Michael Bindner's DC Blog

In this blog, I discuss DC politics and other issues of import to local government. I have posted several essays from my book, Musings from the Christian Left, on blog entreies dated June 2004.

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Debate All Options

In today's Washington Post, lone GOP Councilmember Carol Schwartz calls for GOP support for the voting rights legislation to be debated in the House.

This is a start, but so much more is possible in this debate. From the concentration of the leadership on an up or down vote on the Norton voting rights bill, it appears that it will come to the floor under a closed rule. This is regretable, since this legislation will probably foreclose the consideration of other options in the near future, options which merit consideration and which lack the constitutional problems of the current bill.

The first alternative which must be considered is Rep. Dana Rohrbacher's bill to grant voting rights in both the House and Senate through Maryland. This gives total representation without greatly altering the balance of power in the Senate and with less constitutional questions (provided it is amended to involve the DC government in redistricting and to allow Maryland to consent to the arrangement). The prior Norton bill on full voting rights should also receive a floor vote.

The second set of alternatives is to debate the final status of the District now. H.R. 51 should be made in order as an amendment in the nature of a substitute, since we know it is constitutional, although provisions could be added to provide for a federal administrator for the National Capital Service Area (which should be honored in current law but are not) and to decrease the size of the seat of government under the bill to the congressional compound only in order to include those federal workers withing the NCSA in the area of New Columbia subject to a commuter tax and to prevent service members residing on D.C. military bases from voting under the 23rd Amendment.

An alternative to H.R. 51 is an Organic Act for the District, which would put it on the road to statehood without conferring statehood. It would provide for the creation of a territorial government, which would look more like a state than a city, and would provide for a reconsideration of the New Columbia Constitution (which currently exists in two forms, one ratified by voters and the second amended by the Council to be voted on after passage of H.R. 51 - although both are over twenty years old). Such a new constitution might have an expanded legislature, with minority party representation at the district level (states do not have wards) in order to break the preception that New Columbia would be a one party state. A thriving second party in the state legislature will make it possible for one of its standardbearers to eventually be elected Governor, Senator, or Representative, withdrawing a long-time objection to statehood.

By the way, another way to alter this perception is to elect Carol to the Shadow Senate seat, or some other Republican since she does not support statehood.

Another option to be considered in the second group is Ralph Regula's bill for retrocession. Some of my colleagues in the Democracy movement think consideration of this is anathema. However, it should be considered if only to put a stake in its heart. For the same reason, this option should also be voted on by the Maryland General Assembly. If they firmly reject it, it is dead. Until a vote is taken, it is still an option. If the option is formally eliminated, statehood actually gains strength, provided certain financial arrangements are worked out, like regional transporation funding for the tristate area, common education finance for Maryland and New Columbia and a common corrections system for Virginia and New Columbia. Doing all of this eliminates the need for a "commuter tax" which would allow the region's Democratic Senators to vote for statehood without bankrupting their states, which are not economically viable if the District gets its fair share of local revenue.

Of course, there is the possiblity that neither statehood, territorihood or citihood (what they are now calling retrocession) will get a majority. In this case, there are other options, which should be added to the bill.

Worldright proposes an equal rights constitutional amendment designed to keep Congress out of purely local matters, as well as grant voting rights. This may at least pass the Congress, although ratification will have the same issues as it did the last time a voting rights amendment was considered. When the amendment was originally considered, Republicans fought it saying that retrocession was the correct step. In order to avoid this argument again, Maryland should act to foreclose this option by considering and rejecting retrocession.

There is another option as well for enhancing District self-government. That option, as blog readers know, is to require that any amendment to the Home Rule Charter imposed by Congress be ratified by the electorate. Curently that is not the case, and debating language to do so will educate the public to this fact. In every other jurisdiction, when a state legislature (which is how Congress styles itself) wishes to change the basic law of the state (and for better or worse, the charter is that law, having been ratified by District voters) it must either hold an intervening election (not applicable to DC) or present the matter to the voters - or both. To not do so is a violation of the equal protection rights of District residents as delineated under Bolling v. Sharpe. Making this simple change will profoundly alter the relationship with Congress. If Congress can no longer use the District as a laboratory without the consent of its residents, it may give up on its role over all but the congressional complex, clearing a major hurdle to statehood.

Will the Democrats allow a rule to consider all of these options? I doubt it. This debate is as much about politics as it is about progress. To not have a full and healthy debate with all of the options on the table is truly shameful, although I won't be holding my breath.

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