On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform is holding a hearing on March 22 for H.R. 51, the D.C. statehood bill. We hear from Meagan Hatcher-Mays, the Director of Democracy Policy for Indivisible, about why its thousands of independent activist groups across the country are pushing for D.C. statehood and what to expect at the hearing.
Prince George’s County has the lowest vaccination rate in the state. We talk with County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D) about the vaccine rollout and what she thinks of the state’s vaccine eligibility timeline. Plus, Alsobrooks talks about legislation that would allow Prince George’s County grocery stores to sell beer and wine, which she hopes would attract more grocery stores to the area in an effort to end food deserts and swamps. And we get a look into Alsobrook’s proposed 2022 budget.
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 back with us this week. He is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome back.
TOM SHERWOODHello everybody.
NNAMDIJoining us later in the broadcast will be Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George's County Executive. Joining us now is Meagan Hatcher-Mays, Director of Democracy Policy for Indivisible. Meagan Hatcher-Mays, thank you for joining us.
MEAGAN HATCHER-MAYSThank you for having me, Kojo and Tom. It's a real honor.
NNAMDIThis will be a conversation about statehood for District of Columbia. Tom Sherwood, before we get to statehood, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has apparently restored voting rights for those with felony convictions. Of course, people with felony convictions in Maryland already got their voting rights back as soon as their sentences are completed, the same in the District. I remember the late great Petey Greene when he was still alive had a talk show. And when he saw that piece of legislation he tickled a bell and said, "Hey that's me." What's going on in Virginia, Tom?
SHERWOODWell, Governor Northam is following in the footsteps of former Governor Terry McAuliffe who tried to give a blanket restoration of rights. But the Virginia State Supreme Court said they had to be considered individually. And so that's what the governor has done for 69,000 people. The Virginia legislature has passed a bill to automatically restore voting rights to felons once their sentences are completed, but it has to pass the legislature again and it has to be a referendum.
SHERWOODAnd in the District just this past year the Council passed a law that would say even if you're a felon you can vote even while you're incarcerated. And as you mentioned Maryland restores the rights automatically after your sentence has been served except in the case if you've been convicted of a felony involving voting. So it's a good -- you know, across the country more and more states are recognizing that once a person serves his or her term in prison, incarceration, they should be given back the right to vote if they shouldn't lose it to begin with.
NNAMDIMeagan Hatcher-Mays, does Indivisible have a position on this issue and if not, what is your feeling about it?
HATCHER-MAYSWe do have a position on it. We absolutely think people who are returning to society, people who are formerly incarcerated should have their rights restored. There's really no reason to continue to deny people access to democracy. And frankly people who are currently incarcerated should have the right to vote. I mean, they are counted as part of the census so they should have a say in government as well. So, yeah, we strongly support that. Unfortunately an amendment to include that in the For the People Act was not successful, but that's definitely something that we're fighting for.
NNAMDIAnd Tom Sherwood, every time D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine appears on this broadcast you ask him about his future plans, his political plans specifically. Well, now apparently he is being considered for Chair of the Federal Trade Commission by the Biden administration. He hasn't really acknowledged that he is, but it's clear that he is.
SHERWOODYes, there was a step this week for Karl Racine, who is in his second term as elected Attorney General. He's acknowledged that he would consider something in the Biden administration in the past. And there have been various reports in the media that he would be -- he's being considered for Chair of the Federal Trade commission. But this week at the University of the District of Columbia given the 28th annual Joe Rauh lecture he was asked -- I have to say I submitted the question during this Zoom event. He was asked about, you know, what his plans are.
SHERWOODAnd I'm just going -- it's a very short -- I'm going to read to you. He talked longer than I am, but I'm going read you what he said. This is a definitive statement. He is not going to run for a third term as Attorney General whether he gets the FTC position or not. This is what he said on the UDC program. Quote, ...
SHERWOODI'm sorry. It's very short. Quote, "I've got to tell you I really think that two terms is enough. And there are other talented people who have a lot to add. So I'm leaning against. Two times has been fantastic. Let somebody else do it." Now that's not the language of someone who is considering running for a third term whatever happens next.
NNAMDIIs he considering running for higher office like mayor?
SHERWOODWell, everybody -- there are many people aboard the Twitter world who blew up when I reported this on Twitter. You know, people want him to run against Mayor Bowser. Some people have suggested he should wait and run for governor if the city becomes a state or he should run for U.S. senator. There's lots of what ifs, what ifs. He's indicated clearly that he's going to return to private practice. Take a position in the federal government or possibly run for mayor or possibly run for a third term, but this week he pretty much eliminated running for a third term. It's quite the guessing game.
NNAMDIAnd what's going on between the Attorney General's Office and former D.C. Councilmember Jack Evans over unpaid ethics fines?
