Barbershop Guys Light It Up On Marijuana Ballots

Host Michel Martin and the Barbershop guys talk about the minority voters who sealed the deal for President Obama's second term. They also weigh in on major ballot measures supporting same-sex marriage and marijuana use.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Coming up, with Election Day now behind us, finally, we ask two faith leaders to reflect on the votes in favor of same-sex marriage in several states. That's our Faith Matters conversation, and it's in just a few minutes.

But now, it's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds. Sitting in the chairs for a shape-up this week are writer and culture critic Jimi Izrael. R. Clarke Cooper is executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. That's a group that advocates for LGBT issues within the Republican Party. He's also an Army Reserve captain. NPR's political editor is back with us, the Political Junkie himself, Ken Rudin. They're all here in Washington, D.C.

JIMI IZRAEL: King dog.

MARTIN: That's right. And, in Irvine, California, Gustavo Arellano. He is an author and the writer of the syndicated column, Ask a Mexican.

Take it, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Hey, fellas, how we doing? Welcome to the shop.

R. CLARKE COOPER: Hi, Jimi.

KEN RUDIN, BYLINE: What's up, Jimi?

IZRAEL: You know what? Before we go much further, I got to shout out. Tara Santos, she's fan number 1,400 on my Facebook page, so that happened. Right? So...

RUDIN: How did that miss the - how did the New York Times miss that?

MARTIN: How did we all miss that?

IZRAEL: I know. Right?

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: How did we all miss that?

IZRAEL: Well, you know...

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Pick it up. Pick it up.

IZRAEL: Right. Let's move on. CNN, major tip. So, you know, I could beat box some election music, but I'm going to spare all of you that. Ken, you know, you might want to yodel something for us. No, no. Don't do that. Obama...

RUDIN: My new eight-track comes out next week.

IZRAEL: OK. We're all looking forward. Obama is in for another four years, and Mitt - well, I don't know what Mitt's going to do now. You know, we'll get more of that in a second.

But, now, let's talk about some of the ballot issues that won big. And for all those who might - who thought marijuana smokers couldn't find their way off the couch to vote, pot fans lit up the polls. Michel, we got a clip, yeah?

MARTIN: Yeah. I'm afraid that this is really going to be just a gateway to pun-using, that - let's see if we can...

RUDIN: As it should be.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Washington state and Colorado passed measures to legalize the recreational use of the drug. A lot of people who may have been following this issue note that a number of states have allowed for the medicinal use of the drug, but this is different. And these are Colorado voters, Dante Nicholas and Emery Love, who spoke to NPR on Tuesday.

DANTE NICHOLAS: Well, I voted to keep smoking my weed.

EMERY LOVE: I did vote yes on that, mostly because I know how much of it is going to schools and I think that, if we tax it, it can help the economy.

IZRAEL: You know, I like Dante's gift for subtlety. Thank you for that, Michel. Listen, Gustavo Arellano, California was the first state to legalize medicinal - medicinal, brother - marijuana. What do you think of Colorado and Washington's decision to legalize recreational use of pot, all of a sudden?

ARELLANO: It's absolutely wonderful. I mean, we did it back in the mid-'90s, and we've been fighting the federal government ever since. So while I congratulate Washington and Colorado on going above and beyond what we did, any of those activists, they're going to be in for a long fight because the federal government still wants to fight their war on drugs.

I don't use marijuana. I've never been interested, don't give a damn about it. But what I do know about marijuana is that, when it comes to the criminal aspect of it, the people who are disproportionately affected are people of color. The folks who are going into prisons because of marijuana use are African-Americans, are Latinos, are poor folk. And so anything that could - whether on the state level, anything that can be done to eliminate this war on drugs, I'm all for it. And - yeah. Hey, if you want to - you know, if you're going to celebrate by smoking a big blunt, then God bless you. Go for it.

IZRAEL: Ken-Dog, Ken Rudin.

RUDIN: Yeah. You're missing the important point. The most important - I just found out, in Colorado, they've run out of Cheetos and Fig Newtons, and I think that's a big fear that a lot of people are having.

COOPER: Taco Bell, too.

RUDIN: Exactly.

MARTIN: But what about that, Ken? Does that seem to be - the federal position on this still is...

RUDIN: Well, they still regard - the federal government still regards marijuana like cocaine and heroin, so they still have it - illegal drugs. We still don't know what employers are going to look at it - they have drug testing for jobs.

IZRAEL: Right.

RUDIN: If you come up with a positive test for pot, then what does that do if it's legal in some states and not in others. So...

COOPER: It means you lose your security clearance if you're in the military or in law enforcement or federal government. I can tell you right now, nothing's changed. You talk about the federal government. You're pot-positive, you're out. You're chaptered out of the military. You're going to be gone from the law enforcement or position of trust in many private-sector companies. So, you know, hey, light it up if want to in Colorado and Washington. But if you're in any position of trust in the federal government or in law enforcement, you're out.

