It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
Virginia Senator Jeremy McPike (D-District 29) joins us to discuss how Virginia Democrats will fare on election night this November, and the issues that will get voters to the ballot box.
Then, Kojo and Tom will talk with Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot about the ongoing traffic disaster at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, and his plan to hault construction.
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 Victoria Chamberlin
- Peter Franchot Maryland State Comptroller; Former Maryland State Delegate (D-Dist. 20)
- Jeremy McPike Virginia State Senator, (D-District 29)
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
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 and contributing writing for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Peter Franchot. He is the Comptroller of Maryland. And joining us in studio now is Jeremy McPike. He is the Democratic State Senator from Virginia's 29th District. Senator McPike, thank you for joining us.
JEREMY MCPIKEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIBefore we get to the politics, Tom, and there might be some politics involved here. Go Mystics. The Washington Mystics last night finally winning a WNBA Championship that has eluded them for the past several decades.
SHERWOODTwo decades at least, yes. It was really exciting and we had a reporter event last night, but I got home in time to see the end of the game. It was very exciting. There was lots of lead changes. This is good news for the Mystics. It's good news for the District. It's good news for the new sports arena that's in southeast Washington in Congress Heights. The mayor got there. I saw her in the stands. So it's a winning group now.
SHERWOODWe've got the -- you know, the Nats are playing tonight in the baseball playoffs with St. Louis in St. Louis tonight. Mystics have done well. The Caps have done well. And the D.C. United has done pretty well. I'm not going to mention the football team, because they actually play in Maryland. But it's all good news that the District is being seen now as a place where professional sports are a viable part of our community.
NNAMDIThis was particularly important for Coach Mike Thibault. It is his first win in a fairly distinguished career and particularly important for the Mystics star, Elena Delle Donne, who has been the MVP of the league three times. But this is her first championship. It's a good thing for all of the players on this team, and for the city as a whole. By the way if you want to hang out with the players from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. today they'll be celebrating the mystics at the Entertainment and Sports Arena. You still have time to get over there from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. Why are they having it today? Well, because tomorrow many of these players have to leave to play abroad where they generally make more money than they do here in the United States. So we'll have to see about that. Care to comment on our victory here, Senator?
MCPIKELove it. I love it. I just hope as Tom said that maybe some of that victory will rub off on that football team at some point in time.
NNAMDINothing to not love about it. Tom Sherwood, a bill moving through the D.C. Council right now would allow incarcerated felons to vote. Tell us about that bill.
SHERWOODWell, to use a sports analogy, this is a slam dunk. All 13 members of the D.C. Council are supporting a new bill that will allow felons, who are incarcerated while they are in prison to vote. Right now the law is that once you get out and serve your time you get your voting rights back. But Councilmember Robert White and others say that there's no reason that even though you violated the law and you've lost your freedom you should not lose your right to vote. And this is going to put the city -- assuming that this passes everyone expects it will. And I think the mayor will let it go into law if she doesn't sign it, will put the city in the forefront of felon rights in the country.
NNAMDIWell, I remember former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe pushing this position. Is that correct Senator McPike?
SHERWOODThat was only for after you get out.
NNAMDIAfter you get out. Okay.
SHERWOODOnce you served your time.
NNAMDIOkay, good. Okay. Okay, cool.
SHERWOODBut only 14 states in the District right now automatically restore rights.
NNAMDIAnd here's where we need your institutional memory. Tom Sherwood, the D.C. Council passed the framework element of the comprehensive plan as the -- according to the headline in "Greater Greater Washington." What is this all about?
SHERWOODWell, we don't want to get wonky about this, but the comprehensive --
NNAMDIYes, it's easy to get too wonky about this one.
SHERWOODThe comprehensive plan is the overall description of what the city will look like. It is the official guide to the Zoning Commission that makes decisions on planned unit developments and any changes on the law. It's been under revision since -- it was last revised in 2006. It's been three years under the current revision. The big change for people to know is one is that the Council acknowledges that affordability housing is the number one issue in this city. You can't live here or work here or do anything here if you can't, you know, have a place to live. And they want to protect tenant rights, but they also wanted to curb the many lawsuits that have been going into court. Every time there's a plan unit development of which it's a complex project, somebody sues and it gets held up for years and it holds up affordable housing and market rate housing.
NNAMDIThey want to bring an end to that.
SHERWOODSo this is a big change. This is just the beginning though. This is the framework. A framework is just the introduction. There's 1,000 other pages which are going to be changed and we'll start seeing some of that next week.
NNAMDIOn to Senator Jerry McPike and the upcoming Virginia elections, stakes are high in this election. The Republican Party controls the House of Delegates and State Senate by a slim margin. Three seats in the House one seat in the Senate and there's one vacancy in each chamber. How confident are you that Democrats are going to seize control of this legislature? And how do you plan to do that?
