|Free DC! - Statehood Now!|
|Statehood versus voting rights|
The District's rift between statehood and voting rights
By: Liz Farmer | 01/12/12 8:05 Pm
Examiner Staff Writer
The demand to make D.C. the 51st state in the Union is often a rallying cry of politicians, but not everyone thinks it's the best path to full democracy for residents.
The parade of city politicians and advocates slated to travel to lobby the New Hampshire Legislature this week were to testify for a resolution in which New Hampshire would back the District demand for statehood.
But DC Vote, an organization that had planned on sending representatives on the trip, which is now postponed, was founded in 1998 to advocate for voting rights. It believes asking for statehood or bust is unpalatable to many outsiders.
"In our coalition, we believe that we have to fight multiple fights to achieve those victories," said Ilir Zherka, DC Vote's executive director. "I don't think we have votes today or tomorrow to achieve statehood, and I don't believe it we had it in the last Congress."
Meanwhile, at-large D.C. Councilman Michael Brown, who is spearheading city officials' efforts to win statehood, said the District has tried to win its full rights since it won home-rule status in 1974.
"I don't think the little-by-little approach gets us much," he told The Washington Examiner. "I'm certainly not suggesting we don't try the little-by-little approach as well and on a parallel track. But statehood is the ultimate goal for everyone."
Statehood advocates do say their approach is not all-or-nothing -- many say they would accept a smaller victory then continue to demand statehood.
And if that rift weren't enough, other, smaller factions in D.C. propose different ideas. As recent as 2004, a proposal in Congress would have given the District back to Maryland, giving D.C. residents full voting rights and adding to Maryland's representation.
Others say D.C. residents should simply be exempt from the billions they pay annually in federal taxes.
The different proposals are in part because achieving statehood is a more complicated procedure than many people talk about, noted Kathryn Ray of the League of Women Voters of D.C. She said the members in her organization have mixed views, but there are concerns about the realities of the District having to function as a state, citing its "lack of a diversified economy and a reliance on taxing commuters as a major source of income."
Zherka said statehood has a big emotional punch locally.
"But among new D.C. residents and around the country it's not really understood," he said. "It's confusing to some people."