We can live off the land — until we can't. Climate change is fundamentally changing the way farmers produce food, right down to the soil itself.
D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sits down with Kojo and Tom to talk about payroll fraud in the construction industry and school residency fraud in the District. Plus, Racine is co-leading an investigation into Google’s possible antitrust law violations with a coalition of attorneys general from across the country.
On September 19, 2019, D.C. elected officials will speak at a hearing for H.R. 51, a bill to make D.C. the 51st state in the U.S. Bo Shuff, the executive director of D.C. Vote, talks about grassroots advocacy for statehood.
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 Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He writes for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Bo Shuff, who is the Executive Director of D.C. Vote. Joining us in studio now is Karl Racine. He is the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Karl Racine, thank you so much for joining us.
KARL RACINEGood afternoon, Kojo. Good afternoon, Tom.
NNAMDIFirst, Tom, let's talk about Montgomery County Executive Mark Eldridge, who has apparently had a meeting with ICE officials about the county's policies and he is considering changing procedures. The only procedure that I could clearly understand that he is looking at is one having to do with where people, who are scheduled to be picked up by ICE are released. And they were being released in a public area of the jail. Apparently he feels that he and ICE feel that that could be dangerous. So he might be changing that. Any indication of what else he might be changing?
SHERWOODThat's pretty much it. This year, you know, he signed an executive order that the Montgomery County officials would not cooperate with ICE whenever ICE wanted to do something that they thought was beyond the law, which is hold people from the time that you can be held for criminal violations. And Mr. Eldridge said that, you know, if the times comes we will notify you. And there's some dispute about whether the county was notifying or not. It turned out the county was. And this a classic case across the country where ICE is slow to respond and it wants various jurisdictions to hold people even though they legally can be released.
SHERWOODSo he did, because of some of the outrage over what the county was doing, he met with ICE. I think he reaffirmed what the policy is. And said one issue and that's what you just mentioned that it's kind of awkward for ICE to come to the jail and then sit there in public and wait for someone to be released from the jail. No other jurisdiction does that in terms of releasing prisoners.
SHERWOODSo now ICE will be able to go inside a secure area and get a transfer if the transfer complies with the law.
NNAMDIGeneral Racine, do you think that's appropriate relationship with ICE?
SHERWOODAnd I feel terrible talking about the issues about legal stuff with the Attorney General sitting next to me.
RACINEWell, look, I think the situation around ICE, the raids and the detentions, you know, is awful. And what we've seen in the District of Columbia is, of course, several raids particularly around Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. I do want you to know that the Office of Attorney General has sought information concerning the individuals who've been detained. We want to know whether their families have been informed as to where they are, whether they've been afforded the right to have access to attorney and the like.
RACINEICE did not provide us with the information we requested. So we went ahead and filed suit. We are getting more information now from ICE. But it's important for jurisdictions like Montgomery County and the District of Columbia, who really value immigrants to ensure that they're not participating in some of the more aggressive and, you know, I think on the edge of law conduct that ICE is engaging in. So I understand where Montgomery County is going here.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, there seemed to have been a great deal of secrecy in the Metro Board ethics investigation of former Metro Board Chair and Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. The Metro Board now says it wants more transparency in these investigations. That in future the results of these investigations will no longer be considered private. They should be made public and open. Obviously a lot of people felt that was how it should have been all along.
SHERWOODWell, part of the problem with that is if there had investigations by ethics committees of WMATA into high ranking officials in the Metro where nothing was found wrong, where they were cleared of any allegations of wrongdoing. And the policy has been in the past that if there's no wrongdoing then the Board -- the ethics committee does not forward this information to the full Board, because it would just simply disparage the person who was investigated, nothing was found.
SHERWOODIn the Evans case there was a dispute. He was publically saying that there was nothing found when in fact the ethics committee had required him to disclose the $50,000 side gig. So it's good if they disclose stuff, but you have to be careful. Again, we got the Attorney General sitting here. You have to be careful that if you have an ethics investigation and there's no finding of wrongdoing you have to be careful how you disclose it. The stuff about Jack Evans was basically leaked to the Post, but it's important that nobody of any type hide information about improper wrongdoing inside any group whether it's WMATA or anywhere else.
NNAMDIGeneral Racine, Tom and I belong to a group that thinks of transparency as one of the most important things possible.
