Everyone thinks D.C. is lousy with politicians and lobbyists. But it's also chock-full of crime fiction writers.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton joined The Politics Hour to talk about statehood and the passing of Rep. John Lewis.
What’s Next For D.C. Statehood
- The push for D.C. statehood is nothing new to D.C. residents or Congresswoman Norton, but the pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests have fanned the flames of the movement.
- The District received half as much funding as the states in the first recovery bill. And the cause gained a few more supporters in the U.S. Senate after federal troops were sent to quell protests in D.C. Forty senators support the statehood bill.
- But what’s next? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called statehood “full-bore socialism.” Norton thinks statehood will only pass the Senate if Democrats have the majority.
Remembering John Lewis
- Many hearts have been heavy since the passing of civil rights icon and longtime Congressman John Lewis.
- One of Lewis’ contributions to the District is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The bill for the museum’s creation was one of the first he sponsored when he came to congress.
- Congresswoman Norton remembered her colleague on today’s show not just for their time in Congress, but when they were both involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “He became the chair of SNCC not because he was the smartest or the most popular, but because he was simply the bravest,” Norton said.
Rethinking Statues And Namesakes
- A national debate has been sparked over monuments honoring Confederate soldiers and slave-owners in light of the recent protests.
- But a nuanced debate is happening in D.C. around the Emancipation Memorial, which shows President Abraham Lincoln extending his hand over a kneeling, formerly enslaved person with shackles on his wrists. The memorial was largely paid for by free African Americans.
- Norton introduced legislation to move the statue to a museum.
- She and Maryland Congressman Jamie Raskin have said they will introduce a bill to remove the name of Francis G. Newlands, a white supremacist senator, from a fountain in Chevy Chase Circle. On The Politics Hour, Norton said she’d like to take the block with Newlands’ name and give it to his family.
Maryland residents will have to apply for an absentee ballot or vote in person for the election this fall. Some lawmakers, like Maryland Sen. Cheryl Kagan, aren’t happy with that plan. She joined The Politics Hour.
Maryland Officials Respond To Fall Election Plan
- Maryland Governor Larry Hogan decided that November elections will be in-person, with absentee ballot applications provided to eligible voters.
- Some officials aren’t happy with this plan, including Kagan.
- “His election proposal is absurd and is clearly taking talking points from the White House,” Kagan said on The Politics Hour.
- Some lawmakers and activists want ballots sent to each eligible voter without an application. They fear the return to regular, in-person voting could lead to voter suppression.
- And Maryland (along with D.C.) is facing a shortage of poll workers for the November election.Some jurisdictions are asking the governor to allow them to consolidate the number of polling places or open early voting sites.
- Maryland’s primary election was held mostly by mail. Delays caused 1 million registered voters to receive their ballots late or not at all.
Who’s In Charge Of Montgomery Schools Reopening?
- There’s been a scuffle between Montgomery County officials and Hogan over whether private schools should be allowed to reopen.
- After Montgomery County officials announced that nonpublic schools would remain closed until October, Hogan issued a new order stripping local governments of their authority to prohibit private schools from reopening to in-person learning.
- But now, Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles is doubling-down, saying that private schools in the county must remain closed to in-person instruction until October 1. His order cites a Maryland law that says “when a county health officer has reason to believe that a disease endangers public health,” the officer can “act properly to prevent the spread of the disease.”
- Kagan said that Hogan’s order to allow private schools to reopen is an example of “pandering to the right wing of the party. I wish Governor Hogan were spending less time on his book tour and looking at running for president and getting involved in local government decisions about school openings, and more time running the state.”
- On Friday, Gayles rescinded his orders that called for online learning to avert a court battle with the state. He still strongly advises against in-person learning.
Will Maryland Lawmakers Convene For A Special Session?
- Del. Julian Ivey of Prince George’s County has been calling for a special session since June to address police brutality. So far, he hasn’t generated much support from his colleagues in the general assembly.
- Advocate groups are also calling for a special session to address concerns around housing, workplace safety during the pandemic, ballot access and police reform.
- Hogan would be constitutionally required to convene a special session if petitioned by the majority of lawmakers in the House of Delegates and the state Senate.
- Kagan doesn’t think a special session would help lawmakers move forward on any issues: “Even if we were to meet next week safely …. even if we had legislation drafted and passed it, the governor would be likely to veto it.”
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODHello, everybody.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Cheryl Kagan. She's a Member of the Maryland State Senate. If you have questions or comments for Senator Kagan, please call us later in the broadcast. If you have already called with a question for her, please hang up so callers for our first guest will be able to get in on the lines. Our first guest is Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is the D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Congresswoman Norton, thank you so much for joining us.
ELEANOR HOLMES NORTONWell, good to be with you, Kojo. It's been a long time.
