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D.C., Maryland and Virginia Politics

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

WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin was online Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss fraud in Washington's Tax Office, the Supreme Court's decisions to take the D.C. handgun ban case, and more.

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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: Mr. Plotkin, could you please explain why the Washington Nationals are required or obliged to give the city free advertising ("No Taxation Without Representation") and/or hold all functions within the city limits (banquet at National Harbor)? I realize that $660 million of D.C. finances are being used to build the team's stadium, but I don't recall reading anywhere that any of the agreements between the city and the team required Nationals ownership to provide such concessions to the city.

Washington has earned themselves a Major League Baseball franchise, and the city will make millions upon millions in revenue and get additional attention because of the Nationals' presence in the city. The Nationals ownership in turn has agreed to inject some of their own money into the stadium and surrounding development, along with providing millions of dollars towards community programs that only benefit Washington residents (despite a significant percentage of the team revenue and fans coming from outside the city).

The D.C. council and commentators such as yourself just cannot be happy with the return of baseball to the District, and I wonder if this whole situation would have been better served if the Expos moved to another city. Certainly a number of other cities (Portland, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Northern Virginia, etc.) were just as qualified as Washington, and wouldn't be whining three years into having an MLB franchise. It's clear you and others on the council have a grudge against Ted Lerner, but an owner has the right to do what he pleases with his assets within the law, and not be scolded and/or sued for making logical and rational decisions.

Mark Plotkin: I think you make my point for me. They are not obligated or required to give the city free advertising but as you rightly point out, over 600 million dollars of DC tax money was spent to build this stadium. Also, Ted Lerner is a Washington hometown native and I don't think it is too much to ask that he wants the people in his city to have the same rights as every other American and I don't think it's unreasonable to have their inaugural benefit in Washington DC itself. I'm glad that baseball is in Washington and I was a big advocate for it and as you know, it barely passed by a vote of seven to six in the city council. When I was at the laying of the sod for the new infield at the stadium a week back, I asked all the principals about this issue. Stan Kasten was really approaching insulting by saying that I was the only one that brought it up. Matthew Cutts, the head of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, was evasive and the Major was supportive of the idea but I didn't get a sense that he was going to push that hard. By the way, the statement that should go on the scoreboard is not "No Taxation Without Representation," but Taxation Without Representation which is a clear statement of fact and irrefutable. I have no grudge against the owner Ted Lerner, I just want, as I said before, him to act like a hometown owner.

Sure would like questions and inquiries concerning the Maryland legislature actions and specially how Gov. O'Malley fared. Also, any reactions to the Virginia elections and would like to drum up some inquiries on the beltway primary Feb. 12 which features the District, Maryland, and Virginia, all in one day. Gov. Kaine today on WTOP's "Ask The Governor" program said he's already been to Iowa for Obama and said he was going to go anywhere they send him before Christmas. As you know, Gov. O'Malley of Maryland is for Hillary Clinton and Mayor Fenty of Washington is for Obama. Would welcome your feelings about these candidates and of course Republican voices concerning their presidential primary. I wrote a piece about Mike Huckabee in "Mark My Words" which you can read right here. If you have any reaction to him who is surging in Iowa, or to my column, please feel free to react.

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Washington: I was subject to background checks and random lie detector tests by my employer when working with money. Were the employees of the office of tax and revenue subject to similar annual background checks? I cannot imagine someone could give away money to co-workers without triggering a mid-year lie detector test.

washingtonpost.com: FBI Finds Pricey Items in Home of Walters's Niece, Brother (Post, Nov. 27)

Mark Plotkin: That is a very good question and I am going to save it to ask Nat Gandhi, who is the embattled Chief Financial Officer of the District. He will be on my show, the Politics Program, this Friday at 10 a.m. on WTOP Radio (103.5 FM) and I hope you will call in and ask the same question if I don't get to it. The phone number is (202) 895-5060 and I hope you will avail yourself of this opportunity. The other guest at the start of the hour will be the Chairman of the D.C. City Council, Vincent Gray. You should know that both the Mayor, the council chairman, and the chairman of the D.C. Finance and Revenue Committee, Jack Evans, all are still supporting Gandhi. I support Gandhi because I think he has done an excellent job and has restored fiscal stability to the city. He came from the GAO and they are renowned for hiring and having incorruptible and topflight people. My final comment on this subject is, who would they replace him with? But your original point is a very good one and I repeat, I hope you'll call in on Friday at 10 a.m.

