Harry Jaffe: Obama Disappoints Advocates for Democracy in D.C.
||Washington Examiner (DC)
||Sunday, January 31, 2010
When President Obama took the podium last week for his first State of the Union address, advocates for greater democracy for residents of the nation's capital city had high hopes.
This, they believed, would be the perfect time for the president to mention the injustice under which we D.C. residents live. We pay taxes, and we fight in wars, but we don't have a vote in the House or Senate. Why would the president not make a mention? Just one phrase?
"It would have put a glow on the bill," says D.C. congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Make that D.C. delegate. Our representative can vote only in committee. Senators? None.
The "bill" is the D.C. Voting Rights legislation that Norton introduced once again. More on that later.
To prime the president -- or at least get the attention of his speechwriters -- the advocacy group DC Vote sent 41,000 petitions to the White House supporting voting rights.
"The stars are surely aligned," Norton wrote in a letter to Obama on Jan. 20. There's a Democrat in the White House and Dems control both the House and Senate.
If not now, when?
"Residents do not doubt that you stand with us for full democracy for the citizens who live in the nation's capital," she wrote. "However, the State of the Union address offers an important opportunity for you to let the nation know that you intend for the high ideals on which you ran to become a reality."
There were more than high ideals to make this president utter words in support of democracy in D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty was the first mayor to endorse his candidacy for president. Norton and Obama are allies going way back. Both Fenty and Norton campaigned for the junior senator from Illinois.
There's more. First lady Michelle Obama has tried to bond with her new home. Their daughters attend school in the District. She's grown a garden on our soil and invited school kids to till and harvest. The president and first lady have read to D.C. Public Schools students.
For these reasons and more, D.C. voting rights activists had high expectations. And so they watched. And they listened. And they waited.
Obama left the podium without one word about democracy in D.C.
"Heartbreaking," DC Vote's executive director Ilir Zherka told me. "With bills making their way through Congress, there's a critical role only he can play."
Congress is considering legislation that would lift Congress' current review of D.C.'s local budget and legislation. These seem likely to pass.
But does the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, that would give our delegate a vote on the House floor, stand a chance? "We have the votes," Norton says yes. But gun rights lobbyists want to add language that would wipe out D.C.'s right to regulate firearms.
No one's figured out how to satisfy those opposing camps.
Perhaps that's why Obama chickened out.
Read more at the Washington Examiner: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Obama-disappoints-advocates-for-democracy-in-D_C_-83078342.html#ixzz0eIPT7mnW