of some of our great teachers in Prince George's County, it also addresses other issues that affect the children: time for special educators to work on the IEPs that they need to work on for the children, class size was discussed, the concept of climate in the building, the concept of bullying and harassment. A lot of these things are not just things that affect the educators, but affect -- everything affects the children. So we are very pleased that Dr. Goldson is being our heroine. And I am confident that Dr. Thornton will be our hero next week when the board votes to agree to all of this, because this is good for Prince George's County. And I'm so pleased that the ship has been steadied and the contention is gone and people are really working together.
NNAMDII can't stand this. If there's going to be this kind of harmony between the union and the school board, then why have a Politics Hour at all? (laugh)
THORNTONRight, what's the world coming to?
THERESALet me just say this. If you're a Looney Tunes fan you know that the sheep and the wolf go out and do their job during the day. And I have my role as President of the Union to kick and fight and scream for the children, and my members in Prince George's County. But at the end of the day game respects game. And Dr. Thornton respects me, I respect him. He respects Dr. Goldson. I respect her. And at the end of the day we're doing what's best for the children.
NNAMDITheresa, thank you very much. Clearly you learned a lot as my intern. (laugh) Thank you very much for calling.
THERESAAll right, bye, bye now.
NNAMDIHere is Tom in Reston, Virginia. Tom, you're on the air, go ahead please.
TOMHi. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a 12 year veteran of the Baltimore City Schools. And the one thing that's not appreciated by the public, but is understood by the social scientists is that students can't learn if they're suffering from violence in their neighborhoods and their families -- inside the school was less of an issue -- but the violence in the community really affects learning. And I had an issue with a student who, both of her parents became incarcerated. I wanted to get help for her aunt, who was now putting her up. But it was going to be 30 days before the social worker had time for her. We need -- the city needs skilled support staff to deal with kids' psychological and material issues or they're not going to learn.
NNAMDIIt's an issue that we're dealing with in the District of Columbia even as we speak. To what extent is it an issue in Prince George's County Alvin Thornton?
THORNTONWell, it's a national issue, and it's an issue in Prince George's and Baltimore City. It is -- people are asking rightfully for social workers connected to the community, a school psychologist, behavioralist, counselors, a more wholesome school environment. Much of that is funded in the Kirwan concept, which is where you have wraparound services, community schools. Where you get to the child, universal pre-K, getting to the child before the child actually gets to the school. That was proposed in Thornton somewhat funded, and hopefully will be fully funded in Kirwan, because I think you're right. It is getting the child before the child gets to the school.
OLIVOWell, to what degree is violence an issue though in the schools, in Prince George's County?
THORNTONI don't know that violence is an issue in Prince George's County. I mean, when you say violence, that's a very general term, what mean by violence. I don't think that's an issue. We certainly have isolated cases of bullying, but I wouldn't say violence is an issue in our schools. One of the things I want to say to people, is we must change the narrative about our school system, which I think is unjustifiable and it's anecdotal. This is 134,000 students, the 22nd largest school district in the nation, one of the nation's most impressive collection of diverse people from all over the world, an increasing immigrant community, the highest educated, academic achieving African-American community. That's who this school system is.
THORNTONAnd we're not going to allow it to be reduced anecdotally to an extension of incidents. That's very, very important. Kojo, this is the 65th anniversary of Brown, Prince George's County gave life to Brown, with the litigation and the overcoming of racial discrimination in our nation and in our state. And we're going to give that life through a positive empowering narrative centered around our public schools.
OLIVOPrince George's County is still without a permanent school's CEO. What are you looking for in a new CEO?
THORNTONWell, there are many people who feel that we already have that person, but we're certainly are looking for a proven, dynamic leadership that is indigenous and committed long term to the education of the children. Around which leadership federal, congressional, senatorial, state and county can wrap themselves and support and that the Board of Education can support, a person who is strategic, who understands how you move large systems like ours, who can mobilize and hold accountable staff to provide for the education of children. That's what we're looking for.
NNAMDIYou seem to be suggesting that the person acting in the position is already capable of doing that.
THORNTONI just said that there's a general view, that the person, who is there now is the person that we're looking for. There are many people who feel that way.
NNAMDIAlvin Thornton is Chair of the Prince George's County Public Schools Board of Education. Thank you so much for joining us.
