Well, aren't you a parasite for sore eyes.
This year was a whirlwind of politics in the Washington region. Before we head into 2020, let’s take a look back at the year that was. It’s time for the political year in review, starting with the District of Columbia.
Investigations Into D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans
- It’s hard to keep track of the myriad investigations into Councilmember Evans (D-Ward 2) this year. Thankfully, DCist’s Rachel Kurzius has you covered.
- Earlier this month, Evans’ colleagues unanimously voted to recommend his expulsion from the Council.
- House Republicans have been using the Evan’s scandal to try to quash D.C. statehood efforts.
- The D.C. Council has a public hearing planned for January 7 to discuss the recommendation for Evan’s removal.
A Sports Betting Saga
- The D.C. Council awarded a $215 million, no-bid sports betting contract to Intralot, a Greek company that currently runs the D.C. lottery.
- The deal with Intralot includes the stipulation that it works with local businesses as subcontractors. Several people who work for these companies have political connections to councilmembers and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
- Intralot said it would allow a local company to handle most of the contract. But the company, Veterans Services, appears to have no employees.
- A District resident filed a lawsuit claiming that the Council’s issue of a sole-source contract to Intralot was illegal, since the Council didn’t go through a competitive bidding process for the contract. (The D.C. resident had developed his own sports betting app and wanted to compete for it.)
- A D.C. judge ruled that the Council didn’t violate the law.
District Officials Vs. U.S. Attorney For D.C.
- Jessie Liu is the U.S. attorney for D.C. Local crimes are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney’s office, and U.S. attorneys are appointed by the president. In practice, that’s meant tension between D.C. officials and Liu’s office, which they have struggled to hold accountable.
- Liu’s office came under fire for not prosecuting hate crimes. In October, Liu didn’t show up to a Council committee hearing on hate crime prosecution, which angered councilmembers.
- Liu pushed back on a D.C. bill that would have allowed young violent offenders to be eligible for early release after serving 15 years of their sentence. Liu’s office used misleading data to make their case.
The Commonwealth had a turbulent political year, with leadership turmoil, a pivotal election and impassioned gun policy debates.
Virginia’s Leadership Scandals
- Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax was accused of sexual assault by two women.
- News outlets reported a racist photo in Northam’s medical school yearbook in February after a “concerned citizen” tipped off a conservative newsite. The citizen did so after Gov. Northam made comments supporting late-term abortions.
- Despite calls for all three of them to step down, none of them did.
- Fairfax sued CBS for $400 million for airing interviews with the two women who accused him of sexual assault.
- Fairfax says he plans to run for governor in 2021. Herring, who announced he would run before the scandal, hasn’t indicated that he changed his plans. (Northam can’t run, because Virginia doesn’t allow governors to serve consecutive terms.)
A Blue Wave Hits Virginia
- All eyes were on the Commonwealth this fall for the only statewide election where control of the legislature was at stake. Democrats flipped the legislature.
- According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll, gun policy was the top issue for Virginia voters. Education, health care and the economy were also important.
- In 2018, 25 delegate districts were redrawn due to racial gerrymandering. Many of these districts became more favorable to Democrats.
- Commonwealth campaigns attracted unprecedented donations, with some races costing millions of dollars.
- What issues will Virginia Democrats tackle with their new power? Stricter gun laws, minimum wage increase, rolling back abortion restrictions, and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, to name a few.
- On May 31, a deadly shooting in Virginia Beach left 12 dead and four injured.
- Gov. Northam called a special session on gun control. The General Assembly, which was then led by Republicans, adjourned after 90 minutes without considering any bills.
- Gun control was a major issue for voters in the November elections. Everytown for Gun Safety poured more than $2.5 million into Democratic candidates, outspending the National Rifle association 8-to-1.
- In the 2020 legislative session, Democrats are expected to introduce stricter gun laws. In response, dozens of localities are declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. Attorney General Herring says these declarations have “no legal effect.”
Though it didn’t hold statewide elections, Maryland saw a shift in its legislative leadership. Plus, Gov. Hogan tried to push through his tollway project.
Changes In The Maryland Legislature
- In April, longtime Speaker of the Maryland House Michael Busch died. Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) stepped into the role in May, becoming the first woman and first African American to do so.
- In October, Maryland’s longest-serving senate president, Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), announced that he will step down from the presidency. Enter Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), whose ascent to the position — and his picks for leadership positions — shifts the legislature to the left.
- Senators from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will hold prominent committee leadership positions in the legislature come January.
Leadership Scandals From Baltimore To Prince George’s County
- Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to tax evasion and conspiracy in conjunction with her “Healthy Holly” book deals.
- Tawanna Gaines, a former Maryland delegate from Prince George’s County, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, using her political campaign funds to purchase dental work, hair appointments, a swimming pool cover and more.
- Ex.-Del. Cheryl Glenn from Baltimore was charged with bribery for pushing through legislation favorable to marijuana companies.
A Year In Maryland Transportation
- Gov. Larry Hogan expended considerable energy this year trying to jumpstart his I-270 and Capital Beltway expansion plan.
- In November, Virginia Gov. Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a partnership to rebuild and widen the American Legion Bridge. How this will affect the plans to widen I-270 is still to be seen.
- Construction on the Purple Line has been coming along, with the first part to open in late 2022 between the New Carrollton and College Park – U of Md. Metro stations.
- Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn announced in December that he would resign. His successor will be the current head of the State Highway Administration, Gregory Slater.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour, starring Tom Sherwood. Yeah, he's back. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Welcome back to us.
TOM SHERWOODThank you. Good afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Martin Austermuhle. He's a Reporter for WAMU. Martin, always a pleasure.
