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Columbia, the 51st state?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Local officials and activists, as The Post's Mike DeBonis reported, are increasingly speaking up in support of seeking statehood for the District, with the issue becoming fodder in this year's elections for mayor and council. D.C. Council Chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray (D), while not giving up on voting rights, said at a recent candidates forum that the city should work to become a state. Michael D. Brown (D), a D.C. shadow senator, argued it's not any more difficult to get statehood than it is to get a single House vote for the District.

What's overlooked in that thinking is that while chances may be slim for voting rights, they are close to nonexistent for statehood. Consider that the last time the House voted on D.C. statehood in 1993, 105 Democrats -- including Maryland's Steny H. Hoyer and Virginia's James P. Moran Jr. -- voted against the measure. There is little nationwide support to confer statehood on a place many people see simply as a small city. Finally, there are serious budget obstacles; federal support for functions such as the courts, for instance, would have to end.

Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting delegate, rightly remains focused on the achievable. There is still time in this Congress, where the votes are lined up for voting rights, to come up with a strategy to stop unacceptable amendments to gut the city's gun laws. Utah, which was to receive an extra seat to balance the District's because it came closest to qualifying for another member of Congress member in the 2000 Census, could be replaced with the state that is in the same position following the 2010 Census. The District's chances would be enhanced if everyone were working together. Local officials need to do more than bemoan how the gun lobby outfoxed Democratic leaders and voting rights lobbyists. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) started his inaugural speech with a pledge to fight for voting rights, but has he asked to meet with President Obama to press the city's case for protecting D.C.'s gun laws? Mr. Gray has talked about civil disobedience, but how many senators has he visited to make his case?

Fighting for voting rights is hard. That isn't reason to give up.


Statehood activists respond:

June 20, 2010

The Editor, Washington Post

This refers to today’s editorial advising “it would be premature, and possibly foolhardy, to abandon the seven year campaign for Congressional representation” for the citizens of the nation’s capital.  It then advises that, although a full blown effort for statehood has been suggested, chances for statehood for D.C. are close to non-existent.

What the editorial ignores is that the right to representation in the House and the Senate of the U.S. Congress was enjoyed by those residing in this area prior to its having been ceded by the state of Maryland to form the District of Columbia. Upon designation as the nation’s capital, those American rights were withdrawn from the citizens of what we often define as the capital of the free world.

The editorial then refers to scant support in the U.S. Congress for statehood for the American citizens residing in the nation’s capital.

The fact of the matter is that removal of undemocratic rule of territories in the western world has always been opposed by those in control and who are not elected by the inhabitants of their colonial fiefdoms.

Although the King of England defiantly opposed removal of colonial domination of the original settlers on this continent, the citizens of the new territory fought for and achieved independence from the monarchy, thus bringing us closer to our stated principles of freedom and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Down through history, in Europe, Asia, Africa and on this continent, the agents of despotic denial of freedom have been challenged successfully.

It should be remembered that in 1981, the citizens in the nation’s capitol elected delegates to the D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention whose charge was to draft a constitution for the desired state of New Columbia.  And in a second citywide referendum the following year, in spite of opposition from those who would retain the status quo, including some in the media, they approved the document written by their elected delegates.

We cannot be proud of the fact that we are the only democracy in the western world that finds reason to deny local autonomy and representation in its national legislature for the citizens of its national capital.

Regarding the editorial’s claim that there is next to no Congressional support for D.C. Statehood, it is well to remember also that there was considerable Congressional opposition to the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 and to the Voting Rights Legislation of 1965.  But in the final analysis, the basic premise of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the American principals that have supported our nation’s worldwide prestige did prevail and will prevail again.  And then those of us who diligently pursue equality with all other American citizens as the 51st state in the union will no longer sadly view the admonition “Taxation Without Representation,” on all D.C. license plates.

