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Md. Gov. Larry Hogan is accused of killing a project that would connect disinvested Baltimore neighborhoods with jobs and opportunities despite the racially discriminatory impact.

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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Jaisal Noor: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor. Maryland governor Larry Hogan has launched a new book positioning himself as a Republican moderate willing to take on President Trump, but newly published documents cast out on one of Hogan’s central claims that he’s protected civil rights. Hogan ignored the racially discriminatory impacts of canceling a mass transit project known as the Red Line according to new documents published in Politico. We’ll talk to the author. We’ll also be joined by the journalist who exposed that when Hogan canceled the Red Line, he shifted that money to highways near property he owned. So, he personally stood to profit.

All of this has had implications for the people of Baltimore and a potential presidential run by Larry Hogan in the future. Well, now joining us to discuss this is Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, author of the new piece, How Larry Hogan Kept Blacks in Baltimore Segregated and Poor. Hogan portrays himself as a moderate who cares about minorities, but his decision tells a different story, particularly this decision to cancel Baltimore’s Red Line. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sheryll Cashin: Thank you for having me.

Jaisal Noor: So we’re in this historic moment where the entire world has come to a reckoning about the impacts of racism, especially structural racism, how government reinforces racism throughout our society. Baltimore was the first city that had segregation and it’s been ground zero for red lining and other discriminatory predatory practices. There was a proposal to build mass transit, connecting areas that have been disinvested for generations that was known as the Red Line. One of Larry Hogan’s first moves as governor was to cancel the Red Line.

You obtained documents through freedom of information requests in the state of Maryland that have shed light on this decision. It’s important to note that the NAACP Legal Defense Fund tried to file an injunction to seek more information about this. We never knew a lot of details about what happened during that process. So, you’ve obtained information about this. Can you share with us what you’ve uncovered?

Sheryll Cashin: Yeah. I want to give my colleagues who run the Georgetown Law Civil Rights Clinic credit. They’re the ones who filed the freedom of information claims. Me and my research assistant burrow through the trove of things that were disclosed. I was involved because I’m writing a book. Once I learned about the cancellation of the Red Line, I don’t even live in Baltimore, but the more I read about it, the more outraged I was particularly the fact that after Governor Hogan canceled the Red Line and reallocated all of the 700 plus million dollars, that was supposed to be for the Red Line to outlying road projects and not even Baltimore’s roads benefited from this, it was so obvious to me as an outsider looking that this looked like racial disparity, if not intentional racial discrimination.

I was even further outraged when I saw that LDF and a local transit equity group had filed with the Department of Transportation a civil rights claim of racially disparate impact and the Trump administration closed it without making any findings. Civil rights don’t mean anything if the state won’t give black people equal protection. What they said, the Trump administration said, “Okay, in lieu of making findings in this case, we’re going to make Maryland undertake a comprehensive title six disparate impact analysis. That was, years later, no one knew what had happened. So, we filed this request and find emails from 2018 in which officials at MDOT, the Maryland Transportation Department and the Federal Transportation Department went back and forth. The Obama administration opened and had invoked an investigation.

The Trump administration, somebody at the staff level seem to be trying to do their job. They opened a corrective action and demanded that Maryland conduct this comprehensive analysis. They basically claim, “Well, there’s no disparate impact.” This is what the emails reveal, because census tracks with high numbers of minorities benefited from other large sums of transportation money. That’s what they say, large sums. Do they quantify it? No, I suspect they didn’t quantify it, because if they had, the numbers would look very bad.
Why? Because Baltimore had lost a $2.9 billion project that was going to connect highly isolated Red Line black neighborhoods to job opportunities. They lost this $2.9 billion project. Hogan threw them a bone, about 135 millions for what they call Baltimore link, which was supposed to make the bus system more efficient, but actually made it worse. So, they didn’t do any real analysis and the Trump administration just accepted that assertion at face value and closed this investigation. Closed it without giving the public any notice. Right?

So, I had just gotten through reading this and was contemplating what I was going to do. I’m writing a book. Then, Hogan is puffing himself up and contrasting himself to Trump and painting himself as a moderate who can bring people together, but yet at the time of the rescission, which was two months after the uprising, after the death of Freddie Gray, he is very … you could call it a dog whistle. He called the people who vandalized thugs, he talked about the city as a declining city. I will let his actions and words speak for themselves. I don’t purport to know his heart or his motivations, but in terms of impact, his actions were racially disparate and anti-black.

