Home Statehood Sam Jordan on the road to statehood for D.C.
Feb 03
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Sam Jordan on the road to statehood for D.C. E-mail

Remarks of Samuel Jordan, former Chairman, DC Statehood Party

Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Forum on H.R. 5388 and DC Statehood

University of the District of Columbia – November 18, 2006

Over the last few years, the entire nation, it seems, has become engaged in a discussion about racial and ethnic disparities. Just this week, on Tuesday, the 14th, the Census Bureau released a report citing racial disparities in home ownership, education, income and poverty. We are already familiar with reports of disparities in health care – treatment and results – and they are dramatic when racial distinctions are documented. It may even be an understatement to declare that all social resources are distributed on the basis on race and ethnicity. Nevertheless, one might say that we have entered an Age of Rhetoric on Disparities.

Having acknowledged the existence of persistent, even expanding disparities in homeownership, education, income and health care, is it far-fetched to expect to find racial and ethnic disparities equally intractable in civil liberties, civil rights, civil rewards and civil protections? It is possible that racial disparities account for the failure of democracy in the District of Columbia? That is what I’d like to explore with you this afternoon.

I. The 1993 Historic House Vote on Statehood for the District of Columbia

The historic vote on statehood in 1993 refuted all objections to statehood for the District of Columbia and recorded the statements of objections and refutations in the Congressional Record for all posterity. The objections fall into three (3) categories:

A. Constitutional prohibition

In this class of objections, proponents argue that the US Constitution prohibits statehood for the District. They insist that the District is the seat of the government and cannot be a statehood interpreting the language of the constitution as fixing the District of Columbia permanently as the seat of government. They conveniently overlook the retrocession of the land ceded to the federal government by the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846 at the request of the Virginia Congressional delegation (in anticipation of great losses of profit from the slave trade at the Port of Alexandria should the District be declared a free territory). The retrocession to Virginia of 32 square miles confirms the power of Congress to change the size of the District's "ten-mile square" as it chooses.

B. Failure to satisfy constitutional criteria for statehood

Objections falling into this category claim that the District fails to meet the constitutional requirements for statehood and there are only three: (a) An explicit expression of desire for statehood; (b) A republican form of government; and (c) Adequate fiscal resources.

I am not sure why anyone would raise these objections. In 1980, the voters of the District passed an initiative that not only expressed a desire for statehood, but also convened a constitutional assembly, which was ratified in 1982. We meet the republican form of government criterion by virtue of the fact that we elect representatives to the DC Council already; and with respect to the last criterion, fiscal resources, I can say that no territory that has become a state has had a tenth of the wealth of the District. We would not become a basket case dependent upon federal charity. In fact, a reciprocal tax, which would be enacted since the District could not be treated differently upon admission than any other state, would more than compensate for any deficits in the District’s general fund. Only the District, of all the nation’s jurisdictions, does not tax all income at its source – which is the law throughout the nation and may prove an example of a racial disparity in treatment accorded the District.

C. Extra-constitutional criteria

There were also extra-constitutional objections to statehood for the District. Among these arguments, the most common was the idea that the majority of the people in the country must approve any action by Congress that results in statehood for the District - another way of saying that we belong to everybody and nothing belongs to us. Well, let me tell you about West Virginia. Thirty-three counties seceded from Virginia when Virginia seceded from the union in 1861. The US Congress unilaterally admitted them as the state of West Virginia in 1863. I can assure you that no poll was taken to determine if a majority of the people of the nation supported statehood for West Virginia.

II. The Rights-by-Race Rule

If all the “serious” objections to statehood were raised and addressed in the historic statehood vote of 1993, then why do we not have statehood for the District? I think this condition may be due to what I call a pre-constitutional explanation illustrating the “Rights by Race Rule.”

Just as all social amenities and measures of social well-being, as in the census and health data, exhibit a distribution by race and ethnicity – the same should be true of civil liberties, civil rights, civil authority and civil protections. Frankly, the racial and ethnic distribution of civil liberties, rights and protections is enshrined in the constitution. Enshrined not entombed. Hence, the "Rights-by-Race Rule."

The constitutional framers, bowing to the immense political pressure of Virginia, the economic and political powerhouse of the original thirteen colonies, representing the slaveholders and ruling plantocracy, agreed to allot 3/5 of a vote per enumerated African. We can't be sure if "free" blacks were not also counted among them since no black could vote – free but disenfranchised. 3/5 of a person for purposes of apportionment of white representatives.

Early in the history of the colonies, whites, Native Americans, Africans were ensnared in a hodge-podge of slavery, indentured labor and term contracts. Africans, indentured and enslaved, worked side by side with indentured and enslaved whites and Native Americans.

By the commencement f the drafting of the constitution, chattel slavery was reserved exclusively for the African. Thus, the term, rights-by-race – a concept fixed in the social and political culture of the U.S. ever since. This is a pre-constitutional explanation for the current lack of statehood for the District of Columbia, which always had a significant number of slave and free Africans in its population in proportion to whites.

III. Promoters of Davis/Norton bill don’t explain lack of statehood

It is now painfully apparent during the current debate over the Davis/Norton bill, H.R. 5388 that none of the major actors in its promotion ever offers or attempts a logical explanation for the lack of statehood for the District.

In none of the statements from Delegate Norton; in none of the statements from DC Vote or Representative Tom Davis, is an explanation offered. They simply declare the absence of full democracy in the District as a given, but without explanation. They say, "There is no democracy." They never say why there isn't any.