SHERWOODWell, not a lot is going on at this moment, but I'll tell you, Mitch Riles at the Washington City Paper reported that Jack Evans who resigned his office last January in 2020 over ethics issues before he could be expelled by the Council owes two payments to the District government for ethics violations. Twenty thousand dollars was due in December. About $30,000 is due in June. The City Paper headline said that the Office of Attorney General is considering suing Evans, because he did not make the December payment of $20,000.
SHERWOODI read the story. The story is accurate, but the headline is not correct according to my sources. Evans apparently in November, with the first payment due, wrote a letter to the Board of Ethics asking that his payments be stretched out over a period of time on a payment plan and that's still under consideration.
NNAMDIAs we said, our guest is Meagan Hatcher-Mays, Director of Democracy Policy for Indivisible. And we'll be talking about statehood with her. Meagan Hatcher-Mays, what is Indivisible and what do you do there as the Director of Democracy Policy?
HATCHER-MAYSYes. Well, as the Director of Democracy Policy, I'm sure you can imagine my job is very easy, just kidding. It is difficult. You know, obviously our democracy has taken several body blows over the last four years or so. And so what we're trying to do is get our democracy back on track. So Indivisible is a grassroots organization of thousands of groups across the country in all 50 states actually who, you know, at this point, at this stage in the game they have their member of Congress's contact information saved in their phones. They're fighting in all 50 states to build up and protect our democracy on the local and on the federal level. So that's what we're focused on now that we have a democratic trifecta.
NNAMDIWhen and why did Indivisible make D.C. statehood a priority?
HATCHER-MAYSYou know, statehood has always been really central to Indivisible's mission. It's just the politics were complicated. So we started in 2016 after the election of Donald Trump. That's what motivated a lot of our group leaders to join our movement was, you know, resisting the Trump agenda and fighting back against kind of Trump's worst impulses. So we started looking really seriously at -- in the Trump years it was all about defense. Right, it was all about kind of protecting what we could given that we didn't have control of the government at the time.
HATCHER-MAYSBut statehood was always really critically important. It's a really significant, really important democracy reform. I think it's important for people to think of it that way in addition to being obviously a critical racial justice issue as well. But, you know, now we're in a different world. We have control of the Senate and control of the House. Joe Biden is in the White House. And so this is an opportunity for us to run some offense.
HATCHER-MAYSAnd so structural democracy reforms like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are obviously really important to push for and fight for. But we really think that statehood is one of the most important if not the most important democracy reforms, because it goes such a long way in ensuring that, you know, the Senate actually works the way that it should.
SHERWOODWell, you know, as I've said in this program, Kojo, as the District citizen I'm for the statehood for the District. But as a journalist analyst, the support for statehood has risen and fallen more times than a thermometer. This week we're talking about it, because there's another House hearing on Monday about statehood for the District. And with this past year in 2020, the House historically passed statehood for the District of Columbia.
SHERWOODOf course, we all know it's been hung up in the Senate and it still has a problem there. I was just looking on Twitter. Mark Segraves from NBC4 posted some video. Mayor Bowser has lined Pennsylvania Avenue with U.S. flags with 51 stars. And so there is a lot of enthusiasm right now that the House will once again with Speaker Pelosi's strong backing is going to vote again pretty soon on statehood.
SHERWOODBut it's still not clear in and this would be a question to Meagan, who thank you for being on the show. The Senate is the roadblock. When Republicans were in charge it was clearly a roadblock. The Senate now, you don't have 60 votes to overcome a filibuster in the Senate for statehood. If it were to come to a vote, would you support eliminating the filibuster so that statehood could pass with 51 votes, perhaps a vote by the Vice President?
HATCHER-MAYSOh, absolutely. We're obviously strongly in favor of just getting rid of it across the board. I mean, I think there are very few progressive priorities that you could earn the support of 10 Republicans for, but especially not democracy. I mean, democracy reform, the status quo, you know, the current system benefits Republicans a great deal despite the fact that they make up kind of like a minority of the people who actually vote. You know, we have Democrats who are representing tens of millions more people than Republicans do. So there's no incentive for Republicans to change any of that. They want to kind of keep things the same.
HATCHER-MAYSSo we don't really see a path forward for statehood without getting rid of the filibuster or whatever reform is necessary to make that happen with 51 votes. But, Tom, you're totally right. You know, this issue has been up and down. We've been really close in the past like really painfully close. And we haven't been able to get it across the finish line, but this just really feels like a different time. I mean, this Senate feels a lot more aggressive than Senates and trifectas past.
HATCHER-MAYSSo it's still -- you know, it's an uphill climb. It's going to require a lot of work. We still need to get some stragglers, some Democratic Senators who are not yet sponsors of the bill. We need to get them on the bill. And then we need to get rid of the filibuster to make that happen. You know, no state has been ...
