Bill to Give Washington a House Vote Is Proposed
||New York Times (NY)
||Wednesday, May 4, 2005
WASHINGTON, May 3 - In what many experts consider the best opportunity in years for Washington to gain voting rights in Congress, Representative Thomas M. Davis III, Republican of Virginia, introduced legislation on Tuesday that would give District of Columbia residents a seat in the House of Representatives.
The bill tries to break the political inertia and partisan squabbling that has stalled Washington voting rights for two centuries by giving Utah, a Republican bastion, an additional House seat to balance the seat for Washington, which is overwhelmingly Democratic.
Supporters of the measure, including the city's Democratic mayor and most of its Democratic-dominated council, hailed it as a pragmatic compromise, saying they would prefer full Congressional representation, two seats in the Senate as well as one in the House, but were prepared to push Mr. Davis's bill as a first step.
"What we desire is what every citizen beyond our borders enjoys, the power to determine their future," the mayor, Anthony A. Williams said.
Despite the show of bipartisan support, the bill faces obstacles from both parties.
The Republican House majority leadership, which has opposed voting rights for Washington for years, has told Mr. Davis that he must win broad bipartisan support for the bill before it will consider bringing the measure to the floor, Mr. Davis said.
But the minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, has come out against the bill, saying it might allow Republicans to increase their majority. Ms. Pelosi challenged Republicans to bring it to a vote without Democratic support.
"Representative Pelosi thinks that D.C. representation stands on its own merits," said Jennifer Cryder, a spokeswoman for the minority leader. "The Republicans are trying to play a shell game with it."
Under Mr. Davis's bill, the House would grow by two members to 437 after the November 2006 election. Washington would gain one seat, with the other going to the state next in line for a Congressional seat, namely Utah, which narrowly missed gaining a fourth House seat after the last reapportionment.
After the 2010 Census, the House would revert to 435 members, with Washington retaining its seat and Utah most likely keeping its additional seat because of population growth. Two seats would be lost in other states.
Ms. Pelosi's office said she opposed Mr. Davis's bill because it would require Utah to redraw its Congressional lines before the 2010 Census. Since Republicans dominate the Utah Legislature, those lines would probably endanger the state's lone Democratic representative, Jim Matheson of Salt Lake City.
Ms. Pelosi's concerns were echoed by Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington's nonvoting delegate to the House, who tepidly praised Mr. Davis as helping "raise awareness" but who stayed away from his news conference.
Representative Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who appeared with Mr. Davis on Tuesday, asserted that the Utah Legislature drew unfavorable lines for Mr. Matheson before the last election and that he still won with the largest margin of his three Congressional races.
"You can't draw it any more Republican," Mr. Bishop said.
Mr. Matheson's office did not return calls for comment. But Donald Dunn, the chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, said he was not opposed to Mr. Davis's bill, provided "Republicans don't try to be piggish and try to create yet another seat" for themselves.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert's office did not return calls for comment. Mr. Davis said Mr. Hastert was "keeping his powder dry" on the bill until he could gauge its support in the Republican caucus. Mr. Davis added that Democratic opposition to the measure would provide an excuse for Republicans to let the bill die.
"That's why we've got to build critical mass from both parties," he said.
Washington's lack of representation was one of the founding fathers' great pieces of unfinished business. Over the decades, a variety of proposals have been floated to resolve the problem, including returning Washington to Maryland's jurisdiction for voting purposes or granting it statehood. In 1978, Congress approved a constitutional amendment to give Washington representation in both houses, but the measure did not come close to winning support from the required two-thirds of the states.
Mr. Davis's bill received mixed reaction from Washington's many voting rights groups.
Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, called the bill "ingenious," saying that "practical people" will support it "on the theory that Rome wasn't built in one day."
But Timothy Cooper, executive director of Worldrights, a human rights group, asserted that the bill "could radically impede" the voting rights movement by "muddling the clarity of our moral and legal cause."
"The fact that it will have taken 200 years to get a single vote in the House doesn't bode well for our prospects for achieving full voting rights any century soon," Mr. Cooper said.