D.C. leaders hope for voting rights

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D.C. officials basking in the glow of Tuesday’s record-breaking inaugural celebration say they came through for President Obama, and now they are hoping the president and his new administration will do the same for them.

The first indication could come early next week when a subcommittee of the 111th Congress convenes for a hearing on legislation that for the first time would give the District full voting representation in the House of Representatives.

The nation’s capital “delivered a world-class historic inauguration,” Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Democrat, said in an interview a day after a crowd of almost 2 million people converged on the Mall for Mr. Obama’s swearing-in - with no arrests and few of the logistical blunders that had been widely predicted.

“The city without a vote delivered for the nation,” she said.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty told The Washington Times that he thinks Mr. Obama is fully committed to full congressional representation for D.C. residents, something they have lacked since the founding of the nation.

“The president is not only a supporter of the city’s voting rights efforts, but is also vocal about his commitment to ensuring District of Columbia representation in Congress,” Mr. Fenty said. “The president has given the city his support and commitment, and I am confident his administration will work as fast as humanly possible to achieve this goal.”

Enactment of a bill would consummate decades of political struggle to mitigate Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which says Congress must “exercise exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever” over the District of Columbia.

The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, gave the District representation in the Electoral College, and the landmark D.C. Home Rule Act, signed by President Nixon in 1973, provided local control over certain affairs, such as directly electing a mayor and council.

Congress sent the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment - which would have granted the District the same voting rights as a state - to the states for ratification in 1978. But by the time the seven-year limitation on the act had expired, only 16 states had ratified it.

As a U.S. senator, Mr. Obama was a co-sponsor of the D.C. voting-rights measure that was introduced last session to grant the District’s nonvoting delegate full representation, including voting privileges on the floor of the House.

Because D.C. residents overwhelmingly vote Democratic, the bill also would have added another House seat for the heavily Republican state of Utah.

The bill drew bipartisan support and passed the House in mid-September, just as Capitol Hill and the Bush White House were tending to the unfolding financial crisis. But a Senate vote on a motion to consider the bill fell three votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.

Mrs. Norton reintroduced the D.C. House Voting Rights Act on Jan. 6, saying, “We know from national polls that our bill has broad bipartisan support from the American people, and we have every reason to believe that we will have the support this year of both houses of Congress and the new president.”

Sens. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, and Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, “have continued to work closely with us” to move a matching bill through the Senate, she said.

Mr. Obama, however, indicated to The Washington Post last week that he was reluctant to push quickly on the issue if it encountered Republican opposition.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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