Friday, December 6, 2013

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Attorney General Candidate Jon Cardin Talks About His Dream Act Vote, Brian Frosh & More!

Below, Maryland Juice writer Dan Furmansky provides an in-depth Q&A with Delegate Jon Cardin, a Democratic candidate for Attorney General. NOTE: This is part 1 of 3 of Dan's fascinating interview with Cardin. Mr. Furmansky explains the context for this interview below:
DAN FURMANSKY: In October, I was proactively contacted by Jon Cardin’s campaign manager, Andy Carton, who requested that I sit down with the Attorney General candidate to conduct a more rigorous and challenging interview than what Del. Cardin has thus far experienced in his interactions with traditional press. 

Prior to Thanksgiving, I met Del. Cardin at a Caribou Coffee in Bethesda to ask him a range of questions touching on what he feels makes him the progressive choice for Attorney General to his votes on the DREAM Act and Lockheed Martin bill to his thoughts on the best way to address agricultural pollution in Maryland.

We also discussed where he stood on proposals to legalize and regulate marijuana in Maryland, his attitude about tying a corporate tax cut to a minimum wage increase, whether he thinks we need a new process for redistricting in Maryland, and even my own feelings that he has mischaracterized himself as a “strong and early supporter” of marriage equality in Maryland. Del. Cardin was incredibly generous with his time. Here is the 1st of 3 parts from my robust conversation with him.



DAN FURMANSKY: You bring unique experience with you to this campaign, including your time in the House of Delegates, an impressive array of academic degrees, experience as a non-profit executive director, and your experience running a law practice. For starters, can you tell our readers a bit about your non-profit experience?

JON CARDIN: Sure. Out of graduate school in public policy and Judaic Studies, I got a job for a foundation called the Project Judaica Foundation, which focused its time…on a Department of Defense grant they got before I started on doing research on Eastern European culture, pre and post Holocaust artifacts, and Cold war era, cultural phenomenon. And it was geared towards the Holocaust survivors and Holocaust victims, and sort of, the culture that they left behind. It also focused on everything else…the president of the foundation wanted to do.

So another thing we did, we worked on art exhibitions based on the life and death of Yitzhak Rabin, and we worked in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute on an international exhibition of the Dead Sea Scrolls, an international exhibitions of the Library of Congress' Judaic collection. That was…the more museum, research side of the Foundation. The other side of the Foundation dealt with American legislative process, which is where I spent most of my time. Because we had our researchers and grant person doing the other work, and I was bringing in groups from foreign countries and states, and from all places, Indian reservations and Indian tribes, to learn about the American legislative process and the uniqueness of American democracy. And we would do everything from visits with elected officials, with lobbyists, with press, with administration officials, with agency heads, with heads of museums, and other groups, in order to inform people on…how the American system works, of…law, diplomacy and policy works.

One specific example would be the country of Namibia, which was a just-developing democracy from Africa, was looking to learn how to set up governmental systems. And we brought them in and we actually connected them with researchers and developers from Israel to learn how to create drinkable, potable water, which is of their major issues that they had, is how do we create a safe environment for our people? So in terms of, if there is one major accomplishment…the Hopi Indians, by the way, from Arizona and New Mexico, we also worked on a desalinization program with them and Israel. Those kinds of connections probably created and save the lives of thousands of people, which is really, really exciting work that we did. So those are some examples of my non-profit work.

DAN FURMANSKY: Thank you. Tell me about your law practice. What kind of law do you practice? Who makes up the bulk of your clients?

JON CARDIN: I have a general practice where I deal with multiple legal issues. Everything from probate and estate planning…finalizing the estate and making sure that they are terminated appropriately, to criminal defense, to civil litigation, contract work, personal injury work, a little bit of workers' comp, and other…I’ve done some work in community associations, helping representing them, and other issues that come up that other members of my law firm either give to me or can’t handle because of timing or because of the nature of the issue. I have my own law practice, but I work very closely with my father’s firm, Cardin & Gitomer.