NNAMDIGo to take a short break. So I'm going to have to interrupt you both. We'll be taking a break very shortly. But if you have a question or comment, do you think the Senate should get rid of the filibuster or not? Give us a call at 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Meagan Hatcher-Mays, Director of Democracy Policy for Indivisible. We're talking about D.C. statehood. And, Tom Sherwood, I interrupted you while you were attempting to interrupt Meagan, so it's your turn.
NNAMDIAnd there in a nutshell is The Politics Hour. Meagan, if the Democrats were to remove the filibuster and just pass things at 51 percent, Minority Leader McConnell of Kentucky and others have said, well, if you do that and if we regain the majorities in 2022, then we will take actions that the Democrats will not like. And in fact, one of the statehood supports was telling me that if this passes the Senate by 51 votes that in 2023 if the Republicans win back the House and Senate, they simply will pass a law to stop statehood in its track.
NNAMDIIt will take several years to transition from our current government to an elected government with elected senators, an elected House member and to setup the form of government. But aren't you playing a dangerous game that if the Democrats steamroll the Congress to give statehood to the District, then it could be wiped out before it even happened.
HATCHER-MAYSYeah. A couple things on that. I mean, I think first of all no state has been subject to the filibuster prior to admission to the Union. I just don't think that that's a hurdle that we should have to jump over in order to become a state. I understand that, you know, Mitch McConnell has like threatened to go scorched earth I don't know how that's different than how he already behaves to be honest with you. And I think it's just been the case that McConnell any time a Senate rule stands in Mitch McConnell's way, he gets rid of it. The only reason he hasn't gotten rid of the filibuster for legislation in the past is because he hasn't needed to get rid of the filibuster for legislation in the past.
HATCHER-MAYSBut when the filibuster interfered with Mitch McConnell's top priorities, which were Supreme Court justices, he did get rid of the filibuster in order to confirm Neil Gorsuch and Bret Cavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. So I think what we're looking at here is this is an opportunity. We don't know how long this trifecta is going to last and so we really need to go big and go bold. And not govern too much from a place of fear like how might Mitch McConnell retaliate. Very good chance he's going to retaliate whether we get rid of the filibuster or not. So we might as well go for it.
SHERWOODThank you very much. That's good. And let me -- a lot of people may not know you. Thank you for being on the program. You have in fact worked for Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Delegate, for three years. This will be her crowning achievement as she's been the delegate since 1991. This could be the crowning achievement if she were to possibly get statehood. So in your three working for Ms. Norton, was this an issue for you also. Did you particularly be involved in this?
HATCHER-MAYSYeah. So obviously, it's a huge priority for the whole office. I helped out. I did my small part, of course. You know, I think nobody has done more for the issue of statehood than the congresswoman. This would be an incredible achievement after, you know, working on this for so long, and really kind of moving this issue from like a slogan on a license plate to really kind of a mainstream thing that lots and lots of people support. It would be really amazing to see that finally happen.
NNAMDIWell, Roger sent us an email, "D.C. statehood not now, not ever. Never. Just give D.C. residents the right to vote and call it done." But here is Doug in Chinatown. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGHi. Thank you for taking my call. Great program. I just want to affirm some of the comments that were said. Like one of your guests just noted that the GOP has done away with the filibuster in times past. And I read this as a tragedy of the commons racing to the bottom. I think the filibuster is degrading already anyway. Either party will get rid of parts of it as needed. In my opinion it's something of a perversion of a historical accident and it doesn't really serve our nation and I think it should go entirely.
DOUGIf you have won all three -- or the two houses of the Congress and the presidency you have the right to rule and that applies for both sides. As far as D.C. statehood, absolutely D.C. statehood, I don't see any reason why D.C. shouldn't be a state. The people have the right to vote in Congress. The people have the right to be full blown citizens. Thank you for taking my comment. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for you comment. Parker from Ranson, West Virginia emails, Meagan, he says, "I would wait until after the mid-term elections. History shows that Republicans will retake the House at mid-term elections. That would be a disaster if the filibuster was non-existent." To which, Meagan Hatcher-Mays, you say what?
HATCHER-MAYSI say we are on solid ground until at least 2024. If that happens, which we hope does not happen in 2022 where we would lose control of either the House or the Senate, we still would have Joe Biden in the White House to veto any tomfoolery. And I think we need to take advantage of the majority that we've got in hand right now.
NNAMDIWalk us through what ending the filibuster would look like. Who are the Democrats who do not support ending the filibuster and what are their concerns?
HATCHER-MAYSYeah, I think the most vocal probably Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. I think Joe Manchin actually has shown some pretty positive movement kind of in the right direction on this. He went from saying, never ever will I vote to get rid of the filibuster to, well, maybe I would support some reforms that would still give the minority a say. It would still be able to participate in a debate of pieces of legislation. So he seems to be in favor of bringing back the talking filibuster, the sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington version of the filibuster. That's a little less than ideal because it still wastes a lot of time and would obstruct quite a bit of Senate business, but better than nothing. That seems to be Krysten Sinema's issue with it as well.