MARTIN AUSTERMUHLEGood to be here.
NNAMDIAntonio Olivo is a Reporter for The Washington Post. Antonio, thank you so much for joining us.
ANTONIO OLIVOVery happy to be here.
NNAMDIAnd Bruce DePuyt is a Senior Reporter for Maryland Matters. Bruce, good to see you again.
BRUCE DEPUYTGood to be with you again, Kojo.
NNAMDIBruce DePuyt, let me start with today's news. Ulysses Currie, one of the longest-serving members in the Maryland General Assembly, both in the House and the Senate, has died. Tell us a little bit about Ulysses Currie.
DEPUYTSenator Ulysses Currie, who served up until a year ago, he did not seek reelection in 2018 because of health issues. He was someone who had been in the military for a long time. He spent decades in education. He rose to a leadership post in the Maryland State Senate. In a statement released just a short time ago, Senate President Mike Miller said that he was a valued member of the Senate and was loved by all who came into contact with him. Senator Currie was lucky to survive an ethical misstep. He was charged with using his office to benefit a client. He survived all that, but was stripped of leadership. The charges, I think, were serious enough that the ultimate fate from that could have been quite different, but perhaps the esteem that his colleagues had for him was sufficient for him to hang on.
NNAMDIAs I recall, on one of those votes, he voted for his own censure. Didn't he?
DEPUYTThat I don't recall.
SHERWOODYes. He did.
NNAMDIHe certainly did.
DEPUYTBut he was someone who was around a long time, was a mentor, leaves a considerable legacy in Prince George's County. As I said, he was an educator for quite a while.
SHERWOODPart of the old school in Prince George's. Old school in Prince George's.
NNAMDIHe was going all the way back to the Tommy Broadwater days.
SHERWOODYeah. That's a bumpy history.
NNAMDIThat's old school. Martin Austermuhle, we started 2019 in the middle of what would be a 35-day government shutdown. Talk about that. What effect did it have on the region and on D.C.'s government?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, it's one of those things that I think -- I mean, it was felt across the country, but D.C. having the kind of concentration of federal workers that it has, it was felt extremely. The heightened sense of the shutdown was here in the region. It went on longer than most people expected. It impacted the region in ways that lots of people didn't see coming. I mean, the city reported lower tax revenues. The surrounding jurisdictions did, also. But everything from, you know, federal government workers who weren't getting their paychecks or contractors, even worse, who knew they weren't going to get back pay, were forced to go to soup kitchens and food banks and stuff like that to get food to get through the holiday season. Obviously, politically, it wasn't particularly good for the president. But I think more impactful -- you know, there was more of an impact locally in terms of how it was felt by folks here on a very immediate basis.
SHERWOODIt was 35 days, the longest ever. You know, people forget that 85 percent of the federal workforce lives and works in the 50 states. So, it did affect everyone, but Martin is right. It affects our region significantly. This is Trump -- President Trump wanted $6 billion to build his wall. He didn't get it. They had made some slap-dash changes in the budget plans that they got --- and the shutdown ended, I think, January 15th, or something like that. But, anyway, it was a terrible thing for the people who depend on a regular paycheck to support their families.
NNAMDIAntonio, the year in Virginia started with leadership scandals that involved the three top positions in the Commonwealth: Governor Ralph Northam, Liutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring. It all seemed to unfold over a span of days. Remind us of how it all happened, how it unfolded so quickly.
OLIVOOh, boy. How do you unpack all that?
SHERWOODThat's the best answer. Oh, boy.
OLIVOWell, the year started out with Democrats trying very hard to gain a majority in Richmond, and Republicans guarding against that. And so they started attacking legislation that some of the freshmen Democrats were introducing. And one notable piece of legislation was a bill put forward by Delegate Kathy Tran of Fairfax County. And it was essentially to loosen some restrictions on late-term abortions. And so that didn't go anywhere. It died in committee, within a matter of minutes. But it did create quite a stir on social media, including death threats against Delegate Tran. And, in an interview, Governor Ralph Northam defended the bill, and defended the idea of late-term abortions. And what he said created even more of a ruckus. And shortly after that, racist photos from his medical school yearbook page appeared.
NNAMDIFrom Big League Politics, a conservative website.
OLIVOBig League Politics. That's correct. The governor said he wasn't sure whether or not that was him. But he did, in a very awkward news conference, admitted to wearing blackface during a dance contest, where he was Michael Jackson. At one point in that news conference, he looked like he was going to try to moon dance. And, then a few days after, that his would-be successor, Liutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, African American governor -- it would have been symbolic, had he succeeded Northam. He was accused of sexual assault by two women.
NNAMDIIn the first case, Big League Politics again, a conservative website.
OLIVOAgain, Big League Politics.
NNAMDIWithin a matter of days.
OLIVORight. He has denied both allegations and is continuing to fight those. I think it was a day after that, Mark Herring, the third in line for governor, if the other two -- who, by the way, everyone essentially in the Democratic Party and, of course, the Republican Party were calling for both men to resign. Mark Herring, preempting a scandal of his own -- or he tried to preempt it, at least -- admitted he also wore black face during his youth. In this case, he was dressed as a rap artist, Curtis Blow.
NNAMDIAnd last week, Tom Sherwood, Liutenant Governor Fairfax appeared on this show.
SHERWOODYeah. I'm sorry I wasn't here.
NNAMDIAnd made it clear that he plans to run for governor again.
SHERWOODI don't think it's as clear as he tried to make it sound.
NNAMDIYou don't think it's as clear as he tried to make it sound. Why not?