THORNTON(laugh) Thank you Kojo for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia joins us. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio now is Justin Fairfax. He is the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Justin Fairfax, thank you so much for joining us.
JUSTIN FAIRFAXThank you, Kojo, for having me on again.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the Lieutenant Governor, specifically, Antonio Olivo, talk a little bit about Joe Morrissey, who has now been re-elected in Virginia. I should say re-elected, because he has held office before. In fact, on this occasion, he ousted an incumbent in what is a predominantly African American constituency. But he has been so scandal-ridden over his career that there was some doubt as to whether or not he'd be able to make it. But he won, and by a pretty large margin, too.
OLIVOWell, they don't call him Fightin' Joe for nothing. (laugh) Yes. He won his election over Senator Rosalyn Dance, and I think that was part of a message that Virginia voters sent, or at least Democratic voters, pushing for candidates who were not part of the quote-unquote "mainstream." And time will tell what Joe Morrissey will bring in terms of the dynamics inside the General Assembly. He's known as somebody who doesn't tow the party line. And he certainly did not have a lot of people in his corner during his problems with his relationship with the woman who is now his wife and mother of his children. So, it could make for an interesting session next year.
NNAMDIIt will be. On now to the lieutenant governor, earlier this year, two women accused you of sexually assaulting them in the past. You've denied these allegations, but yesterday, your attorney sent letters to prosecutors asking them to open criminal investigations into those allegations. Why make that move now?
FAIRFAXWell, Kojo, again, thank you for having me on. I really appreciate being with you. And, you know, those allegations are false and fabricated, and very unfortunate the way that this has all played out in terms of them being made publically without really any accountability for their truthfulness or voracity of the actual allegations.
FAIRFAXBut we've been calling for criminal investigations back since February, as early as February 9th, called right when these allegations were first made public and, of course, the context of all this matters. They were only made public at a moment when it appeared that I might be elevated to the governorship of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The governor, of course, his situation that you all know very well about, there was some speculation that he might consider resigning. And it was only at that moment that the first allegation was made. And, of course, that allegation was one that was attempted to have been made a year before, right as I was being inaugurated as lieutenant governor.
FAIRFAXThe Washington Post, of course, investigated that allegation for several months, and then decided not to publish that story. It's uncorroborated. And then, of course, the second allegation came out later that week, in February. And, again, both are false, and I wanted law enforcement to be involved here, because we want to get to the truth. And I believe the public deserves the truth. Certainly, it's fair to all parties involved to have the truth be known. It's fair to my family, fair to myself, fair to the Commonwealth of Virginia and our 8.5 million residents who I'm proud to represent as lieutenant governor.
FAIRFAXAnd so we know that a law enforcement investigation is the way to get to the truth, to have people be under oath and penalty of perjury, and to get evidence and facts. And so I've been calling for that now for several months. And the letters of a couple days ago were meant to formalize and reiterate that request to the district attorneys, both in Boston and in Durham.
NNAMDICan you assure Virginians that you and your lawyers are not aware of any other allegations against you that have not yet been made public?
FAIRFAXAbsolutely. We're not aware of any. And, again, I have lived -- I'm 40 years old. I actually turned 40 this past February. And I have lived 40 years accusation-free. I had never been accused of anything like this. Certainly never done anything like this in my life. I'm very sure and very confident of that. And yet, it's only at the moment that I, you know, enter this realm of politics at this particular level that these allegations are brought forward.
FAIRFAXAnd, again, in the first instance, it was attempted right as I was becoming -- being inaugurated as lieutenant governor. And the fact that it was investigated for several months by the Washington Post, they didn't publish the story, I think does speak to the credibility. And so it's only at this moment that people have sought to try to tear me down in that way. But, you know, the good news is it's not been successful.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Boyd, who said: I have no doubt that timing of the accusations against you were political, but they're out there now and need to be investigated as you are calling for. But why do you not resign and spend time clearing your name? You're not able to fundraise for the party or do much as lieutenant governor with these accusations over your head. I think you would be better off for your future, as well, to do that instead of clinging to your position while not being able to be effective.
