Throwing Hats In The Ring: Outsiders In D.c. Politics (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Throwing Hats In The Ring: Outsiders In D.C. Politics

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:02
Now, well, we just heard a bunch of outside impressions of Washington. Once you head inside the city, one thing you learn pretty quickly is this. When it comes to local politics, D.C. is a town dominated by Democrats. To take a look at the D.C. council, we have just two independents and no Republicans currently serving. And in terms of mayors, they've all been Democrats since the 1970s when D.C. won home rule.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:27
So if you happen to be a politician of a non-Democratic stripe and you're hoping to make your way to an elected office, well, talk about outside looking in, that's pretty much what you're doing as each campaign season unfolds. We wanted to find out how D.C.'s Democratic tendencies affect political debate in this town so I recently caught up with WAMU's district reporter, Patrick Madden.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:49
Now, usually when I talk with Patrick, we meet at the Wilson building, home of D.C.'s city government. But this time around, we headed to 13th and Kay in Northwest D.C., just outside the headquarters of the D.C. GOP.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:01:02
Well, there are approximately 30,000 registered Republicans living in Washington, D.C. And to put that into perspective, there are about nine times that many registered Democrats. So when you just start talking about elections, you have to realize Republicans really have a disadvantage in trying to get a candidate elected to the council or mayor or any other elected office here.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:01:22
So the role that they are playing right now is almost more of a gadfly. They are very active on Twitter and other social media. And they've actually done a good job of raising questions and they've actually prompted a number of investigations right now. If you talk about the Harry Thomas, the council member Harry Thomas and that $300,000 of city funds that it was missing and alleged of being misspent, well, that actually started because of a republican candidate who was running in Ward 5.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:01:50
I believe his name was Tim Day and he was the first one to raise questions about team Thomas. Now, another example are these questions about constituent funds and how they're spent by some of the council members. And it was the D.C. GOP who raised questions about whether they're allowed to donate money to political organizations, using these funds.

MR. PATRICK MADDEN

00:02:10
So they've managed to sort of carve out a role in D.C. politics, even without having anyone elected to the council. Now, whether that, over time, that will translate onto having anyone on the council that remains to be seen.

SHEIR

00:02:22
Well, that's what I wanted to ask you. Because in recent years, we've seen a couple of Republicans in council, Carol Schwartz, David Catania, granted Schwartz lost her bid for re-election in 2008 and Catania switched to be an independent quite a bit of time ago. So is there any hope for GOP candidates anytime in the foreseeable future, in terms of getting elected to the council?

MADDEN

00:02:40
I hate to sort of say no, but I think their best shot was during the special election this past year, to replace Kwame Brown's seat. There was about four or five credible candidates running for this special election. It was an at large council seat and the Republican was one of them. His name is Patrick Mara. He's run for council before and actually he -- now, he serves on the D.C. school board.

MADDEN

00:03:01
But that seemed to be their best shot because you had a small number of voters that were going to participate in that special election. And I believe they came in second or third, but they came very close and actually looking back at how council member David Catania was elected, pretty much the same exact situation. It was a special election for an at-large seat and the stars really have to align. And that's pretty much, right now, the only way for them to get in.

SHEIR

00:03:27
But in spite of that, the fact that most people sort of sway the same way, something else I'd want to talk about is the fact that just because people are on the same political party doesn't mean there isn't heated political debate.

MADDEN

00:03:39
Great example of that was the debate over the income tax a couple weeks ago. And if you had just sat in on the legislative hearing, you would've thought they were staunch Republicans as well as staunch Democrats or liberals on the council because you had a very heated debate over whether the rich should be taxed, what will happen if wealthy households are taxed or why are we cutting services to the poor, but not, you know, taxing those who are well off. So even though it's all -- mainly all Democrats on the council, you still have a lot of heated policy debates.

SHEIR

00:04:08
And something that we're not talking about or we haven't addressed yet is other parties. What about the role of independent voters and candidates in D.C.? My impression is that there are quite a few people who are outside looking in, I guess you could say, at both the Democrats and the Republicans in this town.

MADDEN

00:04:22
Yeah, one of the biggest gripes you hear, living in this city, is that independents are not allowed to vote in the primaries, the closed primaries. So, for example, when Vincent Gray was running against Adrian Fenty, the winner of that Democratic primary was pretty much the person who was going to be elected mayor. And so independents -- it's very tough for them to sort of exercise their voice in this process when the primaries are closed.

MADDEN

00:04:46
And so I remember -- there actually was a last minute attempt by Mayor Fenty's team to see if they could open up that primary and get Republicans and independents to support his candidacy, but it did not work. But that's one thing to watch in the future.

SHEIR

00:04:58
Well, Patrick Madden, thank you so much again for coming on "Metro Connection" and bringing us up to speed on local politics.

MADDEN

00:05:04
No problem. It was fun.

SHEIR

00:05:06
Patrick Madden is the district reporter here at WAMU. And now, we want to hear from you, whatever your political stripe. How do you think D.C.'s historically Democratic leanings affect politics in the city? Stop by our Facebook page at facebook.com/metroconnection.org or send us an e-mail at metro@wamu.org.
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