DC Residents Deserve Equal Representation

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8 mins read
Ted Eytan, "2017.02.13 Hands of DC Protest" (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since Hawaii became the 50th U.S. state on August 21, 1959, over sixty years ago, the United States has not added any additional states. However, supporters and activists in DC would like that to change and are moving to make DC the 51st state.

D.C. statehood is the civil rights issue of our time and embodies our nation’s founding democratic principle: the right to vote. Our 700,000 residents, who pay taxes, fight in war, and have all the other obligations of citizenship, deserve and have earned representation in the House and Senate.

LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser

Background

As fans of the musical Hamilton well know:

Washington, D.C. was founded as the capital in 1790 as a result of a compromise between Alexander Hamilton and northern states, and Thomas Jefferson and southern states. Hamilton’s economic policies consolidated power in the bankers and financiers who primarily lived in the North, so the compromise moved the capital physically more South, to appease Jefferson and southern leaders who feared northern control of the nation.”

from Tessa Berenson, “Here’s Why Washington D.C. Isn’t a State,” Time Magazine
Alexander Hamilton
Thomas Jefferson
James Madison

The Constitution does separate out the seat of government as a District distinct from any state:

Clause 17. Congress shall have power * * * To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings.

Although the Constitution says the District should not exceed ten square miles, it does not provide a minimum size requirement, and there is nothing in the text to suggest that the residents of the district (now over 700,000 people) should not have congressional representation.

DC currently has one member of Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton was first elected in 1990 and has served continuously since then, as a Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. There are four other Delegates in the House, one each from American Samoa, Guam, The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and The Virgin Islands, along with a Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico.

Delegates and Representatives serve a two-year term, and the Resident Commissioner serves a four-year term. In most respects, Delegates and the Resident Commissioner have most of the authority that Members have. On the House Floor, they can speak, introduce bills, and offer amendments. They can serve on House Committees and possess most of the authority that other Committee members have.

Delegates and the Resident Commissioner also may offer amendments while the House is conducting business as the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union. However, unlike Members, they may not vote while the House is conducting business as the Committee of the Whole or vote on the final passage of legislation when the House is meeting.

From the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives:

DC does not have any representation in the U.S. Senate, although they do elect two “Shadow Senators,” whose role is largely to lobby the Senate for statehood. As Shadow Senator Michael  Brown explains: “We’re not allowed on the floor of the Senate. They’ll make a special accommodation for us to sit in the gallery. I could take you to lunch, maybe, at the Senate dining room. There are certain courtesies I get.”

Current Status

On November 8, 2016, DC residents voted on a statehood referendum, which passed with 86% of the vote.

On January 3, 2019, Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced H.R. 51, The “Washington, D.C. Admission Act” to the House. Although this is not the first DC statehood bill introduced to Congress (in fact, it’s been introduced every year since it was voted down in 1993), but this time the bill has 221 cosponsors, all Democratic.

Screenshot from Congress.gov.

Rep Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat representing a district in Virginia that includes some DC suburbs explains:

Under this bill, two square miles that include the Capitol, White House, National Mall and the principal monuments, and federal buildings adjacent to the Mall would remain the District of Columbia. The other 66-square-mile area currently in the District would be the 51st state. It is pure common sense.

On September 19, 2019, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on the bill, the first hearing on DC statehood in over 20 years. 

So many Washingtonians came out to support statehood that they could not all fit in the hearing, and an outdoor viewing party was set up to accommodate them.

From the DC Vote Facebook Page
From the DC Vote Facebook Page

With 221 cosponsors it is overwhelmingly likely that the bill will pass the House when it comes to the floor for a vote. However, Mitch McConnell has signalled that he will not bring it for a vote in the Senate: “This is full-bore socialism on the march in the House. And yeah, as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.”

From 51 for 51

What you can do

51 Star Flag, via DC Vote
  1. See if your rep is a cosponsor on H.R. 51. If so, call to thank them. If not, call and say you support statehood for the over 700,000 taxpaying citizens of DC who currently do not have congressional representation.
  2. Call your Senators and ask if they support DC statehood and state your support. The bill has not yet gone to the Senate for a vote, but the movement to demand a vote needs to start note.
  3. Sign the petition. It’s important to proponents of DC statehood that they can show support from around the country, since it is the representatives of the other fifty states who will ultimately decide.
  4. Join DC Vote, an organization “dedicated to strengthening democracy and securing equality for all in the District of Columbia.”
  5. Get a 51-star flag to fly outside your house!
  6. Spread the message on social media.
    1. Retweet the #DCStatehood hashtag
    2. Follow DC Vote: Twitter | Facebook
    3. Follow 51 for 51: Twitter | Facebook
    4. Follow The Washington, DC Statehood Office: Twitter | Facebook

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Born on the 4th of July, Kelly has always been a firecracker, leading a revolution of girls sitting at the boys’ lunch table in 2nd grade and founding Young Independents in high school. Since earning her Masters, Kelly has spent the past 15 years as a university administrator. In the fall of 2017, Kelly co-created the Two Broads Talking Politics Podcast with her friend Sophy. As producer and co-host, Kelly quickly built the podcast into a nationally recognized interview show, featuring Democratic candidates, activists, and authors around the country. She lives in Chicago with her husband & two sons.

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