NNAMDIWell, Indivisible launched a For the People campaign that included ads promoting D.C. statehood in certain states. Let's take a listen.
UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER(start audio clip) D.C. statehood it's not about politics or politicians. It's about creating a more perfect union. It's about representation and self-governance for D.C.'s 700,000 residents, the teachers, nurses, firefighters, families, who pay taxes, find cures and keep us safe. It's about racial justice and giving a voice and a vote to a historically Black city. With D.C. statehood we can fix our democracy and make Congress work for all of us. And we can do it now by passing HR51. Call your representative today. (end audio clip)
NNAMDIMeagan, who were these ads targeting and what platforms did you use to run them?
HATCHER-MAYSThey ran primarily digitally so YouTube, Twitter, places like that. And they were run in Arizona, Montana, Colorado. Just places where we want to make sure that the senators there know that this is an important issue. They're also hearing obviously directly from their constituents too in addition to the ads that we've been running. This is just something that -- and we also just wanted to portray a more realistic version of the District than people might sometimes be getting out in the world from more conservative politicians.
SHERWOODYou know, clearly racial discrimination has been part of the denial of voting rights for statehood for the District. But the U.S. Constitution in creating the District of Columbia in its article one gave Congress quote, "Exclusive legislative authority over the District." And it said at the time that the Congress had come from Philadelphia where citizens had demonstrated against the Congress. And they wanted to a place where they could be free of any of the states having power over them. And some of the members of Congress still say, you know, "Why should the District shrink the federal district to a very -- a few blocks and give statehood? Why not go back to Maryland?" I think the Maryland idea is stupid, because Maryland doesn't want us. But what about the idea that the Congress should have a neutral place not affected by states?
HATCHER-MAYSYeah. It's kind of ironic, right, that the Capitol moved from Philadelphia to what is now the District, because of this sort of like violent mob that had kind of held members of Congress hostage. And then you compare that to the response on January 6. It's like, well, the size of the federal district is not the issue, right, as far keeping member of Congress safe. So I really think that's a silly argument. You know, there's nothing -- I have my pocket Constitution right here. And I think there's nothing in it that says ...
SHERWOODDon't read it. Don't read it.
HATCHER-MAYSNo. I'm against the filibuster, Tom. I will not be filibustering on this show. But, you know, I just think that that's a silly argument. The smallness of the federal district is not a real problem.
SHERWOODWhat about retrocession to Maryland?
HATCHER-MAYSWell, you know, we love our neighbors in Maryland. We do. And I'm sure they love us as well, but it's a, thanks, but no thanks, from me. You know, I think the people of Maryland have said, "Thanks, but no thanks." Every single member except for Andy Harris of the Maryland delegation is a supporter of D.C. statehood. It's just not a serious argument. So no thank you, although, I love you, Maryland.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's about all the time we have he said as he interrupted Tom again. Meagan Hatcher-Mays, thank you very much for joining us.
HATCHER-MAYSThank you so much, Kojo and Tom. It was a real pleasure.
NNAMDIUp next, Angela Alsobrooks, Prince George's County Executive. You can start calling for her now with praise or denunciations 800-433-8850 is the number. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. And welcome to Angela Alsobrooks. Angela Alsobrooks is the Prince George's County Executive. Angela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ANGELA ALSOBROOKSWell, thank you so much for having me. You know, I always enjoy coming on, and now that you've invited your listeners you said to either praise or denunciate, that is hilarious. Thank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt won't be so hilarious when they start the denouncing. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Tom Sherwood, I am sure that there are a lot of Prince Georgians who work at the U.S. Capitol, and I know a few who work on the Capitol Police. But 12 Republicans opposed Congressional Gold Medals for the police who protected them, which included the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Police, Smithsonian Institution. What was going on? Why would they not want to give Congressional Gold Medals to those brave people?
SHERWOODWell, there is an effort by some, mostly Republicans, to redefine what happened on January the 6th, suggesting that it wasn't the violent thing that we saw in our own videos. But the Congressional Gold Medal, Speaker Pelosi said, would be going to Capitol Police, D.C. Police and the Smithsonian Institution, all of whom participated in trying to quell the riot there. Twelve Republicans voted against it.
SHERWOODAndy Harris in Maryland, the lone Republican, said it was a stunt. Bob Good, who's a new member of Congress from the middle of Virginia, the 5th District, he said it was a political convenience for Pelosi to try to put Republicans on the spot. So, these 12 Republicans voted against it, most of them from the southern states. And they just simply don't want to do anything that would suggest that the insurrection that occurred on January 6th was, in fact, an insurrection.
