“No taxation without representation” has been a cliché of American politics almost since the nation’s founding, but for citizens of Washington, D.C., those words have been anything but a guarantee. Last week, a Senate committee held a hearing on the unlikely possibility of D.C. statehood. In attendance were Senators Thomas Carper, a Delaware Democrat, and Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, Mayor Vincent Gray, and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district’s non-voting delegate for the House of Representatives. Along with nine panelists, they were there to discuss the New Columbia Admission Act, a bill that would incorporate the lion’s share of D.C. as the 51st state in the Union, preserve a federal enclave of monuments and buildings within the new state, and grant the district’s nearly 650,000 residents full representation in Congress. Currently, citizens of the nation’s capital are denied voting equality at the congressional level and significant autonomy locally. This set-up makes D.C. an anomaly among American municipalities and arguably relegates its residents to second-class citizens. “In the 21st century, Congress simply cannot ask our residents to continue to be voyeurs of democracy, as Congress votes on matters that affect them—how much in federal taxes they must pay, whether their sons and daughters will go to war, and even their local budget and laws—without the vote in the House and Senate required for consent of the governed.” Norton said in a prepared statement.
The bill is not expected to move through Congress, largely because of partisan politics: The vast majority of Republicans have no intention of welcoming two almost certainly Democratic senators and at least one congressman to the Hill. (Admission would require approval by both houses of Congress and the president.) But nonprofit and legal experts say the statehood debate is, at heart, part of a larger conversation about fundamental civil rights in the U.S. At stake are the voices of a population that has swelled by almost 100,000 over the past decade, reversing shrinking trends during 60 of the past 70 years.
It’s a racially charged question as well, informed by D.C.’s historical identity as the “Chocolate City”—a home to African Americans since the capital was cleaved from two slaveholding states (Virginia and Maryland) in 1791. Though the district’s demographics are changing rapidly, with blacks now composing just less than half of the population, the status quo has left all D.C. residents partially disenfranchised.
James Jones, communications director of DC Vote—a non-profit organization devoted to voting equality—points out that there’s more to the district than just the federal government and its monuments. D.C.’s population, he notes, is greater than those of two states—Wyoming and Vermont—and is denied a degree of self-determination because the feds control much of the city’s budget.
Full Article: Is D.C. Statehood a Matter of Civil Rights? – The Atlantic.