RACINEIt's the first amendment.
NNAMDIThank you. Thank you. How do you think about the issue?
RACINEWell, I think Tom actually hit it right on the head. And that is that investigative bodies don't necessarily always lead to a conclusion of wrongdoing. And the fact of an investigation that ends up not having any facts to it can actually hurt someone's reputation. However, when you're talking about a quasi, you know, public entity wherein there has been a finding I do think it's appropriate for that kind of body to just be as transparent as possible and at least issue whatever written report they have. Whether they go in and issue witness statements and the like is another issue.
SHERWOODOn this same issue, though, Jack Evans is under. He was a former chairman of Metro and he is the sitting councilmember of Ward 2. The U.S. Attorney's Office has subpoenas across the government and at Metro about what he did or didn't do. Has your office been involved in any of that? Have you been subpoenaed for information? Are we going to -- one worry is that Jack Evans is up for reelection. But until the U.S. attorney acts, it's kind of doubtful whether he'll run or not. So we don't know. Is there any confidence that the U.S. Attorney will act soon enough and let us know what's going on with Jack?
RACINESure. So there's several questions there. The first question you asked is whether the Office of Attorney General has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Attorney's Office related to Jack Evans. It has been reported that the entire Wilson building, the Council, the mayor's office and others have been subpoenaed. I can tell you that the Office of the Attorney General has not received a subpoena. In the normal course, however, we do assist D.C. agencies in responding to subpoenas. And that's the role we're playing with respect to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
RACINEThe U.S. Attorney's Office going back to your point about the Metro Board investigation, you know, does not have an obligation to update on the status of their investigation. Nor do they have an obligation to tell us anything if they don't find that crimes were committed. I think that the public, you know, is patiently waiting. And I think at some point that patience is going to run out.
SHERWOODYeah, we went through this with Vince Gray, the mayor. For four years he blames the U.S. Attorney's Office since leading to his defeat, because of such an uncertain thing the way it was handle. He was only cleared or not charged actually after that election where he lost the mayor's race. He's now a Ward 7 councilmember. Some people, who like Jack Evans and want to support him are concerned this will go into the political campaign year. Even though the Justice Department says these kinds of investigations should not affect political campaigns.
RACINENo, your point is well taken. And, you know, looking back on it --
SHERWOODYou can't compliment me again, because it's going to make it --
RACINEWell, this is the last time for the year. I can guarantee you that. My point about Vincent Gray is that I think if even, you know, fair amount of prosecutors look back on that and say, hey, look, in hindsight, you know, the man was under criminal investigation his entire term. And then eventually there was no charge brought. You know, that obviously impaired his ability, I think not withstanding his efforts to govern in the way that he wanted to. We have to avoid those kinds of investigations.
NNAMDISpeaking of the U.S. Attorney, the U.S. Attorney got involved in a bill before the D.C. Council. And the Washington Post Editorial Board also wrote about it. About how criminal justice reforms have gone too far in the District raising concern about the Second Look Amendment Act, which would allow offenders of violent who were under the age of 25 when the crime occurred to petition for a shorter sentence. You co-authored a Washington Post opinion piece with D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen in response calling their reactions overblown and unfounded. Why do you support the Second Look Act? And what do you feel about the U.S. Attorney's involvement in this?
RACINESure. Here's why I support the Second Look Act. I think that most people will agree that the prosecutorial standpoint and sentencing regime of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s resulted in overzealous prosecutions and really lengthy sentences. That obviously negatively impacted unfortunately a brown and black communities including the District of Columbia. I think it's appropriate for the Council to take a second look and to sort of, you know, come up with standards that individuals have to demonstrate to a court of law that they are not a danger to public safety after spending 20 or 15 years in jail. And I think the Council is well within its right to push that.
SHERWOODAnd that new law if it goes into effect would affect people convicted up until the age of 24 just before 25. We already have that law in place for people under 18. Charles Allen, last night at the Hill Center in a private interview we did with him was quite strong about this. And he even recounted his own sense of being a victim of violence on the street. He said that we can't just lock people up we have to give -- if there's an opportunity. He says there's a lot of bad information that judges can't consider the underlying crime. They can't do this. They can't do that. He says there are a lot of safeguards so you just won't open the jail doors or the prison doors of dangerous rapists and murderers.