DAN FURMANSKY: Some people say in this political campaign, the Cardin name is equivalent to having more than a million dollars in the bank. How do you respond to that?

JON CARDIN: I'm blessed to have a mentor like my uncle. I have, starting with my grandfather, I have more than a hundred years of public service dedicated to the state of Maryland, including my own 11 and a half years during which I have been so honored to be able to serve the citizens of the state of Maryland. But the fact is that I’m running to represent every citizen of the state of Maryland and I think that I have a vision…a focus to do just that. And if my last name lends anything to me, it’s the ability to remember how important it is to serve every Marylander. That's what I think it adds.


DAN FURMANSKY: The question that most progressives in Maryland want to know is: why did you vote against the Maryland Dream Act?

JON CARDIN: When we were in the legislature, I had a choice. My choice was—well, let me start off by saying this: when the opponents of the DREAM Act came to me with the petition to put to referendum and asked me to be the poster child, I emphatically refused. I refused because I actually don't oppose the DREAM Act. I believe we had a choice, and the choice was between voting for the DREAM Act and voting for the disabled community—the most vulnerable among us. And I chose to vote for the most vulnerable among us. I made it clear in committee, and then in the General Assembly on the floor that the Governor had pulled out $6 million from DDA—the Developmentally Disabled Administration [Developmental Disabilities Administration]—and had put $6 million into the cost of doing the DREAM Act. And I saw this as a zero-sum game and I made it clear that if he reinstated that money, I would support the bill, and if he didn’t, I wouldn’t. And I tried to get my committee to see that it is all about voting for the most vulnerable among us. That's what being a progressive is all about. That’s what running against the grain, being willing to go against the good ol’ boys is all about, and I think that I did that. I knew there would be political consequences. I was well aware and I think I made the right vote. Actually, as Attorney General, first of all, as a human being I support the DREAM Act.

DAN FURMANSKY: How did you vote on it at the ballot in November?

I voted for it. Not for the referendum, but for the DREAM Act. My issue was not philosophically about the DREAM Act. It was about priority funding as a member of the Ways and Means Committee who is tasked with being fiscally responsible and making sure we are looking out for the most important first.

DAN FURMANSKY: Doesn’t that pit the immigrant community against the disability rights community?

JON CARDIN: Look, my goal was not to do that. My goal was to say let’s…we can find…I have been progressive with my votes on taxes. I don't like voting for taxes, for increased taxes, but if you look at my record, I am willing to put my money where my mouth is. So I don't think this is about pitting anybody against anybody. I think it's about the fact that the Governor and the legislature need to take a leadership role and say we're not willing to make this decision. And I wanted to make it clear that when you have an 8,000 person waiting list, the most, most vulnerable, the most sensitive, people who can't even feed themselves, and need help, and they can't even get the state services that we are required to give…the Attorney General is required to make sure that the DDA is providing these services. But when they have a wait list of thousands and thousands, nearly 10,000…this is about fighting as a progressive for the most important among us. And so, I actually would, as Attorney General, I would enthusiastically enforce the law, because I believe in it. I just want to make sure that my opinion was known.

DAN FURMANSKY: In 2011 your colleague Delegate Jill Carter took a walk on marriage equality legislation in the House Judiciary Committee and essentially held it up. The bill didn’t pass that year, and part of her logic was that she didn't have an issue with the bill, which she was a co-sponsor of. Her issue was around school funding in Baltimore and issues that she thought were more urgent and dealt with more vulnerable people. Did you support that tactic?

JON CARDIN: The difference, I would say, is that there was...I was not the 13th vote. I have been the 13th vote on a number of things. I could have held up, for example, the millionaire's tax. I could have held up the increase in sales tax, because we had 13 votes in the Ways and Means Committee for those. I would have loved to have been able to tell my certain members of my community that I voted against those taxes. I know that there are political consequences for voting for increased taxes, especially in Baltimore County where I reside. Much more so than in Montgomery County. And I was willing to take those tough votes. The issue here was about making sure that I made a statement and trying to get folks to follow along. And this wasn't going to be…what we were talking about here was something that was very, very manageable. It was an issue that I…I mean, when you’re talking about an incidental $6 million from once place, $6 million from another place, it is very different than $1 billion or the amount of money that they we’re talking about for Baltimore City schools.