NNAMDIMadame County Executive, as I said, I know Prince Georgians who work on the Capitol Police. What was your reaction to that piece of news?
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know, one of the heroes who was recognized was a Prince Georgian, who actually redirected the insurrectionists away from the office of Nancy Pelosi. And so, we are very proud of him and the others who did what they could to try to quash this insurrection. But Officer Goodman is a Prince Georgian. He's a hero. We are so very proud of his efforts.
NNAMDIAnd, Tom Sherwood, local Asian activists rallied in this area after the shootings in Atlanta. What's going on there?
SHERWOODWell, because of the -- my hometown of Atlanta, because of the shooting there and the man who shot three different massage services, killed six Asian women, there's been an outrage. There's been such a horrible increase in discrimination against Asians and Pacific Islanders in this country over the past year. The shooting -- the police in Atlanta were saying, well, this guy had a bad day, which was a terrible thing to say.
SHERWOODBut they said that, you know, he was troubled by his sex addiction, and so he went in search of shooting people. But it just highlighted the terrible situation we are in this country now, where aggression against people, discrimination and hatred against people is so open. And so, in this case, we had the demonstration in the District of Columbia, in the middle of the week, where a couple hundred people showed up to express their concern that Asian-Americans across this country are being targeted because of President Trump's, you know, "kung flu" and other racist things that he has said, and that more needs to be done to stop it.
NNAMDIWe'll be discussing the anti-Asian sentiment on this show on this coming Monday. You might want to tune in for that. Right now, we're talking with Angela Alsobrooks, the Prince George's County executive. And, Angela Alsobrooks, let's start with vaccines. Who is eligible to receive the vaccine in Prince George's County right now, and how many residents have been vaccinated?
ALSOBROOKSSo, we have moved into phase 1C and are quickly moving, actually, into phase 2. And so, we are aggressively expanding our vaccination program. We have vaccinated well over 50 percent, closer to 60 percent of those who are 65 and older. And we continue to vaccinate, especially as supply becomes available. That has been the predominant challenge that we've had, not only in Prince George's, but in the state and across the country, was the supply of vaccines.
ALSOBROOKSSo, for example, we started out with 975 vaccines, that we were guaranteed as a county, per week. And we have 120,000 individuals who are on our waitlist, waiting to be vaccinated. So, this has been one of the challenges we've had. We've now been guaranteed 5,700 vaccines per week. And combined with our partners, we are able now to vaccinate thousands of our residents, so we are very pleased. We're moving through and increasing the numbers of people, as well as opening up different phases and moving quickly to phase 2 within the next week.
NNAMDIMaryland Governor Larry Hogan has cited vaccine hesitancy as the reason that African-American and Latino residents in Prince George's County haven't gotten the vaccine. One, do you think vaccine hesitancy is the main obstacle? And before you respond, we got an email from David, who says: There's a perception that Governor Hogan's administration is stifling vaccine equity and fairness by placing over two-thirds of the state from mass vaccination sites and locals that are predominantly white, the Republican voting regions. Do you have any thoughts about this issue? So, I guess I'm asking you two questions in one.
ALSOBROOKSWell, none of the information we have so far bears out the belief that hesitancy has been the primary issue for us. Again, we have 120,000 of our residents who are on a waiting list, wanting the vaccine. So, that has not been an issue for us. The issue has been the supply. At the mass vaccination site here, we had a very serious concern that we expressed to the governor regarding the fact that when the numbers came out -- and numbers just speak for themselves-- close to 90 percent of the vaccines that were administered at the site in our county went to people who didn't live here.
ALSOBROOKSThat has since been addressed. We're beginning to address it with the governor. We've met repeatedly with them, and we are pleased that they set aside, at our request, a number of vaccines to be reserved only for Prince Georgians at that site, and also opened up, in addition to that, a mass vaccination site. And we were so pleased to open at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, earlier this week. That will allow us to administer at least 1,000 vaccines per day at that site.
ALSOBROOKSAnd so, we are really pleased that our concerns have been heard. And we're hearing and seeing more and more vaccines delivered to Prince George's County every day for us to administer. So, we are really happy that we can get our residents protected.
SHERWOODI want to ask you the vaccine question, but like Kojo says, you got to get your questions in early because time runs out. So, before I ask you whether or not Governor Hogan has messed up the vaccine program in the state, I want to ask you -- and you're not surprised -- when will you let the people of Prince George's county know whether you're going to run for reelection as county executive -- after all, it's almost April of 2021 -- or that you will be running for governor?
SHERWOODYou've raised a lot of money. You've raised more money recently than Peter Franchot, who is a candidate for governor. When are you going to get off the, I love my job that I have now, I'm honored to serve the Prince George's County, and tell us when will you let us know your decision? If you're not going to say today, when will you?
NNAMDIBefore you respond, let Wallace in Bowie, Maryland get in on this action. Wallace, your turn.
