D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

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Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, April 3, 2007; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, April 3, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss local politics.

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.

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washingtonpost.com: Mark Plotkin is coming to you from Miami today and is experience phone difficulties, but should be answering questions soon

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Norfolk, Va.: Because the transportation issue looks like its going to be solved, what is the next critical issue Gov. Kaine must confront in his administration?

Mark Plotkin: The Governor only has one term as you know and he has to find some other things to do besides transportation, although that will be his crowning achievement. I asked him about embryonic stem cell research and he said he was not in favor of it which, came as a great surprise to me -- and I think to many people who feel that this valuable potential for research should be utilized. As you know the Bush administration has vetoed any federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. In Maryland, New Jersey and California they've made major commitments to taking up the financial responsibility that the federal government has refused to. This position by Kaine is different than most of the Democratic party and I think he is going to get criticism by other Democratic governors for this stance.

He is supporting on another front Obama for President, and it looks like the primary will be on February 12, which is an early date, and I'm sure he will be working towards that.

In terms of a legislative program I think it is up to him outline what he is going to do, because transportation has overwhelmed everything else. He could start by raising tobacco taxes, which are very low at only 30 cents per pack. That would help raise money to insure the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Virginians. This would be a start.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Mark, I'm a new resident of Silver Spring, Md., so I have to plead ignorance ... it isn't a town, it isn't a city, so who governs this place? The county? It just seems to be weird that there isn't a government running this place.

Mark Plotkin: Silver Springs is within Montgomery County, which has more than one million people and is governed by a county council and a county executive, who is Ike Leggett. He succeeded Doug Dunkin, who was county executive for 12 years. There are two prominent politicians from Montgomery County who got elected state wide and have further political ambitions. They are Peter Franchot, the controller of Maryland, and Doug Gansler, who is the new Attorney General. The Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley, grew up in Montgomery Co. and his mother still lives there and on occasion he claims it is his home, especially when he is campaigning there. O'Malley got elected statewide as did Franchot and Gansler because they piled up such pluralities in the most populated county, which you live in. It is overwhelmingly Democratic and very important in the states' political makeup.

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Arlington, Va.: Some have been suggesting the creation of a Mid-Atlantic primary on Feb. 12 date. Will that idea come to fruition ,and if so what effect will that have?

Mark Plotkin: I'm glad you asked this question. All the big states including California are planning to have this mega primary the week before February 5. There very well might not be a conclusive result because there are so many primaries in play. So if there isn't a clear result, than the Mid-Atlantic primary of the District, Maryland and Virginia would have much greater importance and all the candidates very well will have to come to these three states to try to demonstrate their appeal. I personally just hope that Washington is not slighted because it is the smallest and is viewed as so reliably Democratic for the general election. I think most of the time probably will be spent in Virginia because this formerly red state seems to be going purple. As I have said before, Virginia has not gone Democratic in a Presidential election since 1964 when LBJ won in a landslide. Clinton came close in 1996 but failed to carry the state. I would think that Edwards would feel that he would do well there out of Northern Virginia because of his Southern background, but both Hillary Clinton and Obama would like to make a breakthrough in a state like Virginia, where they are not considered strong. The Kaine early endorsement of Obama will be tested for its clout. What I will be watching very carefully is Jim Webb's endorsement and his name being bandied about as a possible running mate. There are also three Democratic House members -- Jim Moran, Bobby Scott, and Rick Boucher -- all from different parts of the state and it will be interesting to see who they line up with.

In the Republican primary I would think McCain would be favored because of the amount of veterans in the state and the strong military presence. It will be interesting to see how much the financial front-runner Mitt Romney spends in the state. The whole name of the game is to do better than your supposed to -- lower expectations and then surprise everybody. Virginia is tailor-made for a surprise in either party. I think the District might be conceded to Obama, but in Maryland I believe Gov. O'Malley is going to support and endorse Hillary Clinton. He all but said that on the Politics program with me on 107.7 FM / 1500 AM on Friday. I wonder if the other polls in the state will follow O'Malley.

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Edgemoor, Md.: So, Mr. O'Malley is governor and the issue is taxes. What is your prediction on how (or whether) the budget will be balanced in light of the increased spending? Will it include increased income taxes? Will it include slots? If so, politically, how will that come about?

Mark Plotkin: Another good question. On Friday's Politics Program with Mark Plotkin I asked O'Malley where the tax increases would come from. Next year he and the Legislature have to do something and I believe it will be a combination of increases. The sales tax has not been increased in more than 30 years and that can raise a lot of money. A one-percentage point increase would add about $600 million. I also think that although the Governor is not saying it now , there is a distinct possibility that income tax for high salary wage earners will be increased, and there will be a vigorous effort to find corporate tax money that now escapes taxation. The Governor has said that he does not mind slots at race tracks, but that is not the foundation for this fiscal policy. State Senator president Mike Miller definitely will bring back slots and try to have this source of revenue in as many places as possible. Mike Busch, Speaker of the House, is opposed but might have to concede. All of this is being saved for the next session. The Governor will spend the intervening time attempting to line up a suitable compromise. His political skills definitely will be challenged.

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Washington: A memo from the Senate Republican Policy Committee outlined the opposition to the D.C. voting rights legislation on the usual constitutional grounds. Surprisingly, it also said that the best solution would be statehood. Given that Republicans seem to be arguing against the current approach on constitutional grounds, don't you think a push for statehood is a good idea?

