D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) talks about D.C. being shortchanged in the U.S. Senate's stimulus package. And Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) talks about the state's response to the pandemic.
The countdown to the 2020 legislative sessions has officially begun. What’s in store for politics in the Commonwealth? Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax joins the show.
Fairfax planning a run for governor in 2021
- Earlier this week, Fairfax told a group of senior citizens that he plans to run for governor in 2021. The lieutenant governor was accused of sexual misconduct by two women in February 2019.
- This wasn’t unexpected: Fairfax and his staff have mentioned that he was eyeing the position after the allegations of sexual misconduct were made public.
- The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that Fairfax thinks the scandal has raised his profile for good. On the Politics Hour, Fairfax said that the Times-Dispatch “conflated two different answers to two different questions. They asked me how I was being received around the Commonwealth, and I said that people are really supportive.”
- During the Politics Hour, WAMU reporter and guest analyst Martin Austermuhle compared Fairfax’s defense against the sexual assault allegations to that of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. “What’s different about your case?” asked Austermuhle.
- Fairfax responded by listing multiple cases where allegations of sexual assault were found to be discredited: “Do you believe the accuser in the UVA case? The Rolling Stone case? Do you believe the accuser in the Duke lacrosse case? Do you believe the folks in the exonerated five?”
- Fairfax sued CBS for $400 million for airing interviews with the two women who accused him of sexual assault. His lawsuit went to federal court in Alexandria this month and is now pending.
- The field for Virginia’s governorship could get crowded. Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Mark Herring (D) have both signaled that they’ll run.
Gun legislation a priority for Virginia Democrats in 2020
- Now that Democrats control the General Assembly, they’ll try to pass stricter gun laws.
- A bill mandating universal background checks has already been filed.
- A growing number of Virginia localities have been declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Attorney General Herring and other leaders say these declarations hold no legal effect.
- A recent poll found that Virginia voters strongly support expanding background checks and implementing “red flag” laws. A narrow majority of voters would like to see assault-style weapons banned.
- Fairfax supports “red flag” laws, universal background checks and banning assault weapons. He said he’s not worried about the Democratic-led General Assembly taking things too far when it comes to gun control: “The voters spoke loudly and clearly in November.”
Northam’s proposed budget
- Gov. Ralph Northam (D) released his $135 billion, two-year budget proposal this week.
- Under the plan, gas and cigarette taxes are boosted, but income tax rates are not.
- The budget allots significant funds towards reducing the racial disparity in maternal mortality rates, free community college for some Virginians, early childhood education and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
- Northam also carved out $200 million in funds that lawmakers can allocate as they please.
- Oh, and he also snuck in another thing: Eliminating the requirement for yearly vehicle inspections.
Maryland senators and delegates are gearing up for their legislative session in January. Sen. Will Smith (D-Montgomery County) joins the Politics Hour to talk about what to expect.
Senate President Nominee Bill Ferguson’s picks for committee leadership
- Sen. Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) chose many Montgomery and Prince George’s County senators for key positions, including Sen. Smith as chair of the powerful Judicial Proceedings Committee and Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher (D-Montgomery County) as vice chair.
- “There’s no doubt that Senator Ferguson’s ascension to the Senate presidency marks a generational and an ideological shift within the body,” Smith said.
- Montgomery and Prince George’s County lawmakers will hold leadership positions on the Senate Rules Committee, the Finance Committee and the Budget and Taxation Committee.
- Sen. Nancy King (D-Montgomery County) will be the majority leader; Sen. Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s County) will be president pro tempore; Sen. Susan Lee (D-Montgomery) will be the majority whip; and Sen. Craig Zucker (D-Montgomery County) will lead the Democratic Caucus.
What’s in store for Maryland’s legislative session
- Senator Smith plans to introduce the Home Act, which would prohibit source-of-income discrimination, including alimony, benefits checks and government vouchers. “It gives access to folks in certain markets for housing that are closer to the workplace and more accessible for transportation,” Smith said.
- Montgomery County Delegate Vaughn Stewart wants to introduce a bill that would ban privately-run immigrant detention facilities in the state.
- At a rally in Silver Spring this week, local lawmakers announced plans to pursue legislation that could counter Hogan’s plans to widen I-270 and the Capital Beltway.
- Sen. Lee and Del. Julian Ivey (D-Prince George’s) said they will introduce a bill that would require consent from local counties before toll projects are constructed.
- Del. Jared Solomon (D-Montgomery County) wants to strengthen laws governing public-private partnerships — a model that Hogan wants to pursue for adding toll lanes.
Serving constituents and country
- Sen. Smith attracted media attention when he deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve at the end of the last legislative session. He served as the branch chief in Kabul. He returned in October after a seven-month deployment.
- Smith called his deployment “an education.” On the Politics Hour, he mentioned the Afghanistan Papers released by the Washington Post, which he said offered “much needed light that needed to be shed on what’s happening over there.”
- But he also acknowledged the positive things happening in Afghanistan, too: “They just had their fourth democratic election on September 28 … Women make up a third of parliament in Afghanistan. And it’s got a progressive constitution.”
- The Montgomery County lawmaker was inspired to join the military after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he was a sophomore in college, but waited to join after his family urged him to first finish his education. Smith was commissioned as an officer in the Navy once he completed law school.
- Smith chairs the Maryland General Assembly’s Veterans Caucus.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to the Politics Hour starring Martin Austermuhle. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is off today. Our Guest Analyst is Martin Austermuhle. He's a Reporter for WAMU. Martin, thank you for joining us.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEThanks for having me.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Will Smith. He's a Member of the Maryland Senate representing District 20, which is in Montgomery County, but joining us now in studio is Justin Fairfax. He is the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Lieutenant Governor Fairfax, thank you so much for joining us.
JUSTIN FAIRFAXThank you, Kojo. And, Martin, it's great to be back with you.