MCPIKEWell, a couple of things that I think we saw from 2017. We saw a huge wave. And the question is then of the last two years, is that going to hold? Is that momentum going to continue? And I think one of our challenges has been with all the presidential candidates, the news media cycles has been focused on 2020. And I think all the Democrats in Virginia are like, wait a second. You know, we've got a big election in 2019. We've got to get everybody out. And if you look at the data, some of the early data in terms of absentee voting, absentee voting in Fairfax County is up 75 percent, Prince William County. All these jurisdictions are up. And so you look at the Washington polls, George Mason poll, the CNU poll and it tells us that Democrats are more motivated to come out and vote, which is a great sign for us. So we're going to win the House. We're going to win the Senate.
SHERWOODVery well said. First you represent the Senate District from Manassas Park, part of Prince William. Are you opposed?
MCPIKEI don't have opposition this year.
SHERWOODSo you can speak freely.
MCPIKEA little bit more freely. I had a tough race in 2015.
SHERWOODThe polling does suggest if the turnout -- Rachel Bitecofer from Christopher Newport was saying if the turnout just ticks up one or two percent more than what normally happens in an off year election like this it could be a massive year. And she also says that President Trump, who has very low approval ratings in the state is a major drag on the Republicans. What is your view of President Trump's position in the state?
MCPIKEWell, first off he's been --
SHERWOODAs a Democrat I want to hear your answer.
MCPIKEAbsolutely. Well, first of off he's been the greatest candidate recruiter as well as motivator for a lot of Democrats. So that's been I think the one positive is a lot of voters are waking up to say, we've got to participate and participate at each election cycle. And we love democracy so much in Virginia we do it every year. So a lot of states, you know, just have their elections aligned with the federal cycle. And so this is the off off year. And so just sort of continuing that pushing pattern for people to vote and come out is just critical for us this year. With 2015, just as a quick example, the turnout was 30 percent. We're looking at a potential for 35 percent turnout.
SHERWOODYou're looking at 35?
MCPIKEIt's going to be a huge year for us.
SHERWOODWow. Bitecofer was saying that if you just get up to around 31 or 32 that it's a major win for the Democrats.
MCPIKEYeah, we're looking at 35 percent turnout which is going to be a huge year for us.
NNAMDIShe also said on our show recently that quoting here, "Trump has been the worst thing that could ever have happened to the State Republican Party in Virginia." The State Senate hasn't been subjected to the electorate under President Trump, an electorate that does seem to be full of Democrats eager to vote Republicans out of office. Are you thinking that this campaign will serve as a referendum on the President?
MCPIKEI think it certainly will. I think especially for Virginia you've got so many military families. You've got a lot of folks that have worked in the Foreign Service as well. And folks that have worked on a lot of the foreign policy issues that are literally one more tweet away from decade's worth of work. And people see that.
SHERWOODAnd also Northern Virginia is heavy with government contracting families and all of that too.
NNAMDIHow much do you think the impeachment inquiry will motivate Democratic voters? Republicans I think are hoping that it motivates Republican voters. That it kind of solidifies the base.
MCPIKEI think there's certainly a chance of that, but I think Democrats are certainly looking forward to finally getting documents on the table in D.C. And I think there's a lot of frustration with sort of the daily nonsense that's coming out of the White House right now. And that's going to, I think, help to continue that motivation and the wave we saw in 2017, carry us through to 2019.
SHERWOODOn Wednesday's Kojo Show Tim Hannigan who is the Fairfax County Republican Chairman acknowledged the Republicans are not on the mat, but they are down. And he says they've got to really turnout. He says that there will be local races that even though there's this quiet and outrage over Trump that he believes that a lot of the races are local races, that they have good candidates. They're not just all white men and that he thinks they'll win some races to look good. Do you know in this area in Northern Virginia where there any really tight races between Republicans and Democrats?
MCPIKEYou look at Prince William County -- I mean, I'm a little bias, because I represent Prince William County.
SHERWOODOkay. And you're a Democrat.
MCPIKEI'm a Democrat. Right now the Democrats have two seats out of eight on the Board of Supervisors. This will also flip this year. We have a chairman candidate, John Gray, who has, you know, just caught deleting highly offensive tweets basically from the playbook of Trump.
SHERWOODHe also says he's apologized for those.
MCPIKEHe took that down too by the way and he's deleted that from his Facebook posts.
MCPIKESo there's a context there that, you know, Corey Stewart was the previous Chairman of the Board, also highly controversial very much.
SHERWOODIn his senate campaign.
MCPIKEAnd so we have a real great slate of diverse candidates as well that are running on the things that matter. I've got three kids in schools. It's about education. It's about the investment there. It's about building community. And we already have the contrast of Republicans who are Trump supporters, in fact the Republican chairman candidate in Prince William County is, you know, wearing his MAGA hat around. And so when you make that connection I don't think it's going to be very appealing to voters.