SHERWOODWhen I was preparing for the show last week, I looked, and he was elected Liutenant Governor in 2017. And, in 2018, he was fully involved in the year's election then. He's raised a half-million dollars for his We Rise Together PAC to help support candidates around the state and build his support for running for governor. But, this year, he had, I mean, he had raised $65,000, and he has very little support. He's in a very awkward position. He has what people call a ridiculous suit against CBS for $400 million. He left his law firm voluntarily. I think he's in a very difficult position. He says that he has strongly denied the allegations from the two women. But politically speaking, the court of public opinion, he's in a very deep hole if he thinks he's going to run for governor.
AUSTERMUHLEBut, Kojo, what's remarkable, I think, in many ways, and it all comes sort of flooding back when Antonio describes the events of almost, now, a year ago. All three of these men survived. There was -- this was an almost unprecedented wave of scandal and alleged scandal. And there was a real moment where it was, like, "Well, who is in charge? Who is going to survive all this? Who's going to end up as governor when all this enormous dust storm finally settles?" I know I thought, at one point, it was strictly a matter of time before Northam was forced out, where he would be done. It was hours or days, clearly, right?
SHERWOODI was actually packing to go down to Richmond, and then they said, "Well, he's not going to resign." And he says, "It's not me. I'm not resigning." And he made a remarkable change.
NNAMDIIndeed, Antonio, there were calls for all three of these elected officials to resign. None did. What effect, ultimately, do you think these scandals had on the politics in Virginia and the Democratic Party, in particular, which then goes on to take back the General Assembly?
OLIVOWell, yeah. It's worth noting that Governor Northam is in a stronger position today than he was before that scandal broke. And, essentially, it caused some divisions within the Democratic Party. But the thing is, is that they saw that they were likely to get the majority in both houses of the General Assembly. And so they did that. They pushed really hard to essentially move past the scandals.
SHERWOODBut didn't a lot of black voters -- polls showed a lot of black voters in the state were still supporting Ralph Northam. They thought he had done some good things. And he himself became much more sensitive to racial equity issues. I mean, so it's not like it just happened for the election. He made a full course correction.
OLIVOHe did. He actually leveraged that scandal pretty nicely in the sense that he did unroll an agenda for racial and social equity. And that bought him a lot of political points with the African American community, even though the Black Caucus, I don't think they've taken back their calls for him to resign. At least not officially.
SHERWOODThey don't mention it anymore.
NNAMDIThat's true. He's Josh in Silver Spring, Maryland. Josh, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSHHi. Thank you. I'm Josh, at the Sierra Club. And I just wanted to tell you that I think one of the biggest stories this year was Comptroller Peter Franchot pulling his support from the governor's proposed highway expansion. It's been a really significant issue with, you know, threats of taking people's homes and carbon pollution. And I think it opens up the chance in 2020 for a bigger conversation about how to move people through Maryland in a way that doesn't destroy the climate or people's homes.
DEPUYTRight. So, one of the big issues this year involved Governor Hogan's push to expand the Beltway and the Interstate 270, two lanes in each direction, using a public-private partnership arrangement where private sector firms would pay not only the new lanes, but they would pay for the maintenance of the new lanes and the existing lanes, which would remain free for a period of 50 years or more, in exchange for the right to set and collect and keep toll revenues. Governor Hogan announced this proposal way back in 2017. It reached a point this year where the Board of Public Works -- made up of the governor, comptroller and rreasurer - were able to cast a preliminary vote on it. Comptroller Franchot who Josh talking from the Sierra Club just mentioned a second ago -- Comptroller Franchot was able to get some concessions and barter essentially his vote in exchange for some policy --
NNAMDISo, why did he ultimately decide that he didn't want to go forward with it at this time?
DEPUYTBecause subsequently --
SHERWOODIs it because he's running for governor?
NNAMDII'll come to that in a second.
DEPUYTBecause a subsequent set of amendments that the Board was supposed to vote on in December, and has now been delayed, we think potentially indefinitely, undoes some of the things that Franchot sort of gained in his horse trading with the administration. And so now, before he's willing to sign on to these changes, one of which is the state gaining the ability to purchase homes in near the --
SHERWOODTo take houses.
DEPUYTNo. No. No.
SHERWOODThey want to purchase them.
DEPUYTNo. It's not very specifically not a taking. It's homes that come --
SHERWOODLegally, it's not a taking. But that's the way that people feel about it.
DEPUYTWell, it's not a taking.
SHERWOODNo. But, legally, it's not.
DEPUYTThe amendment is to purchase homes, if they come on the market.
NNAMDILet's talk the politics, here, because Franchot has been in the news a lot over the past years because of his battles with Democrats in the General Assembly. They saw him siding with Hogan too much. Tom Sherwood likes to point out that Peter Franchot got more votes than even the governor in the last election. And so you think that the politics of this is that Franchot is running for governor, and therefore trying to put some distance between himself and Hogan?
SHERWOODHe's popular everywhere except in Annapolis. And that could change with the new leadership there. But we'll talk about that in a moment. But yes. He has said he's looking to run for governor. He recognizes that it's something like 80 political people in the suburban Maryland area have challenged what the governor has planned for the roadways, both expanding the roadways and focus on cars instead of mass transit or micro transit. And he -- I think it's a good issue for issue for him. Is he from Tacoma Park?
DEPUYTYeah. He represented Tacoma Park way back when he was in the House of Delegates.
SHERWOODSo, I think he's trying to establish -- he's seen as a very good partner with Hogan at this Board of Public Works on many things to the irritation of some Democrats. But this is a case where he's standing out on his own.