MARTIN: And Clarke would know. Obviously, you're an Army Reserve captain. Does that apply to people in the Reserves, as well?

COOPER: Absolutely. It doesn't matter if you're National Guard, Reserve or active duty. There is no exception there.

MARTIN: Well, Ken, what do you think, though, about what this suggests about - I mean, you know, obviously, this lends itself to kind of a lot of funny, you know, sort of jokes and stuff like that about the parts of the country where this is kind of moving. But, in the District of Columbia, medicinal marijuana use has been legalized. What you face, though, is a lot of neighborhood opposition. People will say, OK. That's fine if that's the law, but I don't want this in my neighborhood. What do you think that this says politically, or do you think this is mainly a regional movement?

RUDIN: Well, no. I think it's far more than regional. I think the fact that, just like with same-sex marriage, years ago, same-sex marriage was the brunt of funny jokes, one-liners and, of course, it was, you know, a thing that would never happen here. It would happen in San Francisco, but nowhere else. And suddenly, after 32 defeats in a row, now same-sex marriage is being approved on the ballot. So there seems to be some kind of a either demographic or a spiritual change in this country, not overwhelming. Look, it took Obama years to evolve into the same-sex marriage evolution, but maybe the country is turning around on that, as well.

IZRAEL: Wow. Yeah, I got no opinion because I don't smoke weed. But for people that do, I guess it's all right. As long as we tax it, as long as the schools can benefit, but I don't know what the world - what America - what the country's going to look like, you know.

RUDIN: I've been doing a lot - I've been doing a lot of Pez, and that, to me, seems - that's all I need, really, to live on.

IZRAEL: I just don't know what the world's going to look like if you have to wonder, like, the people that you're talking to, that you're doing business with, if they're high on dope. You know, I don't...

MARTIN: But why is that any different from wondering for alcohol?

IZRAEL: Right, right. Why isn't any different than today? Right?

COOPER: Well, yes. And...

ARELLANO: A drunk person's more dangerous than a high person, and I know this because I know a lot of drunks. I know a lot of stoners, and you put stoners and drunks in a room. I'm going to go with the stoners.

IZRAEL: I don't want to deal with either one. Is that so wrong?

COOPER: Influence is influence, at the end of the day, regardless if someone's drunk or high. They're still going to get an infraction and prison time. So, you know, even if it's legalized, just like alcohol is, you can still overindulge and take advantage or - of that liberty. And then so - there's one thing for someone to have a drink. Obviously, we have statutes there to enforce that, and that will probably be the case if marijuana becomes more legal in other jurisdictions.

MARTIN: But what about the other issue? You know, Jimi wants to know - of course, you're the leader of a group of same-gender-loving Republicans, or people who advocate...

COOPER: Right.

MARTIN: Everybody in part of that group is not gay or lesbian, but also people who support...

COOPER: Correct.

MARTIN: ...the, you know, civil rights issues for gays and lesbians within the Republican Party. So your candidate lost the White House, but part of your agenda won. Jimi wants to know: Were you laughing or crying on election night?

COOPER: It was an odd space to be in, I'll tell you. I'll give you a picture of what was happening in Boston late Tuesday, actually, the wee hours of Wednesday morning was that there were a lot of tears, not only for the loss of the top of the ticket, but we had some really fantastic supporters and allies. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, one of the big defenders and advocates for the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell." We lost him. But we won four ballot measures in four states. That is a huge new precedent for marriage equality, for the freedom to marry. Why? Because it is the highest threshold. It's higher than a court ruling. It's higher than a legislative vote. And, for conservatives, it is a means test.

So when we do after-action reviews, or AARs, with party leadership, you bet we certainly will be taking this into account. We have the data to prove it. There is polling data Log Cabin has shared with the RNC - we even shared with the Romney-Ryan campaign during the cycle - that reflects the growing number of Americans and Republicans in favor of equality measures, be it employment, nondiscrimination protection or marriage equality.

IZRAEL: So, down the road, you're going to push the RNC a little harder. Right?

COOPER: Down the road? We're doing it now.

IZRAEL: So you're not going to give them a pass like you were giving Mitt, right?

COOPER: No. Look, we gave - we worked with Mitt on employment nondiscrimination measures, and I can tell you with confidence, had he been elected president, you would have had a president who would have protected open service in the military. He also would have been aggressive on employment nondiscrimination measures. Our divide was on marriage, and he made a huge mistake in the primaries by running right. In fact, some believe in the party that Mitt may have lost the election during the primary cycle where he ran right and signed that NOM pledge and the NOM - National Organization of Marriage pledge.

