Parsing the GOP Platform on D.C.
||Tuesday, August 28, 2012
As the Republican National Convention kicks off in earnest today, the country's eyes will be looking to how Republicans shape and communicate their goals for the next four years. Part of this will be the GOP platform, which will outline the party's governing philosophy and goals. (So far, it's not looking good for immigrants, abortion, same-sex marriage, or pornography.)
As we wrote last week, part of the platform deals exclusively with D.C., notably in opposing statehood and supporting enhanced gun rights. There's more to it, though—Politico got a draft copy of the platform, and a section titled "Preserving the District of Columbia" is included under the scope of "Reforming Government to Serve the People." Below we include the section on D.C. and parse a few of the claims.
The nation's capital city, a special responsibility of the federal government, belongs both to its residents and to all Americans, millions of whom visit it every year. Congressional Republicans have taken the lead in efforts to foster home ownership and open access to higher education for Washington residents. Against the opposition of the current President and leaders of the Democratic Party, they have fought to establish, and now to expand, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, through which thousands of low-income children have been able to attend a school of their choice and receive a quality education.
Fair points, all similarly made by the D.C. GOP in its own adopted platform recommendations for 2012. Of course, there's no mention of the fact the Republicans blocked the city from spending its own money on needle-exchange programs for years, which could well have slowed the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Or that a 1998 referendum on medical marijuana was held up for a decade, and that same-sex marriage could well be overturned by Congress at any point.
More broadly, this section cuts to the core of an inherent contradiction in the Republican Party when it comes to D.C.: this is the party of states' rights, except when it comes to D.C. residents making decisions for themselves. No, D.C. isn't a state, but that's a pretty thin legal justification to hang some Republican impositions on. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wants the government out of everyone's business, but it's OK for him to use the government to get into D.C.'s business on guns, abortion and labor rights?
D.C.'s Republicans have been in the forefront of exposing and combating the chronic corruption among the city's top Democratic officials. We join in their call for a non-partisan elected Attorney General to clean up the city's political culture and for congressional action to enforce the spirit of the Home Rule Act assuring minority representation on the City Council. After decades of inept one-party rule, the city's structural deficit demands congressional action.
Let's not deny it: D.C. Republicans have been good at digging into local corruption, notably Ward 5 accountant and former D.C. Council candidate Tim Day, who uncovered the scam that ended in the resignation of Harry Thomas, Jr. That being said, the very man that nailed Kwame Brown and has been digging into Mayor Vince Gray's 2010 campaign—Ron Machen, the U.S. Attorney for D.C.—is a black Democrat working for two other black Democrats.
As for the elected Attorney-General, fear not—we voted on that in 2010, and we'll be getting one in 2014. But about that minority representation on the council, call it irony—Republicans tend to oppose quotas and set-asides, yet the Home Rule Act does just that, reserving two seats for members of a minority political party.
There's plenty of debate on whether this is necessary; in a town like D.C., after all, being a Republican or a Democrat is often a useless political affiliation. Just look at Councilmember David Catania (I-At Large), who joined the council as a Republican but left the party after it refused to recognize same-sex marriage. He's an affective legislator, and his name has been floated as a possible Attorney-General.
Finally, note the interesting use of the term "structural deficit." Ask any D.C. official about a structural deficit, and they'll tell you that it usually refers to the fact that since the city can't tax so much of its own land, it usually loses out on $1 billion worth of potential revenue a year. City officials have proposed either a commuter tax or annual federal payment to make up for that lost revenue, but neither has ever moved far on the Hill. Is the GOP willing to take this on? (At least one congressional Republican has said that he's willing to talk about a commuter tax.)
At the center of our government, the District contains many potential targets for terrorist attacks. Federal security agencies should work closely with local officials and regional administrations like the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority. A top priority must be ensuring that all public transportation, especially Metro rails, is functioning in the event of an emergency evacuation. Also, to ensure the protection of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, we call on the governing authority to pass laws consistent with the Supreme Court's decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago cases, which upheld the fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
The point on Metro is interesting. Republicans want it to function during an emergency, but many Republicans have questioned an annual federal payment to the agency. In 2010, a conservative group of GOP legislators even went as far as to propose that the $150 million annual subsidy to Metro be cut. It's an odd contradiction for sure: Republicans want Metro to get everyone out of D.C. in case of a terrorist attack, but they regularly criticize federal funding for the public transit agency—which is used by hundreds of thousands of federal workers to get into D.C.—as a waste of money.
On guns, well, no surprise there. But watch the wording: the GOP calls on the "governing authority" to allow more gun rights, including concealed carry permits. Who's the governing authority? For us, it's the D.C. Council. For the GOP, it's Congress, and congressional Republicans have been nothing if not consistent in their demand that the city's scrap its gun laws altogether.
We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.
That's fine and good, but how about alternatives that would give D.C. residents more rights than they currently have?
To its credit, the D.C. GOP pushes this point in its own platform: "We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution that gave our Nation’s Capital a unique status entailing special oversight and financial responsibilities for the federal government. However, this status should not preclude the historic tradition of the Republican Party since its founding in 1854 in support of voting representation in Congress and home rule for citizens residing in the District of Columbia."
This isn't merely a matter of principle for the D.C. GOP, though, but also political survival: "We must align ourselves with District voters. The DCRC cannot grow if our party is hostile or indifferent to the aspirations of most District citizens for voting rights equal to those of other citizens of the United States."
Sadly, an Indiana GOP member of the platform committee managed to sink any mention of voting representation—and then celebrated the fact with a double fist-pump. Anyone surprised that the "Republican" label in D.C. is somewhat toxic?