NNAMDIBefore we get to Virginia, Martin Austermuhle, let's talk the District of Columbia. The Ethics Director of the District of Columbia, who works for what is known the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability is apparently on the firing line so to speak. He might be losing his job, Brent Wolfingbarger.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah. So Mitch Rales, Loose Lips at the City Paper reported that he had gotten word that Mr. Wolfingbarger, who is the Director of Ethics for the D.C. government is on thin ice when it comes to his job. There's been concerns about how the Board of Elections in Government Accountability, which was created six years ago after a raft of scandals in the D.C. Council to kind of handle ethics management and kind of enforcement across the D.C. government. There's concern that it's not really living up to its job. It's not answering complaints that are filed by people within the government in due time, and there's some displeasure on the D.C. Council. There was a hearing a couple of years ago where some councilmembers took him to task over how they were managing these complaints that are filed by D.C. government officials regarding ethics concerns.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd obviously the timing isn't great. You have the whole scandal with Jack Evans going on now in the Council. And there's concerns about, you know, the city creates this ethics enforcement office essentially. Is it really enforcing those ethics rules? Is it falling flat on its face? Does it need to be changed? And this is just five years after it was created.
NNAMDIAnd you mentioned the scandal involving Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. House Republicans wanted to bring that scandal into the conversation, the hearing that was scheduled on Statehood for the District of Columbia. They actually wanted Mr. Evans to come and testify at the hearing because their argument is apparently that the District of Columbia should maybe denied Statehood, because of this alleged corruption that has taken place because of the corruption that's taken place in the city.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, exactly. So earlier in the fall there was a hearing up on the Hill on this bill that would if passed would allow the District to become the 51st state. One of the main talking points by Republicans again said at least -- one that they were repeating was, you know, the District government isn't ready for Statehood yet. The District isn't ready Statehood, because of allegations of corruption within the government. And obviously in that case Jack Evans is a perfect foil for them. They say, look at what Jack Evans is accused of. This means you can't manage your finances responsibly.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd, of course, city officials say, No, listen we've had 22 years of balanced budgets. We've got a surplus. We're doing just fine compared to Congress, which can't even pass a budget in most cases. And then there's folks that point out the very obvious case that there's lots of states that have corrupt officials.
NNAMDII was about to say if having a corrupt elected official was a standard for getting or not getting Statehood there would probably be no states in the Union even as we speak. So we could move on from that to our guest. He is Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. This week you made headlines when you said you planned to run for governor in 2021. But you've mentioned the possibility of running governor before. But perhaps not as strongly as saying, I plan to run. Last time that you were on this show you said that running for governor is something that you were thinking about. Now you're saying you plan to run. Can you give us a sense of how likely you are to run and what factors are going into your decision?
FAIRFAXYeah. Well, thank you again, Kojo, for having me. Thank you, Martin. And we did announce that I do plan to run for governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia in 2021. And we've seen tremendous excitement around that announcement.
NNAMDIWhat's the difference between saying you're planning to run and officially announcing that you're running?
FAIRFAXIt's a great question. And I'm a lawyer and a whole bunch of lawyers here. But obviously when you start running it triggers certain legal obligations and disclosures and things. So you'd want to get all of that in order, but, you know, we wanted to make it clear to everyone of that is, you know, our intent. And, again, the response has been really tremendous and positive and overwhelming. And I've traveled all around the Commonwealth of Virginia as you know, really over the last seven years, but as Lieutenant Governor over the last two.
FAIRFAXAnd we've been to every part of Virginia, southwest, south side. I was just in Roanoke and Danville. I was in Norfolk yesterday and Hampton Roads. And, you know, everywhere we go I mean there are crowds of people who are just energized by the positive message, the more hopeful politics that we represent, and they're really frankly tired of people who try to tear people and communities down. And they want people who are going to build people and communities up. And that's really what we've represented in politics in Virginia.
NNAMDIIn February you were accused of sexual misconduct by two women. Both allegations you have denied. How have those allegations affected your thinking about running for governor?
FAIRFAXYou know, I think what people have gotten to see over the last 10 months is that these allegations were false, fabricated and politically motivated. And anyone who's really paying attention and asking really direct questions about the facts and the evidence and the truth see that these have been debunked. And in fact, we have called as you know for the past 10 months for investigations and independent investigations, criminal investigations. I have taken and passed two lie detector tests, which we have released to the public.
FAIRFAXAnd now we've sued CBS for $400 million dollars for their reckless disregard for the truth and airing these false accusations despite the fact that there's been evidence and information that these allegations are false. And so, you know, as folks like to sort of just rehash these -- and mindlessly rehash these allegations without actually asking questions, are they true and asking questions specifically about each of the cases. You know, Virginians have really rejected that. And again, for anyone, who wants to kind of just keep talking about this without asking these specific questions, I would tell them please call Nancy Erika Smith, who is the lawyer for Meredith Watson, the accuser from Duke.
FAIRFAXAnd ask her some very simple questions. Whose dorm room did this happen in? And was there anyone else there? Because they can't answer those questions because once they answer them -- for five months they have refused to answer those questions, because it would reveal that Meredith Watson fabricated the story, Dr. Vanesa Tyson as well. We've shown many fabrications in her account, including that she claims to have met me on a day that I wasn't even in the city or she didn't know me.
FAIRFAXAnd so, you know, we have been transparent. We have told the truth from day one. And Virginians are incredibly smart. And I give them so much more credit than most people in politics. They were able to see right through this. And here we are 10 months later and people say they remain unresolved. Well, you know, smear campaigns aren't intended to be resolved. The whole point of them is to throw out the allegations and never to investigate, never to get to the truth. And Virginians are way smarter than that.
AUSTERMUHLESo you say, obviously, Virginians are way smarter than that, but there's going to be a lot of Virginians as is the case in the politics generally. They will read the news now and again. They'll read the headlines now and again. The one thing they may have read was the allegations from earlier this year. And they may just remember the headlines. They may not remember everything, there after. I mean, are you concerned that part of the campaign is going to be run on the defensive to a certain degree. Having to explain what you just said to us to voters and do you think they're going to buy it? Do you think they're going to say, this is just too much. Like we just want someone who doesn't have potentially these allegations against them?
