Virginia is halfway through a whirlwind legislative session. How are new laws going to change the lives of Virginians? And Montgomery County Public Schools are taking the first steps toward redistricting, making some parents and students hopeful and others angry. How might the process end?
Between barely approving a controversial sports gambling contract and stripping Councilmember Jack Evans of his chairmanship of the Finance and Revenue Committee, the last D.C. Council session before summer recess was a lively one. Councilmember Mary Cheh joins us to discuss it.
Last month Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced a special legislative session to address gun violence after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach. This week the session came and went without any bills being considered. We’ll hear reactions from both sides of the aisle. First, we hear from Democratic State Senator Adam Ebbin, and then we’re joined by Jack Wilson, chair of Virginia’s GOP.
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
MARC FISHERFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Good to see you, Tom.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
FISHERAnd we will be talking later this hour with Democrats and Republicans about the gun debate that ended as abruptly as it started in Virginia earlier this week as the GOP controlled legislature took the narrative away from Virginia's Governor Ralph Northam. This was quite a scene in which we had one man shouting from the gallery of the House of Delegates, "Gutless bastards," not exactly the kind of language one hears in the Virginia legislature terribly often. That's coming up later this hour. But first we're also joined by Mary Cheh, the Ward 3 District of Columbia Councilmember. Welcome.
MARY CHEHThank you very much. Happy to be here.
FISHERThere will be no cursing and there will be no gun shooting or anything like that. But there are some difficult issues and some internal issues that have kept the D.C. Council busy this week. A federal grand jury investigating D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans from Ward 2 has now issued subpoenas for testimony and documents related to an inquiry in which a committee of Metro found that Evans had committed ethical misconduct when he was chairman of that transit agency's Board of Directors. That's the latest development in an ongoing matter that has once again put the spotlight on a Council that has had ethical and corruption issues through the years. And, Tom, is this kind of more of the same or is it an aberration in what has become an otherwise smoothly functioning council?
SHERWOODIt's not an aberration. Since the early 2000s there have been five new councilmembers, who've come to the Council in the wake of kind of unethical doing or in one of those cases, Vincent Orange leaving having been defeated in the primary, and then trying to get the job as Head of D.C. Chamber of Commerce while remaining a councilmember. But unfortunately for a very small body of 13 when as many as four or five have had some problems. It is an issue for the city both practically and in its image.
FISHERIt's not a good percentage. Mary Cheh, this latest news about the federal grand jury investigating Jack Evans now issuing subpoenas for witness testimony, does that mean we're going to be living with this situation for some months to come?
CHEHWell, we're inevitably going to be living with it for some months to come either from the perspective of the U.S. Attorney and a grand jury or from the Council itself, because before our summer break and we won't come back until September 15th, the chairman of the Council will engage a law firm to investigate ethical or conflict of interest allegations against Mr. Evans on the Council.
SHERWOODGoing back to January 2014.
CHEHThat's right. And there was some notion that we should go back even further, because Councilmember Grosso did some research and found out that Mr. Evans had never recused himself since 2009. Even though he's had these relationships with law firms and clients and so on since then during that time. But in any case -- so that's going to happen over the summer. And then when we come back the chairman said he's going to appoint a special committee to receive the findings and to act on it from there. So we have months in front of us.
FISHERCouncilmember Cheh, the Council moved this week to remove your colleague, Jack Evans, the most senior member of the Council as chair of the powerful Finance and Revenue Committee and the Council is also hiring an outside law firm to investigate him. Why did you conclude that this action was necessary and what are your concerns about what this does to the Council's reputation?
CHEHWell, I'm very concerned about it and that's what happens. You know, sometimes people, you know, see the Council monolithically and somebody gets in trouble, and so it washes back on all of us. So it's very very troubling. But as to these events, first of all, there was an action taken by the Council in March in response to Washington reports and other media reports revealing emails that Mr. Evans used to try to solicit a law firm to hire him where he flat out stated that he was going to use his influence on the Council and on the WMATA Board in behalf of their clients and used government resources, you know, to do this.
CHEHAnd that's what we had in front of us at that point. And at that point we didn't know that this was just, you know, the tip of the iceberg. And so we met about that. Part of his committee was taken away dealing with certain financial matters. And also he was reprimanded, which is a lower --
CHEHThe lowest punishment that we can apply saying that we were willing to await the U.S. Attorney's investigation and any other developments whether it be from the Board of Elections and Ethics, etcetera. But then when the WMATA matter broke and it also implicated various Council issues, we had to jump back in, and that was what you just say recently taking away his chairmanship.