NNAMDIIt certainly has. Before we get to Congresswoman Norton, Tom Sherwood, can you talk a little bit about the fact that the D.C. Police Union is suing the city for restricting bargaining power around disciplinary procedures? The union seems to be saying that all other public employee unions have contracts that allow them to negotiate disciplinary issues, why not the police?
SHERWOODWell, that's it in a nutshell. There's something like 45 different unions in the District of Columbia government and they all have the right to negotiate working conditions. And the police union is saying that in the -- they call it the hysteria in the wake of what's happened after the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis the D.C. Council passed emergency legislation that takes away their ability to negotiate working conditions at the police department. They say that the D.C. Council in passing that and we'll quote the lawsuit, "is punishing a class of people, sworn officers that are presently disfavored politically."
SHERWOODAnd the lawsuit goes on to say that the punishment is to quail rising tensions and protests about police in general. So they feel like they have been singled out, unfairly had their contract changed and they are in federal court fighting it. The mayor said she will defend the city on this, but it is an ugly situation right now where the police officers feel like this city has abandoned them.
NNAMDIAnd speaking of the D.C. police there is going to be an initiative on our next election ballot that would influence the police in the following way. It would ask police -- or force D.C. police to ease enforcement of magic mushroom laws. What's that all about?
SHERWOODWell, let me -- I just want to say one more thing about the union. The city's position and the Council's position is that they're bringing more discipline and direction so they can get rid of bad police officers, who sully the reputation of all of the other officers. Now the mushroom thing is it's just commonly called magic mushrooms. This week the Board of Elections approved the initiative. It will be called initiative 81, and it will simply ask voters to approve in November a measure that would tell the D.C. Police Department and other law enforcement officials to make arresting people or enforcing laws about magic mushrooms and other herbal treatments a low priority in the police world. They had to have -- they turned in something like 25,000 signatures and it was just about 600 more than they needed.
SHERWOODBut it will be on the ballot. And you will be hearing a great deal of it between now and November 3rd.
NNAMDIOkay. Good. Congresswoman Norton, our hearts have been heavy since the passing of Congressman John Lewis. You knew him back when you were both in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee when you were both essentially kids. And then you were both elected around the same time to Congress. Tell us about your relationship with Congressman Lewis.
NORTONYes. In a real sense my relationship that I remember most is not among 540 or however member number there are of us in the Congress. But as youngsters in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee when John was not initially the chair, but for three years did become the chair. And I must say became the Chair of SNCC as we called it, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, not because he was the smartest or the most popular, but because he was simply the bravest. As you know, he was arrested more than 40 times. Talk about leadership by example that's what John stood for. He stood for that in SNCC and he brought that to the Congress as well.
NNAMDIYou said he was not the first chairman of SNCC. The first chairman is somebody that Tom Sherwood knew pretty well, wasn't he? The first chairman of SNCC was Marion Barry who later became the Mayor of Washington D.C. Congresswoman Norton, what has Congress lost with the passing of John Lewis and what do you think we can learn from him in this moment?
NORTONWell, members feel that they've lost their moral conscious. When you get to bills where you needed a member to speak to raise the level from the political level to a level above -- way above that to the morality or the ethics of a bill, often John was the member that you turned to lead that part of the discussion. He was never a committee chair. He was a subcommittee chair. Remember we become chairs only be seniority. Almost always by seniority. So it's not so much for specific pieces of legislation, but it's John's larger than life role in our country that he brought to Congress. And that is frankly missed not only in the Congress, but in the country today.
NNAMDIThis is our first time having you on the show since the historic vote where the U.S. House of Representatives passed HR51, which would grant D.C. statehood. Tell us what that was like.
NORTONNow here we do come to history, history in the making. And I say that because ever since the District was created 219 years ago residents have been seeking full equality with the states. And I say ever since, because too many of us do not know or do not remember that the District was formed of two -- of land donated by two states, Maryland and Virginia. Those people lived in what is not the District of Columbia, had the same rights as everyone else. And when they became the District of Columbia, they lost their rights and by the way immediately protested. That's why I say this is 219 years coming.
NORTONNow the only way to get their rights back to get full equality when you consider what has happened in our country over two centuries is to become a state. We were able to get this bill passed.
NORTONAnd I must say when I first came to Congress in the early 90s I did get a vote on statehood and that was the first ever vote on statehood. But the Congress was controlled by southern Democrats, and that is why we did not get a full majority. Now I am for almost my entire time in the Congress I have been in the minority. The first time I get in majority, of course, I came back to statehood. We're not only got enough to pass, we had enough cosponsors to pass. And we got many more than was necessary to pass the House of Representatives to make the District of Columbia the 51st state.
SHERWOODAnd, of course, we now have to see Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader of the Senate has said he will bring this up. So that makes the November 3rd elections even more important whether or not the Democrats take control of the Senate, keep control of the House and win the Presidency.