FAIRFAXNot at all. And, in fact, again, what Virginians are doing is they're rejecting smear tactics. You know, we have someone in the White House 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue who lies to us every single day. And people say, well, you know, he's lying. And we're overwhelmed and we just don't want to deal with it. No, no. People want people who are telling the truth. They want people in engaging in politics that are uplifting politics that are building people and communities up.
FAIRFAXThey are really exhausted and I'm telling you I've traveled all around the state. They're exhausted of people in politics especially politicians and people behind the scenes orchestrating smear campaigns and doing hit pieces and not wanting to get to the truth. And, you know, that they really are exhausted. I'm telling you. People are going to be really surprised at the reaction that they're seeing. I mean, I have gone into so many different communities, but in particular I've gone to, you know, different African American churches.
FAIRFAXYou go to an African American church in Virginia -- and in particular I was in Alfred Street Baptist Church recently and there's so many other great churches -- First Baptist Church of Vienna -- You go there and you ask people what they think about these allegations. They think about the fact they don't want to talk about them now that the truth is out. That they think about -- that you would use again actually one of the historically most racist troupes in American history, to accuse an African American man with zero evidence of a crime of this nature and then not want to talk about it. The backlash has been tremendous. And people again want to be uplifted. They want to hope. And that's really what we represent.
NNAMDIWhen you first sued CBS in September you were seeking $400 million. How did you come up with that dollar amount? And is that still the amount that you're seeking?
FAIRFAXThat is the amount. We also filed, Kojo, an amended complaint on October the 3rd. And as part of, you know, the litigation will obviously have information and testimony and experts to testify to, you know, the damages that have been done. And, again, this is -- you know, there are so many things that go into that calculation. Not to mention, you know, I'm an attorney. I was a partner at a law firm. I left my law firm this past summer.
NNAMDICBS is asking for the lawsuit to be dismissed. Exactly what's the status of the lawsuit now?
FAIRFAXIt is pending before a judge in the eastern district of Virginia in a federal district court, which is where we filed the claim. I used to be a federal prosecutor in that court and also was a law clerk out of law school. When I went to Columbia Law School I clerked in that court house as well. And so we had the hearing a couple of weeks ago and it's pending before the judge. But what's so fascinating is even as we stand now even before that motion is decided CBS no longer vouches for the truth of the story. Also Meredith Watson, again, the accuser from Duke from 19 years ago, you know, her attorney Nancy Erika Smith also will not publically vouch for the truth of the story. After five months of making these wild allegations and when exculpatory information came out they no longer want to vouch for the truth of the story.
NNAMDIIs there another side to this coin? In June, the Richmond Times dispatch reported that you said the scandal had raised your public profile for good. Do you think the media attention from these allegations could actually help you run for governor in 2021?
FAIRFAXWell, Kojo -- you know, they conflated two different answers to two different questions. They asked me how it was being received around the Commonwealth. And I said the people, you know, are really supportive. I mean, I almost can't go anywhere in Virginia without people recognizing me and saying, hey, Lieutenant Governor, we support you. We're behind you. We know that this is all a smear campaign. We know that there are people behind this. It's incredibly obvious.
FAIRFAXYou know, there's the Mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, and his former top aide, Thad Williamson, who just lost a race to Richmond City Council and his wife, Adria Scharf, were texting with Dr. Tyson the weekend that Governor Northam got in trouble. And one of the text messages says, you know, Governor Northam may be forced to resign tomorrow. We need to get your story out today. They had another communication on signal, an encrypted app, and it says, Monday action. And, of course, when I go back to Richmond on Monday after that weekend, I'm greeted by 100 reporters with this unfounded, uncorroborated allegation. Again, which The Washington Post by the way had investigated for three months the prior year and did not print the story, because it's uncorroborated. So, again, everyday Virginians reject this kind of smear campaign.
NNAMDIWe want to move on from this topic, but before we do here's Iman in Chantilly, Virginia. Iman, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IMANThanks for taking my call, Kojo. Justin it's an honor to speak to you, sir.
FAIRFAXIt's an honor to speak to you.
IMANYou have two strikes against you. First of all, you are a wounded man and they're attacking your dignity and (unintelligible), but my question is how do you recover this problem, because it seems to me that they've requested that you should resign when things happen. And they treat you like you are a thug. There was a lot of name calling when things happened. And I'm so happy that you worked out this thing and you fight back. My question is how do you recover this issue since you want to --
NNAMDIHow do you move on from here?
FAIRFAXIman, thank you for the question. Let me just say something. God is good and the truth is on our side. And people have again, you know, you get a lot of punditry. You get people in politics, a lot of insiders, you know, making different proclamations, but who they're not talking to is the people. And I talk to the people. I like to say 99 percent of Virginians are outsiders. And I'm one of them. I just happen to be elected to be Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. So I think what you're going to see and what we have seen over the past 10 months is this groundswell of support among people, who say we reject this kind of politics.
FAIRFAXYou know, people were calling for my resignation with zero evidence, zero due process, zero facts. They read two press releases. Governor Terry McAuliffe within minutes of the second press release calls for my immediate resignation. Well, if the Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the second African American ever elected in the history of Virginia can't get any due process. If he would call for my resignation within minutes of seeing a press release what does the average person on the street, what chance do they have? What chance do their son, their brother, their father have? And, again, now that in the last 10 months we've seen the evidence come out and debunk these stories, because they were falsely fabricated from day one.
AUSTERMUHLESo one just last quick question about this, I mean, obviously, in the national context, I mean, this came up in the debate over Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh. I mean, his same defense was, listen this is unproven. This didn't happen. She's lying. That sort of thing. And he had plenty of people on his side saying exactly that. And it really conflicted folks on the left that were saying, no. Listen, we believe accusers. So you're a Democrat. You have to kind of appeal to those exact same voters in Virginia. Those people who said, listen we believe the people who are accusing Bret Kavanaugh of what he was accused of. So what's different about your case?