SHERWOODI was just -- John Gray is the Republican candidate would take Corey Stewart's place. Your Democratic nominee is Ann Wheeler. What should we know about her from your Democratic point of view?
MCPIKEWell, Ann's very pragmatic. She's a coalition builder.
SHERWOODWhat's her background?
MCPIKEHer background as an engineer. She served on the NOVEC Electric Board. She served on the Hilton Center for Performing Arts Board. She's the past president of the Committee 100, which is a local bipartisan policy forum group. And so she's engaged in the community for decades and is a real coalition builder. And that's something we need.
SHERWOODWell, we know we can't let politics just be one year then the next. Do you have a candidate yet for governor in 2021?
MCPIKEI am not going to comment on that.
SHERWOODTerry McAuliffe the former Democratic governor is running around the state partly, because Governor Northam had been sidelined somewhat by his blackface issue. But McAuliffe has worked really hard and is talking about maybe he might run for governor again in 2021. What would you think about that?
MCPIKEWell, first off my foot is on 2019. And so what is great and beneficial is to see the former governor activating candidates. He's made -- I don't know. He's probably up to 70, 80 trips to different events around the state and that's important to help in motivate the base. Telling people this is literally a decade's worth of Virginia history at stake in just 25 days.
SHERWOODAnd changes in the minimum wage, more Medicare funding -- all types of Medicaid funding, all types of things. Governor McAuliffe says the state will do. Radically, he says transform Virginia. Make it more modern. Republicans are saying, hey, we don't want that.
MCPIKERight. You say the Medicaid battle. I mean, eight years they stalled expansion in Medicaid. We finally got it passed. There's over 300,000 people now enrolled. And so I think the electorate understands and trusts the Democrats to do better on healthcare.
SHERWOODAre you going to do gun control? If you take the House and the Senate, are you going to do gun control? Is it Beto O'Rourke, you're going to take all the weapons away from people or what?
MCPIKELook, I think Virginia has a very long history of being very pragmatic, but 88 percent of people support background checks in Virginia. Eighty-two percent support red flag laws or laws that allow the removal of a gun for a person that has made threats to himself or others. And we've seen -- you know, Virginia Beach is very raw still in Virginia. And you've got that context that doing nothing is no longer an option.
NNAMDIIf you have called, stay on the line. We're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Jeremey McPike. He's the Democratic State Senator from Virginia's 29th District. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's the Politics Hour. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Our guest is Jeremy McPike. He's the Democratic State Senator for Virginia's 29th District. And here now is Daniel in Vienna, Virginia. Daniel, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DANIELHello. I would like to ask the State Senator how he feels the issue of gun control will play out in this election. It seems to me that on the right on the GOP side there are a lot of candidates like Todd Gilbert and Nick Freitas and there's one other state senator a woman, who brought the gun to the Senate floor. I can't remember her name now.
DANIELYeah. I'm just wondering would Democrats be wise to double down on gun control.
NNAMDIWell, the New York based gun control group that has donated $2.5 million to campaign in Virginia so obviously they expect gun control to be a major issue here. How do you think it will play?
MCPIKEIt is a major of, you know, Virginia's context. We had the special session just a couple of months ago that the Republicans baulked at.
SHERWOODNinety minute session.
MCPIKEYeah, 90 minutes, we all came down. Ninety minute gaveled out, go home, and adjourned it until November 18th after the elections. And so the Republicans have actually made this a referendum on guns and gun safety. And as a parent, you know, this is very real to me and it's real to a lot of other parents. Our kids do lockdown drills. Unfortunately this past spring, my daughter texted me -- she's in high school -- said, dad, we're in lockdown and it's real. A gun had gone off in her school. And as I can tell you, as a parent, it's absolutely terrifying.
MCPIKEAnd I think people relate to that context. They see what happened at Virginia Tech. They see what happened at Virginia Beach. These massacres -- and they see the context of what's happening to their kids in schools. And it's terrifying context. This is something we have to do better at. And it's no longer lip service. We have to do something.
SHERWOODWhat would it be? Background checks would be required to buy or purchase? Would it apply to gun shows? I mean, that's kind of the gun show loophole in the state.
MCPIKEIt's time to close that. It's time to make sure that any of this private transactions have a background check.
SHERWOODBut what about the Democrats -- and again from many Republicans point of view the presidential candidate for the Democrats Beto O'Rourke says, yes, you're right. We'll come get your gun, kind of goes to the classic fear among some Americans, many Americans that the government is going to come into their homes and take their guns. Maybe even exaggerated a view of it, but that's what it feeds.
SHERWOODSo how do you address that so --
MCPIKEIt does feed that narration unfortunately.
SHERWOODShould he have said that?
MCPIKEI think it's a bit of a reach there. I think we have a context of a lot of folks who grew up hunting and fishing --
SHERWOODThe NRA liked it.