FISHERAnd you said that in all this time at some level didn't know the details of what he'd been doing and yet you've served with him for quite some years. And he has always been involved with important members of the business community. He's always had a consulting business and legal work on the side of his Council employment. Did you have concerns during the earlier parts of your tenure together with him that what he was doing was not quite proper?
CHEHThere were always, you know, rumors or that sort of thing, but most of us felt, because he was senior and sophisticated that he knew where the line was and wouldn't step over it.
SHERWOODAnd very publically with pro-business with his building baseball stadiums or anything else.
SHERWOODOr trying to get the Skins back. He's been very pro-business publically. So it's not a surprise.
CHEHRight, that wasn't a surprise. But I had always thought anyway that he was dealing straightforwardly with colleagues and with me things that he told me. Looking back I realize that that was not necessarily the case.
SHERWOODYou said in the Metro matter -- you said that you were quote rooting for Jack unquote to explain himself.
CHEHWell, yes because --
SHERWOODClearly, you decided he didn't.
CHEHNo, he didn't, but I was rooting for him, because he said and he told me that he was cleared that he didn't do anything wrong, and that it would all be explained. So I said, yes, good, go. I wanted him to be cleared. But as you said, Tom, not only was he not cleared, he dug a much deeper hole for himself.
FISHERDo you feel personally betrayed?
FISHERHave you told him that?
CHEHI have, and I've also stated that publically.
FISHERAnd did he respond?
CHEHWell, you know, just by way of an illustration, even at Tuesday's meeting I said to him, because I sit next to him. And I knew what was coming. And it was all very tense and everything. So just to be light about it I brought up something and I spoke to him. He said, "Oh. You're talking to me." He said, "I thought you'd be really mad at me." I said, "Well, I am really mad at you, but I'm asking you this little, you know, about this nonsensical thing." So he knows. He knows.
FISHERWe should note that we invited Jack Evans to appear on this program and he declined.
SHERWOODSo the Council took away his chairmanship at the Finance and Revenue Committee and he didn't go to New York this week with the mayor for bond issues. But the Council declined Councilmember Grosso's move to remove Jack Evans from every committee that he serves on as a member. It also declined to force the chairman to appoint an ad hoc investigative committee that would meet during the summer along with the law firm. And I'm just wondering if that -- I think you voted for both of those things to --
CHEHYes. Well, see take the issue of the other committees that he serves on. One of them is Business and Economic Development. And much, not all, but much of the financial stuff including the CFO and the Administration of the Lottery Contract and the Office of Tax and Revenue and a whole lot of other financial matters have been essentially reconstructed in business and economic development on which --
SHERWOODUnder Kenyan McDuffie.
CHEHYes. On which Jack Evans serves. So it seems inevitable to me that there will be issues where even though he's said he's dissolved his consulting firm where there will be, you know, the continuing if you will, forgive me, paybacks to those who helped him.
FISHERYou're listening to The Politics Hour. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And we're talking with Tom Sherwood and with Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh. Let's hear from Melvin in Ward 5. Melvin, you're on the air.
MELVINGood afternoon. Well, first of all I'd like to give Mary Cheh credit, because she voted in the right direction. She's always voted conscious and integrity. The members of the City Council cannot police themselves. The actually outrageous behavior allowing Jack Evans to vote on the contract for the lottery was disgraceful, especially after it was clear that he had colluded with his friends to get this lottery deal passed. They cannot police themselves. Everybody understands now it's a pay for play in D.C. Nothing has changed.
MELVINOversight is impossible with these people, because they always look out for their political interest. And it showed that the block they voted to support Evans in the lottery deal all of them ought to resign for lack of integrity and a lack of honesty and a lack of oversight.
FISHERSo, Mary Cheh here is a District voter painting you all with that broad brush and Jack Evans actions do reflect on everyone else.
CHEHWell, yes they do, but to focus on this lottery contract issue first. I had asked --
SHERWOODWe're talking about the sports betting contract.
CHEHYeah. I'm sorry.
SHERWOODYeah. It's just to be clear.
CHEHThe sport betting.
CHEHI'm sorry. The sports bet -- but the lottery contract was extended also as part of that. But in any case I had asked. I cited the rules. And I cited the fact that Jack Evans was advantaged by his relationship with William Jarvis, who was his registered agent for his consulting company and provided legal services and so on, and so it could be considered an associate. Mr. Jarvis was the lobbyist for Intralot, who got the contract for sports betting. And so that was a direct -- for me, occasion for one to recuse oneself. So I had asked that he recuse himself and he said simply, no. When he was asked again by another councilmember, he just said, no. He should have recused himself.
