Greater Greater Washington

Republicans and Democrats supported rights for DC (in 1973)

Today, the day Americans exercise their most fundamental right to participate in government, it's worth remembering what some of this nation's leaders said forty years ago about District of Columbia residents' right to participate in government. Here are a few quotations from the legislative history of the 1973 Home Rule Act.


Photo by dbking on Flickr.

The condition of our Capital city is a sign of the condition of our nationand is certainly taken as such by visitors, form all the States of the Union, and from around the globe. ...

Besides the official Washington of monuments and offices, there is the Washington of 850,000 citizens with all the hopes and expectations of the people of any major city, striving and sacrificing for a better lifethe eighth largest among the cities of our country.

Full citizenship through local self-government must be given to the people of this city: the District Government cannot be truly responsible until it is made responsible to those who live under its rule. The District's citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosingor to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizenship.

  President Richard M. Nixon, April 28, 1969 (p. 1685-1686)

Not only did President Nixon support Home Rule, but so did many (but not all) Republicans in Congress.

Dear Republican Colleague:

Monday, in his second State of the Union address, the President reiterated his endorsement of self-government for the District of Columbia.

[In] regard to the President's desire to see "true and effective self-government" in the District before the American Bicentennial, passage of Home Rule this session would enable the residents of the District of Columbia to see their first elected mayor and city council in over one hundred years take office in 1975.

This issue has been before the Congress for the past twenty-five years, and we hope that you will agree that it is time to take positive action by passing H.R. 9682 on September 24th.

Sincerely,
Gilbert Gude (R-MD, 1923-2007, US Rep. 1967-1977),
Stewart B. McKinney (R-CT, 1931-1987, US Rep. 1971-1987)
Henry P. Smith III (R-NY, 1911-1995, US Rep. 1965-1975)
September 12, 1973 (1687)

One of the primary sponsors of the Home Rule Act spoke about how the bill was supposed to be only the first step toward even fuller representation for District residents.
In 1969 I first proposed a series of actions intended to bring about an orderly transfer of political power to the people of the District of Columbia. I called for a Constitutional Amendment giving the District at least one representative in the House and such other additional representation as the Congress may approve.

I proposed, and Congress enacted, legislation providing for an interim non-voting Congressional delegate and for the creation of a Commission on the Organization of the Government of the District of Columbia, the so-called Nelsen Commission [whose findings formed the basis of the Home Rule Act].

  Donald Fraser (D-MN, b. 1924, US Rep. 1963-1979, Mayor of Minneapolis 1980-1993) (1686)
One of the most moving speeches in the Home Rule Act debate came from Hawaii Rep. Spark Matsunaga, who had spent years pushing for voting rights for his own people.
I believe we can all agree without any reservations whatsoever that nowhere in America should the principles of democracy be more firmly established than the Nation's Capital. However, democracy is at its weakest in the District of Columbia, for it stands noticeably as a bastion of taxation without representation.

By a cruel irony, a nation founded as a haven from tyranny and oppression denies to the citizens of its Capital City the very blessings for which it stands. Incredible but true, it is still accurate to describe the District of Columbia as "America's last colony."

Fresh in my memory is Hawaii's own struggle for self-determination. For far too many years, the Congress decided the destiny of Hawaii while its citizens had little or no voice in their own affairs. Many years of my life were devoted to Hawaii's struggle for statehood, and as I walked the Halls of Congress trying to develop support for Hawaii's cause, I encountered many of the same arguments I now hear advanced against home rule for the District of Columbia. I am no more impressed now than I was then by these same arguments. ...

Tte citizens of Washington deserve to share in the right of self-government, the birthright of every American citizen. Today, the citizens of Washington are virtually disenfranchised. They are allowed the "privilege" of paying taxes, but not the right of selecting their own government, or determining how those tax revenues will be spent. They do choose a Delegate to Congress, but he is a nonvoting Delegate. Their right to help shape their own governmental structures is limited to selecting a School Board. ...