RACINEA couple points --
SHERWOODThat some people are alleging.
RACINEOkay. A couple of points very quickly. Number one, the Supreme Court of the United States psychological, psychiatric brain data clearly demonstrates that young people have not become fully developed at least in their brain development and are therefore more prone to frankly engage in impulsive behavior including crime. That is what underlies the first IRAA Act and indeed the Second Look Act. And what's important to note is that this is just a process that a petitioner must persuade a judge that they are no longer a risk to public safety.
NNAMDIOur guest is Karl Racine. He is the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. Our Resident Analyst is Tom Sherwood. When we come back, we'll ask the Attorney General about some of the lawsuits that he has been filing and why. Until then, just hang on. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Karl Racine. He is the Attorney General for the District of Columbia. This week your office released a study about the prevalence of payroll fraud in the construction industry where companies misclassify workers, who should be listed as employees as independent contractors. How and why do construction companies benefit from this? And what does it mean for the workers?
RACINEWell, the long and short of it is that unscrupulous construction companies that do not pay the proper wage and mischaracterize an employee as an independent contractor make on average 16.7 percent more money that falls right to their bottom line. That 16.7 percent should be going into workers wallets and purses. I should note that that 16.7 is a minimum amount of loss. The loss can be up to 40 percent. When construction industry players do not pay the appropriate wage, it really starts a race to the bottom.
RACINEA lot of construction contracts are bid. And so if you have an incentive for these bad contractors to lower their bids because they know they're going to take it out of workers, then other contractors, good actors, will also have that same incentive. Let me just add if anybody in the District of Columbia is concerned is about wage theft they should feel free to call the Office of Attorney General.
NNAMDIHow widespread is this? I know a construction company working on the Line Hotel in Adams Morgan was under scrutiny. But do you know how many businesses are using this practice in D.C. and how many employees could be impacted by this kind of misclassification?
RACINESure. I can tell you that we brought several lawsuits and we have over 30 investigations ongoing now. So sadly the practice, you know, is prevalent. I would note that I don't think the majority of players in the community are engaged in that bad practice, but it is prevalent and workers are being denied the money that they've earned.
SHERWOODAnd you're bringing -- you have brought some suits. And you may bring more. Now this is not just low or medium wage employees. Law firms, I read the ABA, the Bar Association report on this issue. You used to be the managing partner for Venable, one of the largest firms in the country with 1500 attorneys and thousands of other employees. Does Venable have contract employees instead of full time employees, who get full benefits for retirement, for vacations and all those types of things?
RACINESo I've been almost six years removed from the Venable law firm.
SHERWOODWhile, you were in charge.
RACINEWhile I was in charge, you know, there certainly was a move in the law firm industry to look to outside resources to do the kinds of things that lawyers used to do. So it used to be that lawyers looked at all of the documents that were gathered in a case. Nowadays contractors do that. So I think the point is that there are quote efficiencies that businesses look to engage in. We just want to make sure that they're lawful.
SHERWOODSo all you looked at the contracting business world. Across the country particularly union organizations have sought to bring these kinds of actions and bring this to light across the country when it comes to contracting, but really the problem is much more widespread than just contracting.
RACINEIt is indeed. And it extends also to the gig economy that we were talking about in the break.
SHERWOODI mean, I know in the journalism business people are hired as day hires or as contractors so the companies don't have to pay social security, unemployment insurance, all those things that add up to the cost of one worker.
RACINEAll this is true. But in the District of Columbia and this is where law comes into play, the law presumes that construction workers are employees. And the reason why D.C. law does that is because it wants those construction employees to get the prevailing wage. It wants those employers to pay the appropriate wage and also the taxes that go with it.
SHERWOODEverybody needs some kind of fair wage.
NNAMDIWell, I know Tom Sherwood wants to talk politics.
SHERWOODYes I do.
NNAMDIBecause he says this is The Politics Hour. But I'll let Chris in D.C. start us off. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISSo, Mr. Racine, we had to interrupt you at Georgetown University the other day because you were ignoring our calls for help on the McMillan Park demolition activity.
NNAMDICome on. Hold on. Hold on a second.
CHRISWhat we're trying to figure out, though -- no, let me just get to the question.
NNAMDINo. You're not getting to that question, because this happened last week.