FISHERAnd that vote to approve a sole source contract with Intralot for, which is a Greek gaming company. This is a contract to manage a quite lucrative online sports betting and lottery program here in the nation's capital, this was a seven to five vote. So Jack Evans's vote was potentially decisive. And he, as you say, would not recuse himself from any of the votes having to do with his future on the Council or from this vote regarding Intralot. Do you think this is a larger problem for the Council in how it handles recusals? I mean, should a member be able to vote on his own punishment?
CHEHI know. In fact, you know, in the breakfast, which precedes the legislative session where I put this question to him and he refused to recuse himself. I then turned to the chairman and I said, you know, my reading of the rules and you can confirm or not, we can't force anyone to recuse him or herself. And the remedy is after the fact if somebody has not recused oneself and violated ethical rules well, then you bring an ethics charge or something. I mean, it's wholly unsatisfactory.
SHERWOODWill you move to change the rules?
CHEHI hadn't thought about that. I have a more immediate thing that I'd like to change, which relates to the sports betting contract and that's how we deal with subcontractors. That's the hidden world of deal making apparently, because we give a big contract to one big company. And then they go around and they get subcontractors.
FISHERThis is not the first time the city has given what some call a sweetheart deal to this same company, Intralot. They've been highly controversial in the past. And here, again, was a case where something that you would think there would be competitors out there who -- I mean, this is a burgeoning business around the country, sports betting. It's about to break open in a big way in Virginia and Maryland perhaps as well as in the District. Why the rush to give all that money? This is a $215 million five year deal to one company that's not even based here.
CHEHWell, we were sold a bill of goods by the Chief Financial Officer and others who were interested in this. We were told and the Chief Financial Officer sat in my office at some length and other councilmembers and was officially in touch with the Council, said that we needed to have a sole source contract, a sole source contract just giving it to one company. You don't have to bid, nothing's out there, you just give it to them, is the exception. It's only, you know, really an unusual circumstance. And so the unusual circumstances that were portrayed was that we had to act right away, because Maryland and Virginia were, you know, at the ready. And if we didn't get the first jump and therefore identified people, who would bet with us and get their allegiance, we stood to lose millions and millions and millions of dollars.
CHEHWe had to hurry. We had to hurry. And then second we were told, I think, inaccurately the kinds of money that would be involved and what we would get back. And then finally there was a notion and I supported this that the money should be earmarked to the NEAR Act, which is a crime measure -- crime prevention measure. And also to the Birth to Three Program for, you know, helping to provide programs for birth to three children. However, the way the contract was drafted it turns out that very little of that money would have been so divided and much of it would have gone for the app services to the general revenue, which could then be --
SHERWOODUsed by the mayor.
SHERWOODLet me ask you a general question about Jeffrey DeWitt, because he is the CFO. He came in and replaced Nat Gandhi several years ago. He has been, I think been given pretty high remarks on keeping track of the city's $15 billion budget. Has this sports lottery contract damaged him to the degree that you think the city ought to consider maybe someone else? He's an independent CFO so you can't just fire him for any reason, but is Mr. DeWitt has he severely damaged himself here?
CHEHI'm not sure. I mean, he has done a good job overall, but there have been other, you know, cracks in his armor as well. For example, first of all he carried the water on the Intralot contract and I think misrepresented, if not intentionally, but nevertheless did, what was at stake. He's also been far more favorable to interpreting the cost of programs that the Council wants, making it more expensive for them to get them. He's been reluctant to provide information to committees about expenses. He seems to be, you know, putting a thumb on the scale in favor of executive action and he's supposed to be independent.
FISHERWe should note that Mary Cheh voted against that Intralot contract and also voted against -- voted to ask Jack Evans to recuse himself from voting on that contract. And that Maryland and Virginia despite the argument that the District had to rush through this sole source contract, because Maryland and Virginia were hot on the heels of the District. They're not actually going anywhere any time soon.
FISHERSo we're not -- for those eager to see sports betting it's not coming right away.
CHEHBut so the foundations for giving the sole source contact fell away. And then on top of that, which made it so much worse when the Washington Post revealed who the subcontractors were and there were these, you know, cronies and insiders and people, who had very little or no experience in gaming and one of who even was a lobbyist for Intralot to get the sole source contract it became completely untenable.