DEPUYTAnd there's no question that if he were to enter the race for governor in 2022, Governor Hogan, of course, is term-limited. Given his popularity, having run and won successfully statewide on multiple occasions, Peter Franchot would be a formidable force in the primary. But I also think this issue, particularly on the Beltway, not so much on 270, where you have more right of way to deal with. But on 270, where it's very tough to imagine where you would put four additional lanes, two in each direction, this is, at the end of the day, a legacy vote for Peter Franchot, even if he walks away from politics. How he votes -- you know, if he votes yes on this, he owns the good, the bad. However it turns out, it's on him.
NNAMDIHe need not walk away from politics, because as we said earlier, he's been getting so many votes. In addition to which, if he ever become governor, you can be guaranteed that he's going to appear on this broadcast, because he likes to come here and cross swords with Tom Sherwood, which apparently Governor Hogan was very reluctant to do.
SHERWOODGovernor Hogan, we still have that open invitation. And which we should not forget, in all this transportation, issue the other part of this is the Maryland-Virginia agreement to redo the American Legion Bridge.
NNAMDIAmerican Legion Bridge. Got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on politics in the region during the course of this year. So, if you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call: 800-433-8850. What stood out for you? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're going through all of the top political news stories in the region in 2019, or as many as we can get to, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Bruce DePuyt. He's a Senior Reporter for Maryland Matters. Antonio Olivo is a Reporter for The Washington Post. And, of course, Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Martin Austermuhle is a Reporter for WAMU. Martin, let's talk about the District's most prevalent political scandal, the one swirling award Ward 2, Councilmember Jack Evans, the longest serving member on the Council. There were a bunch of investigations into the councilmember that unfolded over months. What stood out to you about the Jack Evans story, and where is it now?
AUSTERMUHLEI think what stood out is how -- you know, there have been kind of rumors and things swirling for the last, like, more than probably a year or so. But I think it was earlier this year that it really started picking steam, that his colleagues noticed that, you know, the fact that Councilmember Evans the Council's longest-serving member had been using his office, his staff to send out pitches to law firms to basically say, "Here at your disposal. What can we do together?" You know, that struck them as extremely problematic, even though he'd always had second jobs. He'd always worked with law firms. He'd always kind of play this dual role of I'm a lawmaker. I'm a legislator. But I'm also a quasi-lobbyist or a strategist or a consultant. So, you know, I think they just -- it came to a point that they said, "We need to do something." So, they kind of launched this investigation into their own colleague, into Councilmember Evans. And that produced this kind of blockbuster, 100-page report that laid out in pretty significant detail how he had broken the Council's ethics rules at least on 11 occasions over the course of five years. And they only looked at five years over his 30-year career.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd couple that with what Metro found. Metro's board also launched an ethics investigation. Also found a couple of concerning, you know, relationships that the councilmember had. And all of that kind of tossed together. And it feels like his colleagues just got sick of it. I think the most significant moment of the year came, not just a couple of weeks ago, when his colleagues came together who were investigating him and unanimously recommended that he be expelled from the Council. Again, this was 12 of his colleagues, a few of which had initially said they weren't convinced that this would merit expulsion. But just in the spur of the moment, they just all kind of said, "You know, this has gone too far. We got to get rid of him."
NNAMDISo, why could we say, Tom Sherwood, it ain't over till it's over?
SHERWOODWell, the Council now having this ad-hoc committee voting 12-0. Now, the Council will meet on Tuesday, this coming Tuesday. I think January 7th. Is that a Tuesday? Whatever. They're going to meet on January 7th to discuss the charges against Evans again. And then on January 21st, there will be a vote to expel him. Although I can say I don't think that we will get that far. I do believe that Jack Evans will take the honorable way out and resign, saying, for the good of himself, his family, the Council and the District, he will resign rather than go through the expulsion. I just don't know what day it will be.
NNAMDIAnd given the timing of this, what's likely to happen between now and next year's election?
SHERWOODWell, you know, the recall effort for Jack Evans failed. It didn't get enough signatures.
NNAMDISo, nobody occupies that seat.
SHERWOODRight. So, if Jack resigns, I believe the state committee appoints someone.
OLIVONo. That's only at-large. So, if you're an at-large councilmember, the Democratic State Committee would say, "We're going to fill seat temporarily until there's a special election."
SHERWOODWhat about a ward seat?
OLIVOWard seat? It goes empty until they have a special election. I think they have to have it within four months. Unless there's another election coming up. And there's going to be the primary in June.
OLIVOSo, I think the Board of Elections could theoretically say, "We're just going to merge everything. Put it all in June.” Which is going to be really confusing, because you would have the Democratic primary for the Ward 2 seat. And you'd also have an election to find someone to fill out the rest of Councilmember Evans' term, which run through the rest of 2020.
SHERWOODWell, maybe Jack should stay for six more months and avoid that.
NNAMDISomeone tweeted: Thank you for mentioning federally contracted workers. Over 600 are janitors and security officers living paycheck to paycheck, who still have not recovered -- received back pay from the shutdown, unlike direct federal workers.
SHERWOODOne more quick thing on Jack Evans. It just shows that the Board of Elections and Government Accountability, BEGA, needs an overhaul. It's only a few years old. But it needs an overhaul of how it works. What it does and how it does it.
NNAMDIBruce, go ahead.
DEPUYTAnd just to real quick -- you know, now that Tom mentions that, the Board of Elections and Government Accountability was created after kind of another spate of ethics scandals at the start of this decade, which was back in 2011. There was a bunch of councilmembers that went through -- there was allegations of corruption, Harry Thomas Jr. took money. Michael Brown took brides. Kwame Brown had some kind of personal financial issues. So, there was a whole upheaval then. Then they passed this new ethics law, this new ethics regime that was supposed to clean up the Council, create this new ethics enforcer, which now, you know, six or some odd years later, is already, you know, there's already concerns that it's not doing enough to enforce ethics.