SHERWOODI can summarize it without any advocacy here. The McMillan project is a major redevelopment in northwest Washington. There appears to be some kind of earth moving and like preconstruction going on even though there are still legal cases about whether it should go forward or not. They're saying you should step in and make certain there's no construction there. Have you or would you?
RACINEThat's -- you fairly summarized it. The other fact I would note is that the Office of Attorney General as it's required to do defends District agencies in regards to development projects. The matter has been up and down in the courts. And the most recent court decision by the D.C. Court of Appeals found that the project could move forward. The question that Chris Auton is asking is whether or not there's demolition going on. It is my understanding that under the law there is no demolition that there is pre-demolition inspection going on.
SHERWOODWell, there actually is earth moving, because there are pictures (unintelligible).
SHERWOODThe demolition of those towers has not been done.
RACINEThat is correct.
SHERWOODLet's -- for more politics stuff, the debate last night, you said a moment ago that you didn't have a chance to see it last night. But you did this summer hold a big fundraiser for Kamala Harris, the former Attorney General of California, and you endorsed her for president. She's not doing so well, but I was going to ask you what you thought of the debate, but obviously you didn't see it. Her campaign after that first debate did pretty well, but she has kind of faded in the standings. Any thoughts about that?
RACINEYou know, I think it's really early in the process. And, you know, right about now, perhaps the voters in the states will start to look at the candidates seriously. I think Senator Harris...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You're still with her.
RACINEI am with Senator Harris, all the way.
SHERWOODOkay. All right. Let's go to local politics. There's another candidate for Ward 7 running against Vincent Gray. And, I'm sorry, her name has escaped my mind.
SHERWOODVeda Rasheed, and she is a former staff person for you in the community engagement office. In Ward 4, Janeese Lewis George is running against incumbent Brandon Todd. She is a former worker with you, I believe.
RACINEThat's correct. She was in public safety.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Incumbent Trayon White in Ward 8 used to work with you.
SHERWOODIncumbent-at-large member Robert White worked with you. Last year, you weighed in heavily to support Alisa Silverman against the candidate that Mayor Bowser essentially put up, Dionne Reeder. It looks like you're gathering, politics-wise, quite a little core group of people, should you decide maybe to run for mayor in '22, or just to be stronger when your budget -- mayor really slashed your budget in the budget cycle this year. The Council restored most of it, I think, or a lot of it. It looks like you're politically making a firm, strong move here, by supporting all these different people.
NNAMDII do have to say, however, that Veda Rasheed is now employed at May Lightfoot PLLC, which is Bill Lightfoot's company. And he was the chair of Mayor Bowser's campaign and the chair of her inauguration committee. So...
SHERWOODHe's been the chair of her campaign since she ran for the Council, I believe. And Bill's been around a long time. So, this looks politically...
NNAMDISo, Veda Rasheed has feet in both camps.
SHERWOODI'm assuming that you've advised all these people. You haven't done this in some vacuum.
RACINENo. Your assumption is not correct...
SHERWOODBut it's close. (laugh)
RACINE...in the sense that I'm not advising people in my office to run for office.
SHERWOODOh, not in your office. Not in your office, but outside of the office.
RACINEAnd, look, here's the point. The office of attorney general, the District of Columbia, is an independent office that really seeks to use the law to help these new residents. It's not surprising that we attract people who have a deep sense of public service and a commitment to public service. And it's not surprising at all that folks who've spent time in our office are committed and eager enough to put their names into races.
SHERWOODSo, you're not recruiting them, but you're encouraging them, if that's what they want to do.
RACINEI don't get in the way of anyone's professional objective. And to the extent I feel that it's appropriate for me to be supportive in a campaign, as you indicated, I'll make it clear when I'm supportive.
SHERWOODThis is important, very quickly, because when he proposed his budget for 2020, which is starting up, he proposed a modest 5-and-a-half percent budget increase, while the mayor's is something like almost 15 percent. The mayor -- who has to take his budget and propose it to the Council -- cut it to one-half of 1 percent, essentially telling him, never mind. And the Council restored some money. So, there's a lot of political irritation between you and the mayor. And that's why I think it's important that all these people who may be elected could affect the relationship there.