SHERWOODMiss Norton, one of the biggest decisions of Joe Biden, the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party will be his announcement next week of his choice for vice president. The top three candidates are Senator Kamala Harris, Former National Security Advisor, Susan Rice and California Congresswoman Karen Bass. I believe you've spoken quite well about Susan Rice. But do you have a public choice of who you would like to see Joe Biden pick even though I know you will support him in the ticket regardless of whoever he picks.
NORTONNo, Tom. And I must say that's the first time I've heard those three names as the top choices. Where did you get that from?
SHERWOODWell, cable news. You know, it's got to be right.
NORTONMust be. I must tell you --
SHERWOODWho else would add to that list?
NORTONWell, I think the list is full of superlatives.
SHERWOODDo you have a choice?
NORTONI don't. I have to tell you one of the reasons I don't have a choice is because historically the choice for vice president hasn't made a difference. For me, it would be a historic breakthrough to see an African American woman to be vice president of the United States. We already had a woman close to becoming president. And this would be the kind of breakthrough that I think all of us, the whole country could be proud of. But I don't mean to say that people when they vote for president look to the vice president. I must say if it's a black woman I think that some people might in fact vote for president thinking of who the vice president is.
SHERWOODThere is some concern -- if you don't mind I'll ask you one more national question --
NNAMDIWell, before you get to that, Tom, before you get to that. We had Susan Rice on the broadcast earlier this week and she told the story of how when she finished graduate school at Oxford she was thinking of going to law school. And she had a particularly significant conversation with one Eleanor Holmes Norton, who said to her, "Well, how many lawyers do you know?" And Susan Rice says, "Dozens." And Eleanor Holmes Norton says, "Well, how many people do you know who are experts in international affairs, black people that is?" And she said, "None." And Eleanor Holmes Norton suggested that, "Then you should know what your choice should be." Is that story correct?
NORTONThat story is correct. She asked to meet with me. I had known her for some time. And, of course, I was a tenured professor of law at the time so I guess you'd expect me to say, "Why wouldn't everybody go to law school?" But I thought she was unique in our country and to give that up to just become one of millions of lawyers it didn't seem to me to make a lot of sense.
NNAMDITom Sherwood. We only have about a minute left in this segment, Tom.
SHERWOODWell, just very quickly some progressive Democrats are already complaining about who Joe Biden might pick as his cabinet. They're getting far ahead of the election. Are you concerned at all that some Democrats think the election in November is in the bag?
NORTONI am concerned that the polls maybe telling -- maybe overreaching. This president is so unpopular that I do think we have an excellent chance of defeating him. But depending on the polls would be a grave mistake. When you consider this pandemic, we need everything we can get to make people go out to the polls or to do voting by mail. It is going to be a terribly confusing election in the first place given the mail problem, the coronavirus problem. I must tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to early vote by going to the polls to make sure my vote gets counted.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we will continue this conversation with Eleanor Holmes Norton. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Eleanor Holmes Norton, the D.C. Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. And here now is Jim in Northwest D.C. Jim, you're on the air. Go head, please.
JIMThanks, Kojo. Congresswoman Norton, you know, the killing of George Floyd brought Americans together in a way we haven't seen since the Voting Rights Act. It showed that Jim Crow is still happening, and focused a unified sense of Americans, "We got to change it." The Confederate statues reveal the same thing. The statues were the representation of Jim Crow. When you raise the issue of Lincoln, isn't that a risk that plays into the hands of the people trying to divide progressives? We finally have unity over this issue. And the Lincoln statue seems that it's just going to split this important focus right now. I'm troubled by your action against the Lincoln statue.
NNAMDIFor those who don't know what the caller is talking about it's the statue in Lincoln Park that shows Abraham Lincoln with a former enslaved person in chains at his feet. And Congresswoman Norton has suggested removing the statue. But, Congresswoman Norton, can you please respond yourself?
NORTONYes. Thanks for making clear the statue we're talking about. It actually is close to my home. I realize that this is not the statue of an art segregation of the time that are so clear. But I have to tell you as an African American, the notion of kneeling at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, who very reluctantly so called free the slaves. Remember Abraham Lincoln said that if he could maintain the Union, he would keep slavery. Abraham Lincoln deserves credit for doing what was finally necessary, because of the Civil War. But the notion of having Lincoln as the savior of this African American so overplays his hand that what I would like to do is to preserve the statue. It really does have a lot to tell us just as the others do. And this may have even more to tell us.
NORTONSo my view of statues that don't belong featured in the nation's capital is that they should be moved to museums with the full story being able to be told. And I think that's what should happen to the Lincoln statue so close to my home here on Capitol Hill.