MCPIKE-- who own guns, as well as Democrats and this really is how do we create a better context of safety. Do you need a bump stock? We couldn't even pass a bump stock ban in Virginia. You know, we had a woman, who was there in Las Vegas, came and testified in tears describing people getting shot around her skilled in committee. I mean, there are basic things that in the Virginia the legislature the Republicans have continued to stall and kill day in and day out.
NNAMDIHere's Janet in Springfield, Virginia. Janet, you're turn.
JANETHi. Yes, thank you for taking my call. I just want to explain why at this point in time I am not planning on going to vote and I vote all the time. And, you know, in the past several years I voted always Democrat. But when I called to find out, you know, why -- like there was a time where I placed a call, because a truck wouldn't turn off their emissions, I mean, their car. So there was a lot of emissions and everything. And I called the police. The police didn't know anything about the laws that were passed in Fairfax about that not being allowed.
JANETThey gave me a hard time. I called Sharon Bulova's office and the chief of staff first said he would look into it, and then when he came back he said Ms. Bulova didn't want to, you know, do anything about it.
NNAMDIAnd so that's the reason -- that's the reason you're not going to --
JANETYeah. If you guys are going to pass bills saying that you're, you know, trying to improve the emissions where we have an "F" in air quality and you're not putting any teeth behind it. I hear nothing about it. Nobody even knows it's a law. I've mentioned it to many people and everyone is surprised by it. You're not putting your weight behind anything.
NNAMDISo as a result of which Janet says she's not going to vote.
SHERWOODThat would make me want to vote even more.
NNAMDIHow would you persuade Janet that she needs to vote?
MCPIKEWell, Janet, I would say that, you know, engaging in those discussions and contacting your local representatives and talking through those issues is a huge part of it. And so I would suggest that engagement is more important than disengagement.
SHERWOODLet me just point out Tuesday, this coming Tuesday, is the deadline to register to vote in Virginia. And on Saturday Michelle Obama is going to be down in Newport News Hampton Roads areas doing a Get Out to Vote register vote activity. Democrats really do seem to be -- this is the gear up time between now and November the 5th.
MCPIKEIt is between voter registrations. Absentee ballot voting is also open right no, which is critical for areas like Northern Virginia where you have long commutes especially in Prince William, Loudoun. Those are a lot of the key swing districts. That's open. You have in person absentee ballot locations as the ability to get a mail in request.
SHERWOODIs there a danger you might overreach in this campaign with the progressive views on all the things we just discussed here? That you can overreach.
MCPIKESo an overreach on, you know, pre-K education, an overreach on improving healthcare --
MCPIKEAn overreach on universal background checks, I mean, these are things that have been debated for the better part of a decade.
NNAMDIHere's Wile. Wile you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WILESo I just had a question for Mr. McPike. He had brought the fact that the daily turning output of information out of the White House is generating interest in the Democratic base. But as a Democratic voter I'm really concerned that it's actually turning off some Democrats not from the White House but from this continued drip drip by people in the House of Representatives specifically Representative Schiff that has -- puts out information that's factually incorrect or totally false.
NNAMDISuch as? What's the information that's totally false that Congressman Schiff has put out?
WILEOh, sure. Specifically that supposed transcript of the call that he read. I came into to him reading that partway through and I thought it was the actual call, the actual transcript that he was reading. Then I find out the next day that it's not actually the actual transcript. It's something he said that he was trying to make a point. Doing those sorts of things is just --
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Senator McPike respond.
MCPIKESo not sure exactly how to respond in the context of there's lots of things that come out of Washington, but I think the overall comment I made earlier was about frankly some of the nonsense that comes out of the White House and the President right now. And that is a complete frustration to Democrats to see where he has taken the nation. And a lot of the relationships, a lot of the policies and frankly, you know, soybean farmers in Virginia. I mean, there are lots of different parts of Virginia that are really taking a hit based on trade policies to defense spending being shipped down to the wall versus renovating military housing and some pretty core tenants of things that are important to Virginians.
SHERWOODI do think both calls we've had today represent some of the frustration that, you know, I and other people feel that things -- there are just so many things going on. Whether it's worldwide issues, national issues, issues in the state, do you think there might be some kind of pre-election exhaustion where people just do throw up their hands and say, I'm not going to vote. I'm sick of this, when in fact the opposite should be happening.
MCPIKESo the data suggests that we're still in an upward trajectory in terms of participation and turnout.
SHERWOODYou want to bet on 35 percent turnout?
MCPIKEI'm going to bet on 35 percent turnout.
NNAMDIA federal judge upheld Virginia's laws that required women to have an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion and that a physician performed the procedure. Are Democrats going to make abortion a central issue in this election?
MCPIKEI think it certainly is playing out in some of the races. I think Republicans are also trying to make it a case in some of the races as well.