NNAMDI(overlapping) And I thought that was what Chris Otten was calling about. So, when he started talking about the McMillan Plan, I thought he was going someplace else, entirely. So...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, the McMillan people...
NNAMDI...I apologize to you for that, Chris.
SHERWOODWell, the McMillan people ought to be straight-up when they want to call in.
SHERWOODIt's a big deal. Hammering and lying to us is not a good thing.
NNAMDIHere is Ladonna, in Washington. Ladonna, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LADONNAHi, Mr. Racine. I spoke with Ken Sherry (sounds like) from your office about our residency at 1252 Tyler Street in Grandview, because the developer is a slum developer and our foundation is poor. And we've reached out to your office for help and Ken Sherry told us that there's nothing he can do. Is that true?
RACINEWell, I don't know enough facts about your conversation with Mr. Sherry, who is a consumer protection mediator in our office. What I'd ask you to do is reach out to me by email, K-a-r-l dot R-a-c-i-n-e @dc.gov and I'm happy to talk with you or have someone else talk to you to understand exactly what's going on, and how we can be helpful.
NNAMDILadonna, thank you for your call. Last week, you announced lawsuits against 16 Maryland and Virginia parents for allegedly lying about their residency in order to send their kids to D.C. schools for free. Your office also charged some of the parents with lying about their residency to acquire D.C. public benefits, like Medicaid and food stamps. You're seeking more than $2.9 million from the 16 defendants. This is your second residency fraud lawsuit in 2019, alone. Why is this issue such a priority for your office?
RACINEIt's an incredible priority for the office, because D.C. taxpayers need to know that D.C. residents are the ones who are benefitting from paying taxes in regards to who goes to the public schools. What's really important to note is there is a legal means for Maryland and Virginia residents to apply for D.C. schools and to pay for them. When residents who don't live in D.C. lie about where they live in order to get seats that should go to D.C. residents, somebody in the office of attorney general's happy to be that body needs to enforce the law.
SHERWOODCan I ask you about guns?
NNAMDIIn the 30 seconds we have left.
SHERWOODOh, my Lord. Your suing the NRA because its possible mismanagement, but last night, one of the candidates for president said that he would take away your AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. His name is escaping me now.
SHERWOODBeto, Beto O'Rourke. Would you support seizing AR-15s and AK-47 rifles?
RACINEI don't think those kinds of weapons of war have any place in the streets or country sides of the United States. I'd need to, you know, frankly, study the due process concerns around going to grab people's presumably lawful property.
SHERWOODMaybe buy them back.
RACINEYou know, a buyback would be something that I'd be favorable about.
NNAMDIKarl Racine. He is the attorney general for the District of Columbia. Thank you so much for joining us.
RACINEThank you very much, gentleman.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break, and when we come back, we'll be joined by Bo Shuff. He's the executive director of D.C. Vote. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now in studio is Bo Shuff, the executive director of D.C. Vote. Bo Shuff, thank you for joining us.
BO SHUFFThank you very much.
NNAMDIWe've got someone commenting on our website who said: has WMATA complied with all hill information deadlines request? Also, has there been a follow-up from the two relevant House committees? Well, we let representative Elijah Cummings, the chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Representative Gerry Connolly, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, sent a letter to the inspector general of WMATA, requesting a review of the circumstances surrounding the investigation conducted on behalf of the Ethics Committee of the WMATA Board of Directors into Chairman Jack Evans' compliance with the WMATA Code of Ethics and Compact.
NNAMDIWell, that may have been in response to a letter sent to the leaders of those committees by two Republican members of Congress, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Mark Meadows of North Carolina, asking for the committee staff to conducted transcribed interviews with Evans and four current and former Metro officials. That from Robert McCartney's piece in The Washington Post. Included in the letter, they wrote: this investigation has a direct bearing on matters currently before the committee, including the announced hearings on statehood for the District of Columbia and Metro oversight.
NNAMDIAnd we got someone who commented on our Facebook page: Jack Evans dropped a nuclear bomb on D.C. chances for statehood. Congress is probing deeply, where local officials are treading lightly. Bo Shuff, should Jack Evans' allegations of ethical violations against Jack Evans have anything to do with D.C. statehood?