SHERWOODWe also now have public financing of council electorates.
NNAMDIMaryland also saw elected officials embroiled in scandal, Bruce DePuyt. Former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion, relating to her “Healthy Holly” children's books. She was obviously forced out of office. What happens next?
DEPUYTWell, the city is -- has, you know-- the Chairman of the City Council became mayor, and he's now a candidate for mayor. An election is underway for that coming up in 2020. But it was a bad year for corruption and honesty in government in Maryland. You had a state delegate from Prince George's County. She resigned and accepted a plea.
DEPUYTTawanna Gaines, a member of the House, from Prince George's County. Her daughter was her treasurer, and prosecutors alleged that they used her campaign account -- which is to say campaign donations -- basically as a piggy bank and an ATM machine for their personal use. Just the other day, a prominent member of the General Assembly from Baltimore City --
DEPUYTSheryl Glen, she is now facing serious charges. But, interestingly, she has the same attorney as Delegate Gaines. But when the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland announced the charges against Delegate Glen the other day, there was no word of a plea. So, that one presumably could go to court. But there were a lot of negative headlines. There was a lot of -- for the public to be concerned about.
NNAMDIWhat did Pugh show us about the University of Maryland medical system?
DEPUYTThat's a great question. And it shows that they were asleep and that they had a very lax culture. The books that --
SHERWOODThe “Healthy Holly” books.
DEPUYTExactly. The books that Mayor Pugh wrote were filled with grammatical errors. They were not what you would call special. They were not unique. But she sold them in bulk.
NNAMDIShe sold a heck of a lot, though.
SHERWOODWell, it was just a cash cow. It wasn't a literary effort.
DEPUYTI tried to find one on Amazon. They are nowhere to be found. It's too bad. I really wanted to take a look.
OLIVOWell, the people who ordered didn't get them. I mean, that's how little they cared. These organizations on whose board she served, they bought them in bulk. And when they didn't show up, there's no indication that they cared, right? This wasn't -- this was supposed to be about putting books into the hands of children, books that would describe the virtues and the benefits of exercise and healthy eating into the hands of school children in Baltimore. But sometimes the books were double sold. They were never printed in the first place. And no one seemed to care.
SHERWOODWhen is she going to be in Senate? Isn't it February or January, whatever.
NNAMDIShe is scheduled for sentencing on February 27th. She also faces additional cases in state court. The Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor charged her with perjury. She'll make that court appearance on January 13th.
SHERWOODCan we just say very quickly the bigger news in Baltimore, of course, was the death of Elijah Cummings?
NNAMDIOf course, yes.
SHERWOODAnd also the fact that Adrienne Jones was named as Speaker of House and Bill Ferguson State Senator is going to be the President of the Senate. So, it's going to be a big change in General Assembly.
NNAMDIGoing to talk a little bit about that, if we have time. But, Antonio Olivo, gun violence and gun policy have been at the forefront of Virginia politics this year. At the end of May, 12 people killed in a deadly shooting in Virginia Beach. Governor Ralph Northam called for the General Assembly to convene for a special session on gun policy. At that point, both chambers of the General Assembly were controlled by Republicans. Can you remind us about what happened at that session? Probably -- it will probably take you longer to tell us than the session itself lasted. Go ahead.
OLIVOWell, I mean, that was shortly after the black-face scandal, so it was Governor Northam's opportunity to step in as a leader. And so he called this special session to pass a number of gun reforms that Democrats had wanted to get passed for years. And that resulted in a very large outpouring of support and opposition to that legislation in Richmond. On sort of the opposition, people toting assault rifles on the hill of the capitol building, and lots of people waving flags, and so forth.
OLIVOAnd all of that resulted in, I think, it was a 90-minute session that was abruptly ended by the GOP leadership, which essentially argued that, you know, this issue should be hammered out through a state crime commission in the same way that it was in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting.
NNAMDIAnd then, and then, (laugh) in November, Virginia Democrats were able to win both the House of Delegates and the State Senate in an election that gained national attention. It ended with record voter turnout numbers, too. Why do you think this election was so important to Virginians and to the nation?
OLIVOWell, guns was a driving force for the elections, because of what happened at Virginia Beach, and also the various shootings that occurred elsewhere in the country. So, a lot of money was coming into Virginia from gun control advocacy groups like Every Town for Gun Safety and the Gifford Group and some others.
OLIVOAnd so that just drove people to, you know, support Democratic candidates, so that Democrats could get the majority. And...
SHERWOODBut Trump was a big factor, too, though, wasn't he? Polling shows Trump is so unpopular that he was the best candidate for the Democrats in Virginia, along with the gun issue, where the Republicans made a mistake by just so brushing it aside. If they had just done something, passed one bill or done something, they could not have been accused of not caring about the fact that Virginians were being shot dead on the streets.
OLIVOYeah, that's true. And the Republicans haven't figured out what to do about Donald Trump in their hopes to, you know, back then, keep control of Richmond, and now regain control of Richmond. He's been a riddle for the Republicans, and he continues to be so. I'm sure he will next year.
DEPUYTThe transformation in Virginia politics over the last couple decades has been really eye-popping. You think about a state that until, you know, not that long ago, was electing people like George Allen to the Senate and Jim Gilmore governor. Now, you look at what's happened in the legislature and the wave after wave. And I think there's no question that Donald Trump is a very potent get-out-the-vote force for Democrats in Virginia. But the transformation over time has been, I think, a stunning.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, that transformation is leading to push back from Republicans and from some counties. In January, the Democrats in the General Assembly will likely prioritize stricter gun laws like universal background checks and red flag laws. More and more localities in Virginia, Antonio, are calling themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries. What happens when the general assembly goes ahead and passes those stricter laws in the so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries?
