A Path to Representation for D.C.
||The Moderate Voice
||Friday, August 27, 2010
||PETER J. ORVETTI
D.C. Vote, the primary organization working for representation for the 600,000 residents of the capital city, sees a link between Martin Luther King Jr.’s march on Washington 47 years ago and D.C.’s ongoing struggle. The group says King believed in “full equality, including full democracy for D.C. residents.”
Earlier this week, D.C. representation supporters marked the 90th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote across the U.S. Members of the D.C. League of Women Voters donned suffragette garb at a White House demonstration. One League member said, “We cannot emphasize enough that people in D.C. don’t have the vote. We don’t seem to count.”
The District of Columbia has more people than Wyoming, and its residents pay the nation’s highest per capita federal income taxes. Other Americans without congressional representation — those in American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands — pay none. More than 192,000 D.C. residents have fought for the United States during wartime. Nearly 1,700 did not come home.
Calls for D.C. representation go back to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, and today, support for D.C. representation is solid — when Americans are aware that it does not already exist. A poll taken in 2005 showed that 78 percent of Americans believed D.C. residents had full representation in Congress. When told they did not, 82 percent — 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans — said that they should.
But because of the District’s unique situation, and the fact that the city is overwhelmingly Democratic, perennial efforts to give it representation have failed. (This is cynicism, not cruelty, on the part of GOP opponents — if Democrats could find some way to strip Republican Wyoming of its representation, many would want to do so.)
The latest effort to win a full vote in the House of Representatives collapsed this spring after seven years of anticipation, and so frustrated activists are talking about resuming the campaign for full statehood. Mayoral candidate Vincent Gray said this summer, “People wanted voting rights. That obviously didn’t happen. … I think there’s a view on the part of myself and a lot of other people: Why don’t we just wage the fight for statehood?”
But statehood is a hard sell. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton says statehood would be much harder to get than a full House vote, and warns that a State of Columbia would have to figure out how to pay for state-level functions for which the feds currently pick up the tab. D.C. Vote’s Ilir Zherka says national support for D.C. statehood is only about 20 percent.
Other solutions have been offered. An odd idea for a “Territorial Representation Amendment” – which would let D.C. and the territories elect one representative and two senators together, as an amalgamated pseudo-state – has gotten some play, even though it would mean Georgetown and Anacostia might be represented by a senator from San Juan and a congressman from Guam. Others suggest D.C. become a territory itself.
A more popular proposal would retrocede most of the District’s 69 square miles to Maryland, as 31 square miles were retroceded to Virginia in 1847. A sliver of federal land would remain, and a city of Washington, Maryland, would be born. However, most Marylanders oppose the plan.
Another problem with either retrocession or full statehood is the 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, which grants “the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States” votes at least three votes in the Electoral College. If only a federal district remained, the few dozen individuals who remained as its residents would have disproportionate power in presidential elections.
So what is the best course of action? Another constitutional amendment.
This one would repeal the 23rd Amendment, and state that “the District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall, for the purposes of apportionment and representation in the Senate and House of Representatives, be treated as if it were a State. The District shall also appoint a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which it may be entitled in the Congress.”
True, this would be “pseudostatehood” at best. But it would get D.C. residents what we really desire, and what we deserve: our voice in Congress.