SHERWOODVery quickly. The Chairman Mendelson, who pushed very hard for this and exchanged some say votes to get this. Says that the city has a contract with Intralot, who Intralot subcontracts with is not the city's business unless there's something illegal about it. He says. And if you go out to competitive bidding the same subcontractors will be engaged in the same politics in a competitive bidding situation. And you'll be years behind in getting sports betting.
CHEHBut it would be competitive and it would be transparent. And it would be open. And, you know, I thought the chairman's statement about all of this was extremely cynical. Well, you know, these are the insiders. It could be worse. It's going to be even worse if we try again. And I said, okay, maybe we don't, the Council doesn't review the subcontracts, but this one is put right in our face and we can't pretend. We can't pretend we don't see what everybody else can see. And we should have acted on it.
FISHERWe have a message from Ronnie, who wants to know from Councilmember Cheh, who's behind the efforts to recall Jack Evans and whether she supports these efforts. In addition, we had At-Large Councilmember David Grosso calling for Jack Evans to resign saying it would quote "Save us all a lot of headache." The Gertrude Stein Democratic Club has also asked him to step down, but you're not calling for him to resign. Is that right?
CHEHNo. I do want things to proceed in an orderly fashion. And he is entitled in our investigation to have his opportunity to speak up. As far as the recall, though, Jack Evans represents Ward 2. His voters elected him. If his voters decide to recall him or if they turn him out of office, because he's up next in the cycle, that's up to them. So that will be their vote.
SHERWOODAnd there's an effort. They only have so far -- they only a few thousand out the what? I mean, about a thousand or so signatures out of the 5,000 they need to force a recall election.
CHEHWell, you know --
SHERWOODSo far. But they said they're going to get the votes. We could have a recall election this fall. Jack Evans has said to people clearly he doesn't intend to resign, and we all are already for what happens next with the U.S. Attorney's Office. That's the big fish in this whole game.
CHEHWell, they better hurry up, because the rules say you can't do a recall in the first year of someone's term or in the last year. So as we go --
FISHERRunning out of time.
CHEHAs you go to 2020, they better have their signatures all together by then.
FISHERMary Cheh is the Ward 3 District of Columbia Councilmember. Thanks for joining us.
FISHERAnd Tom and I will be back after a short break. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. When we come back, we'll talk about guns in Virginia and a whole lot more.
FISHERWelcome back to the Politics Hour. I'm Marc Fisher sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi, and we'll be joined momentarily by Adam Ebbin, a member of the Virginia Senate as we discuss the short lived gun special session of the Virginia legislature. But first, Tom Sherwood, our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper, a brief journey into Maryland where there's been a big fight over small apartments in Montgomery County. This is a case to -- a proposal to relax some of the rules about how many -- how densely people can live together is running into some real problems. It's a classic battle really over gentrification and over just how urban the county wants to be.
SHERWOODThis is a housing issue in jurisdictions across -- urban areas across the country. Hans Riemer, the primary councilmember, wants to change zoning so that in single family zoning areas you may have an accessory dwelling unit separate from the home in which you might be in. Of course, that has opponents just horrified that that could change the nature of neighborhoods, put strains on transportation and services. But the point, he says is that we have a housing crisis in Montgomery County. And that we must make rooms available for family members, who might want to live, a parent who might want to live in the same property where their children are or where students or some people or just people who need places to live.
SHERWOODHousing is so expensive in Montgomery County. It's only getting more expensive and this would be one way to do it. There's a vote on July the 16th as of now. But, again, opponents think that this would disrupt neighborhoods. The whole issue here is how much in urban areas can we have single family zoning?
FISHERAnd just how urban do we want our suburban areas to be or how willing are the current residents of those areas to allow that increase in density? When Mary Cheh joined us earlier we didn't have time to get to another development in the District. And that is over this emoluments lawsuit where the D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland's Attorney General Brian Frosh had sued President Trump trying to argue that he was violating the Constitution's provision against corruption known as the Emoluments Clause by using his hotel and other properties to enrich himself. Why did the court say you can't have this lawsuit?
SHERWOODWell, they said that the two attorneys general did not have standing to bring the suit. And it was a scathing I think 30 page decision with the appeals court said that there was no remedy that court could see at this. And that the attorneys general should not have brought this case. And that they had no real standing and they had not been harmed. That the two attorneys general had stretched the meaning of harm to local businesses that might have been affected.
FISHERAnd this was a unanimous ruling by a three judge panel.
FISHERAll of them appointed by Republican presidents.
SHERWOODAnd, you know, of course, the House Democrats are pursuing this emoluments issue also.
SHERWOODIn Congress it might be more successful.