SHERWOODBut they're focusing mainly on what they are preserving as late term abortion issues.
MCPIKEThat's right. That's right. I think the context for the Virginia electorate is looking around the nation to Louisiana, Alabama and what the Republicans have pushed in a lot of these states and it's pretty scary that a lot of these folks are pushing banning abortion for rape, incest, almost all cases.
SHERWOODA woman's right to choose has an asterisk.
NNAMDIWe may be talking about the president, but one remembers that a lot of the issues in this election are local. Roger says on Twitter: I'd really like to see some results with fixing the traffic in Manassas and less about what party gets more seats. You all say the same thing, schools, job, opportunity. Just fix 28, already.
MCPIKEI know. Route 28, it's...
SHERWOODIt's Danica Roem, the delegate from there. That means she ran on that. I think they've made some progress on 28, but that's a 10-year project to fix 28.
MCPIKEIt's a massive project, so Delegate Roem and my districts overlap. We share parts of Route 28. It's amazing. If you're at a meeting in Manassas and you have to go into D.C., it'll tell you go east up 95, avoid 28 at all costs. This is something that's a top priority for us. We do have some studies underway. In fact, last week, including this week, we've had studies on alternatives. Delegate Roem has been really focused on, also, alternatives to fix, in the intermediate time, traffic lights signaling and other things before the long-term expansion from 66 to Manassas.
NNAMDI(overlapping) We only have about a minute left, but I know Tom would like to ask this question. Joe Morrissey is making a comeback after being forced to resign from the House of Delegates after he pled guilty to contributing to the delinquency of a minor. What are your thoughts on his triumphant return to Virginia politics? And do you think he'll caucus with the Democrats? He's well-known to have views of his own about just about everything.
SHERWOODAnd Morrissey represents an area that's around Petersburg. Where is that?
MCPIKEYeah, Richmond to Petersburg.
SHERWOODOh, yeah, he's going to be the character -- clown or character, some people would say, in the State Senate, if he wins.
MCPIKESo, you know, from what I understand from Joe, is that he's going to caucus with the Democrats. And I think his background as an attorney, as a defense attorney, he's very much in line with a lot of Democratic views in terms of social justice reform. He's understanding, because he's defended clients. I'm not going to get into all of Joe's past issues. I haven't worked with him in the General Assembly yet. I certainly look forward to getting to know him a little bit better.
SHERWOODOne quick question.
NNAMDIQuick, quick, quick.
SHERWOODJack Wilson, the Republican Party state chairman, I said, what's your bottom line on this election? He says, we ought to be able to retain one House, whether the House or the Senate. That's kind of the bottom line. Is there a bottom line for you? Is it that you're going to take both of them, or you're hoping to take both of them?
MCPIKEWe're going to take both. So, the redistricting case -- I know you had Bob Gibson on the show earlier in the week. And the redistricting court decision has just been incredibly difficult for the Republicans to overcome. You're looking at 20-plus point shifts in some of these districts for incumbent Republicans, including the speaker of the house, including the chairman of appropriations. Those are significant numbers to overcome, when you start to have plus nine, plus 12 Democratic reforming districts now, when before they were plus 15, 20 Republican.
NNAMDIJeremy McPike is the Democratic state senator from Virginia's 29th District. Thank you very much for joining us.
MCPIKEThanks for having me.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we'll be joined by Peter Franchot. He is the comptroller of Maryland. If you have questions or comments for Peter Franchot, start calling now: 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Joining us now by phone is Peter Franchot. He is the comptroller of Maryland. He joins us, as I said, by phone, from the eastern shore. Comptroller Franchot, thank you for joining us.
PETER FRANCHOTIt's a pleasure, Kojo, and my best to Tom.
SHERWOODWell, you've got to tell me, are you in the backup going eastbound, going over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge?
FRANCHOTNo, but I would -- no, I came over early. There's still a slight backup, because you've got six or seven toll booths that slow everybody down to five miles an hour. But later on today, it's a beautiful weekend here, there's going to be more of a mess at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. So, I would urge your listeners who -- you know, this is an issue for the Washington area, because so many people come over the Bay Bridge to enjoy the shore well after Labor Day, as long as the weather permits. And so I've described it as a complete and utter mess. And I think later on today, Friday afternoon, it will be pretty much a debacle.
SHERWOODIt's Columbus Day weekend, Indigenous People's Day weekend, so you do expect more than you would on a regular weekend.
NNAMDIYep, let's talk some more about the Bay Bridge, because you issued a statement via Twitter this week calling on the Maryland Department of Transportation to cease construction on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. You say that the project was poorly planned and did not include all community stakeholders. How will ceasing construction now solve this problem?
FRANCHOTWell, they should suspend the project, because they went into it without any real preparation or anticipation of how bad the congestion was going to be. And they certainly didn't do the proper surveying of the motorists and the local and state governments, and also the businesses. So, there's lots that can be done from a planning perspective, had they done it. They dropped the ball on it. They admit they did. Now they're trying to play catchup and do things kind of in midstream.
