Monday, January 5


The Democrats are preparing to gain some easy points by giving the capital colony, DC, a vote in the House - carefully balanced by a new one for GOP Utah. Most of what you will read about this issue will be wrong, so here's a guide to the reality of the matter we did a few years back,, outlining the difference between true democracy for DC and the token House seat.

What is the basic difference?

Representation in Congress would increase DC's political power somewhat but would not affect any of the basic colonial precepts under which the city is governed. For example, the federal government would still:

-- have plenary power over all aspects of local governance

-- control the budget

-- control the prosecution and adjudication of, as well the imprisonment for, crimes.

-- have the power to deny the city a commuter tax

-- be able to pass laws in contravention of the will of DC citizens

In other words, even with representation, DC would remain a full colony of the US, just as Algeria was before it gained independence even though it had representation in the French National Assembly.

Short of a highly improbable constitutional amendment, the only ways to gain full democracy by making DC residents equal to other Americans are statehood, retrocession to Maryland, or joining it to some other state.

Isn't representation a stepping stone to democracy?

Theoretically yes, but in practice not. The granting of a vote in the House would essentially bury the DC colony issues for years to come

Isn't this really a technical argument?

Not at all. It reflects a century-long political struggle within the city. Here is some of the history of this issue:

1888: Conservative newspaperman Theodore Noyes of the Washington Star launches campaign for congressional representation; strongly opposes real democracy. Noyes writes, "National representation for the capital community is not in the slightest degree inconsistent with control of the capital by the nation through Congress."

1899: A political scientist describes the Board of Trade - which supports a congressional vote only -- as providing DC with the ideal form of local government through a "representative aristocracy."

1919: Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce advocate congressional representation and oppose home rule. Labor unions urge elected officials.

1934: A special committee recommends a nonvoting delegate but no home rule.

1943: Board of Trade appears before Senate Committee to support representation in Congress but opposes local self-government.

1960s: Segregationist Rep. John McMillan favors a DC vote for president and vice president, says a struggle for home rule will cripple the national vote. McMillan thinks the national vote should "satisfy" DC residents "at least for a while."

1971: DC gets a nonvoting congressional delegate. In first delegate race, the statehood arguments of Julius Hobson are strongly opposed by Walter Fauntroy who will become the leader of a lengthy and futile drive for a constitutional amendment granting congressional representation.

1972: Walter Fauntroy and John Hechinger, later major players in the voting rights drive, sabotage George McGovern's planned announcement of support for DC statehood.

1981: The League of Women Voters, Walter Fauntroy, and the Washington Post - all strong advocates of congressional voting representation - are the leading voices again DC statehood.

1985: The voting rights amendment is defeated with less than half the required states voting for it. Meanwhile years of potential work for full democracy are dissipated and diluted.

2004: Delegate Norton convinces the Democratic Party to drop DC statehood from its platform, to be replaced by a call for voting rights. According to The Washington Times, "Pat Elwood, vice chairman of the [Democratic] state committee, said she agreed with Mrs. Norton's view that statehood 'dilutes' the message of congressional voting representation.

What is behind the representation drive?

Two things:

-- Genuine and understandable confusion about the issue by well-intentioned citizens who have been propagandized into thinking that democracy and representation are the same.

-- The interests of big business and lawyer-lobbyists in having a representative on the Hill whom they can buy through campaign contributions and later control. While this problem would exist in any form of status change, it is preeminent when representation is sought and democracy isn't.

What about the saying, "no taxation without representation?"

This is one of these slogans that sounds far better than it is. The slogan actually stemmed from a major complaint of the business and upper classes against the British crown and, much like corporate mantras of today, such as "free markets", it gained a currency far broader than its applicability.

While New England businessmen were speaking of representation in the English parliament, perhaps the most famous speech on behalf of the principle was by Patrick Henry in a fiery address in 1765 against the Stamp Act in which he declared, "If this be treason, make the most of it."

What's significant is that Henry was not speaking of representation in the Parliament, but rather of the right of the Virginia legislature to approve any taxes on the people. In other words, Henry was taking the side of full democracy rather than insignificant representation in a national legislature that still held plenary powers over the colonies. It is this critical and similar distinction that current use of the phrase "taxation without representation" obscures.

By the time the Declaration of Independence was written, America had come cleanly down on the side of full democracy as opposed to mere representation. The only mention of taxes in the Declaration of Independence attacks the crown for "imposing taxes on us without our consent," something Congress can still do even if it grants DC representation.

A far better slogan would be "no taxation without democracy" or, better still, "statehood now"

How would statehood be achieved?

The mechanics of statehood are relatively simple. They have been invoked 37 times since the first 13 colonies formed their union. A territory must petition the Congress, draft a constitution with a republican form of government, Congress must approve by a simple majority, and the President must sign the bill.

A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds vote of Congress as well the support of three-quarters of the state legislatures. In other words, 13 states can veto a constitutional amendment. The last time a voting rights amendment was circulated, less than half the required states approved it within the seven year time limit.

A constitutional amendment may be repealed. Statehood cannot be repealed.

What about Congress' power over the District?

The Constitution states the upper size limit of the district over which it has power; it does not state the lower limit. The size of the District has been changed in the past, most significantly when the Virginia portion was retroceded to that state. DC statehood would require a simple reduction of the size of the federal district to an unpopulated area running, say, from the Capitol along the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial.

Isn't statehood impractical?

Far from it. We've created a new state 85% as frequently as we have elected a new president. In fact, it will become increasingly impractical for the Senate to remain our most segregated and unrepresentative legislature, one which would be subject to court-ordered bussing if it were a school system; sued under civil rights laws if it were a corporation; and from which, if it were a private club, one would want to resign before running for public office.

The Senate also discriminates against cities and the largest states. For example, there are eight states with 16 senators that have in aggregate less population than New York City. There are 18 states with 36 senators with less population than all of New York state. There are 21 states with 42 senators that together have less population than California with its two senators.

In fact, the malapportionment of the Senate is perhaps the most important, undiscussed issue in the country today for there is hardly a matter of political importance that would not be affected if that body were to reflect 21st century, rather than 19th century, demographics.

Further, in not too many years, white Americans will cease to be in the majority. Even leaving moral questions aside, how much longer will it be politically practical to tell blacks and latinos that the rules can't be changed to let them into the Senate in some reasonable number? DC is a great place to start correcting this grievous vacuum


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