FISHEROkay. Let's turn to Virginia now where the legislature convened on Tuesday and adjourned 90 minutes later, a crisp bit of legislative action, not quite. Actually what happened was the Republicans simply refused to take part in the governor's effort to have there be a confrontation finally over where we stand on gun policy. We're joined now by Adam Ebbin. He's a member of the Virginia Senate where represents the 30th District including parts of Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax counties. And Senator Ralph Northam's special session of the General Assembly did not go as planned. Should he have foreseen what the Republicans would do?
ADAM EBBINI had hoped and I'm sure the governor had hoped that the Republicans would come to the table and at least listen. Take testimony and hear bills. It's hard to know what they're going to do in Richmond. They used some parliamentary shenanigans to abdicate the responsibility.
EBBINYeah. We don't normally adjourn a session after 90 minutes, and then the bills that were referred to committee not even being heard in committee.
SHERWOODOkay. They didn't go outside the rule. They used the rules to...
EBBINNo, they used the rules, but there were quite...
SHERWOODWasn't sure what shenanigans means.
EBBINWell, I would say shenanigans in that not even hearing the bills that you've assigned to committees is a new precedent.
SHERWOODBefore we get into it, the Republican speaker, Kirk Cox, and others, said that this -- you know, this -- the horrible -- the murders in Virginia Beach on May 31st, within a week, the governor said he would call a special session which was scheduled for this past week. And they said it was just grandstanding by the governor, who was trying to move the conversation away from his black-face issues, that he was just trying to influence the elections this fall. And that they didn't -- and that they had -- there was a bunch of bills being introduced in varying ways about gun control. But they just thought that this was so starkly political, they kind of indicated that they weren't going to do anything. And they control both houses, the Senate and the House.
EBBINWell, their reaction was starkly political. The governor, I think, rather than move away from something, was trying to move towards something, which is an honest discussion. A lot of times, during the legislative session, we bring these bills forward, whether they're for gun violence prevention or otherwise. There's not enough time, they say. Forty-six-day session last year, they hear about two minutes of testimony on some of my bills, whether - there's bills for universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, that sort of thing.
EBBINAnd when we could've had the time to look at it -- and that's what a special session is for, to really talk and hear the witnesses. That's when they adjourned the session until November 18th. They didn't close the session. They just said it's until after the November elections.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Conveniently right after the election.
EBBINIt's very convenient ,and it's also before any new majority would take office, so they could fill up judgeships with their choices, rather than any newly elected majority.
MARK FISCHERWe'll hear the Republic perspective on all this from the chairman of the Virginia Republican Party a little bit later in the program. Senator Adam Ebbin, as you look back now on this aborted session, do you think that Governor Ralph Northam's perhaps diminished stature or authority, because of the whole black-face scandal, made it more difficult for a session like this to accomplish anything? Or would the Republicans have done this, no matter what?
EBBINI think they would've done it no matter what. They're afraid of the issue. They're afraid of facing the fact that more than 90 percent of Virginians support comprehensive universal background checks. Even during the chaos that we had briefly during the session, we governed, and we had to get a budget done. We got it done. We passed, I think, 800 bills, regardless. He signed them. So, whatever his personal popularity is at, we still govern, we still work together on most issues.
SHERWOODThe big issue here is that the Republicans have the most narrow of the majorities in both the House and the Senate. All 140 seats of the Virginia legislature are up on November the 5th. If you were to seek a good result and you saw the Democrats take over both those chambers, what would be the principal gun control, gun measure that you would want to see Virginia pass that can't get past the Republicans now?
SHERWOODLike, universal background checks? I mean, can you maybe tick off two or three of them?
EBBINSure. One would be universal background checks. We know that we have 32,000 purchases that were blocked since 2009 from people who failed them. That doesn't count people who bought them from someone who's not a federal licensed dealer. That could've been closed up. Additionally, extreme risk protection orders, which allows when you see evidence of an impending crime, someone who's going to do harm to themselves or others, allows the courts to intervene.
EBBINBut there's so many easy things, whether it's reporting a gun to a police, a gun that's been lost or stolen, or even letting localities regulate their municipal buildings, as courtrooms are regulated in Virginia. So, there's a lot that ought to make sense to us, but the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League have out-sized influence.
SHERWOODIt's a tough political battle, but you know in legislatures, you've been there long enough, and you know that you work out arrangements with other members across the aisle. You get things done in a nonpartisan, if possible, way. How severely is this year's election cycle and this gun issue -- I'm waiting for abortion to raise its head -- going to affect the tone and tenor of elections going forward?