RUDIN: Oh, there's no question, I think Romney lost the election in the primaries. First of all, the Republican primary is a white electorate. I mean, so you could talk about self-deportation, about Latinos. You could talk about vetoing the DREAM Act. You could talk about criticizing Rick Perry for having in-state tuition for undocumented children, because who's going to challenge you?

But then you can't just go to the Republican convention in Tampa and put a bunch of Latinos like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz on the podium and say, well, this makes up for the rhetoric that we saw during the primaries. The Republican Party - and it's not just Mitt Romney or the RNC. It's the members of Congress who still, for the most part - except with maybe a handful of changes - they've all been reelected and they all have the same positions on the issues as they had before.

IZRAEL: Gustavo, that's your cue, man. We got to ask a Mexican. Latino voters were big, the big, big story this week, with seven out of 10 going for Obama. Do you think he deserved all that love, brother?

ARELLANO: I don't think he deserved all of it, but it's the same argument I've been making to my Republican friends for years, that Latino voters, especially those of the immigrant generation - say, my parents - they're natural Republicans. They're fiscal conservatives. A lot of them are religious. You know, a lot of them aren't in favor of gay marriage. But you eliminate all of those voters immediately once you start talking about things like self-deportation, which was a meme started by my good friend, Lalo Alcaraz, this great satirist, back in the 1990s. It wasn't supposed to be serious. It was supposed to be a joke, so when Mitt was starting to say self-deportation, that's when I said, bye-bye, Mitt. You've lost. You've lost all Latino voters. What did they go out for? Over 70 percent for Obama? That's incredible.

If the Republican Party - I mean, you want to see the future of the Republican Party, at least, the apocalyptic future? Look at California. California is now a Democratic state, a super-majority Democratic state, and that's because, in the 1990s, the Republican Party decided to go full bore on an anti-immigrant platform.

Latinos like myself, the children of these former illegal immigrants, we remember. And so even if we might not like the Democrats that much, we're going to go for the Democrats. Obama, he's deported more undocumented folks than any previous administration. He really hasn't done much in terms of the DREAM Act, but at the end of this election, he was far more better - a million times more better than Mitt Romney.

So Mitt Romney - you know, everyone's surprised, oh, Latinos are voting Democrat? No. If you actually know our community, you'll know that it was a natural.

IZRAEL: Tell us how you really feel, brother.

MARTIN: I know. Right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ARELLANO: Well, this has been going on now for 15 years and Republicans keep getting surprised. Oh, why can't Latinos vote for us? You know, we're such a natural fit for them. But, as long as you engage in this anti-immigrant rhetoric, nothing's going to change, so the Republicans - they need to change.

MARTIN: Ken Rudin?

RUDIN: And don't even look at - you don't even have to look about California. California's been that way for at least during the Pete Wilson days. Look what happened Tuesday in Arizona, a heretofore pretty Republican state. Jeff Flake, the Republican, beat Rich Carmona, the Latino Democratic candidate, by a bare amount, by two or three percentage points. Look at the Senate race in Nevada where the Democratic candidate had serious ethical problems. That was a very, very close race because of the Latino turnout.

Texas, while it doesn't seem to be Democratic at any time soon, those demographics are changing and, as Jeb Bush and a few other Republicans have said, you forget about these changes at your own peril.

COOPER: Well, speaking of my home state of Florida and Governor Bush, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Bilart - they won reelection, but these are solid, well beloved incumbents in South Florida, but they are a growing minority in the sense that the Cuban-American vote is now not always a guarantee for Republicans.

MARTIN: According to one exit poll, Cuban-Americans, which had been a solidly Republican vote, went 49-47 percent for Obama, which is a - which is new news.

ARELLANO: Amazing.

COOPER: And these are Cubans my age. These are Gen-X and younger. These are Cuban-Americans who don't remember Batista, who don't remember the Castor regime coming in, who don't have these horrible memories of the Revolution taking place in Havana. These are people who weren't exiles. They're second generation, maybe third generation, born in the U.S.

MARTIN: And, of course, nobody wants to talk about the African-American vote because people figured that that vote was going to be solidly for Obama, but you cannot help but notice, like, these so-called, you know, voter integrity measures, like these voter I.D. laws. People look at that and, you know, we've talked about this time and time again and people say, oh, well, what's the big deal? But that's like being in a relationship, you know, where you're a vegan and your boyfriend keeps taking you to the burger shop. If you've told him that this is offensive to you and you don't want to listen, well, don't be shocked, you know.

RUDIN: And don't keep calling them illegals.

MARTIN: Right.

RUDIN: I mean, illegals. That's what Romney kept saying over and over again. The illegals. That's - somehow, you don't win votes by calling Latinos illegals.

MARTIN: Well, it just seems to be like an unwillingness to understand the cultural issues and - there's policy and then there's also...