FRANCHOTI'm suggesting that it's only going to get worse, because it's fundamentally flawed, right from the start. And it's better to call a timeout. You can reschedule this after the summer season next year, start it sometime in the fall. But have it be equipped with a plan that will look at all of the ways that traffic engineers have been known over the years that will mitigate the kind of situation they have here. I mean, they had a 14-mile backup at the bridge the first weekend. We're going to see more and more of that.
NNAMDIIt's clear the department...
FRANCHOTFirst responders are unable to get across. Kids are now apparently arriving late at school by hours (unintelligible) ...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Mr. Comptroller, you've described the problem but what I have to tell you -- and this is a $27 million two-year project on the westbound, and they've got one westbound lane closed. Just practically, what would be an alternative?
NNAMDI(overlapping) Wait a minute. You should know, we got a long statement from the Department of Transportation today. Part of it says, regardless of timing, construction of this critical safety project will unavoidably require moving the same amount of traffic with 20 percent less of total bridge lanes and 33 percent less of the eastbound lanes without contraflow. So, when?
FRANCHOTYeah. Well, they brought the contraflow up yesterday, one of these on-the-fly recommendations about how we can relieve a 14-mile backup. And that was soundly rejected by the locals. That would be taking a two-lane mess and turning it into a one-lane mess on the west side of the bridge. The point here is not that I'm particularly right or they're particularly wrong. It's very clear that the planning and preparation that should've been done for this project was not done. I know they believe, I guess, the highway folks, that this is a critical maintenance project. No, it's a re-decking of the bridge.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is that that critical? I mean, it's supposed to have a 15-year life span. You don't want it to be like the Baltimore Washington Parkway with potholes everywhere. It's re-decking. It's not just a routine, superficial thing, is it?
FRANCHOTObviously, it needs to be done. I'm more than happy to be in favor of supporting it. Had this $27 million contract come before the Board of Public Works, or the governor and the treasury in May, it never would've been approved without the kind of preparation that any big project like this requires. So, why don't...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Again, I go back to what -- there's only a certain number of lanes, and if you close -- what would you suggest that they do -- I don't see how more planning would work. There's no other place to go. You have to either go over the bridge, or you don't.
NNAMDIAnd let me add the politics of it. If it had come before the Board of Public Works, since it's coming from his administration, my assumption is that Governor Hogan would have supported it. Would you have been looking for a 2-1 vote against it?
FRANCHOTNo. I would've looked for -- and he would've agreed, because why does he want to sit for the next two years and absorb the blows from this absolutely mishandled project? It all could've been mitigated and reduced if there had been proper planning. What is that? Look, I'm not a traffic engineer. I spent some time doing transportation issues when I was with the House of Delegates. But there are things that can be done.
FRANCHOTThey should have surveyed all the local businesses and said: could you set up flex time and compressed schedules for your employees? That was not done. They could have consulted more with the local and state governments and gotten them to do things. They could've brought in the transit experts and said, look, the one commuter bus you have right now picks up passengers at the bridge. So, people are being asked to sit through hours of delay and backup just to get to the transit option. Why don't you have those somewhere else?
FRANCHOTOr this issue I mentioned about the toll booths that are 1970s versions sitting there, that automatically bring all the traffic down to five miles per hour. It's a big cause of the current congestion. And why don't they plan on removing those physically and replacing them with an Easy Pass recorder that is aligned going across the lanes? It's a long-winded way of saying, guys, we need to do the maintenance project but they dropped the ball as far as what they should have done. They admitted that. They take responsibility for it.
SHERWOODBut didn't they announce -- in late middle of July, they announced they were going to be doing this, for everyone to start getting adjusted to it. But, again, it goes back...
FRANCHOTDid you hear about it? Tom, did you know about it?
SHERWOODWell, you can't ask me, because I'm a reporter, and yes, I did hear about it. But you're saying they didn't advertise it enough.
FRANCHOTReally? Because I'm the comptroller of the state. I had no idea it was moving forward.
SHERWOODWell, you're traveling all over the state. It seems like you would be right up to speed on it, with all the traveling you do.
FRANCHOTI know, and it's a funny thing, nobody else really did.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is this going to be an issue for you when you run for governor in the next governor's race? You've said recently...
FRANCHOTWell, I've heard that that, oh, yeah, you're running for governor. That's the only reason you're upset about this. That started...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) No, you've been upset for 10 years. I mean, that's not an issue, but...
FRANCHOTNo. They think that I'm exploiting this issue. I'm not. That question is always brought up by people who have lost the argument, which is, oh, this is all politics. No, it isn't.
