Coast to Coast: Why DC Home Rule Matters to a Californian

As a resident of California, a state about as far away from the District of Columbia as one can get, I am often faced with the question, “why should I, or any other resident outside of D.C. for that matter, care about local autonomy for the District of Columbia?”  I live outside the jurisdiction of D.C.’s local laws and am virtually unaffected by its local politics and policies. Then, while sitting in on a House Appropriations Committee markup of the Financial Services and General Government sub-committee bill a couple of weeks ago, it hit me. 

During this markup, the Committee spent twenty-three minutes and fifty-seven seconds (approximately) debating Rep. Andy Harris’ (R-MD) Amendment barring the District from spending local funds to decriminalize marijuana.  These twenty-three minutes and twenty-seven seconds passed in a room full of federal representatives, some from my home state, who could have been discussing an issue actually relevant to the people who elected them.

In a Congress that is already accused of being inefficient and unproductive, I was surprised to see a member derail the conversation from topics of national importance such as the US Postal Service and the IRS to a debate about an issue that has already been decided upon by duly elected D.C. officials.  To me, this not only seemed undemocratic, but a waste of time and resources. 

Not only had Rep. Harris dedicated time and energy to drafting an amendment and promoting his proposal in committee, but since the markup Harris has sat down for interviews againand againand again, to discuss his unjust actions and the boycott of his district that ensued. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress has deviated from matters pressing to their districts and the nation as a whole to meddle in D.C.’s local affairs.  Earlier this week, Rep. Thomas Massey (R-KY) challenged the District’s strict gun laws by adding amendments to the 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (HR 5016) that stripped the District of its right to use funds to enforce these laws.  In 2013, Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ) had the audacity to design a bill from scratch which dictated D.C. abortion policy (H.R. 3803). Tragically, the Congress also enacted legislation in 2003 that barred the District from using local funds for a lifesaving syringe exchange program at a time when the District led the nation in HIV/AIDS infection rates.

It is time all Americans stood up against the transaction costs Congress incurs while legislating for the District.  The time, energy, and resources expended by congressmen seeking to make policy for D.C. should be directed towards creating and supporting policy relevant to their constituents.  D.C. gun control laws, marijuana decriminalization, and abortion policy are not the questions I, or any other American, should be concerned with.  The primary issues with Congress’s nonsensical control over the District of Columbia are the violation of local sovereignty and the misallocation of Congressional resources.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

Debunking Harris' Myths

Rep. Andy Harris has been attracting attention with some wild comments. After successfully attaching language to a spending bill that would  overturn DC’s  marijuana decriminalization law, Harris proudly stepped forward to defend the blatantly undemocratic maneuver.  We now know that he doesn’t “usually” interfere with DC’s local laws (gee, thanks!) and that he believes DC officials should focus more on subpar schools (how’d he manage to change it to that subject?). And of course, we should not be bothered by his single-handed attempt to make policy for the District because, well, he’s a doctor. It’s tough to argue with the last point, but let’s take a deeper look at some of the claims the Doc has made during interviews.

This is not about DC home rule

 I’m sorry, what? Overturning a local law is not a  home rule issue? Harris points out that  the Constitution gives Congress the right to set DC policy. But just because Harris can be a “bullying interloper” doesn’t mean that he should be one. Harris has voted to defer to state legislatures on issues ranging from energy production to welfare, despite the fact that the Federal government can trump their authority in these areas. The federalist principles that characterize Harris’ conservatism should apply to DC:  regional governments are “closer to the people” than the Feds, so those local legislatures -- elected by local citizens -- should be left uninterrupted. In addition, local politicians have a better grasp of what their constituents need than a Congressman with a God complex. On this point, Dr. Harris is a hypocrite.

“Mr Catania can come see me when he's ready to deal seriously with drug abuse. This is just a campaign prop.”

When DC mayoral candidate David Catania dropped by Harris’ office asking for a meeting about the rider, Harris refused, claiming that Catania was pandering to the electorate. Harris’ response exemplifies a general unwillingness to discuss his encroachment on home rule.  As Catania noted, Harris and his staff never sought any discussion with any elected DC official before introducing the amendment. Not only did Harris stamp on DC’s autonomy, but he simultaneously gave the proverbial finger to DC’s Delegate, the DC Council , and the mayor.

I’m glad to take the arrows for this

Harris has righteously maintained that his rider is politically unpopular, branding  himself as a martyr fighting for people’s health. In reality, Harris isn’t exactly on the path to sainthood.  As Ben Freed noted in the Washingtonian, Harris is gunning for an open seat on the Republican Study Committee. For members of Congress on the rise, one of the best (and most cowardly) ways to win the support of their colleagues without risking the ire of their home district is to mess with DC. This “leadership” isn’t admirable.

Considering that Harris has belligerently continued to take shots at those opposing his amendment, it’s unlikely that he will back down any time soon. Hopefully the Senate will kill his rider before the Appropriations bill goes to the President.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

The Councilmember from Maryland

I hope Representative Andy Harris (R-MD) takes the advice of his colleague Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) and runs for DC Council in the fall. That way, if Rep. Harris is successful in his campaign at least he would be accountable to DC voters. 

Right now, as a member of the House Appropriations Committee and the House majority, Harris is operating as if he is the lone elected official from the District. 

During the June 25 markup of the DC spending bill for 2015, Harris on behalf of his party  argued that he knows what is best for the people of DC. He pushed through an amendment that would prevent the District from spending local funds to implement a marijuana decriminalization law passed by the DC Council.   

“This isn’t going to make me any more popular,” he smugly proclaimed. “This is about doing the right thing.” 

