Greater Greater Washington

DC will gain statehood by acting like a state

Councilmember David Grosso has called for Mayor Gray to pay DC employees during the federal government shutdown and to implement DC laws without submitting them to Congress for approval. His actions show us that the path to statehood isn't through protest, but by simply living as free citizens of a state.


Photo by Lost in Transit [Keep St... on Flickr.

Until this point, DC residents relegated to second-rate status have had two options. First, we could meekly submit to the humiliating rituals imposed upon us by federal law. Remember when a US Senator put a hold on our budget because they didn't like our taxi fares?

Second, we could protest as we have for decades. Mayor Gray was arrested for sitting down in traffic to protest our status. Grosso offers a third way, and the best part is that we cannot lose.

Unlike every other jurisdiction in America, during a federal government shutdown the District of Columbia cannot spend its own locally-raised tax money. That's because Congress treats DC's budget as part of the federal budget.

Mayor Gray has responded to this obvious injustice by going back and forth between our two traditional options, protest and obedience. Last week, Gray confronted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at a press conference, and has staged protests on a nearly daily basis.

But ultimately Gray says that he is prepared to obey this unjust law if protests prove unsuccessful. Mayor Gray said in a speech last week that paying DC employees during the shutdown would undermine our "moral authority."

Gray's speech shows a lack of understanding of the moral logic of nonviolent disobedience in the face of unjust laws. Nonviolent disobedience isn't simply protesting by breaking the law. It's avoiding protest altogether and instead living one's life as a free citizen, even if innocent activities of daily life are illegal.

The central appeal of disobedience is that it cannot lose. Protests only work when those in power concede some of their power. Disobedience always works, because you deny to anyone authority over your freedom to live as a full human being.

That's why disobedience always works. It immediately undoes the most harmful effect of unjust laws: when a community internalizes its second-rate status.

Statehood isn't about budgeting, though that is one important benefit. It's true that DC residents bear a heavy fiscal burden, to the tune of about $1 billion a year, because of a structural deficit that Congress would likely fix if DC was a state.

But statehood isn't about the budget. It's about dignity and ridding much of our community of decades of internalized disenfranchisement. So many of our social and economic challenges in DC stem from a deep lack of agency, what many call a spiritual disenfranchisement. In his landmark book Development as Freedom, Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen calls this internalized disempowerment the true source of poverty.

When our mayor claims the dignity of self-governance and simply governs as any other freely-elected mayor would, we can expect a larger percentage of our city's remarkable talent will stand up to govern too, as Kojo Nnamdi so eloquently explains. In fact, disobeying laws denying our self-governance engenders far more civic dignity than the civic pride of a thousand professional sports franchises.

So, breaking unjust laws doesn't undermine moral authority. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. broke unjust laws. Jesus broke unjust laws. And, of course, so did Mahatma Gandhi.

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel called this "living in truth." Under communism, Czech dissidents split between activists planning petitions and artists who simply wanted to do their art. Havel unified them by explaining to activists that attending a banned music concert was more effective than any protest.

Mayor Gray faces a huge decision whether or not to disobey federal laws. But the right choice is clear, and if he doesn't make it, another mayor ultimately will.

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

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Can I get a citation or reference for holding up the DC budget because of the taxi fares?

If we have any other examples of treating DCs budget like that I'd also appreciate those.

by Xavier on Oct 15, 2013 11:12 am • linkreport

Yep, DC should just continue to operate as normal and let the Justice Department or whoever go after the mayor or CFO if they want to.

However, it probably needs to be accompanied with protest at some point if you want the arrangement to be anything but temporary, informal, and only in effect when Democrats have control of the executive branch.

by MLD on Oct 15, 2013 11:18 am • linkreport

Sixth paragraph: Do you mean "disobey"?

by DCite on Oct 15, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

There is a critical difference between violating the anti-deficiency act, and what ken archer is suggesting.