Home rule is not a partisan issue, nor should it be. It is a goal which has borne the endorsements of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. In discussing the principle of self-determination in 1960, the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower said:

"Human beings everywhere, simply as an inalienable right of birth, should have freedom to choose their guiding philosophy, their form of government, their methods of progress."

How appropriate his remarks are for this issue before us here today. Home rule for the District of Columbia is one of the final chapters in America's long struggle to secure freedom for all of its people. ... Let us wipe out the last vestige of colonialism in America.

  Spark Matsunaga (D-HI, 1916-1990, US Rep. 1963-1977, Senator 1977-1990) (2190)
All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.
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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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I would support give DC voting rights for MD senators and with MD districts. But DC is just too small to warrant two Federal Senate seats on its own. DC was carved out of MD (& tmp VA) to keep its Federal Status independent of that of the States. Giving DC Statehood would defeat the very purpose for which it was created. If voting rights outweigh that, then DC just just return to Montgomery and PG counties.

by Cyclone on Nov 6, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

DC is just too small

Size matters? Then why is it fair that RI, CA and AK have an equal number of senators?

by Jasper on Nov 6, 2012 12:50 pm • linkreport

DC is too small? *Sigh*.

Wyoming: 568,158
Washington, DC: 617,996
Vermont: 626,431
North Dakota: 683,932

Should none of those other small states have representation either? That was the whole point of developing a goddamned bicameral legislation: everyone had equal representation in the Senate and proportional representation in the House. Jesus.

by GWJ on Nov 6, 2012 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Cyclone, DC has a greater population than WY, and maybe another state or two - definitely greater than WY.

by Tina on Nov 6, 2012 12:55 pm • linkreport

Normally, I'm against popular referendums because I think legislators shouldn't pass the buck on their jobs.

The exception I have is when it comes to questions of self determination. It should be up to the people of DC to decide if they want to be a state, ask to be a part of MD, or some other option. That's why I think retrocession to MD is kind of a half-assed solution because it trades one circumstance to another that the people don't really get an option to consider.

by drumz on Nov 6, 2012 1:09 pm • linkreport

Cyclone: DC was carved out of MD (& tmp VA) to keep its Federal Status independent of that of the States. Giving DC Statehood would defeat the very purpose for which it was created.

That's why every DC statehood proposal I've ever seen includes a rump federal district around the Washington Monument that would incorporate the Capitol and so on but have no permanent residents, because everyone is already aware of the founders' concerns about the state with the national assembly in it being able to throw its weight around.

by iaom on Nov 6, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

I have no dog in this hunt, but we should recognize that retrocession is different from designating DC as still part of Maryland for the sole purpose of ensuring Congressional representation. Until the Organic Act of 1800, people residing in the District of Columbia voted as if they were Maryland residents.

Indeed one of the arguments for why it is constitutional for the Congress to provide DC with a voting Congressman, though DC is not a state, is that Congress can return DC to Maryland for the sole purpose of Congressional representation, and then having done that, Congress can draw the boundary for the DC district because Congress (rather than Maryland) has exclusive jurisdiction over DC.

by Jim T on Nov 6, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

Gosh, if only we could elect a Democratic president and Senate and House. You remember when Obama pushed for DC statehood and voting rights? Oh, those were the days!

by charlie on Nov 6, 2012 2:01 pm • linkreport

As a compromise why don't the provide DC with representation in the House, but not the Senate. Additionally, DC would be limited to one representative regardless of how large it grows. Also, Americans living abroad would also be included in this Congressional district.

It's a balance of providing representation to all Americans, specifically DC residents, while not giving the federal district equal status or to the other states as the framers of Constitution wanted to avoid happen.

by Rob P. III on Nov 6, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

@ iaom:That's why every DC statehood proposal I've ever seen includes a rump federal district around the Washington Monument that would incorporate the Capitol and so on but have no permanent residents, because everyone is already aware of the founders' concerns about the state with the national assembly in it being able to throw its weight around.