SHERWOODMiss Norton, I'll just quickly say when I was in the Navy, Navy reservists at the Navy Yard in 1968, I lived across the street from that statue. And I always thought it would have been so much better had the former slave been standing on his own two feet proud and free as opposed to kneeling before Lincoln, but I want to get to another one that you're involved in --
NORTONLet me say a comment on that because it's very important.
NORTONThere were proposals for a slave to be standing up. And that was rejected. Instead the one we see now, which does not exactly make African Americans feel --
NNAMDIRejected despite the fact that the monument was paid for by former slaves.
SHERWOODThey didn't get to decide what it was, though, they just put the money up.
SHERWOODBut Chevy Chase Circle, everyone knows Chevy Chase circle is a huge headache. The good news is that the District government transportation department has restriped Chevy Chase Circle so it is less of a carnival ride when you go in there. But you and Jamie Raskin, this congressman from suburban Maryland, now want to take away the memorial to Francis Newlands for whom the circle was created and he was honored. He was a segregationist. And he had a very low opinion of African Americans. What prompted you to get involved with that Chevy Chase Circle memorial to Francis Newlands?
NORTONYeah, Tom, this one is different, because it isn't a statue, but what you do have at Chevy Chase Circle is a big concrete memorial to this arch segregationist. And that was put in in the 1930s. And here is another indication of the District having no home rule, having nothing to say about anything that goes in its city. One of the reasons that our statehood bill is so necessary. And this honors a man who opposed the 15th Amendment, thought it should be repealed. Carried out his life in every way as an arch segregationist, was a builder, but did nothing for this city that should call for any memorialization or honorific to him. So I don't want to destroy what is implanted in the concrete.
NORTONHis family has spoken out. An obviously they want this memorial to this arch segregationist preserved, because it's their kin. So I would like to take that block that's at Chevy Chase Circle and gift it to them. I'm pleased that I'm not sure if it's on our side or on the Maryland side, but Jamie Raskin and I are cosponsors of this bill.
SHERWOODThis is a National Park Service piece and they say it must -- it was approved by Congress. So therefore there must be some congressional action. And that's what you and Jamie Raskin are seeking.
NNAMDIHere now is Stephanie in Northeast Washington. Stephanie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEPHANIEHi, thank you. Well, I have another question about the Emancipation statue. I'm a neighbor of Congresswoman Norton's and I am in the park frequently. And I'm just wondering if there will be an opportunity -- I know there's been legislation introduced to remove the statue. Will there be an opportunity for citizens to weigh in with alternative opinions or suggestions?
NORTONAlmost always when there is a bill there's a hearing. And I would hope there would be an opportunity for the appropriate officials at least to weigh in. And you can certainly weigh in right now by emailing me or going on my website. So I would love to hear from residents about this issue.
NNAMDIStephanie, thank you very much for your call. In the last federal aid package to state the CARES Act, D.C. was treated like a territory and received half of the amount of funding that the states did. That funding is included in the HEROES Act, which the House passed in May. But the Senate opposes that bill and introduced the HEALS Act. As negotiations continue, do you think the funding for D.C. could be on the chopping block?
NORTONIt's impossible to know that. The negotiations going now are stuck on stupid very severely so. So nobody is getting anything at the moment. And people are not getting their unemployment insurance, which has already run out. But we are insisting that the District be treated the way it has always treated in spending bills. Hear me. Even without statehood as a matter of home rule in spending bills, the District gets the same as the states for a very important reason. District residents pay federal income taxes. Indeed we are number one per capita.
NORTONSo on that matter, not getting the full amount and that being cut in half largely because that bill originated in the Senate. And we can't even know who the culprit was. But some Republican in the Senate managed to cut the District out and treat us like a territory, when the territories do not pay federal income taxes. We mean to recoup our money.
SHERWOODGun violence is a big issue in this country. The NRA has been the leading the non-private organization fighting measures to impinge on the Second Amendment as it says. D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine and the Attorney General of New York have now filed suit saying that the NRA is awash in misspending of millions of dollars on themselves. And they should have their license to operate taken away. Are you paying attention to this? I know you're an anti-gun person, but have you paid attention to this NRA action that Karl Racine is involved in.
NORTONI have to pay attention to it, because Republicans every single cycle put on a bill to wipe out a bill to wipe out the District's gun laws. I must say this is a new approach. The only way we've been -- at the moment we're able to keep that bill off of our appropriation, but that's only here in the House. And we don't have a Senate bill yet. This is a newer approach to the NRA, who got -- who apparently have gotten away with murder. We may be able to do in the courts what we've been unable to do in the Congress.
NNAMDIWe only have about 30 seconds left. But Bret emails, "Many D.C. police officers agree that reform in policing is overdue and necessary. D.C. police has been at the forefront of innovation and reform for many years. Do you have any positive things to say about D.C. police and the officers that work there or do you believe D.C. police are no different than other less progressive agencies in our nation?" As I said, we only have about 30 seconds left.