RUDIN: Attitude.

MARTIN: ...attitude in a sense that you're being - going out of your way to be offensive. You're going out of your way to alienate people, like these jokes about, you know, Obama's heritage. I mean, do they really think - you know, I don't know that you have to be - I don't know how many Kenyan-American, you know, presidential candidates we're going to have in the future or people with Kenyan heritage, but you don't have to be from Africa to say, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. What do I have to do to prove my ticket? What do I have to do to prove that I belong here? I don't think you have to be, even, an immigrant...

COOPER: What does this have to do with...

MARTIN: ...to be - to feel that this is going - you know, going out of your way to be...

COOPER: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...offensive to people. So, if you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're having our weekly visit to the Barber Shop with writer Jimi Izrael, syndicated columnist Gustavo Arellano, NPR's Political Junkie Ken Rudin and R. Clarke Cooper, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know what? Before we get off politics, I got to get everybody's pick for 2016. No. Me, personally - this may surprise some of you, but you know...

MARTIN: Ken just got a headache.

IZRAEL: But I like Clinton-Booker ticket, you know, for a Democrat...

MARTIN: Hillary Clinton?

IZRAEL: Hillary Clinton and Cory Booker.

MARTIN: And the mayor of - she says she's done.

IZRAEL: She says she's done.

MARTIN: You don't believe? OK.

IZRAEL: I don't. I don't.

MARTIN: All right.

RUDIN: And, of course, Cory Booker has to beat Chris Christie next year in the governor's race in New Jersey.

IZRAEL: True.

RUDIN: And that's going to be tough now that Chris Christie has hugged Barack Obama, so that may have helped.

IZRAEL: Right.

MARTIN: Interesting. Clarke, what do you think?

COOPER: Speaking of Chris Christie, I'm looking at either Bush-Christie, Christie-Bush. You could...

MARTIN: Which Bush?

COOPER: Jeb. Jeb Bush, Governor Bush from Florida and then Governor Christie. You have two individuals who have executive management skills. They are very well respected in Trenton and in Tallahassee for being able to cross the aisle and work with Democrats, so they know how to manage.

RUDIN: Did you know Marco Rubio is going to Iowa this month to do a Governor Branstad birthday party? So 2016 is not that far away.

MARTIN: Gustavo, what do you think?

ARELLANO: Yeah. I agree with Jimi. I think it is going to be Clinton-Booker just because they do have that prestige and - come on - once a Clinton, you're always going to be a political animal. But I do think there's going to be at least one Latino somewhere. Whether it's Rubio - I think that's a pick, but it might be Julian Castro from San Antonio. You know, mayor of San Antonio, gave the keynote speech at the DNC, rising star in the Latino party. All he has to do now is learn how to speak Spanish and he got it in the bag.

MARTIN: Well, what about that? I mean, do you have to?

COOPER: Jeb knows how to speak Spanish.

MARTIN: Seriously. Seriously. Seriously, do you have to?

ARELLANO: I totally feel - no. I totally feel for him, but you know that right - even right now, he's learning how to speak Spanish because, unfortunately, for a lot of Latinos, if they see a Latino candidate out there and you can't speak in Spanish, even if you're not supposed to speak in Spanish, they're going to be - oh, you know...

MARTIN: You think you're too good? Is that what it is? They think you're too good?

ARELLANO: (Unintelligible), which is so damned unfortunate.

MARTIN: Which is - well, it's interesting...

ARELLANO: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...because you heard - you know, we heard a number of kind of white grassroots conservatives criticize Obama for speaking ebonics, which, you know, I don't know what that is. I personally think I'm fairly fluent in ebonics and I feel like I've never heard him really speak ebonics, but that will become an issue, too. Does he get criticized for that? Well, we'll see. We'll see. More to talk about. Always more to talk about.

Jimi Izrael is a writer and culture critic. He's also an adjunct professor of film and social media. Ken Rudin is NPR's political editor, the network's Political Junkie. R. Clarke Cooper is a captain in the Army Reserve. He's the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. They were here in Washington, D.C. With us from Irvine, California, Gustavo Arellano, syndicated columnist who writes the column, "Ask A Mexican."

Thank you so much.

RUDIN: Thanks, Michel.

COOPER: Gracias.

IZRAEL: Yep, yep.

MARTIN: And, remember, if you can't get enough Barber Shop buzz on the radio, look for our new Barber Shop Podcast. That's in the iTunes store or at NPR.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Coming up, we've all seen images of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy, so what's it going to take to clean it all up?

AMITA PARASHAR, BYLINE: It's not really about the stuff or about the houses with flooded basements. What stayed with me is the sense that an entire community is now broken.

MARTIN: One of our own, TELL ME MORE producer, Amita Parashar, reflects on helping her family pick up the pieces. That's ahead on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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