I will add the observation that there are no countries where this is a problem. In fact, only the USA, Mexico, Brazil and Australia have separate capital districts. Only in the US, there is this fear that the Federal government would do something bad. Mexico City was a city state, Brasilia was a development project, and Canberra a bad compromise.

Most capitals enjoy being the seat of government and reap enormous benefits from it. The only other capital with very divided government(s) is Brussels, which, to be honest, suffers from exactly the same kind of neglect as DC does.

by Jasper on Nov 6, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

Nixon was the last liberal prez.

My preference would be no Federal income tax with status quo. Assuming that's not in the cards tho...

The federal gov't is supposed to be our substitute for a "state gov't" with Washington as a city gov't. It isn't. Everything from criminal laws to commercial laws normally passed by a state government, are made, with rare interference from Congress, by a city council of 13 members. That's not a good process.

IF full statehood with a functioning state legislature is not possible retrocession to Maryland would IMHO be preferable to the current situation where we don't have an effective state government doing state government functions. And it would give us Congressional and Senate representation with constituent services. Settling for our delegate getting a vote is pitiful.

But, by all means, if we can get full statehood, that's best.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 6, 2012 2:58 pm • linkreport

And for everyone citing the "wishes of the founders" as a good reason to deny more than half a million Americans equal rights, there's also a clause in the Constitution that refers to certain groups of people as counting only as three-fifths of a person for the sake of the census.

Obviously they got some important things wrong; that doesn't mean we have to be bound by them.

by AlbuterolGonzales on Nov 6, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

@AlbuteroGonzales -- The three-fifths rule did not hold that blacks were only 3/5 of a person, as many people misremember from high school history, and it was not a pro-slavery rule. It was actually the opposite. The southern states wanted to fully count their slaves for purposes of determining their representation in the House -- though of course they would not give salves voting or any other rights as citizens. The north did not want slaves counted at all, as that would be allowing the south to have their cake and eat it too. The three-fifths rule was a compromise that limited the power of the south.
The sadder part of the Constitution is Article I, sec. 9, cl. 1, where the founders agreed to punt the slavery question for about 20 years. This clause says that Congress cannot forbid any of the existing states from importing slaves until 1808. In other words, slavery was was already a major topic of disagreement between the states, there was a movement to outlaw it, and the founders contemplated that someday it would be illegal. But in order to get a constitution that all the states would adopt, they agreed to put the issue off for 20 years. It lasted another 50 years beyond that, and took a civil war and three constitutional amendments to end.

As for not being bound by the views of the founders, I agree with you of course if you what you mean is amending the Constitution.

by mm on Nov 6, 2012 3:54 pm • linkreport

@mm: Well, whether or not it's a "pro-slavery" rule is more a matter of interpretation, because it sure as hell isn't abolitionist. I happen to think it's shameful, cowardly, and a stain on the nation's history, right along with putting off the inevitable, and the two are inseparable. But you're right in that it uses the counting rule for purposes of representation - as I said, 3/5 in the census (which is, after all, what determines each state's allotment of representatives).

I assume at this point it would take a constitutional amendment to grant DC proper statehood, and obviously support that. But what I also meant was a counter to arguments like "not giving the federal district equal status or to the other states as the framers of Constitution wanted to avoid happen" or "Giving DC Statehood would defeat the very purpose for which it was created." Noble intentions back in the day, I'm sure, but now it just disenfranchises a whole swath of the country. Founders turned out to be wrong about a whole bunch of stuff; their intent shouldn't even play into this debate.

by AlbuterolGonzales on Nov 6, 2012 4:13 pm • linkreport

@AlbuterolGonzales- Statehood would just require a vote to do so by Congress, not an amendment. That's how states are admitted. So, in theoretical terms, it's the easier route.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 6, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

In this case, what the founders wanted was a deal to unite the states. They full agreement on some principles, but had to finesse certain contentious issues to get this deal. Representation for DC is one of those contentious issues -- and still is.

by goldfish on Nov 6, 2012 4:27 pm • linkreport

@ goldfish:Representation for DC is one of those contentious issues -- and still is.

