- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Republican and Democratic D.C. officials yesterday testified before a congressional committee in support of four different bills that would grant the District a voting member of Congress.

During a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee, Betsy Werronen, chairwoman of the D.C. Republican Committee, told lawmakers that city residents deserve full congressional representation because they pay taxes and serve in the military like the citizens of the 50 states.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, said the hearing was a “milestone” in the District’s long fight for full voting rights.

“That [the bills] provide a wide spectrum of alternatives for moving toward representative democracy for the nation’s capital is another indication that this issue is beginning to mature,” Mr. Williams said. “I credit the members of Congress who have authored them for their efforts at the forefront of the push for human and democratic rights for District residents.”

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican and committee chairman, put forward a bill that would temporarily add two House seats — one for the District, one for Utah. The change would take effect Jan. 3 and end in 2010, when the District would keep its seat and the House would divide 434 seats among the other voting districts.

Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican, proposed allowing D.C. residents to vote as Marylanders in his bill, which would return the District to Maryland for congressional representation.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, offered a bill that would count D.C. votes in Maryland’s elections for the House and Senate.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, proposed granting the District one House member and two senators, just like the states.

“District residents have consistently insisted upon equal rights in Congress since 1801,” Mrs. Norton said yesterday. “Today’s hearing represents the most important breakthrough for congressional voting rights in more than 30 years because it marks the first bipartisan support for D.C. congressional voting rights since the Congress passed a voting rights amendment to give the District of Columbia a House seat and two seats in the Senate.”

D.C. Council members Jim Graham and Adrian M. Fenty yesterday told The Washington Times that Mr. Davis’ bill is a step in the right direction, even though the goal is full congressional representation for the District.

“I think it’s potentially important,” said Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat. “It would represent some incremental progress in fixing a major inequity. I would prefer full representation to this half-measure, but I appreciate what the congressman has done. It is more [substantial] than what has been done in past years.”

Mr. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat, said: “It’s obviously better than what we have. It could bring about change — a vote on the floor — a person has the power to effect change. Key for me [is] that no one in the D.C. government should be asking Congress to give us those rights. We about talking about fundamental rights. Either we have rights or we don’t.”

However, Johnny Barnes, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area, said Mr. Davis’ bill is “constitutionally weak.”

“I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. We’d be giving up a lot,” he told The Times. “I don’t know what we’d get in return other than giving [Mrs. Norton] a vote in the House, which would only be a slight addition.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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