After a 25-year hiatus, a vote on DC Statehood has made its way back to Capitol Hill. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and Mayor Bowser have made the customary trek to influence Congress to bring full voting rights to The District. However, after all the cute tricks are exhausted and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) bids a retreat to her corner of the Capitol, D.C. will not be any closer to statehood than it was before. We can blame it on Republican-led objections. We can blame it on a slave mentality that sees DC as a plantation that needs to be maintained. We can recite the fact that we pay the highest taxes per capita and expend our blood and treasure on battlefields as much as any other state. But, at the end of the day when the myriad reasons and rationale fade away we are still faced with the question: What will it take for DC to become a state? It’s simple. Think Red!
This year D.C. dressed Pennsylvania Avenue up with 51-star American flags. Add that to the other cute and clever slogans, bumper stickers, and license plates that have been created over the years and you end up with the same results; denied! The storyline playing itself out this year is the fact that the current resolution has no Republican support. Sounds good, but we must also consider that even when Democrats have ruled both Houses and the presidency, DC has still fallen short. We are all too familiar with the blue-state, red-state dogma that litters the political landscape.
However, several years ago Marc Fisher of The Washington Post reported that “Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told his colleagues: “There are decent arguments on each side, though I think our side has been given short shrift on some. There are 600,000 people in the District of Columbia, never contemplated by the Founders of this country, without a right to vote. All we’re doing here is deciding whether we’re going to allow the debate to happen. We’re prepared to accept whatever the Supreme Court decides to do. Because there are 600,000 people without the right to vote for their own representation. I used to be against this,” but then “I realized there are 600,000 without the vote.” It’s even gone so far as to pass legislation in 2009 to add two additional seats in Utah (a typical Republican state) to offset the addition of 2 voting delegates from DC (Effort to Allocate House Seats to D.C., Utah Clears Major Hurdle in Senate).
It’s this writer’s belief that the changing demographics of D.C. will soften the path toward statehood. What was a predominantly African American city, aka Chocolate City, less than a generation ago is increasing, younger and whiter. Although the political demographics haven’t changed, there’s no reason to say they can’t or won’t. Just visit the D.C. Republican Party (DCRP) website and be greeted by their “Let’s Turn DC Red!” campaign. A close read of the 2016 DCRP platform states that “Many Republicans, including those in Congress, have opposed statehood outright, but the DCRP believes there are other options to give DC taxpayers meaningful representation, while not increasing Democrats representation in Congress.” It goes on to list several DCRP positions on the subject such as:
- DC residents who want the same rights as those of the states should seek to attach their neighborhoods to Maryland
- Congress should enact voting representation in the House of Representatives for the District, paired with an additional representative for the state next in line for an additional House seat after the 2010 census — North Carolina
- Unless and until the Congress decides to give DC residents the same political rights as those of the several states, its residents should be exempt from federal income tax — no taxation without representation — as proposed in legislation by Congressman Louis Gohmert (R-TX)
- Amend the DC Charter to permit the District government to spend its own revenues, so long as the budgets are balanced and the audits clean
- Allow the DC Council to regulate the height of buildings, except those within the National Capital Service Area
- Empower the DC government to tax nonresident income and to shift financial responsibility from the Federal to the District government for certain statelike functions such as corrections and, when the DC Attorney General is elected in a nonpartisan election, criminal justice
- Continue to support the federally funded Tuition Assistance Grant for DC high school graduates attending college and restore the Federally funded DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has enhanced educational opportunities and improved graduation rates for low-income DC students in DC private, independent and parochial primary and secondary schools. Our Republican Congress should hold hearings and promote legislation on these issues.
The bottom line is that the groundwork is being laid. The DCRP isn’t pushing Statehood but, more autonomy. There’s a huge difference. So, as the demographics change, don’t be surprised if the language of voting equality for DC doesn’t change with it. The first step is more control, and as the demographics change, statehood will seem like the logical next step.