This isn't a shutdown, it is a failure to appropriate funds. Based on that failure, the executive branch has determined, by looking at the ADA act, that you can't ask people to work unless "exempted."

That determination is flawed. It may or may not apply to employees of the District. It may or may not include all workers (determine everyone is "essential"). It may or may not allow people to work without pay.

And in a larger sense, I have doubts where the ada act is constitutional at all. It was written long before the budget rules of 24 and the 1970s. And before 1980, it never was interpreted to "shutdown" and lockout employees.

So telling DC government employees to work is one thing.

Spending money beyond what is approved? Not sure sure about that. DC is clearly intended to be Congress's little bitch. You can argue about that until you are blue in face, but that was the intention. In the modern world it is unfair, but then again DC gets all sorts of benefits from it as well.

So the answer would be tell employees to go to work, pay them until you run out of money, and then don't pay them. Don't start new projects until the budget is approved, and don't changes the existing taxes.

Someone from the CFO's office could probably tell me where the money flows really are -- in terms of whether income withholdings go to the feds, then DC, but clearly there are a lot of revenue streams to go to DC directly.

by charlie on Oct 15, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

Slight issue is that my understanding is that it exposes workers to potential (if unlikely) prosecution. Perhaps district employees should be given a choice. I'm not sure if thats kosher in HR circles because it could become a question of coercion.

by BTA on Oct 15, 2013 11:34 am • linkreport

DC's too small to be a state. It ought to be part of Maryland.

by Thayer-D on Oct 15, 2013 11:43 am • linkreport

I don't think the advantages of DC joining MD would outweight the loss of autonomy to the extent it currently exists. Plus I'm not sure Maryland would approve it assuming they would need some kind of referendum. DC will hold out for statehood as long as it might take.

by BTA on Oct 15, 2013 11:48 am • linkreport

I agree with the premise that acting like a state is the best way to become a state, but this is quite an oversimplification. WWJD is not a solution for Gray right now. There are real legal and operational ramifications. I don't think the city is in quite the moral and existential crisis the writer presumes, which explains why no one is exactly willing to engage in civil disobedience. It's DC, not an Arabian peninsula emirate.

by MJ on Oct 15, 2013 11:53 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D

DC is small, but has a higher population than Vermont and Wyoming.

by Michael on Oct 15, 2013 12:01 pm • linkreport

Agree with Grosso. DC should act as a state and do the right thing by keeping the government in operation.

And the next step is to withhold all federal taxes until a vote is granted to DC in at least the House.

by Burd on Oct 15, 2013 12:03 pm • linkreport

Maryland is not overly inclined to accept retrocession, because it would dramatically change the state's balance of power. Historically, Baltimore and surrounding jurisdictions have held the reins in Maryland, but that has slowly been shifting westward as PG and Montgomery counties because more populous (and MoCo gains increasing affluence). DC suddenly becoming part of Maryland could quite possibly end Baltimore's position of power within the state.

In the positive column, Maryland would gain another Democrat house seat. Along with all the tax revenue from DC.

by Birdie on Oct 15, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

Ken, Mayor Gray IS paying all government employees... not sure what you are referring to here, but it is a false choice. So far, the DC government is functioning with full staff, and has made all payroll.

by Hometown DC on Oct 15, 2013 12:25 pm • linkreport

@Hometown DC

The pre-approved reserve funds the Mayor has been using are basically out. DC government employees will now be working with the possibility of delayed payroll. In addition, there is not enough money in the reserve funds for Medicaid reimbursements or public charter schools, which may be forced to close.

by Adam L on Oct 15, 2013 12:31 pm • linkreport

Ken, Mayor Gray IS paying all government employees... not sure what you are referring to here, but it is a false choice. So far, the DC government is functioning with full staff, and has made all payroll.

