- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 24, 2004

Some folks are never satisfied, nor should they be.You can’t convince D.C. freedom fighter Timothy Cooper that something is better than nothing. In the end, it isn’t.

He could “only react with a degree of despair” when the offer to grant the District one voting representative in the House but none in the Senate was presented during a congressional hearing this week.

“One man, one-third vote does not rise to the level of full [participation] in a democracy,” Mr. Cooper said yesterday. Anything short of full voting representation in both chambers of Congress “is a political trap from which there is no exit,” he said.

Mr. Cooper, who was is San Francisco yesterday as part of his quest to free a Chinese dissident sentenced to life in prison, spent a decade litigating the District’s disenfranchisement case before an international body.

On Dec. 29, he finally succeeded in getting the International American Commission on Human Rights to rule on Case No. 11.204, Statehood Solidarity Committee v. the United States. They found the U.S. government in violation of internationally recognized human rights standards by denying the residents of the District representation in their own national legislature through duly elected representatives.

The birthright of all Americans is automatically bestowed with the unalienable freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and that includes the right to vote — except if those Americans happen to call the nation’s capital home. This hypocrisy mandates a full fix immediately.

“Any remedy that fails to convey a grant of equal congressional representation to the residents of the District of Columbia — that is, two U.S. senators and at least one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives — will fail to remedy the violations of international law, and serve only to perpetuate them,” Mr. Cooper wrote in a letter to Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, the Virginia Republican who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee that oversees D.C. doings.

Needless to say, Mr. Cooper is not ready to set off the Fourth of July fireworks to celebrate this latest round of legislative lagging.

Here we go again — more mumbo jumbo and maneuvering when federal politicians just ought to do the rights thing.

Earlier this week, four pieces of legislation were offered to tinker with the District’s full voting rights at a hearing oddly named “Common Sense Justice for the Nation’s Capital: An Examination of Proposal to Give D.C. Residents Direct Representation.”

Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in the House, again offered a No Taxation Without Representation Act. Two options offered by Republicans are non-starters because they are thinly veiled Maryland retrocession measures. Mr. Davis, as usual, took to the political middle ground with a proposal to give the District a vote in the House (but none in the Senate) as long as Utah is granted an additional representative to even the score.

Even Republican Kenneth W. Starr, the former special prosecutor, got in the act. He said Congress has the constitutional authority to grant D.C. residents the right to vote in Congress. D.C. residents sued Congress on the same grounds but lost their case in federal court.

So it’s back to the begging board. “Where’s the clear moral mandate for full voting?” Mr. Cooper asked.

Still, Mrs. Norton touted the unprecedented bipartisanship of the latest efforts, which she said would move the measures forward more quickly. Mr. Cooper, however, fears that in the future Republicans will argue that they gave the District a vote in the House, so what more do they want?

The Davis proposal is “only one-third of a vote, so what are we getting?” Mr. Cooper asked.

Mr. Cooper, who heads Worldright, an international human rights advocacy organization, was allowed to lobby on behalf of the Chinese dissident and secure a House of Representative resolution, by a vote of 399-0, in support of that foreigner’s release. Yet, Mr. Cooper was not allowed to give oral testimony on the Congressional Record about the international commission’s ruling. He was invited only to submit that testimony in writing. “It’s nice to get something through Congress,” he conceded.

For different reasons, Lawrence Guyot agrees. To this freedom fighter, any vote in Congress granted to the District represents an improvement over its current nonvoting status. One vote represents power, and any amount of power can be used as a bargaining chip.

“Some power is better than no power,” Mr. Guyot said. “This is the best deal at this time, and it’s deliverable.” Mr. Guyot can be counted among those who will settle for one vote in the House if that’s all D.C. residents can attain with the Davis tit-for-tat legislation.

Despite its intentions, Mr. Davis’ bill would carry more weight for the Democratic-leaning District if the District’s vote were not contingent on Republican-leaning Utah getting another vote. Otherwise, it’s a political washout. One Democrat vote canceled out by one Republican vote, or vice versa? Is that a win-win?

Although Mr. Guyot supports the Davis bill, he stressed that “it should be viewed as part of a series.” However, Mr. Cooper suggests that “incrementalism as a legislative strategy” doesn’t work, and the gamble ultimately could be too costly.

“Our politicians have embraced the lowest common denominator,” he said.

D.C. residents, as evidenced by Mr. Cooper and Mr. Guyot, demonstrate the divisive debate on the adequacy of one vote in one chamber of Congress.

But all agree that full voting rights and legislative representation for the disenfranchised District is long overdue.

Anything less is wholly unsatisfactory.

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