D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, March 27, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss local politics, including District voting rights, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine's proposed roads package, D.C. region smoking bans and more.

The transcript follows.

Plotkin joined WTOP after 10 years as a political analyst for WAMU radio. He has been active in D.C. and national politics since attending George Washington University in the late '60s.


Washington: With Georgetown making it to the Final Four, isn't it time to lay off the criticism and congratulate them for a job well done? Surely you don't want your alma mater to be regarded as a cupcake, which it would be from Georgetown's point of view, if Georgetown decided to accept Jack Evans' proposal for it to face George Washington in an annual Ward 2 men's basketball championship game.

Mark Plotkin: First, I want to congratulate Georgetown. They are a very talented team. Wallace is a great three point shooter. But I still want them to be clobbered and beaten by at least forty points. I noticed in your inquiry that you did not reference the column by Mike Wise where he tells of John Thompson Sr. actions concerning his former players. One in particular, Fred Brown who threw the ball away in the 1982 game against North Carolina. There was that famous picture of Thompson Sr. embracing Brown. The rest of the story is as told by Brown that Thompson does not call him back when he calls nor does he call back any of his former players except those who make the NBA. I think this speaks volumes about the character of John Thompson Sr. and reflects what I have been saying all along that Georgetown University basketball is concerned only with success not with the city they play in or even a loyalty to the players who played on the team. I recommend Wise's column to everybody. (This past Sunday's Post)


washingtonpost.com: 25 Years Later, Thompson's Compassion Is a Fading Memory to Brown (Post, March 25)


Arlington, Va.: There are only a few small things going on today in Virginia politics, including Kaine's road plan, Kaine's smoking ban, and Kaine's death penalty vetoes. How does this influence the election this fall? How will it change Kaine's support across the state? Any idea what Kaine plans to do after the 2009 elections?

Mark Plotkin: First I want to say on WTOP "Ask the Governor" he said that he was against any state funding of embryonic stem cell research. I have asked him about this before and he kind of fudged it. This was the first time he specifically said he was against this research. To those who have debilitating chronic diseases, this comes as quite a blow. He said they are funding adult, stem cell research, but that is only a very modest $500,000. I am sure there are medical institutions, hospitals, and research facilities that would desperately want some funding to explore this potentially valuable and life saving avenues of medical research. But the Governor for the first time on WTOP is not acting like a progressive. California is borrowing and then spending over $3 billion. In New Jersey is making a substantial commitment as well. Even Maryland has allocated $25 million. The Governor I believe is letting his religious views interfere with his public responsibility. And I plan to make a big deal of this.

On the transportation package, I think he has decided the best course of action is to come up with some kind of bill, get the Republicans to go along with it and both parties can claim success. The Democrats need to pick up 4 seats in the Senate which very well might be doable. And 11 seats in Senate. I think in Northern Virginia they have a good chance of picking up some seats. In the rest of the state that will be up to the quality of each candidate to make their own case.


Juneau, Alaska: Submitting a day early, because I expect the D.C. voting issue to be a hot topic and I'm hoping it can remain a substantial, focused discussion. Mark, you're hurting your cause badly by hurling personal insults -- not just at people who disagree with you, but those asking reasonable questions. If someone says they feel things like crime and hunger should be higher political priorities and you disagree, a logical issue-oriented response is going to be far more persuasive than saying they have no self-worth or respect for democracy. I generally favor D.C. voting rights (I'd like to see Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories get them as well), but the constitutional language against it seems awfully clear. So I'd like to hear why you think a representative could be approved without an amendment -- beyond the emotional argument of "it's the right thing to do." I've spent years watching laws passed for that reason get overturned by courts, which everybody knew was going to happen all along (but it often allows supporters to rant about "activist judges").

Mark Plotkin: First North to Alaska by Johnny Horton. Second, I would think that somebody from Alaska would have innate sympathy for our cause since Alaska is a relatively new state and is not even part of contiguous part of America. The legal reasoning for our inclusion and the reason why we don't need a constitutional amendment is that the District clause of the Constitution allows Congress to act with great power. (They have plenary power and this exclusive jurisdiction) entitles Congress the power to do this on their own. The bill will pass the House in mid April and will go on to the Senate where it will have a tough time. The President could choose not to sign the bill or veto the bill, or sign the bill. Whatever the case if the bill becomes law I am sure someone will challenge it in the courts. And the final decision will be made by the Supreme Court on whether or not an amendment is necessary. I will take your advice about my deportment and try to be a kinder, gentler Mark Plotkin.


Washington: I was disappointed when the appeals court overturned the D.C. handgun control law but was interested to see that it still is being enforced in the case of Sen. Webb's aide.

Mark Plotkin: That is an interesting point and I must admit I hadn't thought of that. You have provoked a story idea. My thought is that the District government is appealing the decision so my belief is that the decision is not enforced yet. All the appeals have to be exhausted.


Washington: Do you think the administration is trying to derail D.C. voting rights in the House and putting off dealing with Mayor Fenty? What can the Democrats do to keep the Republicans from loading D.C. voting rights with objectionable riders, such as the one to eliminate the District's gun control laws or otherwise interfere with Home Rule?