SO FAR is key here. They have been using the rainy day fund to pay DC government employees. There is basically enough for one more paycheck to be paid (this Friday?), and that's it. There is not enough money in the fund to have everyone work the entire next pay period and then pay that out in November.

by MLD on Oct 15, 2013 12:33 pm • linkreport

Is the current form of the District's government codified somewhere? If not, then the mayor and city council should move to change it to a more state-style government: Bi- or uni-cameral legislature; minimum 90 person legislature (60 House/30 Senate is how Wyoming does it); elected governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller; incorporated local governments.

We should act like a state if we want to be a state.

by stitchbones on Oct 15, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

@ Thayer-D

What makes DC too small to be a state when there are countries smaller, the same size or just a bit bigger than DC; Vatican City, Monaco, San Marino, Lichtenstein (a little bit smaller than DC 61 sq miles)& Andorra (a little bit over twice the size of DC 180 sq miles)

The capitals of most countries enjoy the same rights as other regions, provinces, governorates etc. t would not be hard to give DC the same rights as a state when London the capital of the UK has the same rights as any other places when we were modeled after the UK.

the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) comes to mind with its only city inside of the territory Canberra the capital of Australia. It is the same as the District of Columbia but has representation so there is no damn reason DC could not be a state.

by kk on Oct 15, 2013 12:58 pm • linkreport

@KK; you do realize the ACT is a terrority, not a state?

What you are trying to say it is posisble for terrority (or insular areas in the US) to have representation in congress. I agree it is possible, just not in the current consitutional setup. Well, let me be more specific. Voting represenation in the house and senate.

by charlie on Oct 15, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

@stitchbones

The D.C. Home Rule Act, §303(a), prohibits the District from changing the composition of our local government.

by Adam L on Oct 15, 2013 1:06 pm • linkreport

While I would personally rather take up arms in a raging bloodfest starting from the Republican side of the Capitol (for obvious reasons) and working towards the Democrat side (because they had their chance to help and did NOTHING), I am crazy and this idea is better (and more humane).

by NE John on Oct 15, 2013 1:09 pm • linkreport

Sixty years of repression can to that to a soul. No patience, little time left

by NE John on Oct 15, 2013 1:12 pm • linkreport

What you are trying to say it is posisble for terrority (or insular areas in the US) to have representation in congress.

It's not only possible, it's damn near required.

Lots of countries have federal districts for their capitals. Not a single one, other than the United States, denies those residents representation in their legislature.

by Alex B. on Oct 15, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Great column, Ken.

by Ian on Oct 15, 2013 1:32 pm • linkreport

Is the current form of the District's government codified somewhere? If not, then the mayor and city council should move to change it to a more state-style government: Bi- or uni-cameral legislature; minimum 90 person legislature (60 House/30 Senate is how Wyoming does it); elected governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and comptroller; incorporated local governments.

Absolutely agree that the council should have more people - going to 40-50 would put you in line with the average representation between house/senate of other small states. Some states elect those positions, others don't, some don't even have a Lt. Governor. Not sure why you would want separate local governments, seems like that would only introduce MORE barriers.

by MLD on Oct 15, 2013 2:37 pm • linkreport

I had very similar thoughts at the start of Gray's remarks last week. But then the mayor pointed out that making the decision to violate the law would put employees of the District -- people who handled checks, etc., he said: folks who have no direct say in making the choice -- at risk of arrest. I am not sure if this is technically true, but if so, it does seem worthy of serious consideration.

by Virginia on Oct 15, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

One good way to be treated more like a state is to elect a governor instead of a mayor so they will be more co-equal on a state level.

by Cider on Oct 15, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

@ stichbones and Adam L: it's not just the Home Rule Act. The 17th clause of the Constitution states gives Congress authority to "exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States."

by Ktriarch on Oct 15, 2013 6:54 pm • linkreport

@Alex B and @kk:

Sure, but I'm not sure there are any capital territories that are quite as small as DC. Dehli and Mexico City are 5x the size of DC. The ACT is 840+ sq. miles bigger than we are. Brasilia is more than 2,000 square miles in size. Beijing Municipality is over 6,000 square miles, and it isn't the only city in China with rough political parity with other provinces: Shanghai and Chongqing are in a similar political fix.