NORTONI do have a lot of positive -- I know, a positive thing to say about the D.C. police. I'll never forget once my daughter was an infant walked away. It was a D.C. policeman, who brought her back to me. And they do many good things here. Look, they call for reform of the District police is no difference from across the country. The difference here is that we have a huge crime rate. And I think we ought to listen to the mayor in what we want to do there. We can reform the District police.
NORTONAnd make sure we don't get rid of police we need in the street.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Got to take a short break. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Cheryl Kagan. She is a member of the Maryland State Senate. She represents District 17, which is in Montgomery County. Senator Kagan, thank you for joining us.
CHERYL KAGANThanks, Kojo. Great to be back on.
NNAMDIBefore we start the conversation with Senator Kagan, Tom Sherwood, tell us the problem that voter the registration group the Center for Voter Information has been having problems with the mail-in ballot applications that they've been sending to people around Virginia. Their intentions are clearly very good. They want people to be able to vote, but they've been making some fairly serious mistakes.
SHERWOODThe Center for Voter Information needs to get more information. I mean, it may have good intentions. It's a Democratic-leaning firm in Virginia that wants people to register to vote. And it had sent out several -- 2.5 million applications or so for people to register to vote. But a half million of those, 500,000 of those in Fairfax County and Fairfax City had the wrong address, wrong dates, the wrong return address. It's caused havoc for the Fairfax City -- small Fairfax City election person.
SHERWOODAnd the center is promising to fix it, but it's not the first time. Back in 2018, the same organization, the Center for Voter Information, mailed out 140,000 notices to Virginia voters telling them they weren't registered to vote and they had to register to vote. Well, most of those people, in fact, were registered. So, you know, a do-good organization can do bad if they're not sure of what they're doing.
NNAMDISpeaking of elections, Senator Kagan, Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland has announced that the state will have regular, in-person elections this fall. You think this is a bad idea. If it were up to you, how would you like the elections to be run?
KAGANWell, unfortunately, it's not up to me and those of us who are seriously concerned about the governor's ill-advised plan. He took a hard line and frankly has not shown the willingness to be flexible. Bipartisan groups of local election experts are really struggling mightily to find election judges who are not going to be vulnerable and who are willing to work. We're over 14,000 short. Precinct places that have long had people voting are not willing to open their doors in the midst of the coronavirus. We have enormous problems. And his plan costs more than $20 million more than doing it the way we did in June with improvements, but by simply mailing voters a ballot.
NNAMDIThe Maryland Board of Elections is now considering mailing ballots to every eligible voter instead of applications for absentee ballots, which was the original plan. This is something that the Board of Elections vice chair has been pushing for. Do you think this will happen?
KAGANSo, there's a new plan. I think you kind of have that backwards. So, the Hogan plan is to mail people an application rather than the ballot that they received in June. So, it's one extra step. It's three different ways of voting in the last three elections. We spent over a million dollars in marketing and voter education plan for June. And now we're going to have to do it all again and say, well, you thought it was this way, but now it's this other, other way. It's going to result in a lot of people being confused.
SHERWOODThank you, state senator, for joining us. Appreciate it. Prince George's Delegate Julian Ivey has been among those who's calling for the legislature to come back into special session to maybe address this and other issues. There are supermajorities of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, State House. Why not have a special session of the legislature and take care of some of these things that you so disagree with Governor Hogan about, elections and other matters?
KAGANI wish it were...
NNAMDIBefore you respond to that, Senator Kagan, I think Richard in Bowie, Maryland has a question along similar lines. Is that correct, Richard?
RICHARDYes. Thank you. Thank you, Kojo. Hello, Senator Kagan. Nice to speak with you and very strong credit to you for what you've been doing to raise awareness of how people can vote. So, the question I had was, why -- well, do you publically support a call for a special session as Julian Ivey's been doing for a month-and-a-half? We are facing upwards of 400,000 evictions. COVID is spreading through our jails and our prisons. Education for next year is up in the air.
RICHARDI understand the health components, but we simply need a simple majority of legislators, 71 delegates and 24 senators. Would you be willing to sign onto that, and why or why not?
KAGANThanks, Richard, for your comments and your question. A special session sounds like a panacea to all things. We are certainly focused on Black Lives Matter, on election, as well as the 10-year plan to improve our public schools. And yet we are not going to be able to accomplish those through a special session. Even if we were to meet next week, safely -- let's say any of that is possible and someone has a magic wand to make that possible -- even if we have legislation drafted and passed it, the governor would be likely to veto it. We'd have to wait for a while, come back again. And, frankly, the clock is ticking. Elections are around the corner, and our local boards and state board need guidance.
KAGANNow, at this afternoon's meeting, the state board is considered what I think is a very exciting middle ground between the Hogan plan and what Common Cause, League of Women Voters, NAACP and others want, which is opening up more in-person sites, but not so many that it's unsafe and understaffed, resulting in long lines.
