D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

Mark Plotkin
WTOP Political Commentator
Tuesday, May 22, 2007; 2:00 PM

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, May 22 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss Gov. O'Malley's Maryland gas tax proposal, the Senate's upcoming D.C. voting rights hearing, and whether Warner will run for Senate.

The transcript follows.

Archive: Mark Plotkin discussion transcripts

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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Washington: By putting a hold on Fenty's school takeover bill, isn't Sen. Landrieu simply following LBJ's version of the political Golden Rule (I do onto others as they did onto me)? Perhaps if official Washington had treated Louisiana better in the aftermath of Katrina, the senator might not be taking it out on the District right now.

Mark Plotkin: I really don't understand your logic here because Mary Landrieu is doing is hurting the District, not official Washington. She has been a long-time friend of the district and her record is really terrific concerning voting rights -- and I will remind you that her father, Moon Landrieu, (that's his real name) was a long-time mayor of New Orleans. So she has a great sensitivity to the plight of cities. Actually, I just remembered her brother most recently ran for Mayor of New Orleans. She appears at fundraisers on her behalf held by D.C. politicians, and that is why it is so surprising that she would take the move that she did.

I fault Robert Bobb, the president of the D.C. School Board, for jumping over the elected leadership (he's elected too) and going to Landrieu and asking her to put a hold on the legislation. Bobb -- who is crassly ambitious and new to the city -- is not, obviously, in touch with our home-rule government. It was a cheap stunt by Bobb and I hope there is some political damage that sticks to him for this ploy. I think the Mayor should be very upset with him, but it is a warning to him to be careful concerning Bobb and watching him very carefully.

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Random license plate question: I've noticed a lot of cars lately where the tag number is in red and there's a red box around the tag number. What's up with that?

Mark Plotkin: I'm glad you brought this up. The license plate (taxation without representation) was the brilliant offering of Foggy Bottom resident Sarah Shapiro, who emailed the idea to me when I was at WAMU. I did market the idea and directly asked President Clinton's press secretary to put it on the license plate of the presidential limousine, which he did. The low numbered plates (those under 1,000)now have a red box around them and I think it detracts from the elegance of the plate -- I'm going to call the new DMV person and ask why they have made this change. Thanks for bringing it up because there is no explanation for this needless addition.

One brief aside, I was told by the previous DMV Director that there were two individuals who got low numbers and wanted to have a plate that did not say taxation without representation. I pleaded with the former DMV Director to give me those names, and of course I would have published and announced them in every possible venue. She refused, but now that she has left I need to take her out for a sumptuous dinner and ply these names from her.

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The Wilson Building, D.C.: Mark--The only good news to come out of Sen. Landrieu's placing a hold on the District's legislation is that school board president Robert Bobb has revealed himself as a man who will stomp on the Home Rule Charter as soon as it fits his political agenda. He'd better enjoy the school board, because he won't be elected to anything else in Washington. And what the heck is he doing in Vegas right now on the taxpayer's dime? There are no school board issues at stake at the shopping center convention!

Mark Plotkin: You have exactly expressed my sentiments and I hope you read my previous remarks about Mr. Bobb. Your comment about "revealing himself" is exactly what I immediately thought. This guy came into town with no real appreciation of our history and Williams used him to run the day-to-day operations, and then he thought that he could carve out a political career without paying his dues. This latest act really personifies who he is.

Your point of why is he in Las Vegas is a very valid point. Maybe he sees some real estate deals he wants to do on the side. His personal professional activities have to be exposed. He says he has no business in Washington, but I would like to see a greater illustration of this self-admitted prohibition. But thanks for writing -- and I noticed you're at the Wilson Building, so I would think that this tactic by Bobb is getting plenty of attention and conversation.

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Washington: Did you happen to see some of the House Republicans who voted for the voting rights bill? Some ultra-conservatives (Mike Pence, Paul Ryan) simply had crises of conscience it seems. I thought Ryan's comment about "being on the right or wrong side of history" was particularly good. At least there are a few people left on the Right who know Right from Wrong. Thoughts?

Mark Plotkin: Yeah I have tried to commit the 22 republicans that broke with their party to memory. There were truly some "profiles in courage." You mentioned Pence and Ryan but next time, I don't have it in front of me, I'll list all 22 Republicans who did not vote with their parties leadership. Tom Davis was instrumental in getting most of these. Pence came onto the Politics Program on Washington Post Radio, 1500AM and 107.7FM, on the eve of the vote to explain why he was for it and couldn't have been more eloquent, and called on members of his conservative caucus to join him.