EBBINWell, people are pretty dug in on this issue. Unfortunately, they won't give an inch on the other side. I think this is the number one issue for -- actually, I think they'll both impact this year's election. Guns are among the number one issue, gun violence prevention. And abortion, people want the right to safe and legal abortion. They might have some differences about the details, but when people see the threats being raised in other states, I think it actually helps those who want to protect the woman's right to choose at the ballot box.
FISCHERBut Senator Ebbin, you've got a lot of pushback from gun rights advocates, including one of your colleagues, Senator Bryce Reeves of Spotsylvania. Senator Reeves told a recent rally of the NRA that your agenda, quote, "means infanticide is coming, all the gun bills. We're going to lose the right to work." He also pointed out that you are the only openly gay senator in Virginia. Is this kind of personal attack standard behavior in Richmond, or is this something new?
EBBINIt's not standard behavior in Richmond, while we're there. Unfortunately, people are using anything they can to whip up their base to -- irrelevant factors -- to whip up their base for electoral gain. I don't know -- you know, my being gay might matter to people who are with the antigay groups. But to the gun groups, I don't know what it has to do with anything. So, that was pretty disappointing.
SHERWOODDo you find...
FISCHERDid you talk to Senator Reeves about it?
EBBINI spoke to him briefly the other day, and he apologized and said he shouldn't have done it. But I'm tired of after-the-fact apologies for things that people do that are wrong. I'm also concerned, not so much for my own -- for being used, but for the level of public discourse. You know, name-calling -- you know, I mean, just obvious. We can differ on the issues without getting personal.
FISCHERAnd the Virginia General Assembly had taken great pride for decades in having that level of civility that were -- debates were about policy. And they were not personal.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The Virginia way.
FISCHERThe Virginia way. Is the Virginia way gone away?
EBBINNo but, um, at the edges, it's being threatened, at times. But, generally, we work together in Richmond. Generally, we get things done, even when we disagree, but we have seen a polarization.
EBBINEspecially because the margins are so close in Richmond, both in the Senate and the House.
SHERWOODWhat are the lingering effects going into the November election? They're lingering effects? Are they overt effects of both what Governor Northam's black-face issue, Lieutenant Governor Fairfax's sexual assault allegations, which he denies, and then Mark Herring, the Democratic Attorney General admission of the black-face incident in his past? How is that playing out? Governor McAuliffe, the former governor, came back out of the presidential campaign to campaign across the state, and is continuing to campaign. because he wants a strong Democratic victory this fall. How serious are all those playing in the background, as opposed to any personal insults that you've gotten?
EBBINWell, they certainly don't help my party, but I would say if the voters focus on the individual candidates, individual choices, the issues they care about, we're going to win. It doesn't help us not having as many principals on the campaign trail who are universally popular, but I'm really excited that former Governor McAuliffe is there. If anyone can campaign and take up the space of three people, it'll be him.
FISCHERAs Tom mentioned, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax has been pushing back against these allegations that he sexually assaulted two women. His lawyer now says that an unnamed witness can corroborate his defense in one of those incidents. And yet, Fairfax is still refusing to participate in a public hearing about the accusations. What do you think of the way he's handled this scandal?
EBBINIt's embarrassing to the state, and it should be embarrassing to him. He needs to see the handwriting on the wall. He needs to realize that he'll never be elected to a public office again, or win a Democratic primary. And I understand the part...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You said that to him?
EBBINNo. We asked him to resign, and left it at that. The part, though, about his public hearing. I think that these kind of matters should be settled in courts. If we have a public hearing, I don't know what the goal or the question is. You have two compelling witnesses, and we don't have a district attorney, as they have in North Carolina and Massachusetts, who are empowered to investigate allegations of sexual assault that occurred across state lines.
SHERWOODThis is the Politics Hour. He has been telling, I think, the Post and also the Richmond Times Dispatch, the lieutenant governor has said that this scandal has raised his profile, and that he -- I'm a little surprised he said it that way, but he said this scandal has raised his profile, that people have come up to him and said, we believe you. We want you to stay in there. We want you to run. I just don't know how much that anecdotal evidence means. And you're very active in the Democratic Party. Is there any support with him among the Democratic Party leaders that you know and talk to?
EBBINNo, not among leadership, at all. I think that with anyone in public life, there's a danger when you believe your biggest fans. And when you're in politics, people say to you on day one when you get elected to the lowest office, gee, are you going to run for congress, are you going to run for president, are you going to run for U.S. senate? And people let it go to their head, and he's more than let it go to his head.