DAN FURMANSKY: Okay. So, as Attorney General, you'd have the power to challenge unlawful local government against immigrants and interpret a string of pro-immigrant reforms. What faith should the immigrant community have in your capacity to do that?

JON CARDIN: The Constitution of the State of Maryland…the United States Constitution…says that you shall not deprive "any person of life and liberty and property without due process of law." That's any person. And…I believe that not only the Constitution but fundamental principles of fairness that dictate that we should not be depriving any person, regardless of their immigration status, of being treated equally. I believe that sincerely and I would say that… the Constitution gives me the ability to do that. In just last year in Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court determined that there is very, very limited role in enforcement of immigration, federal immigration laws by the state. So essentially, I believe the question has some pointed issues, that aren't really relevant. But…

DAN FURMANSKY: Well…Frederick County has been a good example of a case that just got decided in Federal court, and who knows what that county sheriff is going to do…he looks like a Sheriff Arpaio grandstander…

JON CARDIN: The Attorney General is tasked with making sure that every single person in the state of Maryland is treated fairly and that's what I'll do. My great grandfather came to the United States, started a business with nothing more than a horse and buggy, and that business has moved our family, my parents, my grandparents, to be able to follow their dreams, follow their educational pursuits and really be successful people, and the state of Maryland gave my family a chance. It would be my honor as the next Attorney General to make sure that the next generation of immigrants have the same opportunities.


DAN FURMANSKY: The vast majority of Maryland Juice readers have a strong progressive political bend, as you know. You’ve no doubt been asked many times what makes you stand out among the candidates in this race, what makes you the best person for the job of Attorney General. But my question is this: what do you believe makes you the progressive candidate?

JON CARDIN: Well, I think that, you know, you not only need to be a progressive candidate, which I believe I am, you need to be someone who can get the job done as well. Just standing up on principle but not having anyone pay attention to you is not a legitimate legislator or attorney general. I have fought for, and will continue to fight for a public funding campaigns program. It has been my bill, my issue, and my bailiwick for the last 10 years, and before that for two years [former Delegate] John Hurson, who was one of my mentors in the General Assembly, allowed me to be the #1 lead sponsor, or the #1 cosponsor, and then handed it off to me when he went on to do bigger and better things.

As the Chairman of the Election Law Committee [Election Law Subcommittee of the Maryland House Ways & Means Committee], I have been an advocate for fighting against voter ID laws that are taking away every single person… disenfranchising every single person, but particularly those most vulnerable among us. I have been proud to sponsor bills that re-enfranchise voter rights. I was a lead sponsor for a bill that expands early voting, that allows and protects people's ability to register to vote during early voting, which is something I’m proud to say I came up with late night in Annapolis and was going over it with the likes of Senator Jamie Raskin…because we both know the constitutional ramifications of registration…on election day, and we found the loophole. I don't want to take full credit, but let’s say we found a loophole together and I was fortunate enough to be the lead sponsor on the bill.

In terms of, I would say, I have a 100 percent record with the environmental community. I think 95% or 96% lifetime, 100% in 2013, that I stand for principles of intrinsic environmental protection for…for intrinsic purposes, but also for the benefit of the entire state of Maryland. Every single person deserves to have a place where we have clean water, and free, clean air. And, I also require my community, and environmental protectors, to justify our positions and if they can't, then we need to revaluate. And I think that's the sign of a good legislator. Not just do stuff for the community because someone tells me to, but to say that we're working together on this, we all are taking ownership of it. We have to be able to justify what we're doing. I think that’s the sign of not only a progressive, but a person who can actually get the job done.