Obviously a democratic republic (or a one-party totalitarian state like China) should be about people, and not land; but there are a lot of good reasons that other countries have bigger capital territories.

At any rate, there are so many problems with our republic right now, I'm almost glad that I don't have a voting representative in Congress; I can honestly say that I did absolutely nothing to contribute to that mess up on the Hill.

by Steven H on Oct 15, 2013 7:33 pm • linkreport

1. I think this could be a good catalyst for change. While the obvious path is to push for changes in law to give DC more autonomy it will always be inadequate. An interim solution might be to break DC into two pieces - the Federal District and the Territory of Columbia (sort of like what we would do if we were a state). Republicans would go along with it because we'd lose our 3 electoral college votes and not get any representation either, but it would remove us from under the federal thumb.

2. Then we lobby Democrats like crazy. In public we argue that we are citizens and are disenfranchised even though we pay taxes and fight and die in wars, etc... you know, all the moral arguments that have never worked. But in private we point out that statehood would give Democrats back those three electoral college votes plus two senators and a house member. It is in their own best interest to press their advantage when they can - the ultimate in gerrymandering. It's a dirty way to win, but the moral argument isn't working. Stop trying to convince Republicans and focus on showing Democrats how it helps them win control of the government. That's how we get statehood.

by David C on Oct 15, 2013 10:39 pm • linkreport

"DC is small, but has a higher population than Vermont and Wyoming." True, but it's a tiny plot of land! Culturally and economically, DC is part of Maryland and to a lesser extent, Virginia. Why does it have to be made into a state to confir voting rights? Plus, we're going to ruin the flag. Unless we are going to add two more states or another amount that is graphically attractive on a flag, just make it part of where it came from, Maryland;) Then again, we could peel off conservative North Colorado and any western Maryland to puf up the numbers.

by Thayer-D on Oct 16, 2013 7:56 am • linkreport

@Thayer-D

"Plus, we're going to ruin the flag. "

What a great reason to deny 630,000 people their right to representation in Congress.

by Burd on Oct 16, 2013 9:22 am • linkreport

" Not sure why you would want separate local governments, seems like that would only introduce MORE barriers."

seperate local govts would only make sense if and when Arlingont unretrocedes and rejoins DC. To overcome Arlingtonian fears about their taxes funding DC social services and education (beyond a certain point anyway) there would be two county govts - a county of Arlington and a County (or City, if you prefer) of Washington within the District (or the State of New Columbia). The obstacles to that (arlington republicans, virginian and national Dems who want to keep a Purple Va, Arlington parents wanting to keep instate access to UVa, and general inertia) are very strong of course, and the motives (right wing laws in Richmond on social issues) are eroding, so of course this is academic.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 16, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

@thayer-d
We don't need statehood to get voting rights. But statehood is the easiest path. It doesn't require us to convince residents of DC and citizens if Maryland that retrocession is a good idea. It doesn't require a constitutional amendment, though one will likely follow to deal with the districts 3 electoral college votes. It's just straightforward and something we've done 37 times before. As for the flag, there are some pretty cool looking 51 star flags out there. Not sure what's so special about this one.

by David C on Oct 16, 2013 10:51 am • linkreport

Lighten up Burd. It's a travesty that DC has no representation in Congress. It blows my mind as much as how currupt re-districting has become or how much money influences political speech, just to name a few. The last two are huge fish so I won't pretend they are easily solved, but in all seriousness, DC could have it's voting rights in Congress with minimal pain by joining Maryland. FWIW if making DC a state was easier, funk the flag and get people their rights. I just don't think that will happen with politics as bolloxed up as they are.

by Thayer-D on Oct 16, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

IIUC DC can get congressional and senate voting rights by voting within maryland, without actually becoming PART of Maryland - that was done way back around 1800, I think.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 16, 2013 11:28 am • linkreport