FAIRFAXWell, Martin, a couple of things. First of all, we should believe facts and evidence. I think that regardless of your political party that's what you should believe. Martin, let me ask you. Do you believe the accuser in the UVA case? The Rolling Stone case? Do you believe the accuser in the Duke La Crosse case? Do you believe the, you know, folks in the exonerated five? Do you believe the accuser in the Bryan Banks case? When they later admitted that they had lied and fabricated the story?
AUSTERMUHLESure. But you could come up with just as many examples of cases where accusers said something. We're told that's not true. And then ultimately the truth came out.
FAIRFAXMartin, but you know how you get to the truth? You get an investigation. And is it not striking to people the only person, who's called for an investigation over 10 months is the person being accused. Is it not striking that the only person, who's taken and shown lie detector tests, two of them, is the person being accused? Is it not striking that the only person who is filing a lawsuit to get to the truth is the person being accused? Again, smear campaigns are not intended to be resolved.
NNAMDIYou mentioned former Governor Terry McAuliffe. He is likely to be one of your opponents if you run for governor as possibly Attorney General Mark Herring, who has not indicated that he has changed his mind about running for governor. How do you think you'll beat those two opponents?
FAIRFAXWell, I tell you, Kojo. I have never run against anyone in any election. I always run for something. And, you know, Attorney General Herring and I were actually in a primary together in 2013. It was my first time ever running for office. I was 34 years old. We have the support of the people by the way. We were counted out by, you know, all the same voices that you're hearing today, all the insiders. And yet the people were on our side. We won over 48 percent of the statewide vote in that primary. We were also endorsed by The Washington Post. We lost by less than two votes per precinct statewide in my first ever run. And then we stayed involved and helped a lot of folks.
FAIRFAXAnd then, of course, when we ran in 2017 for Lieutenant Governor we won a three way primary. Again, same voices, same naysayers, you're going to lose. You know, we don't support you. We won almost 50 percent of the vote in a three way primary, which is virtually unheard of. And, again, we're endorsed by The Washington Post in the general election and then we beat a sitting incumbent state senator, who had essentially, you know, self-financing and money pouring in. And yet we won that race, and got nearly 53 percent of the vote.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation with Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. Martin Austermuhle is our Guest Analyst. He's a Reporter for WAMU. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Will Smith, a member of the Maryland Senate. We're talking right now with Justin Fairfax, the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Democrats flipped the General Assembly in November and they're going to make gun legislation a top priority this January. A bill for universal background checks has already been filed. Where do you stand on different gun regulation like universal background checks, red flag laws, and the like? What do you want to see passed?
FAIRFAXYes. Well, the two that you mentioned I absolutely support them. These are bills that have broad support in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We've seen polls were upwards of 90 percent of Virginians support universal background checks and also with red flag laws. You know, we see the importance of them also from some of the incidents that have happened recently. I was in Virginia Beach in the immediate aftermath of that horrific mass shooting. Virginia also unfortunately has dealt with these tragedies before in Virginia Tech in 2007. Something we still remember. We'll never forget.
FAIRFAXBut there's also gun violence that takes place on the streets every single day in both urban and rural areas. You know, again, I've traveled around the places like Richmond and Danville and Norfolk. And even in parts of south side and southwest Virginia, this a constant issue. And so we have got take common sense steps to address this. We all want to be safe and we respect people's Second Amendment Rights. I have people in my family, who are avid hunters and they're responsible gun owners.
FAIRFAXBut they tell me all the time, you know, I don't need an assault weapon to hunt deer. You know, those are meant for mass carnage. And so if we want to, again, be responsive to the community and to the voters and also to keep our communities safe we have got to take common sense steps to deal with these issues.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet that says, as an attorney and Lieutenant Governor can you tell us anything about what Virginia's response to so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries will be?
AUSTERMUHLETo add to that, I just wanted to figure out to ask, do you think there's anything the General Assembly could do that may be a step too far or a step too fast? Because again, Democratic majority, one in November, it's coming in for the first time in a generation. I mean, there's a lot of excitement over what the General Assembly could do especially when it comes to guns, which has been a big issue like you said. But do you think that the General Assembly could make a mistake and push too far too fast with certain things and kind of upset voters and then they get punished the next time elections come around? And this issue of Second Amendment sanctuary shows that there are people who passionately believe that something is going to happen. That their guns are going to be taken from them, that sort of thing.
FAIRFAXWell, let me answer both questions. First with regard to Second Amendment sanctuary -- so called sanctuary cities or jurisdictions, you know, as it's been made clear those have no legal force or effect. You know, and I know that it's happening in various parts of the Commonwealth. And in fact I was in Roanoke in a City Council meeting and there was some discussion about this at that time. And so, again, I think what it is is people are sort of rallying people up and stoking this fear that really is unfounded.
FAIRFAXAgain, doing nothing is not an option, when we see the level of gun violence that we've seen, again, not just the mass shootings, but the carnage that builds up every single day. Thirty-three thousand Americans are killed every year by gun violence. And so it's a significant problem. As far as your question about going, you know, sort of too far too fast. I mean, that's not something right now that I think is really on the table, because first of all as you mention, Kojo, the voters spoke loudly and clearly in November. They flipped both Houses of the General Assembly.
FAIRFAXI preside over the Senate as Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. And I get to break ties when there are tiebreaking votes. We went from being 21 Republican and 19 Democrat to flipping that. You know, 21 Democrat and 19 Republicans in the House. We now have a solid majority of about 55 to 45. And so, again, the voters spoke clearly and they want to see change. You know, common sense gun violence prevention was on the ballot. I mean, it's something that everybody ran on. Just like, for instance, Medicaid expansion was on the ballot back in 2017. And as Lieutenant Governor I broke the ties in the Senate to expand Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians. And already 320,000 have already signed up.
FAIRFAXAnd so we were hearing some of the same things. They had killed Medicaid expansion every year for about four or five years. And yet when we won the voters spoke clearly. They wanted it. Again, we passed it, again, on my tiebreaking vote in the Senate. And now 320,000 people have health insurance. I mean, there's that pent-up demand that the voters want us to be responsive to their needs.