SHERWOODI'm going to bring up one issue. One of the issues that people would like Virginia to address is the minimum wage. Virginia has a $7.25 minimum wage, which is the same as the federal wage, which hasn't changed since 2009. There's people who support changing it, and think that's one of the things you guys should have on your agenda if you got control of the legislature. Others say the state just got named the best place in the country to do business, according to CNBC, and that something like that would undermine the state's business atmosphere.
EBBINWell, first off, one of the reasons we got named as one of the best places for business, or the best place, is because we have an inclusive and diversified economy, a good education system, moving to training workers more and more for the jobs of the future, and we invest. Now, in terms of minimum wage, right now, the minimum wage, you said, was $7.25. That's only 26.1 percent of what a living wage is for a family of four in Virginia.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) It's $15,000 a year.
EBBINYeah, that's not enough. It's not enough, and it needs to be higher. I'd like to see us move towards $15 an hour. If people want to talk about regional adjustments, that's one thing, but I prefer to see $15 an hour for the workers at large.
FISCHERAdam Ebbin is a member of the Virginia Senate, where he represents parts of Alexandria, Arlington and Fairfax Counties. Thanks so much for joining us. I'm Mark Fischer from the Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood and I will be back after a break with Jack Wilson, the chair of the Virginia Republican Party, to get back on that gun issue. That's coming up, in a moment.
FISCHERWelcome back to the Politics Hour. I'm Mark Fischer, sitting in for Kojo here with Tom Sherwood, our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. And we'll continue our discussion of the rather short legislative special session in Virginia to talk about gun policy. And we're joined now by Jack Wilson, chair of the Virginia Republican Party. Welcome.
JACK WILSONGood afternoon. Good to be with you.
SHERWOODGood afternoon You calling us from Chesterfield County?
WILSONI sure am. Uh-huh.
FISCHERAnd so, Jack Wilson, you may have heard Senator Adam Ebbin talking about how the Democrats felt somewhat betrayed by their Republican colleagues. They thought there was going to be a legitimate straightforward debate on guns. And, in fact, there was no debate of any kind. Why was it important to pull the plug on this special session rather than actually hash out some of these issues?
WILSONWell, first of all, it was clear that Governor Northam's call for the special session was just a political stunt. It was a ham-fisted attempt to, you know, leverage off the tragedy in Virginia Beach to do an end-around and do what he could to infringe on Second Amendment rights and call this special session. I mean, he called it four days after the tragedy. Memorials and burials hadn't even occurred, and yet he's calling for a special session to infringe on Second Amendment rights.
WILSONBut what the senator failed to mention to your audience was, while the special session was shortened, what the speaker and Senate majority leader did was refer all the legislation to the Crime Commission for study and an analysis of the various pieces of legislation and how they might've impacted or had an effect on the Virginia Beach shooting. That was analogous to what then Governor Kaine did after the Virginia Tech shooting, where he appointed a blue-ribbon commission to study that disaster, and then figure out specific solutions. It's what Speaker Cox did after the Parkland shooting in Florida, created a School Safety Commission to look at specific issues that could improve school safety.
WILSONThat's where you have a policy-driven approach to these issues, as opposed to a political-driven approach. And that's what the governor did. He...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) What -- excuse me, what is the Virginia Crime Commission? Is that a place where things go to die, or does it have a demonstrated record of proposing things that this legislature should do? What is the Virginia Crime Commission?
WILSONIt does. It's an existing commission, bipartisan, that looks at specific crime issues and analyzes specific legislative proposals, comes forward with recommendations for legislation. And so what the speaker -- it's an existing commission. This wasn't something that was created during the special session. It's a standing commission that looks at crime-related issues. And what the Senate majority leader and the speaker recognized was this is the body that can take a look at the investigation, the Virginia Beach tragedy, look at the specific legislative proposals that came out in the General Assembly special session, and then report back prior to the reconvened session in November. So, it's a more policy approach than a political approach.
FISCHERWe're talking with Jack Wilson, chair of the Virginia Republican Party. And we have an email from Katherine who says, I've been proud to have voted for good Republicans most of my life, but the events from Virginia are just the latest in a horrifying stream that show this once-respectable party is now longer conservative. They are radical, turning their backs on tradition and even moral values in order to maintain their power. It breaks my heart. Jack Wilson, are you concerned at all that how the Republican's actions on guns might effect this November's election?