Mark Plotkin: The Republicans continue to try and put riders on. I think the President would like to veto the voting rights bill even if it passes the Senate. I had a conversation with Karl Rove at Parker's Exxon on MacArthur Boulevard a few months back where he said that Texas should be divided into 6 different countries. This was a dismissive and insulting remark, but it demonstrated the intensity of opposition to giving DC even a modicum of political power. The problem is there are many Republicans and a few Democrats who just don't want to give political representation to a place that is too urban, too liberal, too Democratic, and finally too black. And they throw this constitutional arguments to just mask these biases. As Tom Davis said if this was a Republican jurisdiction all the Republicans would be clamoring for the vote.


Bethesda, Md.: How can the Maryland legislature say with a straight face that they cannot conform to the REAL ID Act re: requiring proof of legal U.S. residency for a driver's license because it would cost too much --while on the other hand cutting tuition for in-state illegal immigrants despite the cost in lost tuition? Can't they admit they are simply in the pocket of the immigrant lobby?

Mark Plotkin: There is an argument to be made that forcing immigrants to get licenses with proof of citizenship will deter immigrants from attempting to get licenses at all and that immigrants work and pay taxes and contribute to the State's economy. I understand the security concerns but it seems to me that some sort of compromise can be worked out. An immigrant who can't proof his citizenship is going to drive anyway because they need to earn a living. Why not make sure that he or she has a license so that there is some regulation.


Washington: Colbert King promised a list of six viable candidates in the Ward 4 Council race. Do you have any thoughts about about who is viable in either of the two Council races or the School Board race?

Mark Plotkin: I'm looking forward to that column. The top candidate who is definitely viable is Muriel Bowser because she has the support politically and with fundraising of Mayor Fenty. Renee Bowser has a passionate following and Michael Brown has name recognition. There are 19 candidates and the election is over a month away but right now I would think Bowser would be the favorite but not necessary a shoo-in.


Washington: Oh, I worry about your constitutional law, Mark. One court (Adams v. Clinton) has held that Washington was not a state for voting-rights purposes in an equal-protection context. Moreover, debates on ratification of the Constitution and the 1801 Act establishing the District of Columbia recognized that the citizens either would not have ab initio, or would lose existing voting rights they brought from Maryland. Taking your logic, could Congress decide that D.C. residents need not pay federal income taxes?

Mark Plotkin: My reading of Adams v. Clinton (I am not a lawyer) is that the people bringing the case got a decision which said you're in the wrong place. Meaning that the court cannot dictate to Congress that DC residents should have the vote, but the residents should seek a remedy and that remedy is the Congress. That is more simply put Congress can provide the vote for DC, the Courts cannot. And lawyers have said the court would uphold the right of Congress to give DC the vote. And that right could be secured by simple passage in both Houses. Ken Starr and Viet Dinh, no flaming liberals, have vouched for the constitutionality of this approach.


Laurel, Md.: The People's Republic of Maryland strikes again ... now they're trying to find a way to change their Electoral College votes to match the popular vote. Why don't they just burn the U.S. Constitution while they're at it? The Electoral College is a bit of a quirky system, but one that needs to be modified nationally, not just by a few power-hungry states.

Mark Plotkin: This proposal I am familiar with and want to give it more debate and discussion. What it attempts to do is exclude the possibility of repeating what happened in 2000 where Al Gore got more popular votes (about 500,000 more) than George Bush, but still lost the election because of the electoral college. I admit this is a creative approach and you must give me some time to think this one over. I also have to ask its offer, Jamie Raskin, his rationale for this. But I am glad you brought up the issue and I'd like to talk about it again.


Court Challenge: Mark, if the D.C. voting rights bill passes, how would someone challenge it in court? Who would have legal standing? Who would be injured by such law?

Mark Plotkin: I presume a Washington resident might challenge it. There is one lawyer who is trying to make a career out of this. I will not give him the satisfaction of mentioning his name. And I'm sure conservative groups who don't want to include all Americans in democracy will find a willing participant. "Is that snide enough?"


Burke, Va.:"The Governor, I believe, is letting his religious views interfere with his public responsibility. And I plan to make a big deal of this."

Religious view aside, why should a state with so many other pressing problems spend money on research that could be better accomplished by the private sector? The traffic in Virginia is horrendous, growth is out of control and the state practically is dividing itself in half. Gov. Kaine is not prohibiting such research, he just is stating that government moneys cannot be used right now to fund such research, most likely because they are not available. I don't feel it's warranted for you to "make a big deal" of a man who has the chutzpah to actually prioritize the needs of the state that he governs just because it doesn't serve your interests. Liberal advocate Plotkin strikes again!