DEPUYTTime will tell (laugh) what happens, really, but those Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions have no legal standing, according to Attorney General Mark Herring. But it does touch on the cultural riff, the deepening cultural riff that is taking place in Virginia between the urban-suburban areas and the rural areas that once dominated Virginia politics.
SHERWOODThey're losing -- the rural people are both losing power -- Northern Virginia, in the elections Bruce just talked about, gained enormous power. Dick Saslaw, who's been in the Senate since 1980 or something, has led the Senate since 1998 as a Democrat. He'll be the head of it there. Eileen Filler-Corn from Fairfax, I believe, is going to be the speaker of the House. They are not as progressive as some of the Democrats who've been elected, and nor is Governor Northam.
SHERWOODSo, we could see some tension, not between conservatives and the moderates, but between the more liberal people who are elected who want to do minimum wage changes. They want to do all kinds of different things, including guns. And so they could have some intraparty fighting in Richmond in January, February and March.
NNAMDIAnd Maryland, Bruce DePuyt, also saw big changes in the leadership of its legislature, but not because of an election. What happened?
DEPUYTWell, it's going to be hard to overstate the enormity of the political change that's about to be really truly visible in Annapolis, in the House of Delegates and in the state senate. For the last 17 years, not much happened in the Maryland legislature unless the Mikes, as they were collectively known...
NNAMDIMichael Busch and Mike Miller.
DEPUYTExactly. Unless they offered the green light, bills tended not to move. Mike Busch was speaker of the House of Delegates for 17 years. He was a beloved figure who had great relationships. Not a particularly -- he was sort of a low-key guy, but he had a great sense of humor and he was loved. He mentored a generation of young leaders in the House of Delegates. And he was the junior partner in this remarkable pair.
DEPUYTMike Miller, who remains a senator, but has relinquished the gavel, he presided over 33 sessions of the Maryland state Senate before finally he decided that, because of his health challenges, he doesn't have the energy to continue in that role. But this is unprecedented to have two men preside over their respective chambers for, together, 17 years, and in Miller's case, 32, going on 33. And, you know, Miller is absolutely a legendary figure in Annapolis.
SHERWOODIs this a good time to ask about Bill Ferguson, the new incoming Senate president, and Adrienne Jones? They're both from the Baltimore region.
DEPUYTThat's exactly right.
SHERWOODSo, as much trouble as Baltimore has had with their crooked delegates, they now have some really powerful people in Baltimore. What's it going to be like there with Ferguson?
DEPUYTSo, the House of Delegates will be led, starting in two weeks, starting by Adrienne Jones, who was the speaker pro tem. She presided over the chamber last year...
SHERWOODShe's from Baltimore County, right?
DEPUYT...Baltimore County, when Busch was ill. She's low-key. She's a history-making figure, as the first African American woman to preside over the Maryland House of Delegates. She is, you know, extremely well thought of, and I think much remains to be determined in terms of what sort of style and what sort of leadership style that she takes.
DEPUYTBill Ferguson was a compromise choice to become the new Senate president. He's a...
SHERWOODAnd he's from Baltimore.
DEPUYT...he's from the city of Baltimore. He's a Montgomery County native. He's a policy wonk, also a low-key guy who is expected to sort of decentralize power in the Senate. And that's going to represent an enormous change. He was three years old when Miller took the Senate gavel, (laugh) just to give you a feel for the generational moment that's upon us.
SHERWOODAnd with this new leadership, you know, Governor Hogan, the Republican, will we see him have a more difficult time? Will they be reaching out -- is Hogan going to reach out, or is this going to be -- how do you characterize how the session's going to go, since these two longtime leaders are no longer there for Hogan himself?
DEPUYTWell, just as Donald Trump proved to be a very potent, get-out-the-vote influencer, if you will, in Virginia, the same has been true in Maryland. Governor Hogan won reelection very easily, but their drive for five, where they hoped to blunt the General Assembly's ability to override his vetoes at will, that failed. In fact, the Democrats gained seats in the legislature. So, when those three leaders, Jones and Ferguson and Hogan, sit down together in a room, a lot of the faces will be new, but the political dynamic is unchanged.
SHERWOODYeah, one of those things is about the roadway that we talk about, but also it's the Kirwan Report and commission report on education...
NNAMDIWe're going to get to that...
SHERWOODIt's going to be hundreds of millions of dollars.
NNAMDIWe're going to get to that after a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour. We're going over the top stories from this region in the year 2019 with Martin Austermuhle. He's a reporter for WAMU. Antonio Olivo is a reporter for the Washington Post. Bruce DePuyt is a senior reporter for Maryland Matters. And Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst and the contributing writer for Washington City Paper. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIQuickly, Bruce DePuyt, Pete Rahn has announced that he will be resigning from his post as transportation secretary. Why is he stepping down, and what do we know and what should we know about Gregory Slater, who will take over as transportation secretary?
DEPUYTSo, Pete Rahn is an original member of the Hogan Cabinet. He is a very enthusiastic supporter of this public-private partnership concept, where private firms build highway projects in exchange for the right to set and to keep the toll revenues that come in. Some people look at this as a win-win. In other words, if you want to drive for free, you can drive in the free lanes. But if you have someplace to go and you're willing to shell out a some amount of money, you pop over into the express lanes, just as people do in Virginia.
DEPUYTSo, Pete Rahn was the man who was...
NNAMDIWas he, in some respect, a polarizing figure?
DEPUYTHe is a very confident, hard-charging guy and...