WALLACEKojo, Tom, hi. Executive Alsobrooks, I think you're doing a fantastic job. And Tom stole some of my thunder. I was going to ask if you were considering running for governor.
SHERWOODShe is considering it, she is.
ALSOBROOKSWell, you know what, thank you so much, Wallace. And let me just say this. So, Tom, in direct answer to your question, I'm never getting off the, I love my job and I love Prince Georgians. That will be true every...
ALSOBROOKS...it's true every day of the week. It's true night and day. And in terms of considering governor, what I am most focused on right this moment -- and, you know, and it's no secret. I have never deviated from this. I am so excited about the vision that we have for Prince George's County. And, in this moment, I'm running for reelection for county executive. I am very, very committed to what I am doing in Prince George's County. I am not -- I have some things I promised Prince Georgians, and I am going to continue to work to make sure that I deliver those things to Prince Georgians.
ALSOBROOKSAnd at some time in the future, when the opportunities present themselves to do something different, you know, I'll consider it at that point. But, in this moment, I am completely committed to getting my county through this pandemic, making sure we're able to stand up and address the inequities that have been under, and healthcare and food delivery and education and other areas. And I love Prince Georgians, and I think they love me, too. And I'm really, really honored to continue working there.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Wallace, you're going to have to wait for a while. Go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI want to make sure I heard you correctly that right now your focus is to run for reelection as county executive, because you've got a lot more work to do and you do like the job. That doesn't rule out your running for governor. I talked to someone who really wants you to run. He said, you're the strongest -- and this is him, not me -- you're the strongest, best candidate for the Democrats. And are you really going to give the Republicans a shot at keeping control of the governor's office for another four years? If you don't run for governor who would you support, or is it too early to say?
ALSOBROOKSYeah, all of those things are too early to say, but I can tell you this. I regard public service as the highest honor. And the thing that wakes me up and, you know, the thing I got to sleep with at night is whether I'm doing what I have promised that I would do, whether my word is good, whether, you know, my actions. And so, right now, the thing I judge my work against really is, you know, where I can be most useful.
ALSOBROOKSAnd I know that, at some point, I'll be useful in the state, but I think that Prince George's is also a part of the state, a very strong and important part of it. It is the economic engine of the state. And if Prince George's is strong, so is Maryland.
SHERWOODOkay. One last question. Thank you, Kojo. Have you talked to either former Governor Parris Glendening, who wrote an op-ed recently about how he made a mistake on sentencing -- I think -- I'm sorry, I made a mistake. My notes are not clear, here. And -- or have you talked to Parris Glendening, your predecessor Rushern Baker or Congressman Anthony Brown who some people think might want to run for governor again, like he did in 2014? Have you talked to them about this or not?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what, the former governor has not spoken with me about his op-ed. I have seen that he -- I think he talked about, was it parole?
SHERWOODYes, parole, right.
ALSOBROOKSI think that was his concern that he raised. Yeah, you know what, I have not had a chance to speak with Governor Glendening about that. He's not reached out to me about it, but I have talked to Governor Glendening about many other things. He's been a wonderful friend, but he's not talked to me about his concern about parole.
SHERWOODOkay. I'm going to put you on the "probably will run for governor" until you tell me something different.
ALSOBROOKSAll right. Thank you, Tom. (laugh) Well, you know what, the thing you helped me say is I do love my job. I really do. That's never changing. I'm so grateful for that.
NNAMDILast week, Prince George's County loosened some COVID restrictions. Businesses like restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and houses of worship can reopen at 50 percent capacity. This followed a statewide reopening that ended all capacity limits for those businesses, although they still need to enforce six-foot social distancing. Why did you decide to lift those restrictions? Was it just to follow the kind of statewide reopenings?
ALSOBROOKSNo. You know, we've been watching our numbers, and we are really pleased that we have -- at least for the last two weeks -- we've been below 5 percent in terms of our positivity rate. In fact, we're so close -- we're actually close to 3 percent. We are at exactly 4 percent positivity rate. We also have 15 new cases per 100,000 residents, which is a significant improvement from our high of 58.8 percent on January, just January 8th.
ALSOBROOKSSo, you'll see that we're moving in a positive direction. We are still very cautious, because, as you well know, Prince George's County was just devastated by this virus. And we remain at a medium risk where our infection rate is concerned, about .95. So, we're moving more slowly than the rest of the state.
ALSOBROOKSWe've been cautious, but we did believe that our numbers really did justify us opening up a bit. And so, we've gone to 50 percent maximum capacity for houses of worship. Movie theaters are now open, gyms, indoor dining and banquet halls. So, we've opened up some, but we're going to continue to watch our numbers and make good decisions for Prince Georgians.
