“Let them have gun laws! Let them have weed! Let them decide the things that they need!” You may remember those lyrics from John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight segment on D.C. statehood that broadcast in early August. The HBO host brought national attention to an issue that has plagued District residents for centuries: Without full voting representation in Congress, D.C. denizens are largely powerless to advocate for their interests at the federal level. Oliver was able to tap into residents’ frustration over the status quo by appealing to civil rights, and in part thanks to social media; local merriment and momentum ensued. Almost three months later, a campaign spearheaded by At-Large D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange seeking to highlight the issue of D.C. statehood on the national stage may be gaining traction. Called “Statehood or Else,” it proposes to collect one million signatures on a petition that would be delivered to the president, all 535 members of Congress, and party leaders at the Democratic and Republican conventions being held next July in Philadelphia and Cleveland, respectively. The Council’s Committee of the Whole held a public hearing on the measure this morning, during which a few witnesses questioned the outward presentation of the campaign and found an opportunity to call for greater funding for D.C.’s congressional delegation. Still, most speakers present testified that they supported it.
Despite the uphill battle for District of Columbia statehood, Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., has reintroduced a statehood bill noting that the District’s unique political status is contrary to the American values celebrated on Independence Day. “These Americans serve in our military, die defending our country, serve on our juries, and pay federal taxes,” Carper said of District residents in a statement. “Yet, despite their civic contributions, they are not afforded a vote in either chamber of Congress. This situation is simply not fair, and it isn’t consistent with the values we celebrate as a country on July 4th every year.”
The corridors of Capitol Hill are lined with paintbrushes, ladders and hammers as the 114th Congress moves in to its new digs. Before the dust settles and while good will runs high, D.C. leaders will appeal to the new faces in the Republican majority for greater voting rights. On Tuesday, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton plans to take to the House floor in an effort to win back the District’s vote in the Committee of the Whole, which she had during three Congresses. “I will make the point that in a democracy, the vote can never be tied to the party in power,” she says. “The vote is tied to the people.”
“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.
Vice President Biden did right by Frederick Douglass. The abolitionist taught that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Accordingly, when the vice president marked the unveiling of a statue honoring abolitionist Douglass at the US Capitol, he made a demand. And it was the appropriate one. In the last years of his life Douglass was active with a pioneering voting rights group, the District Suffrage Petition Association. He attended the group’s meetings and asked, “What have the people of the District done that they should be excluded from the privileges of the ballot box?” It was that question, and the advocacy associated with it, that Biden recalled at the dedication ceremony, declaring that he and President Obama “support home rule, budget autonomy and the vote for the people of the District of Columbia.”
Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday used a tribute to 19th-century abolitionist Frederick Douglass to renew the call for equal voting rights for people who live in the nation’s capital. During a ceremony unveiling a statue of Douglass in the Capitol, Biden hailed Douglass’ work advocating equal justice, and noted that Douglass supported complete voting rights for residents of the District of Columbia, where Douglass once lived. Although each of the 50 states was allowed two statues of notable citizens in the Capitol, the District of Columbia was not allowed any statue until a measure passed by Congress last year. Residents chose to honor Douglass, whose home near the Anacostia River is a national historic site. Biden said he and President Barack Obama back Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting delegate to Congress, in her effort to bring statehood and full voting rights to the city.
D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton once again introduced legislation to Congress that would make D.C. the country’s 51st state. This isn’t the first time she has introduced such a bill and likely won’t be her last. The New Columbia Admissions Act would give the State of New Columbia two voting senators and a voting member of the House of Representatives. The bill stipulates that the state would not have jurisdiction over federal buildings and territory within its borders.