FAIRFAXWell, Boyd, I'm sure you voted for me, and (laugh) I appreciate your support. Here's what I would say. We live in a country where everyone is innocent until proven guilty. We cannot live in a place where there's no due process. And I think Virginians of every stripe, regardless of political party, you know, believe very firmly that people deserve due process. So, think about anyone on their job -- we have over four million working Virginians. On any given day, if someone were to come into their workplace, make an accusation, say they don't even want to attempt to prove that accusation, but they want that person to resign and then clear their name, how scary would that be for the four-plus million Virginians who go to work every day and are doing the right thing?
FAIRFAXNow, of course, if someone were to, you know, establish that accusations are true and be willing to go through a process to prove them and that were the case, then, obviously, there should be repercussions for that. But likewise, if accusations are shown to be false, you know, there should be a situation where a person's not punished for someone merely making an accusation, again, with no attempt to try to prove it, when there are processes in place where that could happen. So, I think there's a larger principle at play, and certainly we've gotten a lot of support politically and from the public. The public sees right through this, and they've been on our side.
OLIVOI just want to point out that the Washington Post didn't publish the story, because at the time, at least, it was virtually impossible to corroborate a situation like that. But I do have a...
FAIRFAXAnd the same would be true here now, a year later. And, again, the way this allegation came out in this case, after the Post didn't publish it a year later, was actually through people who, you know, politically, you know, are considered rivals. The Mayor of Richmond and his former top aide, it was his wife who shared this private Facebook post of the first accuser. And that's what got it out into the mainstream, and it's still uncorroborated.
FAIRFAXAnd now the people are seeing that timing behind it. They're seeing that there was a plan in place that weekend, when there was turmoil with the governor. And there were some messages going back and forth that said Monday action and they were related. Was trying to make this accusation against me right at the moment when they thought I might become the governor. I think the public really sees right through that. They reject it.
FAIRFAXAnd that's why people, as I traveled around the Commonwealth, and they come up to me everywhere I got, at gas stations, churches and say, we know that this is false. We know that this is a smear campaign. We know that, for instance, no one on that side wants to go to law enforcement, and there's a reason for that. And so we want to get to the truth. We want to get this resolved, so that we can move forward.
OLIVOSo, you're calling for a criminal investigation now. In February, your law firm, Morrison and Forrester, retained outside counsel to conducted its own investigation into the allegations while you were on leave. As of today, you're listed as a partner on their website. What came of that investigation? Are you back from leave, and when you were on leave, was it paid leave?
FAIRFAXWell, I'm going to leave all the questions with regard to my private employer, my law firm, to the law firm, and allow them to address those. And what it does highlight though is that the lieutenant governor position is a part-time job, which a lot of people actually don't know. You make $36,000 a year as lieutenant governor of Virginia, but you also have your private employment.
FAIRFAXAnd, again, this, to me, highlights the critical necessity for due process. I don't think anyone, you know, in the studio, anyone under the sound of voices would want to live in a world where someone can walk into your workplace, accuse you of something. Particularly whether it's something from 15 or 20 years ago, say I have no proof and I want to offer any, and I don't want to go through a process where I have to be under oath and penalty of perjury to prove it. And then you have to leave your position.
FAIRFAXAnd in the case of the second allegation that was made, you may be aware, it was done through a letter on February 8th, which essentially amounts, you know, under the DC code. to blackmail. It was letter that said, you made an allegation to my lawyers here in Washington, DC about something 19 years ago. It said get back to us by 3:00 p.m., or essentially we're going to go public with this allegation. And it's the definition of blackmail. Of course, we didn't respond to it, because it's not true. The allegation itself was not true. But, again, who wants to live in a world -- if that letter showed up on your doorstep at your office, would you resign by 3:00 p.m. and go clear your name? No.
NNAMDILet me ask...
FAIRFAXAnd I don't think anyone else would.
NNAMDILet me ask Antonio's question another way. Are you working now?
FAIRFAXListen, I am still, you know, with my law firm, and, again, I'm working everyday as lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. I've been traveling the state...
NNAMDI(overlapping) But you're still with your law firm.
NNAMDIThe women who accused you of sexual assault have not pressed charges, but said they would be willing to testify in front of the Virginia General Assembly. Republicans have pushed for a hearing to do just that, while Democrats have fought it. Is there any circumstance under which you'd testify about this in front of the legislature?