NNAMDIHere is Kate, in College Park. Kate, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATEHi. Thanks so much for taking my call. It's great news to hear about the influx of vaccines. And I think a lot of folks like myself feel like we can finally start thinking towards what comes next and when that might be. And I would just love to hear what does come next and what things looks like. What is the county doing to make sure that it's ready? What work might be going on behind the scenes, and so forth?
ALSOBROOKSOh, wow. Thank you so much, Kate. Well, let me just, first of all, thank you and thank all the rest of our residents who've done such a beautiful job in helping us to recover, caring for each other. And I can tell you we're working on a number of levels. Rental assistance, we have offered now to make sure that all of our residents are able to recover from this. We were able to use about 10 million last year. We're using more of that. We're continuing to support businesses, small businesses.
ALSOBROOKSWe're going to make sure that we're -- our economic development is just booming in Prince George's County right now around areas like New Carrollton, Suitland, Maryland, our downtown Largo area. Look for a lot of investment along the Blue Line corridor from Capitol Heights to Morgan Boulevard. But it's explosive. We're so excited about what's coming. An amphitheater, say hello to that, for those who saw me out at the Merriweather Post Pavilion. And guess what? We are now planning to listen to live music in Prince George's very soon. We're going to be breaking ground on an amphitheater.
ALSOBROOKSAnd we're opening our new hospital in June, cutting the ribbon on our brand new hospital here in Largo. So, we have a lot to look forward to. We have a lot of work to do together, but mostly closing up these inequities. Help me, please, with the food deserts you all saw. I was in a fight recently about these food deserts. We want beer and wine licenses like they have in D.C. and Virginia and other places so that we can incentivize having quality grocers come into some of our underserved areas, where they tell me that the profit margin makes it difficult for them to get into some of our low-income, low-access areas. We have got to close up those food gaps.
NNAMDIWell, I was going to ask you about that later, but you've already mentioned it.
NNAMDIBut that's all right. Sharon in Northern Virginia, I think, is going to take us where I'd like to go next. Sharon, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHARONCounty Executive, it's Sharon Taylor, an old friend of yours from the sheriff's office? How are you?
ALSOBROOKSYes. Hi, Sharon. Good.
NNAMDIThis is what we do here. We bring old friends together. But go ahead, Sharon. (laugh)
SHARONI was hired in November, but I just want to say to you that I thought you and your team did a magnificent job on dealing with COVID quickly and continuously. Because, you know, I'm communications, and I believe that if you want people to know something, you have to talk to them. And you did that regularly, and I thought it was fantastic.
ALSOBROOKSThank you, Sharon.
SHARONYou're so welcome. But on the policing thing, I'm so -- you know, that's where I came in in Prince George's County. And I'm so disappointed that we keep doing studies as if we haven't built a roadmap in Prince George's County for police reform. And the number-one thing we should know is, the absolute leadership of policing starts at the top. Melvin High at the Prince George's County Police Department built a roadmap for how you get out of an MOU investigation and (unintelligible) decree by doing the work. The roadmap is there.
SHARONAnd, you know, I understand that the problem is...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, allow me to interrupt you, Sharon, because we don't have a great deal of time left. And I want our audience to know what we're talking about, here. Current and former Prince George's County police officers are in an ongoing racial discrimination lawsuit against the department. Last month, a report compiled by an expert retained by those officers detailed multiple allegations of command officers using racist statements and not facing consequences.
NNAMDIThe report also claimed that one corporal received at least eight complaints from black male civilians about inappropriately touching their genitalia during traffic stops. And Sharon, of course, is talking about the reforms that were put into place under former Chief Melvin High. Angela Alsobrooks, what's your response to all of this?
ALSOBROOKSOkay. So, there's a lot to say, there. First of all, so the lawsuit that you reference was filed two weeks after I came into office regarding matters that happened before I got here as county executive. And one of the things we've done over the last year is to put together a police reform taskforce that I organized in July. They came back in December with 50 recommendations.
ALSOBROOKSWe have accepted 46, and are in the process right now of implementing those reforms, some really amazing reforms we have included in our budget. Including reforms that allowed me to hire a person who's now over equity and diversity for the police department, separated the inspector general from the police department, so that those complaints can be heard in a mutual fashion. We're working on incentivizing, having officers who actually live in Prince George's County serve the residents of Prince George's County.
ALSOBROOKSSo, we are really aggressively moving forward. Listen out soon for me to make an announcement regarding a new police chief. So, we have made aggressive moves forward. But let me just say this about studies. We didn't sit here and study and study and study. I have those 46 reforms, including mental health. I'd like to talk about them at some point. I don't have enough time today, but we are making some really aggressive, I think, and forward-thinking changes to the way that we will police.