NNAMDIYou said there was not enough community participation or consultation. We got an email from David, who says: Comptroller Franchot voted to support toll lanes on the beltway on I-270, although there was a lack of community involvement and coordination with local government. How could he support the toll lane project while speaking against a Bay Bridge project that he now seeks to stop? Your turn.
FRANCHOTWell, those are two completely different issues, but the issue with the bridge right now is a perfectly valid one. You can be in support of the maintenance of the Bay Bridge. Everybody is. But the department itself, at the last board meeting where we brought this up, was very explicit that they dropped the ball. They accept the responsibility for it. All I'm suggesting is let's take a timeout. It might cost this state a little bit of money since they have already started the project, but it will be a scintilla of what the backups are going to be costing us without the plan and preparation.
FRANCHOTAnd there are lots of things that can be done, from mass transit recommendations to private employers adjusting schedules, to county and local governments. I myself have given my employees, who live on the shore and have to commute to Annapolis, all sorts of incentives for carpooling and for, you know, flex timing and flex scheduling. All I'm saying is that needs to be done. This is not a priority public safety project in the sense that the bridge is actually a public safety threat. It does need to be done, but you can start it later -- now, say a year from now -- with the proper planning in place and move forward and do the necessary maintenance.
FRANCHOTMarching forward right through this right now, as if, well, we can run over people and they're going to have to face inconveniences -- this is a two-year project. We’re talking two years of summer traffic being held up in a major way. And it's simply unacceptable, because this is important to people in the Washington area, the Baltimore area, as well as on the shore.
SHERWOODMaryland Reporter's (unintelligible) sent me a text message, saying: would you support having taken out the toll plazas before their work begins? You would've just taken the toll plazas out? I don't know how you would charge people. Send them a bill...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, they've been doing that on a temporary basis, and it still has resulted in a backup, maybe not as long as it was before, but your turn.
SHERWOODWould you take them out during this project?
FRANCHOTYeah, well, you guys have traveled -- you've traveled up to Delaware. You know, most of the Easy Pass lines are simply -- there are no toll booths. You just drive underneath a wand that goes across the lanes.
SHERWOODSo, yes? Yes, you would take out the toll booths?
FRANCHOTThe answer is yes. They should go and remove them tonight and replace them with an Easy Pass, you know, line over the lanes that automatically catches the Easy Pass holders. And we send bills to the folks that do not have Easy Pass, like they do in Delaware.
SHERWOODI just got another text from a friend here in town who says he's going over the bridge to visit a sick aunt this weekend. He wants to know from you, what tine is the best time tomorrow to go on the bridge?
FRANCHOTThe best time tomorrow would be probably early in the morning, 5:00 or 6:00 am.
NNAMDIYour office released a new economic impact study from Salisbury University that founded a post-Labor Day school start contributed a combined 58 to $115 million in economic activity. You and Governor Hogan have been pushing for this since 2013. Why do you believe this decision should be mandated, and not left up to the districts themselves? Because that's what the opposition says, leave it up to the school districts.
FRANCHOTWell, that independent economic report by Salisbury University's business school is your scientific evidence of the obvious. People love their starting school after Labor Day. Teachers love it. They get to work a little bit extra on second jobs. Kids love it. Families love it. Businesses love it, obviously, because they get an extra week of retail.
NNAMDI(overlapping) So, where's the opposition coming from?
FRANCHOTOpposition comes from entrenched activists who happen to think...
FRANCHOT...that the school schedule should be used in collective bargaining to allocate many strange half days and full days off for development work on teachers. They use it as an alternative to salary increases and other benefits, and it's just wrong. That's where the opposition comes from. We want to determine it locally, because we control the local school boards.
SHERWOODYou're talking about the education association in the state?
FRANCHOTI'm talking about pro-education activists who have never admitted to me when they complain about things that we do to help small businesses, they say: why aren't you helping education like that? And my response is, A, we do help education, and B, who do you think produces the tax revenue to pay for our outstanding education system? Nonetheless, they have this system of half days and full days off during the year that nobody can follow. You know, it happens all of a sudden.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) They're training. Well, this is a good segue...
FRANCHOTAnd let me just say, Tom, low-income families have a tremendous amount of difficulty in arranging for daycare for these unexplained days off during the year. But that's the reason they don't want to have school starting after Labor Day.
SHERWOODPerfect segue into the Kirwan Commission. We're all waiting to see what proposals for funding education you just mentioned. You're the comptroller. You would like to be maybe governor. If you were going to charge taxes to fund the Kirwan Commission, what would you change? What would you tax to fund the Kirwan Commission, which is the redoing of the state education system?
FRANCHOTWell, let me come up with a kind of radical idea, which is perhaps we could stop defining our support for education by how much money we're spending, but by how good the results are. That's number one. Number two, I'm happy to think about shifting some existing funds into the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. Number three, I would have to be convinced -- and I'm not convinced right now -- that you need tax increases.