I should say at this point that former Lt. Gov. Stele actively is recruiting Republicans in the U.S. Senate and plans to go to the White House and talk to those people with Jack Kemp. The real test will be in the U.S. Senate, whether there are enough Republicans who will vote to break a filibuster. You need 60 votes, and just to give an idea of who in my opinion they are, they are the following: Hatch, Bennett, Lott of Miss., Collins of Maine, Voinovich of Ohio, Coleman of Minn., Warner of Virginia, Specter of Penn., Lugar of Ind., Snow of Maine, Smith of Oregon. These are my eleven possibilities. There is a hearing tomorrow on the constitutionality of the bill which will be chaired by Sen. Feingold. It's in room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Office Building. The bill probably will be voted on in the Senate in early July, and we'll see whether Bush vetoes it. A Bush administration Justice official is testifying and his testimony will be instructive.

Appreciate all the D.C. questions but would like to hear any view on O'Malley and the possible gas tax hike in Maryland and also reactions to the increased speculation that Wayne Gilchrest is being targeted by his own party. Also, I would like to stir the pot about whether or not John Warner will actually run for re-election next year and who you think would be his probably successor.

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Alexandria City vs. Virginia DEQ and Mirant: Will WTOP be giving any coverage to the State Air Pollution Control Board Public Comment Hearing about the Draft Consent Order that Alexandria city, the Virginia DEQ and Mirant plant are battling over (being held tonight from 4:00 - 9:00 p.m. at the Holiday Inn Alexandria -- Telegraph Road, 2460 Eisenhower Avenue, Alexandria, Va.)? Thank you.

Mark Plotkin: I was unaware of this but thanks for bringing it to my attention. You can always call our desk at 202.895.5060 and ask to speak to the assignment editor and inform them of hearings or events that we might not ordinarily be covering. Thanks for your suggestion. It's obviously a very important issue.

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Washington: Hi Mark. It seems as though U.S. Senators cannot leave local legislation alone. Now I understand that Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) has put a hold on the recently passed Fenty educational reform legislation, following a recent hold by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.). Two questions: Does this recent spate of Senatorial holds bode badly for a D.C. vote in the House of Representatives? Second, I understand that Robert Bobb is behind the Landrieu hold. If true, do you think this spells the end of Bobb's tenure in a Fenty administration?

Mark Plotkin: Back to the Bobb episode. I thought the same thing you thought, that this is a very bad precedent and I sure hope that Republican senators don't adopt the "hold strategy" when it comes to the D.C. voting rights bill. Cardin and Landrieu are friends of the District -- just imagine what some non-friends who are senators could do. I repeat, Robert Bobb should be ashamed and embarrassed with himself and this outing of him should prove to be a revelation of who he really is. I'm very angry about his action and I don't think that he is aware of the possible damage he's done.

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Alexandria, Va.: Two questions -- from one George Washington University Alum to another, what's your take on Trachtenberg's tenure at GW now that he is out? Also, I'm a GW hoops season ticket holder -- if I see you at a game, would it be okay to say hello?

Mark Plotkin: Of course it would be okay to say hello. I'm just a mere major peripheral figure here in town and I would be glad to talk to you. I'm sitting in better seats these days, third row inching towards center court and most of the time take DC, MD and VA pols to the games. I think you have seen me with Mayor Fenty, Vince Gray and former Gov. Mark Warner. Just trying to do my Jack Nicholson thing.

About your question, I went to his roast farewell dinner last week where there were 19 speakers. Steven Joel Trachtenberg is a lively, smart, clever character who has a lot of street smarts and I think during his 19 year period promoted and raised the visibility of the University to a stature it did not have before. It really had location going for it and undertook to be a school that had an extensive graduate education coupled with a law and medical school, and I don't think got the acknowledgment or attention it deserved in the past. It always was overshadowed by Georgetown and I think Trachtenberg by his own personality and drive made people notice the university and rightfully pay attention to it. He had some excesses as we all do and sometimes got himself and the university in trouble, but overall I think he'll go down as a significant moving force to make the university be viewed as a top-tier university in the country.

Personally, I must disclose that he asked me to address the freshman incoming class a few years ago and it was the 40th anniversary of my freshman class and I thought that was particularly thoughtful and considerate of him to do, and I obviously was influence by that "good judgment." In addition, Trachtenberg made the physical plant or university itself have a sense of place, where before there was no real center or sense of campus. Now I'm sure the Foggy Bottom neighborhood has a different view.

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John Warner: I thought the replacement of his Chief of Staff meant he was running again...

Mark Plotkin: See, my readers are good sources. I knew nothing about the replacement of his Chief of Staff. Please tell me more. My direct dial number is 202.895.5281 and I would like to hear more about this. Anybody else who has hot tips on staff or anything else, please do not hesitate to call that number. I really return all phone calls and return them really quickly if it is a particularly juicy tip ... so don't be shy.