There would be no legal obligation to change the flag as far as I know...

by BTA on Oct 16, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

@awitc, before 1801, DC was part of Maryland. And not being "part " of Maryland has problems too. how would we approve amendments? Who would decide how to fill vacant Senate seats? Would a DC resident ever be seen as a credible senate candidate for Maryland if they aren't from Maryland? Etc...

by David C on Oct 16, 2013 11:50 am • linkreport

IIUC DC can get congressional and senate voting rights by voting within maryland, without actually becoming PART of Maryland - that was done way back around 1800, I think.

I dunno where this idea has come from but it is incorrect. DC did have voting rights within Maryland before 1800, but only because the District had not been formally established. It was still a part of Maryland (and Virginia) until the Organic Act of 1801. The idea that Maryland voting rights is an option is the same as saying that West Virginia residents could have Virginia voting rights at some point because that used to be the case.

by MLD on Oct 16, 2013 11:52 am • linkreport

okay, I misremembered. Maybe the point I recall was that DC can retrocede by act of Congress without Maryland's consent - IE Congress can repeal or modify the Organic Act of 1801. Though of course passing such a modification over the opposition of Md's congressional delegation would be a tall order.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Oct 16, 2013 11:57 am • linkreport

There was a campaign a while ago to give DC a representative and add another one which would have gone to Utah at the time. I guess that died out, I wonder if something similar could happen. Maybe in Senate we could have a non-voting representative like we have in the house today.

by BTA on Oct 16, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

All the righteous anger and fervent outrage that we are not a state, or that we don't have local, voting representation in Congress, or that we don't have complete autonomy from Congress -- that stuff too often has an extremist tenor.

You know what? It's not glaringly obvious that it's incredibly unjust for the District not to have local, voting representation in Congress, etc. Why? Because that's exactly the system that the nation came up with in the first place. Unlike many other offensive things that have appeared in the Constitution, it's not racist, it's not sexist, it's not based on some immutable characteristic. It's entirely geographical. The District was intended to be an administrative neutral zone. The Constitution was drafted to give Congress plenary power over the federal district.

I'm not saying we couldn't, or shouldn't, change the Constitution. In fact, that's exactly what I think should happen. (We came extremely close before; why not try it again, now that attitudes toward DC have changed significantly?) But don't run around saying "OMG, it's such an outrage, I want to commit felonies in order to protest the absurdity of our lack of autonomy," when it's not that absurd that you should lack autonomy in the first place. It's just a policy choice.

by Wrack on Oct 16, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

Thumbs up, Wrack.

by Ktriarch on Oct 16, 2013 3:45 pm • linkreport

Just because this is the system that a bunch of 18th century slaveowners came up with, that doesn't make it just, it makes it legal. Unfortunately the two don't always overlap. If you don't see the injustice in taxation (and conscription) without representation, then we just disagree on what is just and what is not.

But if you don't think there is an element of racism in keeping DC voters disenfranchised, then you haven't been paying attention.

And I don't think it's accurate to say we came extremely close. I think we got ~10-20 states to ratify the amendment. We needed 38. That's extremely close only if you think the 50 yard line is extremely close to the end zone.

by David C on Oct 16, 2013 4:22 pm • linkreport

Many things that we deem eminently unjust today could be said to be only "policy choices" at the time. I'm certianly not one for violent protest but the truth is you often have to take what you want in this world so there is a certain sad logic that it might take some outright defiance for this to ever happen.

by BTA on Oct 16, 2013 4:23 pm • linkreport

*slow clapping as I rise to my feet for a thunderous ovation*

This is the best article I have ever read on this site. Bravo.

by spirit equality on Oct 16, 2013 5:35 pm • linkreport

My DC statehood solution would be to give DC one senator AND the 3 or 5 most populated states three senators. Still even number of Senators. It moderates the great inequality of representation. And in Presidential elections, DC gets two votes, not three.

by Alan Drake on Oct 17, 2013 8:31 am • linkreport

@ Thayer-D

"DC could have it's voting rights in Congress with minimal pain by joining Maryland."