KAGANThere is a proposal that was discussed, and I think it's going to get bipartisan, and hopefully unanimous, support to use the 282 public high schools. They are centrally located. They are disabled access. There are security cameras, so the drop-off boxes can be there. It's a number that our boards of elections can probably staff appropriately. And we think it's a good plan. I think the local boards should have the ultimate authority to choose the locations, so if there are other locations that make more sense, they can choose those. But using our public high schools that are otherwise going to be closed is a good use of that. We'll keep people safe, and we can get elections done accurately.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, do you have a follow-up?
SHERWOODI just -- I realize there's a problem in getting the legislature in session. It just seems to me that there is a great -- Governor Hogan, who's now stepped down as the National Governor Association and has turned it over to Andrew Cuomo, that'll be different. But it doesn't seem like the governor has tried very hard to speak across the aisle to the other...
KAGANGood call. So, thank you for saying that, Tom.
SHERWOODAnd why not? I mean...
KAGANSo, Governor Hogan was very, quote, "purple." He was trying for a while to look moderate in bright-blue Maryland. We are a Democratic state with a Republican governor. And for a while, his proposals and policies were reasonable. The last few days and few weeks, his election proposal is absurd and is clearly taking talking points from the White House, as is his insistence on opening up our private and parochial schools in contravention of our health experts and local authorities. The public has traditionally deferred...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Excuse me. Do you think that's because...
KAGAN...traditionally defer to local governments.
SHERWOODExcuse me. Do you think this is part because he's expressed interest in running for president after this term?
KAGANI think he is pandering to the right wing of the party. I wish Governor Hogan were spending less time on his book tour and looking at running for president and getting involved in local government decisions about school openings and more time running the state. His unemployment insurance operation was a disaster. We had hundreds of constituents who were not getting the money they deserved. He was not helping local governments and our nonprofit organizations with their unemployment payments. There's a lot that's slipping through the cracks, because Governor Hogan is pandering to the right and focused on other things.
NNAMDIWell, let me pursue that. Jack emails: Keep in mind that President Trump's son goes to a private school in Montgomery County.
NNAMDIDo you really think that the White House isn't putting pressure on Governor Hogan to let private schools reopen? Do you think the White House is putting pressure on the governor, Senator Kagan?
KAGANI think the face that Barron goes to a private school in Montgomery County is not to be overlooked. Bottom line is, I don't think Governor Hogan should be getting in the weeds, and he should not be telling Montgomery County health experts what to do, when they have been looking at other states and other countries and what has succeeded there.
KAGANOther countries have reopened schools successfully, but they have a lower infection rate than we have currently in the state of Maryland or in Montgomery County. Dr. Gayles does excellent work, is very widely respected, our health officer. And he is not to be dismissed lightly. The fact that Governor Hogan is talking about politicians, when he is one, is dismissive and patronizing. Let every local government make its own decisions on elections and on school reopening.
NNAMDIWe've got an email from someone who said, yesterday, Governor Hogan sent a letter to the new state board elections saying he wouldn't interfere in the election, which seems to mean that he will not make an emergency proclamation allowing early counting, voting centers and other changes. What if he won't?
KAGANWell, I think Governor Hogan and his staff finally woke up to the fact that his plan, his election mandate was completely unpopular and rejected by a bipartisan group of local election experts, as well as advocates. Rather than showing some flexibility and understanding of a need for modification, he's doubled down and he's basically said, it's up to you guys. So, it's -- using a sports analogy here, it's like a coach coming up with a ridiculously bad play, and then blaming the players when it doesn't go right. You can't come up with a bad idea and then blame our local boards of elections who are struggling to try to comply with his plan. It needs to be changed.
SHERWOODYou supported Mike Bloomberg in the Democratic primary. I think you ran as a delegate to be a Mike Bloomberg delegate at the convention. The convention -- I think -- have you been to previous conventions as a delegate? I think you have.
KAGANI've been to almost every one, starting in 1980, for Ted Kennedy.
SHERWOODOh, my goodness. And so you did...
KAGANYeah, I'm old. (laugh)
SHERWOOD...so Mike Bloomberg didn't win. What do you think about Joe Biden's choice for vice president? Do you have a choice for vice president?
KAGANSo, first off, I've been a Joe Biden fan for forever. I just wasn't sure that this was his time, but I am enthusiastic about him being our nominee and, please, dear God, our next president. We must have change. We must have more thoughtful, progressive leadership and policies.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) His VP choice?
KAGANI have a fantasy of -- that everyone says is not going to happen, but my first choice, fantasy is Michelle Obama. Failing that, I admire Kamala Harris, who I initially supported. I like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker before they both dropped out, which is when I shifted to Bloomberg. And failing that, I think we should be looking at Tammy Duckworth. I think those are three pretty amazing choices, but I trust Vice President Biden and his team to come up with the right nominee. And I'm excited about a first woman vice president who could become a first woman president, finally...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You didn't say Susan Rice.