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San Francisco: Has anyone asked Mark Warner how that "spending more time with his family" plan worked out? If I were his family, I'd be pretty embarrassed that he decided to run for senator after deciding not to run for president because he wanted to spend more time with his family. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Mark Plotkin: I need to spend more time with my family line is much used and much maligned. I would say in Warner's defense that if he should get elected to the Senate in Washington rather then running for governor again, he would be able to spend more time with his family because as you know, the Senate is located in Washington and he lives in nearby Alexandria, Va. I just think he couldn't pass up this opportunity. He's way ahead in the polls. It would truly be an unbelievable upset if he lost to Jim Gilmore and it is six years of job security and gives him time to ponder his future. I understand that he has three daughters and he did not want to take one of two of them out of school in the Washington area. So you know as well as I do that you can't always take politicians explanations at face value. I guess this falls under that category.

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Virginia Senate: Is Northern Virginia enough to carry the state for Mark Warner despite the likelihood that Hillary will be at the top of the ticket?

Mark Plotkin: Larry Sabato did say on election night on WTOP that there was one scenario, and one only, that he could possibly foresee that would eliminate Mark Warner from going to the U.S. Senate and that is the scenario of Hillary Clinton dragging down the rest of the Democratic ticket in the state of Virginia. I did note yesterday that Hillary is trailing most of the Republican Candidates for President. I did not see a state break down but I'm sure if that is true, that would include Virginia, reverting back to its traditional Republican Presidential leanings. I asked Governor Kaine today on WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program this question that you asked and he conceded that among some independent voters and obviously Republicans, she would have a tough time and he intimated that there was a possibility that Hillary would not be the very best candidate for the state in 2008. Of course he is a national co-chairman for Obama. But I think that even if he wasn't, most people think Hillary would be the toughest candidate to sell in Virginia. Having said all of this, I don't think Hillary would drag down Mark Warner to defeat and I hope Mark Warner come on the Politics Program on WTOP early on. I got a call from his press person and I hope to have him on very soon where you can ask him this question and all sorts of other questions.

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Downtown Washington: Re: The District, Maryland and Virginia primary on Feb. 12: Who cares? These three primaries are really irrelevant because of the front-loading of primaries. Maybe if these three moved their primaries to mid- to late-January or very early February they would matter more, but at this point, by Feb. 12 we likely already will know who each parties' candidates are.

Mark Plotkin: I'm trying to make the case and I don't think it's unreasonable that on Feb. 5, "Super Duper Primary" is inconclusive with no clear winner and some of the candidates splitting up the victories in the mega states, the next week Feb. 12 could have some influence. The papers and the headlines could very well write "there is no clear winner," "no leader has emerged" or "the nomination still in flux." That's not an unreasonable premise, and then just by virtue of timing, Washington, Maryland and Virginia has a heightened prominence. Also, they are all so close together, the candidates remaining can concentrate on all three simultaneously. Don't hold this to me but I can see Obama concentrating on the District and Virginia while Hillary Clinton works Maryland with the support of Gov. O'Malley. Wouldn't it be great if our region really had something to say about this election? In the past, these states have been relegated to obscurity and maybe the luck of the draw and unforeseen developments will raise the profile of these states. Fenty, Kaine, and O'Malley could be turned into kingmakers.

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Virginia Senate race: Read last week that Del. Bob Marshall doesn't think Gilmore is necessarily the best choice to run against Warner, and it seemed to suggest Marshall thinks he would be a better choice. Thoughts? If a neo-conservative like Marshall runs, Warner would get more than 80 percent of the vote inside the Beltway.

Mark Plotkin: Del. Bob Marshall is a fascinating pol who speaks his mind. I think he'd like to nominate himself and just might do that and sure would make the race interesting. I see where the Republican Party in Virginia is insisting on a "loyalty oath" which is to get Republican voters in the Republican June 2008 Primary to say they will vote Republican in the general election. This is unenforceable and really doesn't mean anything. As you know, there is no party registration in Virginia. Mischievous Democrats could participate in the Republican Primary just to cause confusion. Your estimate of Warner's total inside the Beltway doesn't seem too far off. Gilmore is just way back and I just can not create a scenario by which he wins.