DEPUYT...some people look at that and say, you know, here's a guy who has a lot of enthusiasm for his beliefs. But...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Gregory Slater doesn't have that reputation.
DEPUYT...Pete Rahn leaves a little bit of broken china in his wake, yes. Gregory Slater is highly regarded. Even people who have taken issue with the Hogan plan and wish to make changes to it, and who don't have particularly good relationships with the governor, they love Greg Slater. And they're cautiously optimistic that the quality of the dialogue, moving forward, and the flow of information, going forward, will be a lot better than it has been.
SHERWOODAnd that includes Marc Elrich from Montgomery County, who was on this show, and said he thinks that they can get past some of these roadblocks.
DEPUYTIt includes the executive, the legislature and it includes the planning staff frankly, who feel as though they've been unfairly blocked from getting just basic information about how this road expansion is supposed to play out. So, there's a lot of optimism about Greg Slater. We'll see if he can meet the high expectations.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Antonio, Amazon has committed $20 million to affordable housing in Arlington in exchange for more space. There's been a lot of news coverage this year on how Amazon's HQ2 will impact housing affordability. What happened this year with affordable housing in the capitol region, both with Amazon, and separately from Amazon?
OLIVOWell, so, that $20 million bought Amazon a lot of goodwill in the region, because...
SHERWOODIt seems like peanuts.
NNAMDIThere's those who say that it may have bought a lot of goodwill, but it won't buy a whole lot of housing.
OLIVOWell, I mean, but it does equal roughly a penny of property taxes. So, like it keeps maybe Arlington, at least, from raising their taxes any further to foster affordable housing, but the region, in general, is undergoing a crisis with affordable housing. And there's a widening gap between the haves and the have-not-so-much folks.
OLIVOAnd so I think, this year, all of the local jurisdictions will be focusing on creating affordable housing, putting mandates in for new developments that include affordable housing. That still won't meet the demand, but they're at least talking about it now. And I think that Amazon, in committing those $20 million, maybe just, at the very least, push the conversation further.
SHERWOODAs bad as transportation is in the region, which is terrible, housing is the number-one issue. The middle class is being squeezed, the poor people can't afford, and no jurisdiction I've heard of is building fast enough to even make a dent in the problem, nowhere, no how.
NNAMDIMartin Austermuhle, D.C.'s homicide rate for 2019 has now surpassed last year's. What did we see this year when it came to homicides and gun violence in the District?
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, it just keeps going up. It's higher than it was last year. It's kind of been on a bit of an upward trend while Mayor Bowser has been in office. Obviously, it's a complicated issue. I mean, at the end of the day, politically speaking, it doesn't look good for her but it doesn't seem, at least polling wise, the Washington Post has done a couple of polls over the last couple of years. And while crime is kind of a persistent concern in the city, it doesn't seem like people are holding her personally responsible for saying something has to be done about this now. It's your fault that nothing has been done.
AUSTERMUHLEThey're trying lots of different strategies. I mean, there's, obviously, you know, calls for more policing in certain parts of town, but there's also these current, like, public health approaches to say, we don't need more police. We need violence interrupters. But, at the end of the day, I think the City Paper did a great job.
AUSTERMUHLEEarlier this month, they did a story just talking to the people who survived folks who were killed in the District. And, at the end of the day, no matter what you think about the people who are killed, they have family and families are impacted. And I think the mayor has to live with that and the Council has to live with that. And they're trying to find solutions but those are hard to come by.
NNAMDIThe Metropolitan Police Department release-stop-and-frisk data this year, as required by the NEAR Act, MPD delayed releasing this data. Why did they release it this year? What did the data show about the relationship between MPD and this community, generally?
AUSTERMUHLEWell, I mean, just like across the country in big cities, stop and frisk has been a tactic used by police, the idea of just being able to stop people under the suspicion that they may be doing something wrong. You can kind of pat them down, and then send them on their way if they're not doing anything wrong. Now, MPD had been required by law, I think about two years ago, to actually start collecting this data about who's being stopped, where they're being stopped, why they're being stopped and what the consequences are.
AUSTERMUHLEThey had not been -- well, they'd been collecting some of the data, but not really releasing it in the format that they were supposed to. They finally got around to that this year after being sued by the ACLU. And the data showed -- kind of not surprisingly, like in other American cities -- that the overwhelming majority of stops were of African American males in the city. And, of course, that prompted, you know, criticisms that, again, policing is very -- you know, it's disproportionately affecting certain communities. It's sewing distrust between those communities and the police, and that makes the crime problem tougher to crack.
AUSTERMUHLEYou know, the police department says, listen, we're responding to calls from citizens. They say, listen we say a black man doing X, and so that's what police are looking for.
SHERWOODYeah, but it's a broken taillight syndrome where some people, minorities are stopped more frequently than the white people are. You know, this is even a problem for Mike Bloomberg running for president in New York. He supported stop-and-frisk and things like that.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd only now apologized for it.
SHERWOODWell, apologized in front of an African American church.
NNAMDIThe Kirwan Commission, Bruce DePuyt, is sending a 10-year, multibillion dollar education reform plan to the General Assembly. Critics of the plan, which includes some members of the commission itself, are worried about where the funding is going to come from, which the plan does not clarify. What's been the story of the Kirwan Commission this year, and what questions do we still have?
DEPUYTWell, the Kirwan Commission has been involved in a multiyear effort to figure out how to take Maryland's K through 12 education system to the next level in identifying how you would get from where we are to where we want to be. This effort has taken a very long time, longer than it was thought to take, at the outset.