KAGAN...as we celebrate the 100th year of women voting.
SHERWOODWhat about Susan Rice?
KAGANI think she is a very impressive person. I don't know whether she'll be his pick or not. I defer to him and his choice.
NNAMDIHere is Shawn in Silver Spring, Maryland. Shawn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHAWNHi, Senator. I'm calling regarding the University of Maryland College Park and students that are trapped in the lease with MEDCO, who manages the on-campus housing at the South Campus Commons and the Courtyards. And this is done through Capstone. And so the students in those dorms are not permitted to -- they were not given the option to get out of their lease, while all the other students on campus were permitted to get out of their lease, you know, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SHAWNThe other thing that...
SHAWNWait, ma'am, please let me finish. The other thing that MEDCO did that is pretty disturbing is that not only are they refusing to allow the students out of their lease, but they've added an addendum to their lease that requires the students and/or their parents to acknowledge that the students are at risk for contracting COVID-19 illness and/or death. And we were not given the option -- we are being forced to acknowledge this, which is a breach of the lease, and pretty ridiculous because we signed the lease in March and now just adding these terms. Do you know what's being done about this situation?
KAGANI understand. So, thank you for the question. I'm aware of the issue. We need -- there's so many changes going on right now at the university systems of Maryland. As we know, there's a new president, there's a lot of new leadership and changes. There are conversations about whether students should get refunds in their tuition and fees because many of the classes, the bulk of the classes will be online. And I have sympathy with the question of leases.
KAGANI know that Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk, Senator Rosapepe and other officials are working on that with the University of Maryland and others. The bigger picture also on the other side of housing is roughly 300,000 Marylanders who are at risk of eviction. Governor Hogan put aside $30 million, which is a good start, but it's totally insufficient to protect people from being thrown out on the street. We need roughly 150 million according to Senator Shelly Hettleman, who chaired a workgroup on this.
KAGANIn Montgomery County, there was a fund that was created. There are already 1,500 renters on the waiting list who need rental assistance. So, I think we've got a lot of problems with college students, yes, but with renters. I also think we can't overlook our small businesses who are being demanded to pay their rent. And I'm worried about small businesses closing. I'm part of the small business caucus led by Senator Katie Fry Hester. And she's been working on how we make sure that there's a reasonable solution so that we don't lose the character of our small towns with these locally-owned businesses.
NNAMDISo, thank you very much for your call, Shawn. And, apparently, this was an orchestrated call-in, so Simmon in Rockville, Maryland, Hannah in Bowie, Maryland, all of whom wanted to address the same issue. I suspect that there's not a great deal more that Senator Kagan can say so, you might as well hang up and let people who wish to address other issues get on.
NNAMDII want to get back to the issue of school closings again, because William tweets: It is inequitable that Montgomery County is allowing private daycare centers, private summer schools and private day camps to be open for phase two, and then suddenly last week announced that private schools could not open at all. What is the science on that? In addition to which, parents and students protested the decision to prevent private schools from reopening to in-person learning in Rockville this week. What would you say to those families who are desperate to have their children return to school, especially since many parents are working and feel the acute need for childcare?
KAGANAbsolutely. I sympathize. We're all struggling on all these issues. How to make sure that our students don't have a loss of learning opportunities, how the teachers can be effective, how we can keep our staff safe, and how we keep the buildings clean. So, we have childcare centers. We're talking about much-reduced population, which means a real financial risk for the daycare providers. It's a big problem, yet we do need parents and guardians to be able to get back to work. I defer to and trust our public safety officials who are struggling mightily as they watch the data. We are hoping to go from phase two to phase three, but we can't do it until we're safe.
SHERWOODFormer Attorney General Doug Gansler is no fan of Larry Hogan, but he has opined this week that Hogan does, in fact, have the final say so with the schools, whether the private schools will be closed or not. I have a question that has nothing to do with any of that. You were born in Washington, D.C., you grew up in Montgomery County, and you represent Gaithersburg and Rockville in the Senate. And I understand why it was canceled, but I want to know, the annual Montgomery County Fair is in Gaithersburg each fall. It would be starting next weekend. That's a big economic thing for the neighborhood. That's also a fun thing for families. Are you a fan of the fair?
KAGANI'm a fan of the fair. It's always fun to go there and eat unhealthy food and see folks and see the cute bunnies. I always love going to the bunny barn. And it's a loss. The state fair was just cancelled, I think, yesterday. There are so many events and gatherings that we have as a loss this year, but we have to follow the direction to wear masks, stay socially distant and reduce the number of people in one place. And, unfortunately, the county fair is a lot of people clustered together on the rides and at some of the booths. It's unfortunate, but I really hope that we can bring the fair back and everything else back next year.