I can go on… with other legislation that I have been interested in, and focusing on… reduction of sexual assaults on college campuses—something we just, we just have been focusing on for… the anti cyber bullying legislation that we passed last year. I will tell you that any proud progressive is one who makes sure that we are not only defending the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States, but we are also protecting our most vulnerable among us.


DAN FURMANSKY: Thank you. We'll dig a little deeper into some of the issues as we move forward with questions. So, with all due respect to Delegate Bill Frick and Aisha Braveboy…

JON CARDIN: …They deserve tremendous respect.

DAN FURMANSKY: Absolutely. At this point in the race, your primary challenger appears to be, among political pundits, Montgomery County State Senator Brian Frosh, who is a 19-year-old veteran of the state senate, and has been chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee for much of that time. Senator Frosh is racking up a long list of endorsements.

I know you will likely indicate that you are not running against anyone but for the office of Attorney General, but people do want to know what differentiates you from Brian Frosh, and why you believe that you are better suited for the job than Senator Frosh?

JON CARDIN: We live in a rapidly changing world. I’m running for Attorney General to keep Maryland two steps ahead…of the threats facing our families, and…we can talk about where we were 30 years ago, and where we are today. Thirty years ago…cleaning the environment was about keeping trash out of the ocean. Now it's about getting trash out of the ocean, and out of the Bay. It’s also about reductions of carbon emissions and their impact on climate change. You’re not going to find anybody any more interested in dealing with those kinds of issues than I am.

Thirty years ago, public safety was about violent crime on the streets. It’s still about violent crime on the street, but also now it’s about hacking and online privacy, cyber security and cyber crime. Somebody needs to be two steps ahead of those new issues that concern our families. The road to civil rights thirty years ago…thirty years ago I was in middle school, and I remember the debates about equal pay for equal work. Well, we still face that issue today, but now we are also facing issues of voter ID laws. I have been a leader on trying to fight against voter ID laws. I have been a leader fighting against domestic violence, child abuse. These are civil rights. Nobody deserves to live in a community where they don't know…if a website is legitimate or trying steal your credit card information. If they are facing a problem with somebody abusing their children right next door. And I think that I have made those new, next generation issues a priority, and dealt with the old and persistent problems.

A perfect example is…who is sponsoring a bill to try and reduce child abuse? I mean, the most vulnerable among us: young kids who are being abused by their parents. And who is not focusing on those issues? I just think that as an Attorney General, your job is not only to determine the constitutionality of law, which is your primary job, but it’s to make sure every Marylander feels protected. It’s not about being a lawyer for every single person in the state, it's about figuring out and working from a legal perspective and as advisor to the legislature and the governor, from a public policy perspective. How do we best do that?

And I think that, I think, that we provide business opportunities, and opportunities for employers to stay or come to the state of Maryland. That is something that the Attorney General needs to be involved in…needs to focus on…because if we don't have an employment base, we don't have jobs.

So, you cannot be focusing your efforts on simply going after bad actors. But also creating good actors. And I think that I have done that, both from a legislative history, historical perspective, I have done that, and my platform demonstrates that. So I think that in those areas, I’m different.

DAN FURMANSKY: In some of your language, I sense buzz words around “next generation” and “thirty years ago,” and I'm wondering if there is some sense that you are trying to appeal to voters that you are a younger candidate…that this is a job that sometimes people stay in it for decades at a time and Senator Frosh has…several years on you?

JON CARDIN: The answer is no. I believe that Marylanders want, should deserve to have someone who is out there thinking about the issues that they are going be facing and making sure that person is protecting every single Marylander to the best of their ability. The question is, what are the issue that we are facing today, and tomorrow? Are we spending more than fifty percent of our time on cyber security, and identity theft, and online privacy? And the answer is, I think we are, and I think we're going have to. I think we have to figure out a way to balance all those issues, which I have spent a tremendous amount of time, and understand what kind of challenges we are facing with environmental protection, with consumer protection, with…making sure that people are getting equal pay for equal work. And I just think that I have a balance and…age is not the issue. The issue is a question of vision, passion, conviction and energy, and I'll leave it open. That’s really the issue.


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