NNAMDIGovernor Ralph Northam released his two year, roughly $135 billion budget this week. He's proposing increased taxes on gas and tobacco, but no increase to income taxes. Priorities include cleaning up the Chesapeake, addressing the high mortality rate for mothers of color and making community college tuition free for some Virginians. What's stood out to you about this budget? Is there anything you would change?
FAIRFAXYou know, it's a great budget proposal. And I was with Governor Northam earlier this week when we announced it to the money committees in Virginia. And this is the most progressive budget in Virginia history. And we are very excited about the investments that we're making, dealing with some of the critical issues in Virginia. Virginia is on a phenomenal trajectory. We are doing incredibly well as a Commonwealth. We have record low unemployment at 2.6 percent. Our Triple A bond rating was reaffirmed. We're going to have our rainy day fund reach over eight percent of our state's reserve for the first time in its history.
FAIRFAXWe went from about $253 million in our rainy day fund when this administration came into office. And it will get to about $1.9 billion. We're growing jobs. And let me just brag for a second. We've got Amazon HQ2 is located in Virginia after a nationwide search. CNBC ranked us number one state in the country to do business. We are going to repair and fix the American Legion Bridge, in an agreement that we have Maryland. I'm sure that that will excite a lot of the listeners here, who sit in traffic every day there.
NNAMDISpeaking of sitting in traffic, Jude tweets, with a new majority, are lawmakers in Virginia going to focus on expanding transit rather than Virginia's historical focus on widening highways?
FAIRFAXIt's a great question. And actually you anticipated another thing I wanted to mention, which actually just today was announced, the administration, the governor, a $3.7 billion proposal to expand rail service on Amtrak and on VRE. So you have more routes going from Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., Northern Virginia to Richmond and also hopefully out to Hampton Roads and other parts of the Commonwealth. We have Amtrak service in Roanoke, Virginia. And we also got a dedicated source of revenue for Metro funding in the prior session, which again, also very important in working with Maryland and D.C. together and in the federal government having about half a billion dollars annually put into the Metro system.
FAIRFAXAnd so, you know, Virginia is doing tremendously well. And what I was always taught is, you know, fix the roof which the sun shining. So that's why we're making these great historic investments.
NNAMDIHere's Marjorie in Alexandria, Virginia. Marjorie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARJORIEHi, Kojo. Hi, Lieutenant Governor. How are you?
FAIRFAXHi, Marjorie. I'm doing well. Hope you're doing well.
MARJORIEI am. And I just wanted to ask you about your signature issue during the primary, which was erasing the pipeline from high school to jail. Could you talk to us about what's going on with that?
FAIRFAXYes, thank you. And for those listening, we absolutely highlighted what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. And this is where young kids are, you know, being referred to the criminal justice system at an alarming rate. In fact, in Virginia, we were the number one state in the country for referring young people to the criminal justice system for in-school infractions. And that's really a travesty, and it must stop.
FAIRFAXWe got some things done the prior session around reducing out-of-school suspensions, and also changing the way that young people are interacted with. And there's more to be done. I actually spent part of this holiday season -- actually, during the campaign, as well -- you know, I go into juvenile detention centers, and I meet with young people. I was just there maybe a couple weeks ago in Richmond.
FAIRFAXAnd, you know, young people as, you know, young as 14, 15, 16, 17 years old. And, you know, I said there's no person that we're going to throw away in the Commonwealth of Virginia that we aspire to be. And I wanted these young people to know that they have a Lieutenant Governor who cares about them, who thinks about them. And despite what they may be experiencing in this moment, that there is hope, that we're going to invest, hopefully, in their futures, as well as everyone else's.
NNAMDIGot an email from Susan, and I'm going to make this part of two questions, because we're running out of time. I'm going to make two questions out of one. Susan emails: where do you stand on campaign finance reform, particularly as it relates to regulated monopolies contributing to candidates' campaigns? And where do you stand on creating a nonpartisan redistricting committee? Will the Democratic Party still push for this even, though they now control the General Assembly?
FAIRFAXYeah, let me take both of those. And I absolutely believe that we should have, you know, some sort of campaign finance reform. You know, large amounts of money can often corrupt the system. We see it at the federal level. Obviously, they have, you know, certain caps that were put in place. And I used to work on The Hill many years ago, and McCain-Feingold was sort of all the rage back in the early 2000s. And, you know, we understand that, you know, large, unlimited money has a huge impact.
FAIRFAXAnd, as you know, in Virginia, there are no limits on the amount that an individual or a corporation can give. And so, you know, we have some people in politics who go out and just get six-figure checks and, you know, think that that means support. You know, look, while I, you know, wouldn't want people to not believe they can, you know, sort of participate in the process, you know, we need to have the voices of everyday citizens be heard.
AUSTERMUHLEWould you not take a six-figure check, if offered to you?
FAIRFAXNot under the current -- I mean, I would, under the current regime. In fact, we've been give -- you know, in the last campaign. But we also had an opponent, you know, whose father gave her six or seven figures. And, as I tell people, I called my dad for a million dollar check, and he hung up the phone on me. And I love him dearly, but I would joke about that, because that's sort of what you're facing in the current system. But I think the rules should be changed.
FAIRFAXTalk about regulated monopolies, I agree. I like the idea of not having contributions be made from regulated monopolies, not having that be allowed. And I, for instance, I've never taken a contribution from Dominion Energy, which, you know, you have people in politics on the Democratic side, many of them have taken large amounts of money from Dominion Energy. Some of them are now having a conversion and saying, oh, I’m not doing it. But look at their record. If you go to VPAP.org, you can see what money people have taken from whom. And so you have that as part of the issue.
FAIRFAXAnd then you had another question, too, Kojo. There was a second part. That was about...
AUSTERMUHLEKey issue, big issue.
FAIRFAXYes, very big issue. We have to do something around redistricting. We already saw, frankly, in this election, the impact of having fair districts. The courts had to step in to redraw some of the districts in Virginia that had been racially gerrymandered. And when those were redrawn, you had fairer races and you had different outcomes. And so I think we've got to really work on the mechanics of this. There's a lot of debate right now about what the right vehicle is. But I believe it is something that should be nonpartisan. I think it is something that should, you know, be focused on, you know, all of those elements that make these districts fair, you know...
