Despite 41,000 Voices, Obama Remains Silent on D.C. Vote in State of the Union
||The Eagle (American University - DC)
||Wednesday, January 27, 2010
President Barack Obama did not address District voting rights in his State of the Union address Wednesday night, despite petitions to address this issue from residents of D.C., including AU students and faculty and members of the organization DC Vote.
For the past two weeks, DC Vote compiled 41,000 signatures asking Obama to support the D.C. democracy movement and delivered them to the White House. The petition requested that Obama include a pre-written statement in his first annual address.
DC Vote is an educational and advocacy organization devoted to obtaining full Congressional representation for the district, according to its mission statement.
Instead, Obama chose to speak on the broad issues of health care, foreign policy and the economy.
Those are issues that he should discuss in the State of the Union, according to Curtis Gans, the director for the Center for the Study of the American Electorate in the School of Public Affairs. Gans also organized marches advocating home rule in D.C. in the 1960s.
Robert Lehrman, School of Communication professor who teaches the courses Public Speaking and Speechwriting, was a speechwriter in the White House for Al Gore during his vice presidency. While he did not write a State of the Union, he said that he did write a reaction speech to one.
“When you do all these big speeches at the White House ... everybody is begging to include their pet project, their pet phrase,” Lehrman said.
The Executive Director of DC Vote Illir Zherka said the petition was important to DC Vote’s cause for two reasons.
“One, most Americans don’t know that [the voting rights] problem exists, so we need the president to educate Americans about it,” Zherka said before the speech. “And two, the Congress needs some pressure from the president on D.C. voting rights and on D.C. democracy as a whole. They really need to hear from him that it is important.”
DC Vote conducted an online competition in which fans of the Facebook page or visitors to the Web site could submit language to be voted on for the statement being sent to Obama.
A number of AU students and faculty members are involved with D.C. voting issues, and some students participated in DC Vote and this specific project.
Zach Bernstein, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said he has lived in D.C. his whole life and is registered to vote as a citizen of the district. Bernstein submitted an entry for the DC Vote contest, he said in an e-mail.
While this entry did not make the final cut for statements voted on by DC Vote supporters, Bernstein sent it in because “despite what critics say about this being somehow unconstitutional, I truly believe it’s what the Founders would want - one man, one vote, no matter where they live,” he said in the e-mail.
Another native Washingtonian at AU, Professor Jason Fabrikant, teaches politics courses for the Washington Semester program and is currently developing an online course for the summer entitled, “Taxation without Representation? D.C. and Voting Rights,” he said in a phone interview.
Whether to allocate full federal representation to D.C. residents is a question that should be studied and debated, and the petition to Obama was worth the effort, Fabrikant said.
“It’s a very healthy thing to do ... I think that’s part of the democratic process to voice opinions, have petitions,” he said.
While Obama did not include D.C. voting rights in his State of the Union address, Gans hoped he would address it sometime in the future, he said.
“At some point he may be willing to risk some political capital by trying to persuade [congressmen] to vote for [a bill on D.C. representation]. I don’t think he’s going to do it any time soon,” Gans said. “I’m hoping at some point he will pursue it.”