Thanks for the guidance Dr. Harris, but the people of DC don’t need you to be our moral compass. Like most Americans, we’re not receptive to politicians who violate fundamental democratic tenets by imposing their personal agendas on people they do not have to answer to. Dr. Harris can save the homilies for his constituents in Maryland’s 1st Congressional District.    

Sadly, Dr. Harris’ autocratic and hypocritical antics aren’t anything new. A Tea Party stalwart, Dr. Harris is the just the latest politician to ditch his small government principles when presented with a chance to force his pet cause on the people of the District. How can he resist? Harris doesn’t answer to District voters.  

Budget Autonomy

Congress: Stop Talking About Democracy and Respect It

Today, the House subcommittee in charge of DC’s annual budget passed a spending bill that forces District residents to adhere to a local abortion policy we don’t support.     

It’s a familiar storyline, but impossible to ignore. A group of legislators we did not elect, who serve in a body where we have no vote, are forcing Americans in DC to submit to their view of the world.  And, like all dictators, they seem to answer to no one.

In this case, a majority of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government supported a legislative rider that bars the District from spending its own local tax dollars to provide abortion services. In the real world, this provision severely restricts access to safe and legal abortion services for poor women living in the District of Columbia.

We hear a lot of great things about America’s fair and just democracy in blustery speeches by members of the House and Senate. Right now, there is a lot of concerned chatter about confronting radical groups who are imposing their vision upon other groups of people at the point of gun.

Those speeches roll right off Americans living in DC. At the very least, we imagine that members of Congress put in office by people thousands of miles away might respect the long-held belief that local jurisdictions in America rightfully enact local policies that reflect the views of the people who live there.  

Around here, the dictates of Congress have become so routine that we express relief when the House issues only one major decree that we object to. History has something to do with that.  In the past, Congress used appropriations bills to block local DC election results, kill domestic partnership laws, and even cut off local funding for syringe exchange programs to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The legislators who moved those provisions got a lot of slaps on the back and political support from interest groups. But the people of DC, and indeed the American people, should never have to accept the imposition of restrictions on the use of local tax dollars in the name of scoring political points.

This is not a partisan issue. Congress needs to stay out of the local affairs of the District, and show the country that all the bloviating about democracy is more than just theatre. And, if the Congress is intent on protecting people from those who try to impose their view of the world upon people, maybe we should start a little closer to home. 

Budget Autonomy · Health Care

The Fight for Budget Freedom Goes Local

budget fistToday, the DC Council filed a lawsuit against the Mayor and CFO to ensure that our local budget law is followed. We commend Chairman Phil Mendelson for taking this forceful step to protect our budget autonomy law.

The lawsuit never should have happened. The Council was forced to file suit after DC’s mayor and CFO publicly stated they would not meet their obligation to enforce and implement the law. 

Until the court reaches a decision, the Council will proceed under the budget autonomy law. No time will be lost in preparing our first budget that will not require Congressional approval to be enacted.

Almost a year ago, DC residents won a big victory for self-determination when 83% of voters backed a referendum freeing DC’s local budget from Congressional control.

The referendum, unanimously passed by the DC Council and signed by Mayor Gray, then went to the Hill for the required 35-day review period and was not challenged or disapproved by Congress. The new budget law went into effect on January 1st 2014.

Last week, Mayor Vincent Gray and Attorney General Irv Nathan released letters opposing the new budget autonomy law.

They are urging the DC Council to ignore a local law that was tacitly approved by Congress, and to instead follow the process that keeps Congress firmly in control of DC’s local funds.  

When DC Vote and other advocates across the city originally launched the campaign for budget freedom, we expected opposition from Congress. We never expected opposition from our very own leaders.

Since the law was enacted, support for DC budget freedom has only grown. The President included budget autonomy for DC in his budget. A DC budget autonomy bill passed out of the House oversight committee controlled by Republicans, and a bill was introduced last week in the Senate that would grant DC budget freedom.

The obstacles to budget freedom being erected by our Mayor and attorney general undermine democracy and delays one of the biggest advances in local control since Home Rule. 

The fight for DC budget freedom has hit a hurdle, but we're confident that justice will prevail.

Budget Autonomy

Williams Rejects Davis' Voting Rights Proposal

WASHINGTON - Rep. Tom Davis' (R-Va.) proposal to legislatively add two new seats to the House of Representatives so that D.C. has voting rights does not sit well with D.C. Mayor Tony Williams

On WTOP's Ask the Mayor program Thursday, Williams says he would not support the District becoming part of Maryland.

"Should we be taking a step toward -- which I think it could potentially be -- retrosession into Maryland? That's a huge step I'm not willing to get on board with," Williams says.

New Plan Could Give D.C. Votes in Congress

WTOP has learned of a new way the District may get a vote in the House of
Representatives. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA), Chairman of the Government Reform
Committee, is considering a plan to add two new seats to the House, increasing the number of representatives from 435 to 437.

D.C. voters would get the opportunity to elect one of the additional seats,
which would become Maryland's 9th district. The new district would represent the District of Columbia. The other new seat would be in Utah.

DC's Presidential Primary Bill Becomes Law

A bill that moves the District's presidential primary to the first Tuesday in January has now become law.
The bill was passed by the D.C. Council in February and endorsed by Mayor Tony Williams in April. It aims to make the city's primary the first in the nation by holding the election two weeks ahead of the tentative date for the New Hampshire primary.

The law went into effect at midnight after Congress took no action yesterday to overturn the bill.

Mayor Williams Signs First in the Nation Primary Bill

Mayor Tony Williams signed the bill to move the D.C. primary to the first Tuesday in January, two weeks ahead of the tentative date for the New Hampshire primary.
Williams says one of the reasons for the change is to draw attention to the importance of voting rights in the city.
The mayor also proclaimed what is Tax Day for most Americans to be "D.C. Voting Rights Day" at a rally Tuesday afternoon.