Jaisal Noor: The Hogan administration famously left Baltimore off of a map. It had made listing investments in highways across the state. We’re also joined by Eric Cortellessa who wrote the piece Who does Maryland’s governor really work for? Larry Hogan has more in common with Donald Trump than his reputation suggests. Eric, so we’ve just heard the one part of the story. The other part of the story is where this money actually went and who stood to benefit from it. Can you tell us what you’re reporting uncovered?

Eric Cortellessa: Absolutely. Well, there’s really two scandals involved in this story. There’s the scandal of canceling the Red Line in and of itself, which had devastating consequences on Baltimore. This was a project that was decades in the making. There was already hundreds of millions of dollars in sunken costs in the groundwork of getting ready to build the Red Line, right? Around $300 million were already spent to build the Red Line and then Governor Hogan gave up $900 million in guarantees from the Obama administration to build this project that was going to connect Baltimore to the suburbs, that was going to connect East and West Baltimore to each other, and that was going to have a really big, positive impact on blacks living in the city.

What happened at the same time that Hogan canceled the Red Line was he made a major shift in the state’s transportation strategy, which was not to spend money on mass transit, but to spend money on highways, roads, and bridges. One of the first things he did in 2015, just as he was canceling the Red Line was he advanced a project in Prince George’s County to build an interchange and a couple of other projects right near property that he owned that he stood to benefit from.

His company has continued to invest in that area with a number of other projects since then, but it already had ownership in a parcel of land, just down the road from an interchange that was really a dormant project, had gone through some development and planning under previous administrations, but that Hogan expedited quickly upon becoming governor. He got the money to do that because he freed up money by canceling the Red Line.

This is a bigger story in terms of how the governor has dealt with his private real estate business while in office. I think it’s also important to note that one thing he did about a year after taking office and it wasn’t official until about a year and a half after he took office, was he entered into a trust agreement in which he put up three former business associates in charge of his trust and left the company in charge with it. He left the company to his brother, but at the time that he canceled the Red Line and advanced this project that his company stood to benefit from, he was not in a trust and he was in full control of his company. That had not happened yet.

Even in the years after, we continued to see the governor advanced projects in his transportation budget every year that are right near or adjacent to properties that he owns, including in Hyattsville and other parts around the state. So, this has been an important trend in the governor’s tenure, and it’s been very lucrative for him, right? He chose to share his tax returns for three years while in office 2015, 2016, 2017 during the reelection campaign, which showed that he made $2.4 million in income on a governor salary that is much lower than that, close to 180,000.

One big thing that was left out of those documents were attached statements that would have detailed the sources of those income, right, where that money actually came from. So, he didn’t really share all of his tax returns and he hasn’t been willing to share his tax returns from before he became governor, so there’s no way to compare how much he made before entering office in January 2015 and comparing that to how much he made after he became governor. This is a really big story to do with Maryland. Of course, after my story came out in January, there had been action on that.

Legislation was currently being drafted and going through the committee process to change Maryland’s conflicts of interest laws that would put more oversight on disclosure laws, but of course, I did have ethics officials and lawyers say that the governor’s decision in and of itself already violated Maryland’s existing conflicts of interest laws because he participated in decisions that he stood to benefit from. So, that is really one thing that has happened at the same time as the Red Line was shuttered.

Jaisal Noor: Professor Cashin, so we’re in this historic moment, global protest, protest across the country and right here in Baltimore and in Washington DC, demanding officials account for racial disparities and Baltimore has some of the greatest racial disparities in terms of wealth and also in terms of income mobility. According to a 2015 study, the longer you grow up poor and black in Baltimore, the lower your net income is over your lifespan. So, those disparities are extreme here. Talk about why it’s important to invest in infrastructure like mass transit that can connect disinvested communities with things like education in schools and jobs and other opportunities.