IV. History offers an explanation

We can only look to history and current practice to see that the rights by race rule is determining and may offer the only explanation.

Historically, only two territories have been admitted as states having non-white majorities upon application, Hawaii and New Mexico. One might argue that Virginia and perhaps South Carolina, original colonies, had non-white majorities when they became states, but the non-whites were already disenfranchised as a matter of state and national policy. The chattel slave, now exclusively African, had no rights – by race.

In the pre-civil war era, there was no concern regarding the number of non-whites. State power suppressed all manner of aspirations for the blessings of liberty among the already disenfranchised. Nevertheless, New Mexico was different. Although acquired by treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 – decidedly pre-civil war. The defeated and humbled Mexican government sought to assure the integration of Mexican citizens into the class of free citizens in the United States effecting thereby a transfer of enfranchised status.

"The New Mexican," a territorial periodical, supported proposed amendments to the treaty in 1848 hoping – and I quote - "that protection given Spanish-speaking people would not be tampered with, for native New Mexicans had the right to be protected against being put in the same status as the Negro in Mississippi" – end quote.

By 1912, upon admission, New Mexico had been kept out of the United States longer than any other petitioning territory, 62 years, in violation of the letter and intent of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The April 1, 1876 edition of "Harper's Weekly," a well-respected, national publication opined that New Mexico was ". . . an ignorant, foreign community under the influence of the Roman Church . . . nine tenths are Mexicans, Indians, "greasers" and other non-English speaking people." The people of New Mexico waited until the census of 1910 confirmed a white majority.

In the post-World War II era, sabotage of the numerical and political strength of the non-white majority by simply waiting until there was a white majority was not as easy to accomplish. After numerous attempts to obstruct statehood for Hawaii, which had become the single most important civil rights issue in the post-World War era,Lyndon Baynes Johnson, the Senate Majority Leader, feared that Hawaii would send a delegation to Congress "opposed to segregation." Johnson, the most powerful person in Congress, agreed to accept a social balancing approach to the Rights-by-Race Rule. Hawaii could be admitted with its Asian and native Hawaiian majority only after Alaska with its white majority and its uncounted, disenfranchised native American/Aleut population had been admitted.

Hawaii waited 56 years for admission, surpassed only by New Mexico.

This history sets the context for the prospect of statehood for the District of Columbia with its non-white majority. We may be "balanced" or we may have our non-white numerical majority sabotaged as a white majority materializes. U.S. history has offered no other choices – and no other explanation for the District's wait for statehood.

V. The Davis/Norton bill, a ruse without principle

The Davis/Norton bill, H.R. 5388, which has been promoted as a long-awaited advance in democracy is perhaps a clever update of the Hawaii/Alaska racial balancing scheme. One vote for Utah; one vote for the District.

If this were a principled undertaking addressing the failure of democracy, why does a Utah need an additional Congressional seat? There is no crisis of democracy in Utah. The District has the crisis in democracy. It appears to racial balancing – with a twist, Utah's additional seat confers an additional Electoral College vote in the 2008 presidential sweepstakes. As the reddest and whitest state in the union, Utah's additional seat was to be the surest Republican vote in the Electoral College – at least until the recent elections.

The District on the other hand will enjoy no added clout in the Electoral College. It's Electoral College delegation has been set by the 23rd amendment to the Constitution at three votes, the equivalent of the smallest state's delegation representing two senators and one representative. None of Delegate Norton's statements and none of those of "the District's true friend," Tom Davis mentions neither Electoral College implications nor the racial balancing technique borrowed from the Hawaii/Alaska model.

At a time when the Republicans fear a closely contested election in 2008, Tom Davis and Delegate Norton are so certain that H.R. 5388 will be met with fawning gratitude that the Electoral College issue and the racial balancing feature will be happily, cheerfully ignored by a humbled and oppressed people thankful for any crumbs from "marse Tom's" table.

VI. We can move ahead

  1. Put the issue of race on the table. It is a valid and plausible explanation corroborated by history. Without honesty and action on the question of race, the District can only be treated like Hawaii or New Mexico.

  1. We need four missions – perhaps to be completed by members of this audience working with Stand Up! and others who see no advantage in avoiding the truth. The first is within the District. With some encouragement, the white people of the District must declare to Congress that we don't have to wait until there is a white majority in the District's population. Second – regular lobbying raids on the hill, at least a weekly dragnet. Third – the nation needs to know and be encouraged that the race issue is being addressed with open eyes and that the Rights-by-Race Rule can be retired to the dustbin of U.S. history. Fourth – the international community needs to know that the presence of a non-white majority has been and is now a significant obstacle to democracy in the U.S. as our ship lists dangerously in the shoals of the "war for democracy" in Iraq.

VII. What is the route to statehood?

With the broad, mass support and organized pressure from District residents, I would propose the route taken by 31 of the states which were admitted after having been "organized territories" :

  1. Congress distinguishes the National Capital Service Area or the

federal enclave as the seat of government;

  1. Congress passes an "Organic Act" designating the Territory of New Columbia a candidate for statehood;

  1. The Governor of the territory, perhaps, Mr. Fenty, presides at a special session of the territorial legislature which forwards the statehood petition documents to Congress; and

  1. Congress, with a simple, majority vote in both houses, passes a bill, to be signed by the president admitting New Columbia as the 51st state.

With such powerful mass action, we will begin to demonstrate that racial and ethnic disparities in civil liberties, civil authority and civil protections need not be permanent, characteristic hallmarks of this society. We can do this.

Thank you.

Home Statehood Sam Jordan on the road to statehood for D.C.

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