AUSTERMUHLE(overlapping) But with Democrats in charge, will Democrats finally do this? Because there's a lot of talk, when a party takes over...
NNAMDIYou're getting worse than Sherwood (laugh) when it comes to time these days. (laugh)
FAIRFAX(laugh) I love it. We need to do something, and I look forward to playing an inactive part in making our districts a lot fairer.
NNAMDIWe left enough time for you, if you want to make your official announcement here today. (laugh) Your old friends in the District of Columbia would love it if you made the announcement, where you were born, in D.C. (laugh)
FAIRFAXWell, you know I love the city. I was raised here -- not born, but I was raised here. I actually went to high school in Maryland, at DeMatha Catholic High School. I want to give them a shout out. And now I live in Virginia. So, I have the whole DMV covered in my background. But I will say this, Kojo, I know we got to go. I wish everybody a Merry Christmas, happy holiday season. We need to rise to the better angels of our nature. We need to stop the attack politics. People are done with it. They're exhausted of it, and we represent a new way forward.
FAIRFAXAnd I'm somebody, as you know, Kojo, who is the great, great, great grandson of Simon Fairfax, who had been enslaved in Fairfax County Virginia, freed in 1798 by Lord Fairfax. And now I'm serving as the second-in-command of the same state where he had been enslaved. So, if that journey is possible through hope and opportunity and change, so much more is possible for the 8.5 million Virginians. And I look forward to fighting for every one of them.
NNAMDIJustin Fairfax. He's the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. He is a Democrat. Thank you for joining us.
FAIRFAXThank you. God bless you both.
NNAMDIGoing to take a short break. When we come back, we'll be joined by Will Smith. He's a member of the Maryland Senate, representing District 20. He's now the head of the Senate's Judicial Committee. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest analyst is Mark Austermuhle. He's a reporter for WAMU. And joining us in studio now is Will Smith. He's a member of the Maryland Senate, representing district 20, which is Montgomery County. He is a Democrat. Senator Smith, thank you so much for joining us.
WILL SMITHThanks for having me again.
NNAMDIMartin, before we get to Maryland, specifically, the headline to your story in DCist says: D.C.'s plan to sell recreational weed are up in smoke, thanks to a new spending bill. What happened?
AUSTERMUHLESo the big federal spending bill that passed Congress this year that's going to fund the federal government for the next year or so, it included, again, the prohibition against the district doing anything to legalize the sale of marijuana, which city officials have wanted to do for about five years. But, in those five years, Congress has always said, no, you can't do that. Now, there was some hope this year that the prohibition would get lifted, because Democrats took control of the house. And it was taken out of the house bill, but then it was included in the Senate bill, and then in negotiations between the house and Senate, it wasn't taken out.
AUSTERMUHLESo it's another year that the District essentially is being told, there's nothing you can do about legalizing the sale of marijuana, regardless of whether you want to or not. It's just not something you're going to be discussing.
NNAMDIUntil at least 2021, is that...
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, September 2021 would be the earliest that that could change. But, again, I don't know that there's a ton of hope that it's going to get lifted then, either.
NNAMDIAn all-too-familiar story. Senator Smith, Senator Bill Ferguson recently announced his picks for Senate committee leadership positions. You were chosen to head the judicial proceedings committee. You won't have a lot to do there according to the Montgomery County Sentinel article by Suzanne Pollak.
NNAMDIThe Judicial Committee is tasked with reviewing all legislation related to criminal and civil law, police reform and gun control and other issues. It's also assigned legislation concerning constitutional amendments, corporations, family law, human relations, judicial administration and court structure, as well as juvenile justice, the legal profession, public safety, landlord and tenant laws and vehicle laws, including drunk driving. So, like I said, you won't have a whole lot to do there.
SMITHA small docket ahead of us, yeah.
NNAMDIDo you think your appointment to this position should be seen as a kind of leftward shift? Your position was left vacant by Baltimore County Senator Bobby Zirkin. Where do you fall, ideologically, compared to your colleagues in the Senate?
SMITHWell, first of all, I'll say that there's no doubt that Senator Ferguson's ascension to the Senate presidency marks a generational and an ideological shift within the body. You know, I'm personal friends with Senator Zirkin but we just have some ideological differences. He's a little bit more conservative. I represent, arguably, the most progressive district in the state of Maryland, with Silver Spring and Tacoma Park. So, we'll definitely be bringing a set of background and values that are different to the assembly and to the committee this year than in years past.
AUSTERMUHLESo, this is kind of getting in the weeds, but here we are, it's The Politics Hour. Let's get in the weeds. I've also been curious about this because you guys are -- you had your annual legislative session. It runs 90 days. Part-time legislature, you guys are part time legislators who have day jobs who do other things. But ramping up to the legislative session, which starts in January, like, you know, Kojo just listed all the things that you're responsible for with that one committee. You know, how much prep work are you doing on a daily basis? How much is your staff getting ready for this? How much time is being consumed by what you're eventually going to do just for those three months?
SMITHI just have a part-time legislature, so you've got everyone from the people that bag groceries to a plastic surgeon, and everything in between in terms of professions on the offseason. But a considerable amount of time is spent prepping for the session, with briefings during the interim, staff research. And also, it's just up to the individual senator or delegates to engage.
SMITHBut especially for a session like this, and we have a huge transition, two new chairs in the Senate, a new Senate president for the first time in 32 years. You know, Senator Miller was the only senator that was senator before he was Senate president. So, it's a huge shift, and it's going to require a lot of study and attention. And it has, for us. Obviously, for me, I didn't have as much time in the offseason to catch up with some, because I was overseas. But it's a considerable amount of time, and it's not really a part-time legislature, because we're always engaged.
