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

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Getting a Vote on Voting Rights and Statehood (Geocities Rescue)

There are a variety of ways to obtain either voting rights or statehood for District residents. Voting rights are possible through the enactment of a constitutional amendment, although a statute is enough if the plenary power of the Congress over the District is cited as the authority. Such rights come through either Maryland or in the District’s own right, although the latter seems likely given the razor-thin margins of control in both houses of Congress. Voting rights through Maryland necessitates an interstate compact with Maryland to determine the method of redistricting congressional seats, since it is settled law that the District is no longer a part of Maryland. Either statehood for New Columbia or reunification with Maryland also give voting rights to District residents, as well as full self-government. Neither requires a constitutional amendment, although Maryland has to consent to reunification. Defenders of the status quo, primarily in the business community and Congress (who both like the current arrangement), play off proponents of the various solutions against each other. Do not allow this to continue. Currently, proponents of each solution are working together to draft a common strategy for voting rights and full self-determination. I personally went to great lengths to bring everyone to the table. Now that we are working together, it is harder to play both sides against the middle (although some are trying).

To enact any solution, a three-pronged approach is essential. Unless reunion with Maryland is debated and voted on by both the DC electorate and the Maryland House of Delegates, a voting rights amendment has no chance of ratification. Additionally, while reunion is a viable option, Congressional Republicans will never support even holding a statehood vote. The corollary is also true. No vote for reunion will be acceptable to DC voters unless statehood is also fully pursued. Even a push for voting rights must contain statehood as an option, lest forces for statehood feel that the movement for self-determination has been co-opted by the business community as a way to deny District residents their full rights. Before any of these strategies are pursued, they must all be “ready for prime time.” This means that before a vote is taken in either the House of Delegates or the Congress on the options (statehood, reunion, voting rights), the problems with the New Columbia Constitution must be resolved and the same changes should be made to the Home Rule Charter. Likewise, charter language for Douglass County, Maryland must be worked out.

Voting Rights are, of course, a temporary solution. This does not nullify their usefulness. As Northern California seeks their own state without losing voting rights, the District is to gain them while seeking statehood. Voting rights for the District as a stand-alone entity are not timely, given the current division of Congress. Voting rights through Maryland is only temporary, as they lead to either retrocession or statehood. They lead to retrocession if redistricting which includes District voters does not forever make the congressional races in the Washington suburbs uncompetitive for Republicans. They lead to statehood if Republicans find themselves shut off of the Senate and lose congressional seats permanently as well.

Many believe that reunion with Maryland is preferable to the status quo, including some long-time statehood advocates. If this is to be pursued, an economic study of the benefits to Maryland of including the District is necessary, as is the drafting of an organic act for the Douglass County Government. After this groundwork is laid, a bill is to be introduced in the Maryland General Assembly to grant voting rights to the District, directing the Governor of Maryland to negotiate an interstate agreement with the District of Columbia to include the District of Columbia citizens within its congressional redistricting. That bill is debated with amendments offered in the debate to pursue each option. One amendment calls for full union with the District of Columbia. Another supports statehood for the District, with the option that voting rights in Maryland be negotiated until this occurs.

The District must also take action on the question of voting rights, retrocession and statehood. Either an Act of Council or an Initiative is offered to direct the Mayor (or Governor) to negotiate a redistricting agreement with Maryland. A referendum is also offered giving District voters the choice between statehood and reunion with Maryland. This matter was last presented to District voters over 20 years ago. Much has changed since then, so it is time for another vote. Such a vote also involves the public in the discussion, as there is nothing like an election to get people interested. Large blocs of the District are not necessarily for statehood. Giving them a chance to vote for reunion is healthy, as even statehood is tyranny if the population doesn’t want it.

A voting rights bill is currently up for debate in the Congress. The debate on this bill also includes consideration of all of the possible options. The underlying bill provides voting representation through the state of Maryland subsequent to the negotiation of an interstate compact to provide for redistricting beginning in 2010 (with the current Delegate seated immediately as a member of the Maryland delegation). An amendment provides voting rights for the District as if it were a state. Other amendments to be considered are full reunion between the District and Maryland and statehood for New Columbia. An amendment providing for a constitutional amendment for voting rights is also in order, although this requires a 2/3 majority to succeed.

Some believe that statehood requires a constitutional amendment. This is not the case, as long as some portion of the District is held out as the Federal Capital. The current constitution duplicates the National Capital Service Area in the Charter. This is problematic, because this area includes military bases with housing. Presumably, these individuals gain the District’s three electoral votes, while New Columbia also has three votes. Of course, this may be just the needed compromise, as it gives the Republicans just the reason they need to support statehood.

In any case, legislation is needed to automatically fund the costs of services provided to the National Capital Service Area by the District of Columbia or the State of New Columbia. Enact a no-year appropriation; payable after authentication by the National Capital Planning Commission, who is the administrator for the area by Executive Order by President Ford. Split the NCSA into two parts, one that remains a federal enclave after statehood or reunion with Maryland and one that remains part of whatever entity is created.

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