- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

Rep. Tom Davis supports giving the District of Columbia a vote in Congress. On Friday, he stated that D.C.’s nonvoting House delegate should have voting rights like members from states, and that he would sponsor a bill this year to make that happen. He equivocated on the subject of giving the capital city two senators, but his staff says he is absolutely against statehood. That’s refreshing. As chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, one of Mr. Davis’ responsibilities is to oversee the city’s management. We believe that more congressional oversight of the troubled municipality is better than less.

Yesterday, David Marin, spokesman for the committee, told us that, “It’s too premature to talk details about how this might happen. [Mr. Davis] has never hesitated to say that it is fair and just to give the nation’s capital a vote in Congress, and the last thing that should get in the way is politics.” The issue isn’t that simple. For starters, America’s founders explicity gave Congress exclusive jurisdiction over the district. There are good reasons for this. As the seat of the federal government, it was seen to be preferable for the capital to be neutral in its relationship to the states rather than be a competitor. Congressional oversight also means that federal officials can guarantee security and stability necessary for the government to function — two things city officials have not proven capable of handling on their own.

Politics also stand in the way, but that’s how the American system was intended to work. In this case, in one scenario, a constitutional convention would be needed to change the city’s relationship with the federal government, such as giving it a voting member of Congress. Another option sometimes mentioned is application for statehood. A last scheme is based on limiting the boundaries of the District to the Capitol Mall and surrounding federal buildings, which would open the door to a different status for the rest of the city, perhaps as a separate territory with a voting member. In this last case, which would be the easiest, the cause would need to garner a simple majority in Congress and a presidential signature. With slim majorities in both chambers, Republicans are not likely to support handing another House vote — let alone two Senate seats — to the opposition. No precedent exists for giving a region a voting member of the House but no senators.

It can be difficult to debate D.C. home rule thoughtfully because the issue is demagogued relentlessly. Pundit Robert Novak was unfairly labeled racist in the June edition of the Washingtonian for admitting that he voted for Marion Barry in the hope that a predictably disastrous administration would derail the city’s drive for statehood. The mudslinging will increase dramatically if the chairman goes ahead with his plan for a vote for a voting D.C. delegate, as it is certain that predominantly Republican opposition will be slandered as racist, as it has been regarding statehood. Tom Davis should not set his party up for such a nasty fight.

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