WILSONActually, I think the -- again, as I mentioned, I think the recognition that the governor's approach was purely political, helps energize our Republican base going into this November. You couple that with the right-to-life issue that played out during the regular session of the General Assembly and delicate trans bill. Our Republican base is energized as I've seen it to make sure that the general assembly stays in Republican hands because they can see what would happen with Democrat control of both the houses of the general assembly with a Democratic governor ready to sign anything that comes his way.
WILSONI mean, essentially, you know, I did listen to the senator and talk about some of those quick things that they would like to do on gun control. But the reality is, the Democrat Party in Virginia would pass gun regulations that would be near what's going on in New York, Chicago and, you know, District of Columbia, none of which have done anything to improve the safety of those citizens. But if the Democrats controlled the General Assembly, those type of regulations and laws would be passed, and that would be a real detriment to the commonwealth. And I think our voters see that and will come out to support Republicans who support the Second Amendment.
SHERWOODI mentioned you work and live in Chesterfield County, which is a very large county outside of the city of Richmond. Is there any gun legislation, as you would support as an individual, anything that could be put on the books about guns? Or is this just a huge divide between the two parties?
WILSONWell, no, I think, again, there is an opportunity for honest discussion on things that could actually solve the problems that have been created. Clearly, a primary focus dealing with the gun violence has to be on the mental health side of the equation. The governor is pretty candid in his discussion of the special session, that none of the proposals that was putting forth would've even stopped the Virginia Beach shooting.
WILSONSo, I think there needs to be a much more logical and policy-driven approach to the issue, rather than the political approach. And so there may be issues that focus in on mental health, enhanced penalties for violent crime with guns. The Democrats want to stay away from minimum sentences, but those have been proven effective in other areas. And so perhaps that can be the focus.
WILSONThe reality is that law-abiding, concealed-carry-permit Virginians are one of the safest, lowest crime generators in the commonwealth. And so we shouldn't be targeting those people. We need to be targeting the people that are going to break the law.
FISCHERLet's hear from David, in Fairfax. David, you're on the air.
DAVIDHi. Can you hear me?
SHERWOODYeah, quickly, please. We have a little time.
DAVIDI'm sorry. I just want to say that there's tons and tons of research done on gun control. There's a lot of other countries that enacted laws. There's a lot of other places that have already researched it. The idea that you put that aside to be restudied seems a little ridiculous, and, well, really a political move, in itself.
WILSONWell, the reality is violence is an evil that we face. And whether it's with guns or knives or hammers or anything else, we need to focus on that issue. Law-abiding gun owners are one of the safest bodies that we have in the Commonwealth. It's the focus on those that would commit violence. And I go back to the examples of Chicago and New York, which have some of the strictest gun-control laws in the country, yet some of the highest murder rates in the country. So, you can't say that gun control is going to stop the violence. Again , it's sort of cliché, if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
SHERWOODI think one of the Republican members -- it might've been the House majority leader -- proposed allowing localities, local governments in the state to ban guns in their courthouses and official places of government work. That's one of the bills, I think, that was passed -- Mr. Norment, I believe. Is that something that you would support?
WILSONWell, no. Senator Norment proposed the bill, and it was quickly shot down by some of his Senate colleagues. I think Senator Norment, the majority leader, recognized he may have been a little Machiavellian, as he said, in his submittal of that bill. But the reality is, one of the survivors of -- one of the victims at Virginia Beach has recounted that she had concerns about her safety, and had considered taking -- and she was a concealed carry permit. She had considered taking her weapon, her firearm to work to protect herself. But because the rules wouldn't allow it, she didn't have it with her when she needed it.
WILSONSo, I think, you know, we have to look at the safety of public buildings and perhaps enhance security, is where we need to go. But we need to look at them in a much more reasoned policy approach, not just throw it out there as political theater in an attempt to gain the political environment heading into November, which is what the governor did.
FISCHERWe're going to have to leave it there. Jack Wilson, chair of Virginia's Republican Party. Thanks so much for joining us.
WILSONGlad to be with you.
FISCHERAnd Tom Sherwood, resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper, it's been a pleasure.
SHERWOODEveryone have a good weekend.
FISCHEROkay. Today's Politics Hour was produced by Mark Gunnery. Coming up Monday, it'll be Your Turn. Kojo will be opening up the phone lines and taking your calls, tweets and emails to talk about whatever's on your mind. Tell us what's sparking debate in your office or at the neighborhood pool this summer. We want to hear from you. That will all start on Monday, at noon. I’m Mark Fischer from The Washington Post, sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. And he will be back next week, with more of these important local political issues, along with the great Tom Sherwood. Until then, thanks for listening.
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