The leading contender is New Columbia, but that has associations with Christopher Columbus some would question. Other options include Anacostia or Potomac. Or how about Douglass Commonwealth – conveniently DC – after the abolitionist Frederick Douglass? The debate over what to call America’s hypothetical 51st state is just one of the thorny issues facing campaigners as they strive to correct what they claim is a long historical injustice unique among capital cities around the world. The effort to gain statehood for Washington, District of Columbia, received a boost on Thursday when the Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders reaffirmed his support. “I hope that the next time I’m back we’re going to be talking about the state of Washington DC,” he said to cheers at a rally ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary. Hillary Clinton has also endorsed the plan, although the fact that Washington’s Democratic primary is the last in the country, and a “dead rubber” now that Clinton is certain of victory, could be seen as symbolic of how one city deeply underrepresented in Washington politics is Washington itself. It was not until 1964 that residents of DC could even vote for president.
Take Janet Brown, an 84-year-old great-grandmother. “When I came to the district in 1958, because I got married to somebody who lived here, I felt as though I had been robbed of my citizenship,” she testified at a town hall meeting this week. “I’ve felt that way ever since.”
Campaigns for statehood have come and gone and run into Republican opposition. Senator Edward Kennedy once described the opposition arguments as the “four too’s”: a fear that DC would be too black, too urban, too Democratic and too liberal. Since then, the black population has dipped below 50%, but there is little doubt the political colour of the new state, which would elect one voting member to the House and two to the Senate, would be staunchly blue.
John Kasich, who was a Republican candidate for president this year, said candidly of statehood: “That’s just more votes in the Democratic party.” A Donald Trump-inspired meltdown, however, could give Democrats the upper hand and a rare chance to push for the goal. The district floated a trial balloon this year when, for the first time, it passed a budget without asking the federal government’s permission. A referendum on statehood is set to appear on the ballot in November with a view to sending a resounding message to Washington … from Washington.