SHERWOODSo, it could be that you and Governor Hogan might not try to move anything forward. The legislature might, but you guys would not be that interested.
SHERWOODYou want more detail.
FRANCHOT...I'm not in the legislature. I'm the comptroller. I'm not the governor. I'm just giving you an answer to your question, which is, yeah, I'm in favor of funding education, as long as we can afford it. But, trust me, the economy in the state of Maryland right now is tremendously vulnerable, like other states' economies are, to some kind of correction in the market. And all the experts are saying, keep your elbows up and be careful.
FRANCHOTSo, I was around when the Thornton Commission -- you'll recall that, earlier in the century here -- was passed in the legislature. And I remember asking my colleagues, I was relatively...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) We're almost out of time. Wrap this -- this is a long story.
FRANCHOTWhat have we got as far as a way to pay for Thornton? And they said, oh, we're going to increase the sales tax next year, when Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is selected governor. That didn't go very well.
NNAMDIThat never happened. You have joined Treasurer Nancy Kopp in public support of financial compensation to five exonerees, but Governor Hogan does not believe the Board of Public Works is the appropriate venue to address compensation petitions. Would you move to approve the payments with a simple majority, despite the governor's position?
FRANCHOTWell, our staffs are in contact right now. I find the governor to be perfectly willing to compensate people. The question is: how do you do it? I happen to think that Maryland -- which is the richest state in the country, as of last week. We have $80,760 in average family income, puts us number one in the country.
FRANCHOTFor these five individuals that are in front of us right now, why don't we just pay them that amount -- because it's a rational objective amount -- of $80,760 for each year they were unlawfully incarcerated? And take care of those five, and then say to the legislature, here's an objective, rational number that you can use or not use. But it gives us something other than a judicial back-and-forth, subjective situation, and allows for very speedy relief.
FRANCHOTI look forward to the next board meeting and appreciate the treasurer. And I also appreciate the governor. I think both of them want to resolve this situation in a fair way. I'm going to suggest that we pick a number, 80,760 for each year, and pay it to the five people.
SHERWOODYou just mentioned the legislature. Let me ask you before we run out of time, we have a new House speaker. Your relationship, as you know, you're very popular according to voting in the state, but you're not popular in the General Assembly with the Senate president, Mike Miller, or with Michael Busch at the time. Now, we have Adrian Jones, Adrian Jones from Baltimore County. She's the new House speaker. Do you see your political understanding in working with the legislature changing with her as the new House speaker, as opposed to the fight you've had with the two previous leaders?
FRANCHOTWell, I'm always going to be an outsider and somewhat of an independent Democrat, but that identifies with the Democratic base. I have a great relationship with Adrian Jones. I served with her. I have a great relationship with most of the rank-and-file senators and delegates. It's just that, from the top down, they've had orders to, you know, do things that are adversarial to me.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) They've taken power away from you.
FRANCHOTI think that's now disappearing, because we're getting new leadership. We'll have new leadership in the Senate, ultimately. We're going to have new folks coming in to politics. I think the machine-- which I have complained about, because it makes decisions in the backroom with, you know, no real accountability or transparency. I've had my complaints with the previous machine. I think the current machine is changing, and will be much more reflective of the people's needs on things like school after Labor Day, for example.
NNAMDINot more than a minute left, but Katy tweets in response to your position on Labor Day: no, educators want additional time to prepare students for tests that are fixed by the state. If you start after Labor Day, like Virginia, you lose weeks toward preparation for the test, which is at the same time for all students across the state. In the 30 seconds or so we have left, Peter Franchot, how would you respond?
FRANCHOTGet rid of the tests.
SHERWOODThere you go.
FRANCHOTReally. We have a fetish in Maryland of testing to the test, or educating to the test. It's absurd. We need to do the SAT test for people wanting to get into college. We need to do some kind of end-of-year reviews for our existing students as they move through the system. But this group of tests that have infiltrated the education system is ruining education, taking the joy out of teaching. And it's producing terrible results, as far as the education of our kids. So...
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid...
SHERWOODWe've tested ourselves to death.
FRANCHOT...she and I might agree on something.
NNAMDIPeter Franchot is the...
FRANCHOTOh, yeah. This is just crazy.
NNAMDIPeter Franchot is the comptroller of Maryland. Thank you so much for joining us.
FRANCHOTThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
SHERWOODGood luck in that traffic.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Victoria Chamberlin. Coming up Monday, the District and several other jurisdictions around the country will be celebrating Indigenous People's Day. We'll examine what this day means to native people, as well as the history, culture and contemporary life of local tribes. That all starts Monday, at noon. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend. What are you doing this weekend?
SHERWOODNats tonight, Nats in St. Louis. Game's on TV.
NNAMDIThat's what you're doing tonight.
SHERWOODLots of beer in the refrigerator.
NNAMDI(laugh) Thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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