Mark Plotkin: What a frontal attack. But you make some good points and I concede them. However, since the President vetoed any federal funding it seems to me that the states have a responsibility to provide funding which very well might provide an opportunity that could cure or make great progress with deadly chronic diseases and even people who suffer from paralysis. The President stance on embryonic stem cell research has been repudiated by even the head of his own NIH. This Bush Administration is anti-science. The Governor is not a scientist or a medical researcher and I am sure there are plenty of health related institutions that cannot raise there own private funding and would greatly appreciate and utilize state funds.


Washington: Or, Wise's column reflects one man's opinion. Wilbon said he knew plenty of non-NBA stars that have good relationships with Thompson, Sr. I thought Wise's column came across as thin and petty-sounding ("I'm mad because I can't get free tickets"?!). But that's just me.

Mark Plotkin: Wilbon also tried to discredit Brown by saying that the slight's he received might be "real or perceived" that I thought was a cheap shot. If you read Wise's column carefully you realize that Thompson did not deny any of the allegations. All he said is "I like Freddy."


Washington: Mark: How do you think the mayor is doing on voting rights? Seems like an incredible improvement to me. Thanks.

Mark Plotkin: He's terrific. Unlike Tony Williams, he actually phones people and speaks with passion and gets meetings! He has secured the endorsement although it is not well publicized of Trent Lott and he is meeting with the President's Chief of Staff Josh Bolten at the end of this week. He is serious on this issue and very effective.


Columbia Heights, D.C.: Hi Mark. The media coverage of recent developments related to the District's handgun ban (the federal court decision overturning the ban and the attachment of a gun bill to the D.C. voting rights measure) creates the impression that most D.C. residents are in favor of the ban as it stands. I'm wondering whether there is any polling data that supports that view. I'm not sure that I would run out to buy a handgun to keep in my home if the law changed, but I'd like to have the option. I think a not-insubstantial number of D.C. residents probably feel the same way.

washingtonpost.com: House Vote on D.C. Seat Thwarted (Post, March 23)

Mark Plotkin: I'm not familiar with the latest polling on this, but I think it would be a fascinating question and somebody like the Post should do a poll like this, or WTOP could do a online poll and publish the results. The political establishment is unanimously in support of the gun ban as is the police chief.


Washington: So Mark ... I read the tourist bureau is paying some consultant $150,000 to come up with a new D.C. "catchphrase" or tourist type slogan ... and is soliciting ideas from the public. Got any suggestions?

Mark Plotkin:"Taxation without representation"

"Come see the world's last colony."

"Democracy - good enough for Baghdad but not D.C."

"First in the hearts of America, last in the national league."


Just wondering: Mark, I appreciate your criticisms of Georgetown and do agree that they should play in the BB&T. But the reasons why they don't, I think you must admit, are not 100 percent clear. You say it's because JT Sr. says so, while a lot of others point the finger in the direction of John Feinstein. But that's not my point.

As someone who bases much of the criticism on giving back to the city, don't you think it best that we all rally around a local team that is in the national spotlight, as opposed to back-biting and sniping?

Mark Plotkin: I applaud you for your noble sentiments. I repeat my hope that Georgetown by fifty points. Once they join the city and play other teams in the city on an annual basis, I will embrace them. Until that day I will root for their opposition and take great pleasure when they are sent home.


Rockville, Md.:"Thompson Sr...." Nothing beats beating up on the kids. How many generations do you want to go?

Mark Plotkin: I'm not beating up on the kids! I am beating up on the old man!


Gun ban: In my reading of the Court of Appeals decision, there was nothing I saw that would prevent citing someone for carrying a loaded concealed handgun (with extra magazines of ammunition) without a license. The court case had nothing to do with that type of situation.

Mark Plotkin: I haven't read the decision but I know it does pertain to the possession of handguns. And I need to read the decision and talk to experts on its interpretation. I will be better prepared to address all the nuances next week. Suffice it to say that this was considered a blow to DC sovereignty and thus are limited home rule.


Correction to the Hoyas story: I strongly would recommend that people check out Michael Wilbon's online chat yesterday in which he directly refutes Freddy Brown's allegations. Whatever animosity exists is solely between Brown and Thompson. With that said, I agree that Georgetown could be more involved in the city.

At the same time, the city could be a bit better to Georgetown. To wit: the stand-off about 20 years ago when Georgetown was hoping to build a power plant on campus and donate the excess energy to the city. A deal was struck that, to give them permission to proceed, would have required the school to convert the then-recently closed dental school into on-campus housing. At the last minute, the residents of Burleith pulled the rug out from underneath everything and squelched the deal.

So there are no real saints or sinners in this one. I guess I just didn't realize that playing in one basketball tournament was the litmus test on which all city activism and participation was judged.

washingtonpost.com: Live Online Discussion: The Chat House, with Michael Wilbon (washingtonpost.com, March 26)

Mark Plotkin: You make some good points. It's not the sole requirement for civic participation but it is a glaring one. In response to your remarks about Wilbon (which I did not read), why would Freddy Brown make this stuff up? I feel that he spoke freely and candidly because of the hurt Thompson did to him and others was so great and not commented upon for so long that he felt it essential to bring it up.


washingtonpost.com: Thank you for all the questions. See you next week, same time, same place.


Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company