I brought this subject up because I think that race would be so fascinating. On the Republican side, Tom Davis definitely would be running if Warner did not, and I'm sure he would not have that contest to himself. Also, how would the Republicans decide, by primary or by convention. Second, Mark Warner, the former governor, is being wooed by Democrats in the senate to run whether John Warner runs or not. All this feeds into the Democrats' hope that Virginia is turning from purple to blue. They have won the past two governorships and they hope to pick up seats in the Virginia house this November and possibly take over the state senate. The Webb victory over Allen definitely made them feel that there was a political shift going on, and they would like to continue that in the presidential election in 2008. Virginia has not gone for Democrat since 1964 when Johnson carried the state. To further your political education, even when there was a "solid south," Eisenhower carried Virginia over Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.

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Silver Spring, Md.: As a native of New Jersey, but now a resident of Silver Spring, O'Malley's gas tax looks like a risky move for him electorally in the future, much like for New Jersey Gov. Florio in the early '90s. As with Florio, it may be a situation where the tax is necessary to get the state out of a hole, but come election time the voters will care very little except for how much they are paying when they fill up. Your thoughts?

Mark Plotkin: Your Florio comparison is a very apt one and I think I'll steal it for my own use. I think voters become very parochial about their own economic situation and there is a Maryland leader comparable to that a former governor, I believe it is William Preston Lane, who instituted a state sales tax and later was defeated because of it. O'Malley obviously felt that he didn't want to take on this issue in his first year. He definitely will have to take on the fiscal situation during his second year and hope that he can pass something with a bipartisan flavor to it so that by his fourth year, people will understand or forget what he did in his second year. Next year will really be something to watch, even though he has overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses. How much will the party stay with him, and will they present a united front, and what will be the roles of state senate president Mike Miller and house Speaker Mike Busch?

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Fairfax County, Va.: I am concerned about some recent changes in Fairfax County that I'm assuming are the run-up to the (re)election of supervisors. What the heck is going on? As a liberal Democrat I feel totally alienated by these new policies. It seems like the county has put a lot of money and energy into affordable housing while simultaneously telegraphing with every ounce of its other policies that "those people" (working class, poor, minority, immigrant or elderly) are not really welcome here.

The "anti-big box stores" thing is one example, but not the only one. Every time I go into a Wal-Mart or Home Depot I am surrounded by county residents who presumably rely on the low prices on medicines, clothes, household necessities, do-it-yourself supplies, etc., to keep going. Why limit that option for them? Affordable housing isn't much without affordable living.

Another mixed signal is this new notion of extreme enforcement of zoning laws (aimed at immigrant families who have "too many" per house) with the repeated statement that offenders may be jailed, not just fined. It's like they're playing the old race card (with the "law and order" code phrase) but the modern way is to do it against brown instead of black. Why have things changed so drastically? Was there a tipping point that I missed? I was so happy we were trending blue, and now I'm not sure it meant what I thought it did. Maybe it was rich people's "blue."

Mark Plotkin: Thank you for your particularly interesting question and the narrative that goes with it. I think you really should address this question and concern to chairman of the Fairfax county supervisors, Gerry Connolly. He appears monthly on "Ask the County Executive" on WTOP, 103.5FM, at 10 a.m. I think you are on to something about the big-box stores. There are limousine liberals who want to make sure that the Wal-Marts of the world are not too numerous.

Concerning your statement about affordable housing, where is the affordable housing in Fairfax County? I think Democrats can be selective about social issues up to the point where it affects their standard of living and sense of self. So I think you have made some interesting points and you should direct your comments to Connolly and I would be eager to hear what his reaction is to these perceptive and insightful comments.

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Anonymous: Clinton Portis, legal expert? After saying people should mind their own business regarding the possibility of a dog-fighting ring being run out of Michael Vick's house in Virginia, and then being told dog fighting is a felony, he responds that it can't be too bad of a crime. So should the Virginia House of Delegates just say some felonies aren't too bad, at least when a celebrity is involved? What is this, California (oh, yeah, there it is only celebrity murderers who get off).

washingtonpost.com: Clinton Takes it All Back (washingtonpost.com, May 22)

Mark Plotkin: I'm unfamiliar with this story but it sounds intriguing to say the least. Would you tell me more next week? Where is Michael Vicks house and what action has been taken concerning this situation and what does Clinton Portis have to do with this? I'm confused and I think that the readers of this site would like some more illumination about this entire deal. So please enlighten me and the vast audience that reads this site about what you are talking about. Thanks.

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Rockville, Md.: At least Ben Cardin had a legitimate local reason for his hold. Are there any other states that have another jurisdiction's correctional facilities inside their borders? Seems like a legitimate reason for congressional oversight. If the District should have home rule (and I think it should) Maryland should have it as well.

Mark Plotkin: You know, I have asked myself the same question -- whether any other jurisdiction has their state prison or correction facility in another place. I do know that states do send their prisoners to different places. But in regard to entire facilities, that's another question. What I was getting at was the idea of putting a hold on District bills is a scary precedent and I don't want to see it continue.

Thanks for all your comments and questions. See you next week, same time, same place.

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