SHUFFNo, absolutely not. First, thank you very much for having us. We're thrilled to be -- I'm thrilled to be here today. Look, I think Congresswoman Norton actually laid it out in a response to Congressman Meadows' letter, that if challenges and scandal or investigations were a qualification for statehood, we would have no states.
SHERWOODIllinois certainly would be out...
NNAMDIWith three governors...
SHERWOOD...three or four governors...
NNAMDI...three or four governors who were sent to prison. And I haven't heard anybody questioning whether Illinois should be a state.
SHUFFYeah, that's exactly right, or, you know, Alabama, with all the stuff that Roy Moore was involved with. There's plenty of (laugh) examples. But what's the most important thing is that we have -- we ought to have the right to hold our elected officials accountable if we, as a population, think that that is what needs to happen. And those efforts are hindered by our lack of statehood and our lack of equal representation and equal standing.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, do you see the significance of the Cummings and Connolly response?
SHERWOODWell, I'm actually surprised a little bit that the Democrats in the House working with Eleanor Holmes Norton would've sent this letter at this time before the hearing next week on statehood. But, Gerry Connolly, who represents Northern Virginia, is a very big critic of Jack Evans. Jack Evans has publically trashed Virginia for not doing more to support Metro and other issues. So, I'm not surprised Gerry Connolly would write the letter. And it sounds like it's a pretty straightforward letter, Elijah Cummings going along with it.
SHERWOODBut it does detract from the statehood hearing, which is next week. But I don't see it's going to have -- you know, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows -- both of the Republicans, one from Ohio, one from North Carolina -- have a very slight record when it comes to doing something on behalf of the District of Columbia. So, it's not surprising to me that they would take a potshot at the district.
SHERWOODBut let's be clear: Jack Evans resigned from Metro. The ethics investigation unfortunately was leaked, but it did show that he allegedly did some things wrong with the side contract. The D.C. Council removed him as finance and revenue chairman. There is an ongoing investigation by a law firm hired by the Council. It's going to be late, apparently, with its result. Point being, the District is addressing the issues around Jack Evans. I don't think citizens of the District, including me, need the Congress to butt in.
NNAMDIWell, as Tom mentioned, the first congressional hearing in 25 years in front of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform will be taking place next week. What are you expecting from the HR51 hearing, and what should people know about it?
SHUFFWhat people need to know about the hearing is that they need to be a part of it, that this is our opportunity to show up for D.C. and let the Congress know how clearly the residents feel in favor of statehood. You know, we went to the ballot in 2016, and 86 percent of the population voted in favor of statehood. But now it's time to put a visible face to those numbers. And so we want to make sure that we have a really strong presence and a strong visual representation of the residents of D.C.
SHUFFWe expect the committee hearing to be pretty predictable, in some level. You know, that we will have questions from the Democratic side that are probably in support since every single one of the members of the committee, with exception of one, is a cosponsor of the bill. We expect that Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows and others on the Republican side will ask some challenging questions. And, specifically, having just found out who the minority witness is, we think they're going to challenge it on constitutional grounds.
SHERWOODAre you -- let's be clear, so the listeners know. The measure that Ms. Norton is introducing has gotten a record number of supporters. It would allow Congress...
SHERWOOD...cosponsors, thank you, Congress to grant statehood to the District, or would we have to...
SHUFF(overlapping) That's right.
SHERWOOD...not go through to the constitutional amendment where...
SHERWOOD...38 states would have to approve it. This would be because -- and then the ACLU and other groups have issued legal opinions that the Congress does, in fact, have the power to do this, even though the Constitution says the representatives of Congress shall come from several states.
SHUFFThat's right. I think there's two important pieces there. That's absolutely correct, that this does not need to go through a constitutional amendment process. The legislation retains and elevates the federal district to preserve the Capitol for all Americans, to make sure that the monuments and the Capitol building and the White House remain in control of the entirety of the country. And it takes the remaining area and ends the conflict between what is D.C. and what is Washington, and establishes the 51st state. And that's what allows us the representation in accordance with the Constitution.
SHERWOODBut some people living downtown would be -- there would have to be a very narrow line drawn down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Congress to the White House...
SHERWOOD...because there are thousands of people living downtown who weren't there before.
