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Latest D.C. statehood campaign reaches beyond city borders

By Tom Howell Jr. Sunday, October 30, 2011

City officials are guilty of “talking to ourselves for decades” about taxation without representation, their plight for statehood or another route to voting rights in Congress, D.C. Council member David A. Catania says.

“I think we’ve pretty much convinced ourselves on the subject,” he said of his fellow council members.

Mr. Catania and Michael A. Brown, at-large independents, are handpicking state legislatures that will support D.C. statehood through resolutions in their chambers, starting with District-friendly contacts in New England.

The idea is that sitting members of Congress will be forced to look at what is happening in their home districts and that some state-level politicians will sympathize with D.C. self-determination efforts before they springboard to Capitol Hill.

Mr. Brown, chairman of the council’s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, says the campaign is not scheduled to start until Nov. 8. But his fourth-floor office at the John A. Wilson Building already is filled with pamphlets and paraphernalia.

In addition, large ads about D.C. self-determination soon will be put on more than 20 buses across the city.

“I’ve been working on this since Day One,” said Mr. Brown, elected to the council in 2009.

Mr. Brown’s office said the effort will cost roughly $50,000 and will be paid for through the council’s budget. Among the expenditures will be 100,000 brochures, a month of the bus ads, 1,000 statehood calendars for state legislators and governors, and stickers, pens and decals featuring a “D.C. Statehood” logo with the number “51” — for the District as the 51st state.

The effort offers a fresh approach but faces age-old challenges.

A recent debate among U.S. House Republicans on gun laws in the District laid bare their divided thinking on the subject, namely that taxation without representation is unfair yet the Constitution limits the options for granting the District full autonomy, representation in Congress or even statehood.

Recent proposals from House leadership would have exempted D.C. residents from federal taxation or ceded much of the city back to Maryland in a practice known as retrocession.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of advocacy group D.C. Vote, said state officials with aspirations for higher office “may be in a position of power to either help the District or harm the District.”

Mr. Catania says the effort is “not a waste of time,” though he recognizes the challenges.

For example, state legislatures are in session at different times, so sweeping through the country in one year is impossible. The District instead will select certain legislatures with members who have some connection to the District or are sympathetic to its plight, Mr. Catania said.

The effort resurrects a push in 2008 by council members and former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, who trekked to New Hampshire about the time of the presidential primary to testify before state’s House of Representatives on a resolution that recognizes the need for D.C. voting rights in Congress. A committee reported favorably on the resolution, but “it came to the floor on a snowy day,” its sponsor, Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, said in an interview Friday.

Because of the inclement weather, the resolution did not get the two-thirds vote required by state law. Ms. Rosenwald said the measure would have passed had more legislators made it to the floor.

Ms. Rosenwald, a Democrat who has known Mr. Catania for many years as members of the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices, has upped the ante this year with a D.C. statehood resolution. The document has been drafted and will be introduced when the legislature is back in session in January and February, she said.

In Maine, state Rep. Sharon Anglin Treat supports the District’s efforts, offering the council an insider in yet another New England state. But the second part of Maine’s 2011-2012 session, from January to April, is “very restrictive” so any pro-District legislation would not see the light of day until 2013, Ms. Anglin said.

She said it is unclear whether her colleagues will throw their support behind the measure, or if it will get much notice.

D.C. officials hope their issue will receive national attention when New Hampshire holds its all-important presidential primary early next year.

In addition, Ms. Rosenwald says, the state’s “live free or die” mantra and a belief in strong local rule could make it sympathetic to the 600,000 D.C. residents whose only member of Congress, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, does not have full voting privileges.

The resolution in 2008 also called out then-New Hampshire Sens. Judd Gregg and John E. Sununu, both Republicans, for failing to support a 2007 measure that would have granted the District a full-voting member in the House.

“I think that congressional reps do pay attention to what’s going on in their state,” Ms. Rosenwald said.

© Copyright 2011 The Washington Times, LLC.

 

 

 
Home Issues D.C. Council Actions Statehood D.C. statehood campaign reaches beyond city borders

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