Seems minimal to you, but neither Marylanders nor Washingtonians nor Congress agree that DC should become part of Maryland.

DC already acts as a state in that its government provides all the services that states provide, and DC residents are taxed as such. "Joining MD" would mean more taxes for DC residents or an abolition of DC's state agencies and adoption of Maryland's state laws and revocation of DC laws that are contrary to Maryland's. It is by no means the simplest solution.

DC doesn't need to become a "state," it can still be a "federal district" where the people have their basic right to representation in Congress (just like Mexico City, Mexico, which happens to be more democratic than this country) OR the federal gov't can do the right thing and stop taxing DC residents altogether.

by Burd on Oct 17, 2013 11:56 am • linkreport

Bird, how would a federal district differ from a state?

by David C on Oct 17, 2013 12:41 pm • linkreport

Bird, how would a federal district differ from a state?

There are two elements in play: home rule, and congressional representation.

They are separate, but related issues.

Statehood solves both problems, as states get members of Congress and they also are entitled to plenary powers within those states.

However, plenty of other countries have federal districts where those districts do not have full home rule; yet they still have representation within their legislatures.

by Alex B. on Oct 17, 2013 12:55 pm • linkreport

Lack of statehood brings two orthogonal disadvantages. Most of the comments seem to be concerned with lack of representation in the federal government. It's interesting to me that this is the thing everyone seems to care about, because it's the one that I care less about. If I really really need voting power without going too far, I can move to arlington.

What I care about is the lack of autonomy. DC levies its own taxes. It should be able to define its own budget, spend its own funds, and structure its own local government without congressional oversight. Unfortunately, a full fiscal separation would probably be complicated primarily because the high density of federal buildings and employees would be putting a drain on DC resources without generating local tax revenue. Some sort of federal subsidy is probably required to offset this burden. I don't know if it would be easy to decide how this should be setup. The issue is probably exacerbated by the fact that the federal government may require certain services that are only partially funded by the federal government, so without oversight it would be more difficult (but not impossible) to guarantee their implementation.

by dccritic on Oct 17, 2013 1:11 pm • linkreport

A federal district then would require a constitutional amendment (more work-lower probability) and confer fewer rights (no home rule, no right to vote on amendments, no ability to vote in contingency elections?). Why work harder for less? True, we don't need statehood, but it is likely the fastest path to full citizenship. What are the advantages of a federal district (or retrocession for that matter)?

by David C on Oct 17, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

A federal district then would require a constitutional amendment (more work-lower probability) and confer fewer rights (no home rule, no right to vote on amendments, no ability to vote in contingency elections?). Why work harder for less? True, we don't need statehood, but it is likely the fastest path to full citizenship. What are the advantages of a federal district (or retrocession for that matter)?

We don't have to become a federal district, we already are one.

Therefore, in solving the problem of representation, we can address that legislatively and without the need for a full Constitutional amendment (in theory - though such an amendment would certainly be ironclad). The last big push for a voting seat in the House was along these lines.

The Constitution clearly creates a role for the federal district, and it also did not prevent Congressional representation for that District (prior to the Organic Act of 1801). Congress took that away, and they can give it back again.

by Alex B. on Oct 17, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

The Constitution clearly creates a role for the federal district, and it also did not prevent Congressional representation for that District (prior to the Organic Act of 1801). Congress took that away, and they can give it back again.

It does prevent it somewhat if you decide that the constitution only says that STATES can have representatives and Senators. Also, the District never had representation. The District did not exist before the Organic Act of 1801.

by MLD on Oct 17, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

@ David C

"Bird, how would a federal district differ from a state?...A federal district then would require a constitutional amendment"

The District of Columbia IS the federal district of the US. All I'm asking for is the basic right to representation in Congress.