ALSOBROOKSBut let me just say this. It doesn't take a lot of talent to identify the problem. I've said that over and over again. We know well what the problem is. It does take more time and more thought to actually implement something that will work. I am in the process of implementing changes. Talking about it, thinking about it, all of that doesn't -- to spot the issue doesn't take talent. To implement a change, to actually cause a reform to happen takes much more intention, takes much more investment. And that's where we are right now, is we need to fix the problem, and we're going to fix it.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, your proposed budget includes a $23 million decrease in funding to the police department. Why did you decide to take away that funding, and where will that money go, instead?
ALSOBROOKSOh, I'm glad you said that, Tom. Thank you, Tom. You're the best partner ever. So, the 20 million, I forgot to say, is guess what? I shifted $20 million away from a public safety training facility for the police to build a behavioral health facility that will offer both inpatient and outpatient mental health services to our residents.
ALSOBROOKSThis facility now will deal with mental healthcare and addictions care, a longstanding need that we have had. So, I moved away the $20 million you're talking about to make sure that we are treating individuals who suffer from mental health. We have 70 percent of the people we arrest every day and take to our Department of Corrections are intoxicated when they get there. Another third are mentally ill. So, rather than treat people in jail who need help with mental health care and addition care, we have chosen to deal with them in dignity, in a mental health facility. And that's what we've done, reallocated it.
NNAMDINow, here's the real Tom Sherwood. Tom.
SHERWOODOkay. Yes. Being the county executive of two dozen counties in the state, it's very difficult dealing with the COVID virus. Governor Hogan has been praised for some things and criticized for others, including the recent announcement to reopen the state without advanced notice. I realize, if you were a candidate for governor, I want to ask you this regardless, whether you acknowledge that or not, what kind of grade would you give Governor Hogan on dealing with the COVID matter in the state of Maryland?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what, we've all been praised and criticized. That's the nature of being in public service, you know, is that sometimes we do things well, some days not so well. I don't know that I judge others who are in public service. I've mostly just tried to make sure that, you know, when necessary I criticize the governor. When it wasn't necessary, you know, other times -- so, in other words, I have to choose the weapon that I use on any given day to protect our residents. Some days, it's criticism. Other days, it's diplomacy. But, at the end of the day, we just want to get things done. And I don't know that I'd grade him or any other person, but we've had challenges. And when I've -- when they have been -- I'm sorry.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) I'm so sorry for interrupting, but I know we're almost out of time. If you were governor, what would you have done differently -- that Governor Hogan has done that you would do differently?
ALSOBROOKSYou know what? I think that communication at times...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Communicate more.
ALSOBROOKS...the communication could've been better. I think also just kind of having a more uniform approach to some of the things like testing and vaccines so that the jurisdictions didn't compete against each other. You see it now. I mean, it's just been a kind of, you know, sometimes too much competition between the jurisdictions. So, a more coordinated approach to that and just making those decisions.
ALSOBROOKSAnd the communication, I would say, you know, with the locals before announcing things, for example. We had a problem with that, that we found out at press conferences, what the changes would be. I think those kinds of things are things that could've been done differently. But overall, you know what? We've worked together. We're working now to increase the vaccine and to serve our residents. The governor was here this week. He's been here probably three times in the last couple of weeks after we requested that.
ALSOBROOKSSo, I'm pleased that I'm able to serve my residents and, honestly, that's what's most important. And in terms of the grade, we'll let the public do that. The praise and criticism belongs to the public, and all the rest of us are just working stiffs, trying to get it done.
NNAMDIOnly got about 30 seconds left, but there's a push by two state delegates to remove authority over schools from your office and return it to having a superintendent, while also revamping the school board. Are you for or against that?
ALSOBROOKSOh, Lord, we need to revamp the school board. We do. Now, whatever we do, the public can decide which way to do that. But the school board has been in dysfunction that we've seen over the last eight, 10 years. It has caused embarrassment to our county. We have to be able to work together on behalf of children to keep the acrimony and discord and infighting away from our kids. We have a lot of work to do, building schools. We have, now, an $8 billion backlog in repairs and construction. We can't afford to have the boards fighting each other. So, whatever would make them work together a little better and to do away with the acrimony, I'm for that.
NNAMDIAngela Alsobrooks, thank you so much for joining us.
ALSOBROOKSThank you all for having me. Thank you so much. You all take care.
NNAMDIThe Politics Hour was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, in the wake of a shooting rampage that left eight people dead at Asian-run spas in Georgia, we discuss how to combat the rise in bigotry and violence against Asian-Americans.
NNAMDIThen Kojo for Kids welcomes singing sensation Eleasha Gamble, who grew up in Tacoma Park and went on to major roles in musical theater at the Kennedy Center and across the nation. That all starts Monday, at noon. In the meantime, thank you for listening. Have a wonderful weekend. You plan on having a wonderful weekend, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODYes. I'm going to get on my bicycle after several months of not doing so.
NNAMDIWell, maybe I'll run into you on the trails, someplace. But you have a great weekend, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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