Yours truly

Charles I. Cassell  FAIA

President, D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention 1982 – 1985


You guys make me so mad. It's not bad enough that you can't see the forest for the trees, now your bending the truth to fit your own world view. (Columbia, the 51st state?: Editorial 6/20) Mayor Fenty in his inaugural speech said " I will not rest until the District is the 51st state", not let's except a half vote, look it up. In addition, Utah was picked for the current legislation, not only on the basis that" it was closest to  qualifying for another member" but because it is the exact political opposite of DC. Remember the Missouri Compromise? You can't shop around for another state to partner with like you're looking for a prom date; first one says no, just ask another. You accuse me of faulty thinking but then suggest we negotiate with the NRA for reasonable gun laws, you can't be serious. You point out that in 1993 Democrats from Maryland and Virginia voted against statehood.  Of course they did, they don't want us collecting the hundreds of millions of dollars their constituents owe us in taxes each year. We have squandered seven years, millions of dollars, and a solid majority in both houses of Congress. The DCVRA is dead, whether you know it or not. We are not choosing statehood because it's the easier path, but because it's the right one. Equality, not expedience, is the end game in Democracy. It's time to let go of the past and start working toward the future. I say, when in doubt do the right thing and the right thing is statehood.

Michael D. Brown 
United States Senator 
District of Columbia
June 21, 2010
Dear Editorial Board:

It’s unfortunate that the Washington Post does not yet see the wisdom of a full blown effort for statehood. The disgusting Senate debate and the passage of the gun amendment 16 months ago was a painful demonstration that DC residents will continue to be second class citizens so long as we live in an area where the Constitution gives Congress “the power to exercise exclusive legislation.”

The nation’s capital cannot become a state, but it is possible to continue the process of making it smaller that began when the area Virginia ceded to create the new capital was retroceded back to Virginia. The federal district can shrink to an area that includes Capitol, the White House, the monuments, and the mall, and the residential and commercial areas of DC can become the state of New Columbia. Then, and only then will the people who live in DC gain the same rights as the people who live in the 50 states.

The misconception that DC cannot afford statehood should have been laid to rest by the hearing held last July by the DC Council’s Committee on Statehood and Self Determination. At that hearing Alice Rivlin, Robert Ebel (then the District’s economist), and the executive directors of DC Appleseed and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute all testified that statehood would make it possible to tax the income of non residents who work in DC and that we could afford statehood. There was no testimony stating that statehood is unaffordable.

I expect what I hope will be a sustained campaign for statehood will take more than seven years. The campaign for Home Rule took more than 30. But we shouldn’t waste our effort chasing a vote that could be declared unconstitutional and that Congress can take away at anytime.

Elinor Hart


June 21, 2010

Dear Editors:

I was dismayed to read that Post's editorial board is so blind that it can't see that the D.C. Voting Rights bill is DEAD.  It has sucked up precious time and energy and millions of District taxpayers' money to push for one probably unconstitutional and temporary vote for one person that Congress could take away at any time. Remember Algeria had a vote in the French National Assembly when it was a colony -- and it still was a colony and had to fight a war for its independence.  We've already fought our Revolutionary War only to see Congress steal everything away from us. We just want to be readmitted to the union we helped create.

Why can't you understand that the ONLY thing District voters have ever supported is STATEHOOD?! We have been fighting for our FULL democratic rights for over two centuries.  The first amendment to the home rule act was to give us the right to initiatives, referendums and recall. The first initiative approved by the voters was to hold a statehood constitutional convention, which we did in 1982, and the convention wrote a constitution that the voters approved.  Unlike Puerto Rico, we know what we want -- statehood -- and have approved it repeatedly at the polls.

As our hometown newspaper, you need to start listening to the people and support true democracy for the 600,000 people of the District of Columbia. The people get it, why don't you?


Ann Loikow
D.C. Statehood - Yes We Can!


By Anne Roberts

The June 20 editorial "Columbia, the 51st state?” missed the point. Statehood is not a fallback position after a loss on House voting rights. It is the only option that gives D.C. residents the same control on local issues that every other American can take for granted.

Having laws written by people who are not accountable to those for whom they are legislating directly contradicts our nation’s principles. Grandstanding members of Congress get to make a point with the home folks about their ideological fervor while saddling the District with unwanted and inappropriate laws.

Congress’s past blocking of “clean needle” programs illustrates the problem. The District has one of the nation’s highest HIV/AIDS infection rates. Lives and futures were lost to the whims of outsiders who were not accountable to city residents.

By washingtonpost.com editors  |  June 29, 2010; 7:48 PM ET


Home Editorials Washington Post's Editorial Board gets it wrong