DEPUYTThe issue about funding remains unresolved. I'm not sure that that's actually the Commission's fault, because I'm not sure that that was actually their charge. But now, for political leaders, some of whom at the local level are saying, we can't afford our piece of this. This would be a budget buster. This would do almost violence to our budgetary system and our property tax rate structure. So...
SHERWOODBut Governor Hogan has ridiculed it, saying it's ridiculous, the amount of taxes would have to be raised.
DEPUYTThe governor has raised funds to fund an effort to push back against the -- not the goals of Kirwan, but what he believes the ultimate cost would be and the fact that's it's simply unaffordable. So, much of this script remains unwritten. And what do you do with the current recommendations is virtually guaranteed to be the number one issue in Annapolis in 2020.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Is this something they pretty much have to have some kind of vote at this session? They can't have another commission for a study.
DEPUYTNot legally, but politically. Yes.
SHERWOODPolitically, I mean, they need to do something, but, you know, education is about half the expenses of any local government already. (laugh)
SHERWOODAlready, and so they already need a lot more money than the state can give them, as we are.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, President Trump announced earlier that he plans to nominate Jessie Liu for a top Treasury Department position. She's currently the U.S. attorney for D.C. Is there any talk among leaders that, with her departure, relations between the U.S. Attorney's office and the D.C. Council can be improved?
SHERWOODWell, it depends on who Trump nominates, because Liu has not been a warm and friendly partner with the District of Columbia government. She's publically challenged some proposed laws and laws in the city, but she doesn't really work with him. She worked with Mayor Bowser to put together a little more federal aggressiveness on violent crime prosecutions.
SHERWOODWhat I would say, at this point, it's good that she's moving on, and that I do hope the next person who comes, A, lives in the District of Columbia and, B, has a little more sensitivity to the fact that people here are dependent upon the U.S. attorney for major crime prosecutions. And we'd like somebody to be a partner rather than an irritant.
NNAMDIWell, we don't have a lot of time left, and I'm getting ready to ask all of you, what do you see as the biggest story of the decade in this region. But before we do that, Martin Austermuhle, quickly, sports betting became legal in D.C. last year. This year, the Council awarded a $250 million contract to Intralot, a Greek company that currently runs the D.C. lottery. That did not go through a bidding process which caused a stir. And there've also been some questions raised about the subcontractors that will work with Intralot.
AUSTERMUHLEYeah, and the District, late last year, they legalized sports betting. They said they wanted to be the first in the region. They said speed is of the essence. We need to beat Maryland and we need to beat Virginia, so we can suck up all that revenue from people who want to bet on sports.
AUSTERMUHLENow, here we are, a year later. There's neither an app to bet on, which is a big part of how people are going to bet on games, nor are there physical locations. Now, the D.C. lottery, which would be running the sports betting program, says that those licenses should be going out soon next year. So, you should start seeing bars and restaurants hosing kind of sports books and that sort of stuff.
AUSTERMUHLEAnd this app that's being created by the D.C. lottery's contractor is a little bit delayed. Hopefully, they want to have it done by the Super Bowl, but we'll see. But, again, there was a lot of controversy, as there always is with the District's lottery contract. I mean, it was what -- I think it was a decade ago...
SHERWOODIt's, I think, part of the law.
SHERWOODBut the fact is, the District is still ahead of Maryland and Virginia when it comes to sports betting. So, as bumbled as it has been, it's still ahead of the suburbs.
NNAMDINext Wednesday doesn't only mark the transition into the New Year. It marks the transition into the new decade, which some of you have been squabbling about on Twitter. (laugh) So, let's take all of the 2010's. What do you think was the biggest political story in this region in the past decade? Start with you.
AUSTERMUHLEI mean, I'll look at the District, and honestly, there's a ton of things we could look at. I think we should mention a very notable passing in the District's history, which was the late Marion Barry. I mean, he passed away, what, five, six years ago?
AUSTERMUHLE2014, exactly. And that was a huge impact on the city, kind of, in who he was. Honestly, I think the biggest issue is, and this isn't necessarily political, but it informs all the political debates, I think gentrification, the way the city has changed. It's added 100,000-plus residents, but it's also meant it's gotten much more expensive for just about everybody here. Almost every conversation is about how those rising costs are affecting people, and the fact that there are fewer black residents and there are more white residents.
SHERWOODAnd it's very political. That is very political.
OLIVOWell, I'm going to take maybe the easy way out and say that the biggest story, for at least Virginia, was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. But I say that because it has been the fulcrum for so many things that have happened in Virginia. It has been an obstacle for the Republican Party to win elections, and it has energized the Democratic base to go out and win elections. And I'm sure it's going to continue to have an effect.
DEPUYTWe've already talked about gentrification, the affordable housing crisis. Those are overarching issues. I won't go over them again. I think a main issue of the last decade -- and we started the hour talking about the federal government shutdown -- if you look at the District of Columbia government, which passes its budget on time and has a massive surplus, if you contrast that with how budgeting and finances are handled at the national level, which is basically a dumpster fire, and I think you have, really, an enormous contrast. I think the city comes out looking very good in that comparison.
NNAMDIAnd, finally, you, Tom Sherwood. You've got about 30 seconds.
SHERWOODI think the Trump election affects not only the region, but the entire country. And I think the biggest local story is the Metro, which continues to have problems. It's trying to do this back-to-good program, but so far, it's back-to-good-grief. (laugh)
NNAMDIAnd I’m afraid that's all the time we have. Martin Austermuhle, Antonio Olivo, Bruce DePuyt, Tom Sherwood, thank you all for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, it's our year in review. We'll press rewind on 2019 and take a look back at some of the biggest local stories of the year and some moments that we'd, well, like to forget. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, you have a wonderful weekend, and thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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