Mark Plotkin: I am a statehood advocate, and to remind you, there was a statehood vote when the Democrats controlled both Houses and Congress and the Presidency. It was Nov. 1993. It only got 153 votes in the House. One Republican voted for it: Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.). That means that 40 percent of House Democrats voted against it. I never tire of telling as many people that the reason there was no vote in the Senate was that John Glenn of Ohio and Jim Sasser would not even allow a hearing on the bill. So there was no action in the Senate. Clinton did not do anything to help the cause even though he testified before the House District Committee when he was a candidate.

I'm sure the Republicans will feel that statehood requires a constitutional amendment, and that cannot be done with simple passage by both Houses. The new piece of information I have is that former Lt. Governor of Maryland Michael Steele is going to come out shortly in favor of the Davis-Norton Bill and do it in a very public way. He told me personally that he is going to make calls to Mitch McConnell, Trent Lott (who is for the bill) and other Republican Senators. McConnell on Friday voiced in the strongest of terms his opposition to the bill and I have no doubt he would filibuster it. There are not presently 60 votes to invoke cloture which, would stop the filibuster. The House on the week of April 16 will pass the bill and as I have said before it's really up to the two Utah Senators, Hatch and Bennett, to advocate for the bill. Right now those two Senators are sitting on the sidelines and it can't happen without their active support.

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Laurel, Md.: Have you done any research since last week about the State of Maryland changing their Electoral College vote to match the popular vote? Wouldn't the mostly liberal state have egg on their face if a situation like 2000 occurs again, with a Republican losing instead of a Democrat, meaning Maryland's Electoral College votes would support a Republican candidate?

washingtonpost.com: Note that it only takes effect once enough states have passed similar laws to constitute a majority of electoral votes -- State Poised to Become First To Scuttle Electoral College (Post, April 3)

Mark Plotkin: Good point. I have asked this question to the author of the bill, the very smart Jamie Raskin. He says that the good far out weighs the bad. Translation: we should not have a repeat of the year 2000 where Al Gore got 500,000 more votes than George Bush and still lost the election. I don't think 25 other states (including the District) will sign on to this plan. It really is an effort to do away with the Electoral College and do it without a constitutional amendment. As my learned audience knows, the numerical hurdle is quite extreme: two-thirds plus one in both Houses and much more difficult, three-fourths or 38 states, in the State Legislatures.

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Mount Vernon, Va.: It's Silver Spring, not Silver Springs. Back to Virginia: Does the fact that Kaine has endorsed Obama say that Mark Warner is staying out of the race for sure?

Mark Plotkin: I apologize Mount Vernon for the typo. I think it is pretty certain -- in fact I think it is absolutely certain -- that Warner will not run for President. It does not foreclose him accepting a Vice Presidential nomination if he should be asked. I think this is unlikely. What Democratic party politicians are trying to do now is to convince him to run for the Senate if John Warner should choose not to run in 2008. He has said to me previously that he would be interested in seriously thinking about running for Governor again in 2009. If John Warner does not run in 2008, Tom Davis will run and we very well might have a Davis-Warner race. If Warner does not run for Governor, then Bryan Moran definitely will run -- in fact he is campaigning across the state already. He is a very attractive candidate who needs to get better known outside of Northern Virginia.

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Virginia's tobacco tax: Mark: I would not count on increased revenue from increased tobacco taxes. While I'm no fan of smoking, research shows raising these taxes only encourages smokers to buy from other nearby states with lower rates, such as North Carolina, West Virginia or Delaware. That usually means the financial goals based on the increased revenue aren't met.

Mark Plotkin: That is a very good point. That is why we need some national uniformity on Tobacco taxes. This I know sounds like a fantasy, but it is desired and needed and is a public health policy objective.

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Arlington, Va.: Your petty sniping at Georgetown and John Thompson II about the BB&T have shown you to be the little man I always suspected you are. You repeatedly engage in idle speculation and name-calling, and you present a case that is either dishonest or is so ignorant to the actual facts that you do not even understand what is going on. Why not mention the limits and stipulations Feinstein has put on a Georgetown appearance in the BB&T? Why not mention that JTII's job is part of a deferred compensation from his days of coaching, which really is not that unusual nationwide? Because they don't serve your point? You have no interest in an actual, honest discussion on the topic. You are more interested in pushing your point than reporting facts and allowing the reader to decide. You are an embarrassment to The Washington Post, the District and yourself. You do a great disservice to all of us by continually citing incorrect facts and phantom anonymous sources. Unfortunately I do not think most people expect much more from you.

Mark Plotkin: Thank you for that charming, gracious, magnanimous comment. It would be helpful to a serious discussion of this issue if you were better-informed and more enlightened, but obviously it is apparent that you are uninformed and would prefer to resort to hyperbolic remark rather than a reasoned argument. Your pros I'm sure accurately reflect your overall persona, which on its surface seems extraordinarily unattractive and unappealing. Enough praise. I quote a source because I have to protect the anonymity, but it is a highly placed source and a source that I believe accurately and truthfully speaks the truth. The deferred compensation is a crock. $400,000 a year forever? That's stealing! The source there is the New York Times. The basic point is that Georgetown will not participate in a citywide tournament while Maryland and George Washingwill, and thus Georgetown deprives children's charities millions of dollars. That they are allowed to get away from this and, having defenders such as yourself speaks clearly about what they view as their civic responsibility to the city. I repeat: no other city would allow a major university to remove itself from participating in such a tournament. Georgetown declares itself exempt from any civic obligation or responsibility. As for the Feinstein restrictions, I do not know what you are talking about and you just threw that in as a red herring.

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Opinion: So Mark, what's your opinion of The Post's new craptastic Web design?

Mark Plotkin: Actually, I am not a computer person at all.

Thank you for your varied and interesting questions and comments. See you next week, same time, same place!

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