A ballot referendum to split the nation’s capital into a new state for its residents and a smaller, federal district for government buildings and monuments is headed to D.C. voters in November. The D.C. Council unanimously approved the referendum proposed by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Tuesday, saying that, if approved, it could help pressure Congress to hold the first vote in more than two decades to allow D.C. residents to form the 51st state. In backing the plan, however, the council brushed aside criticism from statehood advocates who felt that D.C. residents should have more say in drafting a constitution for the would-be state. A final vote on the founding document, which voters would be asked to “approve,” would not be taken by the D.C. Council until after the November election.
Council members said it was more important to move quickly than to wait until a final version of the constitution was ready for public review. “We’ve got a real chance, this is our moment, let’s take it,” said Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2). “We’ve talked about this before, and the feedback we’d get is that ‘you’re not ready, get your act together.’ Well, the fact is we have pulled our act together . . . and D.C. has never been more ready to be a state.”
For most of the nation’s history, statehood for the District was a radical idea to remedy lack of voting representation in Congress.
But recent actions by congressional Republicans to block decisions of D.C. voters to legalize marijuana, restrict gun use and fund abortions, among other matters,have pumped new energy into the statehood cause among the District’s mostly Democratic electorate.