NNAMDIYou've been a guest on the show before, but not on The Politics Hour. So, let's talk a little bit about your background. You gained some media attention at the end of the 2019 session when you deployed to Afghanistan with the Navy Reserve. Tell us about your work in the Navy, your recent deployment, and what it's like to serve constituents here, while also serving your country abroad.
SMITHSure. Again, we're a part-time legislature, so you have folks that have, you know, your foot in kind of both worlds. I practice law here in D.C. at the Solomon Law Firm in the interim, but I'm also in the Reserves. So, I was called for essentially a seven-month deployment. I got to serve as branch chief in Kabul for governance (unintelligible) stuff. And it was an education, something that definitely broadened my world view, but also gave me a new perspective on the work that we do at the local level.
SMITHAnd a lot of amazing things happened. I've seen the Afghan papers just came out, and that offers a much needed light that needed to be shed on what's happening over there. But there are some really good things happening over there in Afghanistan. They just had their fourth democratic election on September 28th, although we don't have it resolved, yet. Women make up a third of parliament in Afghanistan. And it's got a progressive constitution, more protective of religious and ethnic minorities than has ever been before. So, there are some positive things that are happening, but I'm really glad that the Afghan paper shed much needed light on every aspect of what's happening there for the last 18 years.
NNAMDIGot an email from Scott, who says: I'm trying to install a charger for an electric car in my condo, but my homeowners association won't let me, and there are hundreds like me. For several years, there's been a bill known as Right to Charge that would help, but it has died in the Judicial Proceedings committee, which you now head. And Senator Smith, please seriously Consider this bill when it comes through the committee. Can you go farther than considering it and...
AUSTERMUHLEAnd probably worth noting, if I'm not mistaken, I think the country's only all-electric charging gas station is in Tacoma Park. Is that your district?
SMITHThat's right. It opened up a couple months ago.
AUSTERMUHLEAll right, very good. So, there's a right to charge at least there, but in someone's home it's a little more complicated.
SMITHThat's right. So, I think bills like this, a lot of numerous transportation bills -- we had an electrical tax credit for electrical vehicles that, you know, also languished in our committee last year. Things like this, small and large, we'll definitely take a solid look at, and something that I'm definitely in favor of personally. And we'll see if it's the will of the committee, as well.
NNAMDIYou plan on sponsoring the Home Act this session, which addresses housing discrimination. Tell us about that bill.
SMITHSure. It's a bill that prohibits source of income discrimination. And Montgomery County has had a law against this. Baltimore County just recently passed it. Anne Arundel County passed it, and Prince George's, as well. So some of the largest jurisdictions in the state have passed laws preventing your source of income to include alimony, benefits checks, section 8 vouchers.
SMITHAnd the theory behind this, and what's actually born out and been proven throughout the counties, especially my county Montgomery County, that it gives access to folks in certain markets for housing that're closer to their workplace and more accessible for transportation. So, it would allow for more folks' access to quality housing. And that's something that's come up several years. It's languished in my committee, in the Senate side. And so it's something that I'll make an aggressive push to get that over the finish line this year.
NNAMDIHow confident are you that it'll pass?
SMITHYou know, I'm confident. We've done a lot of groundwork over the years. We've new momentum with Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Ann Arundel, Prince George's, Montgomery. I think that this is -- you know, between the progress that we've made around the state, individual jurisdictions and the shape of the body and the ideological slant of the body, I think I feel confident.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Will Smith. He's a member of the Maryland Senate representing District 20, which is Montgomery County. He is a Democrat. We got a tweet from J I, who says: now that Virginia has announced the deal with CSX, the vastly expanded and improved commuter and statewide rail service for one-third the cost of Larry Hogan's scheme to widen the beltway on I-270, when will Maryland put that kind of money into mark and rail across the state?
SMITHSo, it's funny. So, you know, the Lieutenant Governor discussed that a little bit before. And I was talking to a colleague of mine across the street in the House of Delegates, Jerrod Solomon, who represents Montgomery County. And he said, you know, why can't we do something like this? Why can't we redirect some of our resources to these types of transit solutions?
SMITHAnd he's exactly right. Things like the Purple Line and the Red Line in Baltimore City that never came to fruition because of the governor's priorities. I think those are the ways to right-size and to ensure that we have environmentally sound but also effective ways to move people to their job and to do their chores and then go about their daily lives.
SMITHSo, obviously, we've had a huge uproar in opposition to the governor's plan to widen 495. Just earlier this week, Councilman Tom Hucker held a town hall. Three hundred people showed up to oppose the plan and to offer some different solutions. And Prince George's and Montgomery County, the Parking Planning unanimously rejected, you know, the governor's plan to widen the Beltway. So, I think we've had a very concerted and clear and concise argument against the plan and look forward to working with my colleagues in Montgomery County.
AUSTERMUHLESo, would this be death by a thousand cuts for his plan or can the governor just eventually decide, if he gets the board of public works onboard with him, can they just do this?
SMITHThis is exactly right. So, the Board of Public Works has to approve this $9 billion public-private partnership. So, I mean, this would be the largest project in the nation if it were to go through. Just earlier this week, the governor announced the postponement of a meeting...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Board of Public Works meeting.
SMITHExactly right. So, Comptroller Peter Franchot said that he wants to reevaluate and understand fully what's going on. And that's certainly part of the governor's calculus, as he was considered the swing vote on the three-member Board of Public Works. So, I think we made some tremendous progress earlier in the summer, for sure.
NNAMDIMontgomery County Delegate Vaughn Stewart wants to introduce a bill that would ban privately run immigration detention facilities in the state. Montgomery County briefly became the center of the national discourse of immigration policy when it released an undocumented immigrant accused of rape on bond, which got attention from the White House. Where do you fall on cooperation with ICE? Would you support Delegate Stewart's bill if it gets to the Senate?
SMITHI do, because I think, you know, that creates a perverse incentive, a financial incentive for a jurisdiction to go ahead and enforce immigration law and round up folks that may not be here legally, despite the fact that they're creating no other criminal offense. And, obviously, being here illegally, being present is a civil citation, not a criminal offense. So, I strongly support Vaughn Stewart's piece of legislation.