Mexico, D.F. is Mexico's federal district that has both home rule and representation in Mexico's Congress.

by Burd on Oct 17, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

Ok, I misread your comment. You're talking about just giving Dc representation and home rule. Isn't that exactly what statehood does? What is the difference between being a state and being a federal district with home rule and full representation? What is the advantage of the latter and would it not be harder to acquire?

Alex, before the organic act, dc residents were citizens of VA and MD, that's why they could vote. I think the push to give DC a voting member of congress without statehood was of dubious constitutional standing, likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court. And it would still leave us with less say in our government than residents if the states have.

by David C on Oct 17, 2013 3:32 pm • linkreport

@ MLD

"It does prevent it somewhat if you decide that the constitution only says that STATES can have representatives and Senators."

Good point, but that's why an Amendment to the Constitution is necessary, similar to the one proposed in '78.

by Burd on Oct 17, 2013 3:36 pm • linkreport

@Burd

I think the argument against an amendment is that statehood only has to be accepted by Congress, while an amendment has to make it through all the states' legislatures. I can't say I see what the downside to statehood is or what the advantage of an amendment is.

by MLD on Oct 17, 2013 3:41 pm • linkreport

Also, the District never had representation. The District did not exist before the Organic Act of 1801.

The District did indeed exist before 1801, it just wasn't the seat of the federal government. The District itself was created in the ealy 1790s.

by Alex B. on Oct 17, 2013 3:44 pm • linkreport

I think the push to give DC a voting member of congress without statehood was of dubious constitutional standing, likely to be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Maybe, but I think there would be value in pushing the envelope to the Supreme Court. If SCOTUS did reject such a law, I would hope that it would also take note of the severe mismatch between the current state of affairs and the ideals of the Constitution.

For example, if they upheld it - making note that there 'states' language wasn't so specific as to exclude a place like DC that was explicitly carved out of existing states - then the path forward for full representation in Congress would be quite clear.

And it would still leave us with less say in our government than residents if the states have.

Yes, it would. But I don't think that's a compelling reason - as there is clearly a role for a federal district called out in the Constitution; and likewise, the arguments for home rule (limited or not) are more pragmatic than the sheer injustice of taxation without representation.

Yes, statehood solves both problems - but states are such anachronisms with lots of big contradictions - and pushing for statehood specifically has some much bigger political challenges in my view.

by Alex B. on Oct 17, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.

Perhaps the lines had been drawn before then, but the Organic Act incorporated the District. There was no special provision that "took away" voting rights; before the Organic Act was passed the people within those boundaries lived in territory that was in Maryland or Virginia.

by MLD on Oct 17, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

@ David C.

"What is the difference between being a state and being a federal district with home rule and full representation? What is the advantage of the latter and would it not be harder to acquire"

There essentially isn't a difference, only it could possibly assuage people like Thayer-D who are worried that DC is too small to be a "state" or that adding new "states" would "ruin" the US flag.

An amendment to the constitution would be hard b/c it's doubtful that 3/4 of states would ratify it. But there are few alternatives. If DC became part of MD, that would also take an amendment requiring ratification and would be a mess rectifying government/law differences between state of MD and DC. And as you rightly pointed out, an Act could potentially be considered unconstitutional, BUT Article IV Section 3 does say "New states may be admitted by the Congress."

by Burd on Oct 17, 2013 3:53 pm • linkreport

There was no special provision that "took away" voting rights; before the Organic Act was passed the people within those boundaries lived in territory that was in Maryland or Virginia.

And they had representation!

Representation for DC specifically isn't the issue if the people within this area have representation.

It's not like the Organic act was a full severing of residents' ties to MD or VA; they were still subject to their courts and justice systems.

You're right that there was no provision that took voting rights away, thus there isn't a specific provision required to bring them back - it's all really a matter of interpretation.