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D.C. stadium and D.C. vote: Mark, you and I see eye to eye on the whole D.C. vote thing, but the crux of the issue is not what ought to be a clear morally correct decision. After all, in politics, when does anyone ever do the right thing without there being some kind of self-interest? Sad, but true. The point with positing the "Taxation Without Representation" sign in the stadium is that it accomplishes something the dcvote.org people consistently have failed to do: It takes the issue beyond the Beltway. Should this come to fruition, TV cameras will be taking the message to the entire country, which is where the pressure on the decision needs to come from.

Mark Plotkin: You get my point exactly. To quote your words, it takes the issue "beyond the Beltway." TV play by play from different places like ESPN's Game of the Week would have to observe it and make mention of it and explain it to the general public. I've repeated this statistic before but it really is unbelievable, 60 percent of the college graduates in this country do not know that Washington has no congressional representation in the house and sensate. I wish the Lerners would see the light and adopt it with enthusiasm. The mayor, City Council Chairman Gray, and especially Bill Hall, would is the Vice-Chair of the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission should be vocally and rabidly promoting this cause. Also, I would like to see D.C. Vote the organization which was responsible for getting the old sign on RFK visibly acting on this. I know they have tried to set up a meeting with the Lerner family to discuss a host of issues concerning this entire subject matter but so far, no meeting has taken place.

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Germantown, Md.: I'm am continuously frustrated with the Maryland legislature and its continual communist doctrine. The citizens of Maryland finally are being given the right to enhance our cash-strapped state's budget through the addition of slot machines at designated locations. However, as usual, the state finds a way to create controversy, in this case in the way they likely will word the question posed to the voters. It appears that the voters will be asked one simple yes/no question to place slot machines only at specific locations around the state. Why must the legislature pose the question this way? Why can't the question be: "The use of slot machines should be legal within the State of Maryland at locations approved by the Maryland State Legislature (YES/NO)."

I tend to be a person who votes on questions based on the way they're written, and if I'm not a fan of a specific location that is listed as a future slot location, or if I feel that a slot location is not included in the question (Rosecroft or Frederick), then I'm going to vote against it. It never fails that politicians find the worst possible way to decide to not make a decision.

Mark Plotkin: You pretty well know the mindset of politicians. The way a referendum question is posed can have a dramatic effect on the final result so I want to see how the final question is worded but you are definitely on to something here. I know some legislators wanted to have a opt out provision which would allow you to say you were for slots but not in your own county but you raise a very pertinent and relevant issue and I don't think it's been properly explored by the press. I'm going to try and have the governor of Maryland or the lieutenant governor on the Politics Program soon and I will surely raise this semantic point with them.

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Arlington, Va.: Mark: I was at a local Democratic committee meeting the other day when I heard some rumblings that a "local activist" sort may challenge Jim Moran in the 2008 Democratic primary ... as that is a solid Dem district, it seems the only way we'd ever be rid of scandals, etc., would be through a primary. Have you heard anything? Do you eventually see him losing a primary, ala Cynthia McKinney (Ga.), Lieberman, etc.?

Mark Plotkin: Jim Moran has had primary opposition before and he has weathered it. He's a controversial figure who seems to inspire opposition. It is a safe seat for a Democrat and the only way he can get knocked of would be in a primary. If you know the name of the local community activist, please let me know. I would just remind you that Lieberman did lose the primary in Connecticut but went on to win as an Independent. I'm not so sure that Moran would try the same tactic if he lost in a Democratic primary.

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Arlington, Va.: Isn't Warner vulnerable to attack on tax policy? He lied to Virginia voters about the state's finances, saying that his large tax increase was necessary just to balance the budget when in fact it racked up a huge surplus. Obviously, if a governor wildly misstated the impact of a tax cut that caused a much bigger deficit than expected, the press would pillory him as a liar. Why does Warner get a free ride for misleading the public in the other direction?

Mark Plotkin: I remind you that Warner has over a 70 percent popularity rating as a former Governor while Gilmore presently is at 40 percent. I'm sure Gilmore will bring up what you just brought up, and Warner will counter that he got 17 House Republicans to vote with him. But this is an argument that Gilmore will use and try to make some political hay out of it. The election is in November, that's plenty of time, but Warner has deep pockets and the state is trending purple which definitely helps him.

Thanks for all your questions and comments. Thought this was a particularly good session with a lot of different areas and subjects covered. See you same time next week, same place.

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