Sheryll Cashin: Right. So, as you know, Baltimore ranks last in the country on Harvard economist, Raj Chetty’s index for social mobility for poor children. As you say in the intro, that’s a direct result of public policy choices made for a century, right? So, America lectures to black people in high poverty neighborhoods, tells them to reject thug life, get a job, get an education, right? But, we dog whistle about black people to hide the fact that government for decades and to this day overinvest in white space, which is what happened with the cancellation, the reallocation of the Red Line and disinvest in black communities. Right?

So, it’s easy to lecture people. It’s a lot harder to sensitively look at the structural barriers that society has intentionally created. For the large numbers of black mothers in the corridor that was going to be serviced by the Red Line, a lot of them don’t have cars. If they tried to get a job, a lot of the jobs are 90 minutes away by bus, right? If you have children and have to get them to school, it’s a nightmare. Right? Only 2% of the jobs in Baltimore are in the neighborhoods, the poor black neighborhoods that would have been served by the Red Line. Right? So, transportation is one thing.

Meanwhile, I wrote about this in my article too, a state agency, I believe is a legislative agency of Maryland said that every year schools in Baltimore are underfunded by about 340 million. The children of the Charm City endure some of the highest teacher ratios, student to teacher ratios in the country. This is common everywhere. We have a separate in an equal school system. I cited a study in my article in which showed that in 2016 this country spent $23 billion more in majority white school districts than in other districts that serve the same numbers of children, right?

So, we don’t acknowledge the systems. Everywhere you turn in isolated black neighborhoods you felt face health disparities, you face education disparities, you face difficulty getting a decent food in an affordable price. Often, the state is disinvested in your neighborhood in terms of infrastructure, services, trash collection and yet, everybody wants to ignore this. I have to say raising signs that say black lives matter is a beautiful gesture, but if you live in a neighborhood that has historically been over invested in, going forward, we’re not going to have equity if you … you’re going to have to make a sacrifice and perhaps not get as much as you’re used to be getting.

Jaisal Noor: Eric, I wanted to end with you. We’ve been talking about civil rights. There’s also the election coming up. Right around the time a Hogan announced his book coming out, he made a move that surprised a lot of people that is we’re going to try to conduct a normal election in November. You had a piece in the Washington Post titled Larry Hogan is creating chaos and fear for the November election. Can you talk about what to expect in just a few months?

Eric Cortellessa: Well, I think the first thing that is really concerning was the decision to make this transition. One thing you want to note about that June primary and the April 28th special congressional election to replace Elijah Cummings that were conducted as universal vote by mail elections, was that they were extraordinarily successful. The April 28th special congressional election turnout was 10% higher than the primary in February, which was actually the more competitive race. It was a democratic primary and a democratic enclave. That was conducted the old fashioned way. On the June 26th election, Maryland had some record high turnout.

There were more Maryland Democrats who voted in that presidential primary in 2020 than in any other presidential primary in Maryland history. There’s only one other election that had a higher percentage turnout and that was in 2008 for Obama. You had more people vote in that primary as Democrats than in any other election in Maryland history. It was especially successful in Baltimore. The turnout in the primary overall was 48%. That was three percentage points higher than in 2016. Then you had more voters vote in the mayoral primary than in any other since 1983.

So, one thing we found with vote by mail is that not only has it been extraordinarily successful at boosting turnout, and we’ve seen that in other parts of the country, right? The vote by mail states and the 2018 midterms had 10 percentage point higher turnout rate than the average nationwide. But, we learned in Maryland and especially in Baltimore was that it’s successful even in low income minority neighborhoods. It’s successful when you follow a certain formula. That is you mail everyone a ballot, but you make sure to hold enough in-person vote sending center options so that the voters who either don’t have access to mail or the remedies, which in many cases can be technology, right? Because one thing that state board of elections will do, if you don’t get your ballot in the mail and you report it, they can email you a PDF and you can mail it back or drop it off at a drop box.

Of course, a lot of low income people don’t have access to printers or even computers. So, you have to have those remedies in place, but so long as you do and if you have enough vote centers for enough of voters, Amber McReynolds, the head of the National Vote at Home Institute who ran Denver’s elections office says you basically need one for every 30,000 voters. As long as you do that, you have very few complications, voters who don’t get their ballots in the mail are able to vote in person and you get really high turnout. That’s overall.