SHUFFYeah, but if you read the entirety of the bill, it actually goes turn-by-turn, corner-by-corner, and lays out the definition to make sure that the remaining federal district will contain no residents. And all of the residents areas will be in the 51st state.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) The Senate has said that even if the Democratic House were to do this, Republican Senate has said they would not even bring this up with Mitch McConnell. That means the politics next year play a big part, as much as this next week's hearing, is what happens to the Senate in the 2020 elections...
SHUFFThat's right. Yeah, you know, this is...
SHERWOOD...and the presidency.
SHUFFOur efforts and our strategy are around building power, building awareness, especially across the country, and getting ready for one we know. At some point, the Congress, which is back -- the pendulum swings back to a Congress that is supportive of D.C. statehood.
SHERWOODCan District citizens -- which room is it and what time is it on -- are you looking to flood the halls of Congress?
SHERWOODWhat time is it, and which room is it? Do you know, off the top of your head?
SHUFFOf course. (laugh) The hearing is on September 19th in the Rayburn House office building, room 2154, at 10:00 a.m. All of the information about the hearing and how to get there and everything is on a microsite that we set up called ShowUp4DC.com. That's the number 4, so it's Show Up, number 4, DC.com, and that'll give people directions on what to expect and where to go, and all of those things, and get you updates if anything changes.
NNAMDIDistrict residents overwhelmingly support D.C. statehood, but garnering support from other states has proven to be challenging, especially as it's become a partisan issue at the national level. However, D.C. Vote is a partner in something called 51 for 51, a campaign launched in May that's pushing for statehood. Exactly what is 51 for 51?
SHUFF51 for 51 is a coalition of organizations led by the 51 for 51 campaign to push the issue of statehood further into the dialogue around the presidential campaigns that are going on. So, they're out in states, the early primary states, the debate states. They had a team in Houston. They took nine native Washingtonians with them down to Houston to talk with the folks running for president and elevate the conversation about statehood and about possible solutions of how do you move through the Senate.
NNAMDIBut what is meant by 51 for 51 is that they're looking to see if they can get 51 senators to support D.C. becoming the 51st state.
SHERWOODThe push for statehood, D.C. Vote's been around 20 years, but it's been episodic. Mayor Fenty would hold a march down towards the Capitol. There were sit-ins by Mayor Gray on Capitol Hill. There are various -- but some of it's been episodic. And so, what's going to happen? You have that big hearing on next week. What is the plan? What's the action plan after that to make certain it just doesn't die away for the weekend in some other Trump, you know, tweet or something else that eats up all the oxygen?
SHUFFYeah, that's a fantastic question, and you're right, that it has gone in waves. It has gone in cycles of energy. And we've developed a longer term strategic plan to build the necessary power, and to, again, build the awareness across the country. Our biggest challenge in the statehood fight is simply that folks around the country don't know about the issue. So, we come out of the hearing on the 20th. We head into -- we will have a markup of the bill later in the fall, and then we expect a floor vote and passage. We think with 219 cosponsors, we can move towards passage in the House this Congress.
SHERWOODI think it's a ridiculous idea but some people think, well, just like Virginia got its part of the District back, why not just merge with Maryland? I know of no Maryland politician who wants to do this, but there's an active group that wants leftover D.C. to move back into Maryland and be part of Maryland politics and not be an independent state. Why is that a nonstarter?
SHUFFI think that the conversation around retrocession belittles the damage and the change that it would bring to Maryland residents and the diminishment of their own representation. You are asking an existing state and an existing culture to completely change who they are in order to grant equality and grant representation to 700,000 people...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm sure some candidate for governor in Maryland would not want to have 400,000 D.C. Democrats voting on who's going to be the governor of Maryland. They would have a big say in who that is.
SHUFFYeah, and I think it goes further than that. Right? It changes the makeup of their state legislature. It changes the makeup of their congressional delegation. It will underrepresent rural areas in the state and change the way that all works. It absolutely impacts Maryland in a way that is fundamentally unfair to the residents of Maryland.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Bo Shuff is the executive director of D.C. Vote. Thank you for joining us.
SHUFFThank you very much for having me.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, we'll kick off our weeklong participation in Covering Climate Now, a global media project organized by the Columbia Journalism Review on the nation. Almost 200 media organizations around the world have committed to focusing on telling the story of climate change next week. And to lead up to the U.N. Climate Change Summit on September 23rd, we'll start with a look at how climate change is affecting agriculture in our region. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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