FAIRFAXHighly doubtful. And, frankly, again, what we know is that we want the truth. And the other side, unfortunately wants a political show. And I think Virginians have grown very weary, very tired of these calls for political show. It's interesting. In both cases, the attorneys for these particular accusers -- Debra Katz and Nancy Erika Smith, who were also involved in the Brett Kavanaugh situation with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. Debra Katz represented Dr. Ford. Both those attorneys -- who are now the attorneys for the accusers in this case -- in those instances, with the Kavanaugh situation, she asked for law enforcement investigations. They were urging, demanding law enforcement investigations.
FAIRFAXAnd, in fact, Debra Katz had her client, Dr. Ford, take a polygraph exam, because she said that she wanted to make sure that, you know, people thought she was credible, that she be branded in a certain way that's not credible. So, she had her do this polygraph to show to the public that she was credible. Well, in our case, I actually have taken, in the past, two polygraph exams from the exact same lie detector test examiner that Dr. Ford was given by her lawyer Debra Katz, who represents Dr. Tyson in this case.
FAIRFAXAnd yet Debra Katz has been radio silent about the significance of me passing two polygraphs from the same person that she hired in another instance. And then there's this hypocrisy about wanting and demands law enforcement investigations in other situations just like this to get to the truth of these kinds of allegations, and then, in our case, wanting no investigation, and decrying investigations. And, in fact, you know, suggesting that, you know, I'm trying to make people go through investigations. Well, you can't have it, you know, both ways.
FAIRFAXAnd, again, Virginians and the public are very smart. They see right through the gamesmanship, and they know that if law enforcement is involved, people have to tell the truth, or else there are consequences. And it's likely to turn up facts and evidence that the public is not yet aware of. And we're looking forward to that investigation.
OLIVOWell, as you mentioned before all of this happened, you were in a position where you might've been elevated to become the governor...
FAIRFAXAnd, by the way, that's by operation of the Virginia Constitution.
OLIVOUnderstood, yeah. And many people were speculating that you'd run for governor in 2021. Do you still plan to run? What do you plan to do in the next two years?
FAIRFAX(laugh) Well, I certainly plan to keep serving as lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia over the next couple of years. And, you know, it's also something absolutely that we've, you know, thought a lot about. And I think the politics will certainly take care of themselves. But, as I've said, even going through this, our support has really intensified. I'm hearing from people all around who, you know, not only saw what we've been able to do in that office.
FAIRFAXYou know, presiding over the Senate, I broke the ties to expand Medicaid, so that now, 400,000 Virginians have access to life-saving, life-changing health insurance. We got a lot done on criminal justice reform. Our economy is roaring, 2.9 percent unemployment, 41,000 jobs in the first year. So, we have had tremendous success, you know, in my role as lieutenant governor. And now, again, at the moment when I was looking to potentially elevate it during the situation, people see that the smears come out at that moment. And they step back and they look, and they say, this was all done for a reason. And we see through it, and we support you even more, because this is not the kind of politics that we want to see. This is not the kind of process that we want to, you know, have people go through.
FAIRFAXAnd so, we will certainly continue on, I think, even more strongly in Virginia politics. And it's something that we're looking at. But, you know, people are asking the questions about, you know, who's behind some of this. And, again, the fact that, you know, one of the accusations in particular is connected to someone, Mayor of Richmond, who also said he wants to run, is connected to other people who want to run, it just lets the public know exactly what this has been all about. We believe, again, get a law enforcement investigation, get this all resolved and out and open to the public is exactly the way to handle it.
NNAMDIWell, let's talk politics. Tuesday was primary day in Virginia. Every seat in the legislature is up for grabs this year. What were your takeaways from Tuesday's primaries?
FAIRFAXYou know, I was certainly encouraged in the primaries by seeing, you know, some of the energy that was out there. We have folks running all around the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I do believe we're going to be able to flip the legislature. We're obviously very closely divided right now in the Senate, where I preside as president. We have 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats, which has led to a number of the tied votes that I get to break as lieutenant governor in a House with 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats, currently. And so I believe that we are going to have the candidates and the energy and the message for Virginians to take control of General Assembly, and I'm looking forward to that.