No, it is not. It only is for a (some) people in DC. The other three hundred something million Americans are barely aware of the issue.

by Jasper on Nov 6, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

@Jasper: Hey, you don't have to convince me. But regardless, it has come up many times and voted down -- see, for example, the 1978 DC voting rights amendment, which was rejected by 34 states. Therefore it is controversial.

by goldfish on Nov 6, 2012 4:42 pm • linkreport

Granting statehood for DC would be more tricky than a simple Congrssional vote. The 23rd amendment grants electors to the district. If Congress were to carve out a small federal zone surrounded by a new state, that zone would still have three electoral votes. And the only resident who would be able to vote for those electoral votes would be the president and his or her family. This is obviously unnacceptable. So absent the abolition of the entire seat of government (which would theoretically make the 23rd amendment moot), a constitutional amendment will be necessary to avoid this result.

by TM on Nov 6, 2012 4:44 pm • linkreport

When did DC have 850K citizens as claimed by Pres Nixon? According to the census numbers, DC had a population of 802K in 1950 and 756K in 1970. Did Nixon have a typo in his letter?

As noted DC currently has a larger population than Wyoming and could overtake Vermont in the near future on the rebound. In the 1970 Census it would have ranked 41st in population as a state according to this Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1970_United_States_Census. Nevada sure has moved up the state population ranking list since then.

by AlanF on Nov 6, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

@TM- That would easily be avoided by not carving out a federal enclave. It's not necessary anyway.

by Tom Coumaris on Nov 6, 2012 5:14 pm • linkreport

I would agree that most Americans don't think about DC statehood but there is something ingrained in a lot if Americans that says No when asked if DC should be a state.

by Drumz on Nov 6, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

@TM - Congress would be able to dispose of the rump Federal District's three electoral votes however it wants. (Technically, it already can.) I'd recommend they give them to the winner of the national popular vote, or else instruct them to cast blank ballots, or maybe dummy ballots for George Washington and John Adams.

by Evan on Nov 7, 2012 12:24 am • linkreport

There is no reason, other than partisan politics, why DC shouldn't have 2 voting Senators and the number of Representatives proportional to its population. If Congress wants to maintain ultimate control over DC's laws and budget, then I should at least be able to elect individuals to Congress who have a voting say in such matters.

But no, I'm denied representation because of the effect it would have on party power in Congress. (And make no mistakes, the Democrats would do the same thing if the majority of DC voters were Republican.)

by 7r3y3r on Nov 7, 2012 2:01 am • linkreport

@TM - Sitting presidents don't vote in DC with 1600 Penn Ave as their registered address. They vote in their hometown. Obama voted in Chicago. So the 3 electoral votes would remain inactive with no one voting.

by Tina on Nov 7, 2012 11:38 am • linkreport

@Tom

But that would mean Congress would have to give up ultimate control even of the smaller "federal rump". I don't see Congress ever doing that.

@Tina

Yes, sitting presidents usually vote in their home states. But they certainly could vote in DC if they wanted. And if 3 electoral votes were on the line, I'm sure they would.

by TM on Nov 7, 2012 1:01 pm • linkreport

@ goldfish: rejected by 34 states. Therefore it is controversial.

I'd call that rejected by 2/3rds of the nation. Not controversial.

@ TM:If Congress were to carve out a small federal zone surrounded by a new state, that zone would still have three electoral votes. And the only resident who would be able to vote for those electoral votes would be the president and his or her family. This is obviously unnacceptable.

Too much speculation.

First, POTUS always lives in his home-state. [Can you believe Romney yesterday lost four home states (MA, NH, MI and CA), and his VP state? He did win UT though] Second, it's easy to draw the White House into the new state.

Oh, and also, as far as I can see, it has never hung on three electoral college votes.

http://www.usconstitution.net/elections.html

Even Bush v Gore was 5 votes.