And, as mentioned above, doing so in a way that invites a Supreme Court challenge might not be a bad thing. This is a pretty obvious problem within the Constitution that ought to be resolved one way or another.

by Alex B. on Oct 17, 2013 3:56 pm • linkreport

@ Alex B.

"You're right that there was no provision that took voting rights away, thus there isn't a specific provision required to bring them back - it's all really a matter of interpretation."

The real issue of constitutionality is the mention of the word "state" in Article 1 Section 2 being the only jurisdiction that can have Senators and House.

by Burd on Oct 17, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

AlexB, I think the political challenges of getting quasi-statehood are about the same as actual statehood and they carry the added risk of a Supreme Court challenge and the reduced benefit of sub - statehood. So I see it as a waste of time. I'm not really interested in resolving whether or not quasi-statehood is legal since actual statehood makes it a moot point. If there was a real offer on the table, I'd take it, but starting from zero, statehood is the smaller lift with max benefits.

I feel the same about an Amendment. It's a massive undertaking but if take it if were a real offer. But statehood is easier.

by David C on Oct 17, 2013 5:48 pm • linkreport

When I left DC in 2005, I moved to Montreal. As you know, many Quebecers long for secession from Canada. To that end, the provincial legislature there is called the National Assembly, and the premiere of Quebec is called roughly the Prime Minister. Years ago, I emailed Adrian Fenty and Jim Graham suggesting that DC follow this example by renaming the Mayor's position Governor and the City Council as the Senate. I still think DC should do this. It's kind of "fake it til you make it" or "act as if". Make everyone refer to Gray as Governor Gray and Councilmembers as senators. It would help change people's expectations and mindset.

by Jon Morgan on Nov 5, 2013 1:02 pm • linkreport

Jon Morgan, as I understand it, such a change in titles would require permission from - you guessed it - Congress.

by David C on Nov 5, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

A note on Home Rule and the effect of the Government Rule in DC:
The Home Rule Act specifically prohibits the Council from enacting certain laws that, among other restrictions, would:
lend public credit for private projects;
impose a tax on individuals who work in the District but live elsewhere;
make any changes to the Heights of Buildings Act of 1910;
pass any law changing the composition or jurisdiction of the local courts;
enact a local budget that is not balanced; and
gain any additional authority over the National Capital Planning Commission, Washington Aqueduct, or District of Columbia National Guard.

As noted, the Home Rule Act prohibits the District from imposing a commuter tax on non-residents who make up over 60% of the city's workforce. In addition, over 50% of property in the District is also exempt from taxation. The Government Accountability Office and other organizations have estimated that these revenue restrictions create a structural deficit in the city's budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year.

More Examples of Congressional Oversight Failure to govern fairly:

In 2001, Rep. John Hostettler, R-Ind., blasts a D.C. Commission on Human Rights ruling that the Boy Scouts had to admit gay troop leaders—and says Congress had to step in and intervene because it's effectively the city council here.

During a 1993 debate on D.C. statehood, then-Rep. Cass Ballenger, R-N.C., says he opposes the idea because the District's population was shrinking. By 2010, he predicted, fewer than 500,000 people would live here. Actually, D.C.'s population is expected to be over 600,000 once the Census figures are added up.

For years, Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., sponsored legislation to ban D.C. from setting up a needle exchange program. In this clip from 1999, Tiahrt and Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Okla., clash with Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., over whether Congress should interfere with the needle exchange program and with a referendum on medical marijuana.

Former Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., used to run the Senate's subcommittee on D.C. In this 1996 clip, he says D.C. "belongs to the nation," and compares it to Cairo.

During the 1993 statehood debate, then-Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, declares Congress should be considering whether to revoke Home Rule, not whether to grant statehood.

During a 1999 debate, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., says Congress shouldn't let D.C. spend any of its money suing the federal government to get more autonomy. ---CITY PAPER

by VictoriaD on Nov 9, 2013 12:08 pm • linkreport

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