NNAMDIWell, what kinds of candidates? There were a number of progressive Democrats challenging incumbents on Tuesday, but for the most part, it was a good day for incumbents. Senate Minority Leader Richard Saslaw from Fairfax, for example, faced his first primary challenge in 40 years from Yasmine Taeb. Saslaw won by about 3 percent. Do you think there's a need for more progressive Democratic leadership in Richmond?
FAIRFAXYou know, I think there's a need for all kinds of leadership. And, frankly, you know, as someone myself who didn't come up through the establishment, I've always been considered as somewhat of an outsider. As you know, I ran for attorney general in 2013, my first time running for office. There were a lot of people in the establishment who, you know, didn't support me and actually were actively working against me. And yet, you know, I got 48.3 percent of the statewide vote and was endorsed by your paper, the Washington Post, in that first race in 2013.
FAIRFAXAnd then when we came back in 2017, I ran in a three-way primary, got almost 50 percent of the vote in a three-way primary. Won the general against the sitting state senator, who was very well-funded. Also got endorsement from the Washington Post in that race in 2017. And so I believe that there are candidates of all kinds that can emerge, who can capture the attention, the imagination of the electorate. And we have to give people the ability to run, and not do things that try to hinder them and pick and choose winners. The voters pick and choose the winners, and I've experienced that myself.
OLIVOLast week, you joined Governor Northam in calling for a special legislative session to wrestle with gun control. This is after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead. You pushed for universal background checks and bans on bump stocks and assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. What are you hoping to see happen in this special session?
FAIRFAXI'm hoping we make progress on curbing or stopping these mass shootings and this extraordinary level of gun violence that we are seeing in Virginia and around the country. You know, doing nothing is not an option, and I've heard that consistently from people in the public. I was down in Virginia Beach with the governor, actually went to the funeral of an incredible person, Keith Cox, who died in that shooting, saving the lives of seven of his coworkers. And Keith Cox was eulogized by his father, Dr. E. Ray Cox, Senior, who was a good friend of mine.
FAIRFAXSo, you're hugging a father who's eulogizing his son in the midst of that kind of tragedy is something you never forget. And gun violence has touched the lives of so many Virginians, and they are frankly tired of special interest groups like the NRA, who constantly block progress. They don't want to see another person shot in a mass shooting or, you know, at a cookout, as we saw in Westminster.
NNAMDI(overlapping) We're running out of time, so I may be interrupting from time to time.
NNAMDISome are criticizing the special session as an opportunity for Governor Northam to be in public, talking about gun restrictions, therefore changing the subject away from the scandals that he is in the midst of. How much of this is political theater?
FAIRFAXNone of it. And what's interesting, Kojo, is anyone who would say that in the wake of 12 people who have been gunned down, you know, in a horrific mass shooting, and four other people who are fighting for their lives, who were also shot, and countless families and Virginians who are grieving, the fact that they would bring it down to the petty level of political theater is, frankly, I think, appalling. And I think that Virginians reject that kind of game-playing. And, again, they're really tired of the games, whether it's this situation or in others, they are ready to get to the truth and get to the people's business. And that's what people care about.
NNAMDIWell, there's the politics, too.
OLIVOWell, how much can actually get done this session? Republicans still hold a majority, and they've got their own agenda.
FAIRFAXYeah. Well, they have, as I mentioned, slim majorities right now. And I think that the voice of the people is going to be pretty loud in this session, as it should always be, particularly given what has just occurred in Virginia Beach. But, you know, for instance, on Medicaid expansions, as I mentioned, I broke the ties in the Senate to get Medicaid expansion passed. We then actually had, I think, four Republican senators vote for it, after I broke the ties, to get it to final passage, and so, on a, you know, slightly bipartisan basis, were able to get something done that was pretty extraordinary.
FAIRFAXTo get 400,000 people health insurance, something that they've been thwarted for, you know, the prior four or five years. So, I think that there are folks of goodwill who said that they want to go back down to Richmond to listen, you know, to be honest about the debate and what we can get done. And I'm certainly going to play my part as president of the Senate to help move that along.
NNAMDINow, let me try to get in a few things. Email from Will: Justin Fairfax must've learned from Brett Kavanaugh, everyone knows that no investigation is going to find conclusive evidence of a sexual assault perpetrated many years ago that was not immediately reported to police. In short, it will be tried in the court of public opinion, and Fairfax will win if he can fight to anywhere near a draw. So, what else can an investigation accomplish? And now here is Amanda in Bluemont, Virginia. Amanda, your turn.
