Monday, November 17, 2008
With the gains Democrats made on the Hill and our incoming president's support of voting rights, the District might actually get a vote in Congress in the foreseeable future. Under the proposal that came up just a few votes short, the District would receive a voting seat in the House of Representatives, along with an additional seat for Utah. That means DC would have 1 vote out of 437 (the percentage above).
Now, that's the power to make a difference. Not. (Is it even constitutional, well, that's doubtful).
There's a reason why the Constitution provided for a U.S. Senate - so that residents of states with smaller populations would have at least some real influence in the Nation's governance. Wyoming has less population than DC and it has two senators. Several other states have populations just slightly larger than DC, such as North Dakota and Vermont, but they are not excluded from what is considered the more deliberative body of Congress. Alaska's population exceeds DC by just 95,000, yet we may soon have a Senator Palin telling us how to run our local affairs. You betcha! ;)
So what is the solution?
Well, first, why don't we talk more about achieving real Home Rule given the favorable political climate and higher faith in our local government? That means that our officials should be pushing hard for legislative and budgetary autonomy for the District, so that every law our D.C. Council-passes is no longer subject to Congressional review before it takes effect. It makes our legislative process a confusing, time-consuming nightmare. And it's a repeated slap in the face.
Second, let's achieve full self governance when it comes to our judges, our prosecutors, our courts, and our parks, much of which are controlled by the feds. These are incremental steps we can take toward greater Home Rule and there should be political will to achieve them.
Folks, these things do not require a Constitutional amendment.
Third, as we move toward Home Rule, let's also push for meaningful representation in the U.S. Congress. That may require thinking out of the box. What if we gave citizens of the District the opportunity to vote for one Senator in Maryland and one Senator in Virginia, rather than create two new seats in the Senate, in addition to a voting representative in the House? At least then, we'd have meaningful representation.
Or maybe we need to rethink the District's boundaries, creating a smaller federal district limited to the area immediately surrounding the mall, Capital, and White House, and a larger state encompassing some of the area retroceded to Virginia in 1847 as well as a portion of Maryland inside the beltway. I realize this may be a practical and political stretch, but it at least looks like a viable state -- with industry beyond government, lawyering, advocacy, and politics. It's about as likely as retroceding most of D.C. back to Maryland for the purpose of voting rights. We might as well talk about it.
I fear that achieving such a small step forward as a House vote may hurt momentum for true Home Rule and meaningful Congressional representation. Am I wrong?