When you have a pandemic like COVID-19, this becomes even more urgent and necessary, because for starters, it’s in the public health to have more people voting at home and not going to polling places where you have high traffic, a lot of people coming in touching the same pens and doorknob, standing close to each other, right? That’s not what we should be doing especially as infection rates are surging and we don’t know what’s going to be the case in November. We’re expecting a potential second wave. It could be very dangerous.

At a time when you are setting up local election boards to fail, I spoken to a number in the last few weeks who say we’re not equipped to handle this. So, just take Anne Arundel County for example. They are short of 1,050 election judges they need to operate their 195 polling places. So, A, they’re not going to be able to recruit them because most of the times people who fill in those roles are elderly more at risk people and they also have other problems in terms of expenses, right? It’s going to cost a lot of money not only to keep these polling places open, but to provide all the safety equipment. Right?

David Garreis who was the deputy elections director of Anne Arundel County told me it will cost $200,000 on plexiglass alone for their county. Another thing is a lot of the places that are polling places like schools and senior centers do not want to allow voting in those spaces. Anne Arundel County has already had 18 back out and that’s just as of last week when I spoke to him. In Baltimore City, you have another issue, which is a reflective of another issue across the state, which is, how are you going to train election officials and election judges, right? The University of Baltimore trains 4,000 of the some 20,000 election judges throughout the state and the president of the university is not allowing those trainings to take place on campus.

So, because of this decision, you’re setting up local election boards not to have the equipment and the capacity and the manpower to run these things effectively. You’re going to have really long lines. It’s going to take … one of the reasons lines were long on June 26 was because how much time it took to clean up in between voters coming in and out. That was compounded by the fact that they just didn’t open enough of in-person vote centers, but only less than 3% of the voters who voted period voted in person. So, the vast majority voted by mail.

So, I think you’re going to have a lot of problems trying to run the election this way. That’s why not a single member of the state board of elections advocated for a traditional normal election. You had a split, there were three Republicans and two Democrats, two advocated for universal vote by mail, mailing everyone a ballot, keeping a few limited polling places open. Another one said mail everyone an absentee ballot and limit polling places. Those were the Republicans. Then there were the Democrats and Hogan took the option that nobody wanted, which was a traditional election and open all the 1,600 plus polling places and leave these local election boards unequipped to handle what they’re going to have to do in November.

So, I think it’s a really dangerous and bad decision. I think it risks disenfranchising voters and especially low income minority voters. I also think forcing people to have to fill out an absentee application is a big mistake especially since Maryland has seen the success of simply mailing every voter a ballot. For one, it’s more expensive. You’ve got to pay to mail everyone the application, and then you’re going to have to pay to mail it back to everyone. Election officials are very concerned that, with many things, people wait for the last minute and those ballots are going to come in a week or be postmarked, just before the deadline and they’re going to have to figure out how many they have to produce in a very short period of time.

The other thing is it’s going to confuse voters. It’s very confused messaging, which is we want everyone to absentee vote, but we’re going to have every single polling place open. So, I think it’s going to be a very costly election. I think those estimates should come out over the next few weeks and that’s going to be very important. I think it’s going to reduce turnout and it’s going to create more chaos and confusion than we would have had, had we simply just followed the model that was successful in June and April, but make little fixes that would have made a remedy, the few problems that we did experience.

Jaisal Noor: I know people have been encouraging folks to request those ballots and get them in the mail and do it early to avoid potentially not being able to vote in November. I want to thank you both for joining us, Sheryll Cashin, Professor of Law at Georgetown University and Eric Cortellessa, he’s the digital editor at Washington Monthly. For folks in Maryland, in Baltimore or across the country, wanting to know and understand what Larry Hogan’s impact has been on the city of Baltimore and on Maryland, I think this is a really vital discussion. Something that has not received enough attention. Thank you both for joining us.

Sheryll Cashin: Thank you.

Eric Cortellessa: Thanks for having us.

Jaisal Noor: Thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.

Studio: Will Arenas
Production: Will Arenas

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Jaisal is currently the Democracy Initiative Manager at the Solutions Journalism Network and is a former TRNN host, producer, and reporter. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio News, Democracy Now! and The Indypendent. Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years. Follow him on Twitter @jaisalnoor.