AMANDAHi. I was calling in, and I was listening to Mr. Fairfax talk. And I will be honest, he sounds remarkably, to me, like Donald Trump, you know, (laugh) accusing everything as theater and all these people of conspiracy things and talking about the timing of the accusations. And, quite frankly, the press conferences that he gave were borderline creepy. His attitude towards women in general was kind of revealed. It sounded disgusting. The way he's talking about the accusers is really unnerving to me. I am a Democrat. I am a Virginian, and I don't see it as political theater, and I don't like you speaking on my behalf, because I know that I'm not alone.
NNAMDIWhat is your opinion? We don't have a lot of time. You think he should resign.
AMANDAI absolutely think he should resign. He's just not...
AMANDA...somebody that I want representing me.
NNAMDIWhy do you think he should resign?
AMANDAI think he should resign because they were credible accusations. His handling of it was disgusting, and as soon as he...
NNAMDIOkay. We don't have much time. She thinks the accusations are credible.
FAIRFAXAnd thinks they're credible based on what? I think that's the problem that we're having, without any investigation, is that immediately if someone accuses someone of something, people attach the word credible to it. And as I've noted before, I don't think anyone here in the studio or in the country would want to live in a world where someone can walk into your place of business or your home, accuse you of something, and then your life has to change immediately.
NNAMDITerry in Arlington, Virginia has a question. Terry, we only have about a minute left. Go ahead, please.
TERRYVery good. Yes, thank you very much, Kojo. I wanted to ask the lieutenant governor if he could expound a little bit about how it affected his family. We started the conversation, and he mentioned that. But now that I've heard that last caller, I just wanted to respond to that in terms of credibility. When you don't go to law enforcement, I don't understand how the credibility is gathered if you're not willing to do that. But that was just my question, if he could expound about the family.
NNAMDIThe effect this has had on your family?
FAIRFAXYeah, no, I appreciate that. Obviously it's incredibly trying and difficult. You know, my wife and I with two young kids, a son who's nine and a daughter who is eight. And what was interesting about the other caller -- and again, there weren't many specifics that were given in that particular call, but I'd be happy to talk through whatever it is that specifically she was interested in talking about.
FAIRFAXBut, you know, I'm someone who was raised by a strong woman, I'm married to one, and now I'm raising one in my eight-year-old daughter. And so I don't want to live in a world where my daughter ever, you know, is in a situation where she feels threatened or is attacked or is assaulted. I want her to go to law enforcement right away. If that ever were to happen, I would protect her in every way that I could. But I also don't want to live in a world where my son can be falsely accused of having done something that he didn't do, and then his career and his life be unraveled as a result. We need to live in a fair and just society, and we need due process. And we need to make sure that people are able to fully be heard, and that leads to the truth.
NNAMDIIn the 30 seconds we have left, what do you plan to focus on for the rest of your term?
FAIRFAXAgain, we're going to go down July 9th and focus on gun violence prevention. That's key, obviously, continuing economic growth. But also, I think, lifting up our politics, lifting up people in the Commonwealth of Virginia, providing more hope and optimism. I'll share, in our last 15 seconds, you know the story about my last name, which is Fairfax, and how my family got it. It was the ninth Lord Fairfax who freed my great, great, great grandfather, Simon Fairfax, on June the 5th, 1798.
FAIRFAXWe discovered that manumission document the week of my inauguration. My father gave a copy of it to me 20 minutes before I walked up the steps of the capital to take the vow of office of lieutenant governor of Virginia. So, that's the kind of hope that we have in this country, and that's the kind of hope that we're going to continue to bring here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
NNAMDIJustin Fairfax is lieutenant governor of Virginia. Thank you for joining us.
FAIRFAXThank you so much for having me. God bless you all.
NNAMDIAntonio Olivo, thank you for joining us.
OLIVOSo happy to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. On Monday, we'll take a look at the high rates of teacher turnover in the District. And we'll check in with Montgomery County officials who are wrapping up a week-long transit challenge, ditching their cars and relying on alternative transportation options for seven days. We'll find out if they had any ah-ha moments. That's all for today. You all have a great weekend, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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