NNAMDIHere now is...
KAGANIf we've got a minute, Kojo, I'd love to talk about 911...
NNAMDISure, go ahead.
KAGAN...and my visit to the George Floyd memorial, if we've got time.
KAGANSo, 10 years ago, a friend and constituent activist, Carl Henn, was struck by lightning during a freak thunderstorm and he later died when 911 was overwhelmed. We've spent the last six years, and I've been chairing the statewide commission coming up with really cutting edge legislation. People assume that when they have an emergency, they call 911, someone answers and dispatches police, fire or paramedic as they need. It doesn't always work that way.
KAGANAnd the nation is shifting to what's called next generation 911. And to do that in Maryland and elsewhere, we needed to address funding, staffing, technology, cyber security, training, oversight and much, much more. Maryland is doing really well at this, and I commend my colleagues for their support. We have more to do.
KAGANPart of that actually overlaps with Black Lives Matter, because there is, unfortunately, too common a practice of people calling 911 with racial intent and reporting, you know, I think my next door neighbor just shot his wife. And police come with their guns drawn and there could be injury and death. It has happened before. I have a bill that we'll be doing again this year in a session, that I hope won't be abbreviated, to address that and make it clear 911 is for emergencies and not for your racial bias.
NNAMDII should mention that you chair the Maryland Next Generation 911 Commission. Is that correct?
KAGANThank you. I do.
NNAMDIOkay. So, do you think your work with emergency response and 911 will play into the conversation about rethinking police? There have been a lot of calls to defund the police and re-imagine how policing works.
KAGANRight. So, I am moved and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. I went to march, I went to George Floyd's memorial shrine in Minneapolis two weeks ago and was really inspired by both the anger and outrage, as well as the desire for unity, collaboration and peace. Senator Will Smith is doing excellent work leading and putting together a package of legislation. There are also a couple of related bills that I'll be bringing. And Maryland is progressive in many ways, but we can do better. We need better accountability and sunshine in our policing. And yet, we also need to be respecting our first responders.
SHERWOODYou said in your newsletter, July newsletter that I was reading, maybe August newsletter, that there are several companies in Montgomery County that are working on vaccines for the COVID-19 virus. Are you personally optimistic? Do you have any insights to that research you could share with our listeners?
KAGANThanks for the question, Tom, because I'm very proud to be the senator for Rockville and Gaithersburg and the High Tech Corridor. There are groups like AstraZeneca MedImmune, Emergent BioSolutions and Novavax that are all located in the city of Gaithersburg that are doing important work and that have all been featured in national news for the breakthroughs that they have already achieved on possible vaccines.
KAGANNothing's happening right away, despite what our president keeps talking about. Somehow he thinks magically we're going to have a vaccine and everything will be safe. It's not like that, but there is certainly a heroic effort that is being invested in these companies and many others to hopefully save lives. But people have to not only find the vaccine, establish that it's safe, but we've got to get it delivered in enormous quantities and make sure that people are willing to take the vaccine in order to protect themselves and loved ones.
NNAMDIOnly got about a minute left, but here's Sean in Mount Airy, Maryland. Sean, you're going to have to be brief. Go ahead, please.
SEANHi, good morning. Thank you for the opportunity. I just wanted to express, as a purple voter myself, in Maryland, I find it really disappointing, Senator, that you point out, you know, that you sort of accuse the governor of pandering to the White House when he clearly hasn't. He's been an outright critic of Trump in the White House. And, you know, he's really a commonsense politician, I think, that, you know, we really need more of in this country. And for you to sort of accuse him of pandering like that really shows how you're pandering as a liberal...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Senator Kagan, you have about 30 seconds to respond.
KAGANYep, thank you, Sean. I acknowledge that in the past that Governor Hogan was -- had very many moderate policies and showed his independence. Recently, as he does his book tour and looks at running for president, he has pivoted to the right.
NNAMDICheryl Kagan, thank you so much for joining us. Today's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. I'd like to take a minute to congratulate Monna Kashfi, the former managing producer of this show. She did her job so well she was just named chief content officer for WAMU. We are very proud of Monna for her smarts, her compassion, her grace under pressure. Way to go, Monna. We all love you.
NNAMDIComing up Monday, an incident involving misaddressed absentee ballot applications in Virginia reopens conversations about the efficiency of voting by mail. Is Virginia prepared for the general election and what are their plans come November? Plus, Kojo for Kids welcomes Washington Mystic Myisha Hines-Allen. After years in the shadows, she exploded off the bench this summer to become a Most Valuable Player. That all starts on Monday at noon. Tom Sherwood, have a great weekend.
SHERWOODThank you very much. Congratulations to Monna.
NNAMDIUntil Monday at noon, have a great weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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