SMITHGoing further, though, I mean, we've argued over this before, the last couple sessions. And, again, the bill has died in my Senate committee. Again, being present is not a criminal offense. I definitely -- if you have a criminal record and you've committed a criminal offense, then fine. Law enforcement should use every tool at its disposal to get that person off the street and, yes, have that person deported.
SMITHBut the way that the 287G program is structured and the way the programs like the one that you mentioned before are structured is it gives incentives for federal money and for private money to go out and to get people that are otherwise creating no crimes, like going to work every day, paying taxes, in many instances, and ultimately making our communities less safe, because people are less likely to cooperate with law enforcement.
NNAMDIHere's Darius, in Somerset. Darius, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DARIUSYes. How you doing, sir? Thank you, Kojo, for your show. If I may be brief, Senator, I live in a very, very poor county out here in Somerset, which is way on the eastern shore of Maryland. And I've currently come into a problem or issue myself, and I just wanted to go ahead and ask if there would be any type of reform on this. It's based on unemployment.
DARIUSAnd that issue is that I got back from Afghanistan after 2012. We got back. I lost my job, and I was unemployed. The Unemployment Office has a requirement where you have to go and you look for work. I ended up doing that. I was approved for unemployment, at which point I got the job, but at the time I got the job, I lost my house, I lost my car. And the position at the time...
NNAMDIWe don't have a great deal of time left, Darius. But what is it that you would like the Senator to do?
DARIUSSenator, I have a case with the state of Maryland right now. And it is Darius (unintelligible) versus Maryland CCU, if you could please look into this. I'm, like I said, a veteran. I don't have many resources. I've been reaching out to my senators, and this issue of unemployment, trying to find where...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Is there a way, Senator Smith, that Darius can call your office?
SMITHAbsolutely. Yeah, Darius, please get a hold of my office, email me, call me. We'll work it out. Secretary Owings, the secretary of veterans in Maryland, is tremendously responsive, and we have a great working relationship. And so I'd be happy to work with you on this.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Darius, and good luck to you. We got Luke from Tacoma Park, who emails us: I volunteered on a few of the senator's campaigns. Can you ask him which bills he sees getting passed in his committee that were held up last year?
SMITHOoh, it's a good question. So, the Home Act is definitely one that I hope will get through. A number of the transportation bills that deal with local jurisdictions, able to adjust their speed limits, that's something that's kind of antiquated. But something that, you know, need our permission, so small things like.
SMITHYou know, we're going to have some healthy debates on immigration and I think those bills will have a chance that they didn't have before. And there'll be some criminal justice things, you know, that we obviously have to deal with. So, for instance, Baltimore City, again, is experiencing a record high number of murders, 323, I think, to this point, which is the third straight year of over 300.
SMITHWe're going to have to find some ways to invest in community programs and some recidivism measures that maybe wouldn't have been entertained before. But we're also going to be faced with some options from the governor, that the governor's enhancing some penalties, has a couple bills that he wants to enhance penalties.
NNAMDIHow about this one? In the 2019 legislative session you sponsored a bill to legalize medically assisted suicide in Maryland, which was why you appeared on this broadcast. It ultimately didn't pass. During a very dramatic vote in the Senate, you told the Baltimore Sun that you would sponsor the bill again but likely not in the 2020 session. Why do you think you need to wait before introducing it again? Is that still the case, or do you plan on sponsoring it now?
SMITHWell, it all comes down to it's a numbers game, so we got the bill out of the committee, though not in the shape that I would've liked it. But we got it out of the committee, and it failed to prevail by one vote. You know, you need six plus one, and it was tied, so it died on the floor in a dramatic vote. That vote is still not there and we've got some vacancies in the Senate that have created opportunities for some folks to come over from the house, potentially.
SMITHOne of those members from Baltimore County actually didn't vote for the measure in the House. And so then if you would do the math, you'd be down two votes. So, instead of going through the same rigmarole in the committee and then on the floor again, if we don't have the votes, then we have to make sure that we make our political case. And if we can convince those two senators, then we can move forward.
NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left.
AUSTERMUHLEAll right. So, I just want to get really local, because all politics is local. One thing that's been roiling Montgomery County, also, Howard County's the issue potentially redrawing school boundaries to address racial inequities in systems that have otherwise been considered very high-performing and good for the counties. And this just came to a head this week or last week in Montgomery County, where there was a couple public hearings that got very, very heated very, very quickly. You know, people left crying. There was yelling at each other, that sort of stuff.
AUSTERMUHLEWhere do you fall in this issue? Do you think that school boundary redrawing should happen? Do you think there should be a discussion about it? Kind of what's your feeling?
NNAMDIGot about 40 seconds.
SMITHSure. Yeah, first of all, I'll say we definitely have to address this. You know, I'm from Silver Spring in East County, and so there's definitely, you know, kind of two parallels there, with respect to our school system. And something that we definitely have to address, not just within our magnate programs that have folks come across jurisdictions. So, definitely looking forward to that and definitely supportive of redrawing those boundaries.
NNAMDIWill Smith is a member of the Maryland Senate, representing District 20, which is Montgomery County. He's a Democrat. Thank you so much for joining us.
SMITHHey, thanks. It was a pleasure.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, remembering the famous and not-so famous-people we lost in 2019. And today, we say goodbye and give heartfelt thanks to our audio engineer, Josephine Nyounai, who is taking her talents to NPR. Josephine is a gifted engineer, and for more than a year, has been an essential member of the Kojo team. She's cool and composed under the tightest of deadlines and the most unexpected of circumstances. And she still manages somehow to be one of the friendliest people here at WAMU.
NNAMDIWe will miss her at The Kojo Show, but you'll still hear her work on NPR. It's the sound of when everything is going right. Josephine usually chooses the music you hear on the show today, but today I asked her to step away from the controls for a minute, so that I could pick our closing song. Thank you, Josephine.
NNAMDINobody, but nobody does it better than Fats Domino. (laugh) Thank you for everything, Josephine. Until Monday, have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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