So, as long as it's acceptable that somebody wins in the electoral college, but not in popular vote and only via SCOTUS, I don't think you need to worry about three rump votes that the feds could direct any way they want anyway.

by Jasper on Nov 7, 2012 3:20 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

While the difference was 5 votes, a switch of one 3 vote state would have meant +3 for candidate A and -3 for candidate B for a 6 vote swing. Thus, the election would have gone the other way.

In 2000 Bush had 271 votes and Gore had 266. If one of the 3 vote states had gone for Gore instead of Bush the tally would have been 269 for Gore and 268 for Bush (assuming the one voter who abstained did so again).

---

I'm wary of taking the popular vote to mean candidate A or B would have been elected if the electoral college hadn't been in place. This is because the candidates are not campaigning to win the popular vote -- they are campaigning to win the electoral college vote. The structure of the election indicates you need electoral votes to win, not popular votes, so the candidates are tailoring their campaigns and actions to the electoral college rules.

Take football for example. It doesn't matter if you have more yards (popular votes) than the opposition because the winner is determined by points (electoral votes). Additionally, it doesn't matter if you win by 1 point or 40; thus, the teams change tactics once they have a lead to run out the clock rather than score more points -- Similar to candidates not campaigning in certain states because they know they've already won them.

by Rob P. III on Nov 8, 2012 9:21 am • linkreport

charlie is right, even the Democrats don't want DC to be a state. It's kind of shocking. If DC were reliably Republican, I can't imagine that Republicans - finding themselves in the same position the Democrats were in in 2009 - wouldn't have shoved through a DC statehood law to get 2 more senators and a representative. But Democrats are - I don't know what to call it - too stupid? to do this.

by David C on Nov 8, 2012 11:25 pm • linkreport

As a compromise why don't the provide DC with representation in the House, but not the Senate. Additionally, DC would be limited to one representative regardless of how large it grows. Also, Americans living abroad would also be included in this Congressional district.
It's a balance of providing representation to all Americans

Well, because it's not a balance of providing representation to all Americans. We wouldn't have full representation. We would still be lessor citizens. There are times for compromising, but compromising on your right to vote and be a citizen is not one of those times.

by David C on Nov 8, 2012 11:28 pm • linkreport

which was rejected by 34 states

It was not rejected by 34 states. That's the number that failed to ratify it, but many of those legislatures chose not to vote on it at all. That's not the same as rejecting.

by David C on Nov 8, 2012 11:38 pm • linkreport

The fact that DC has more people than Wyoming and alomost as many people as Vermont and North Dakota can probably convince most reasonable people from Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota that it has enough people to be a state, but it is unlikely to persuade most people from the states with large populations.

The allocation of two US Senators to each state is very unfair. It's what we have, we learn to live with it--that's what it took to form the union. But that does not mean that people will accept an extension of this unfairness by granting statehood to a city.

By holding out for more than its fair share of Congressional representation, DC leaders have consigned it to getting less than its fair share.

by JimT on Nov 9, 2012 2:03 am • linkreport

I don't think anyone's "holding out." It's not like DC has been offered a voting representative and said "hey no thanks where are our senators?"

Should we get what every other state gets? Many of us think yes. But would we refuse if given just a representative? I think few people would.

But that does not mean that people will accept an extension of this unfairness by granting statehood to a city.
A meaningless statement. I could just as easily question why we have continued to afford statehood to an empty wasteland with fewer people in it than our nation's capital (Wyoming).

by MLD on Nov 9, 2012 8:47 am • linkreport

JimT, it's true that one of the great flaws of the constitution is that it treats states as equivalent. But as MLD notes, no one is really offering us more of a partial fix than we have now. There are a few key powers that a state has that a territory does not.

1. Representation in the house
2. Representation in the senate
3. Electors for President
4. A voice in ratifying Constitutional Amendments
5. A voice in Contingent elections (admittedly, part of 1 and 2 in a sense).

Right now, DC has only #3. So I think there is evidence that we will accept a partial solution. And I would be glad to get any of these powers. But no one is offering us any of them. We tried to get a house member, and Republicans crushed that.

by David C on Nov 13, 2012 9:20 am • linkreport

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