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D.C. activists to congressman: ‘Don’t be a wiener’

- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dozens of protesters on Thursday descended on Capitol Hill and an Arizona congressman's office out West with a simple message — "Don't be a wiener."

Advocates for the District's right to govern its own affairs riffed on Rep. Trent Franks' surname to protest a House bill he introduced in January that would ban abortions in the District once a fetus is 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Demonstrators handed out fliers near House office buildings and at Mr. Franks' office in Glendale, Ariz., with an altered photograph of the congressman, reinventing him as a D.C.-loving hot dog wrapped in a bun and topped with chili sauce, onions and grated cheese.

"Congressman Franks should relish the opportunity to serve Arizonans — instead, he's spending time grilling D.C. citizens who don't have a vote in Congress," the flier says.

Ilir Zherka, director of the D.C. Vote group that advocates for statehood and full voting rights in Congress, said their objection to Mr. Franks' bill — it is similar to legislation passed in various states — is not about abortion, but the idea of Mr. Franks leveraging the District's quasi-federal status to impose restrictions on city residents without their input. Education is a key way to combat any affront to home rule in the District, he said, "but the other part is shame."

Mr. Zherka said he has not personally confronted Mr. Franks about the bill.

"I'm not sure what I would say to Franks, except 'Don't be a wiener,' " he told reporters over a symbolic lunch at Ben's Chili Bowl, home to the District's most beloved half-smokes and franks.

About 30 people showed up for a spirited protest in Arizona, according to D.C. Vote.

"It was a lively bunch, I was told," Mr. Zherka said Thursday afternoon. "A number of police officers were around and watching."

The advocates also purchased a half-page ad for the campaign in the Phoenix New Times and ads on Google and Facebook in the Arizona market.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray and other top D.C. officials have prioritized D.C. statehood and "budget autonomy," or the District's ability to spend local dollars freely without being tied to federal appropriations bills. They are asking states to approve resolutions in support of making the District the 51st state, although their first effort — in New Hampshire — failed in the Republican-dominated legislature.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is working on legislation that will allow the District to spend its own funds without waiting on Congress. City officials rejected his initial bill, because it contained a permanent ban on publicly funded abortions.

Mr. Franks has obtained 145 co-sponsors for his bill, the "District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act." Mr. Issa is among them, despite his pledge to restart the debate on D.C. budget autonomy without an abortion rider.

In response to the protest, Mr. Franks' office said the congressman has the constitutional right to execute legislative authority over the District.

"If Congress does not pass this law, D.C. could become a safe haven for late-term abortionists across the country, including those who have been stripped of their licenses for negligence or ethics violations in the states," Mr. Franks said. "Many states have passed this bill already, and I believe that most states will pass it in the near future, including my state, Arizona."

D.C. Vote enlisted coalition members from the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and other organizations to protest outside Mr. Frank's office in Arizona starting around 10:30 a.m. local time, which is two hours behind the East Coast.

The opportunity to protest his bill came "at a good time," he said, referring to contraception and women's rights issues that dominated political discourse among GOP presidential candidates in recent weeks.

"I think that underlying issue will be a part of the conversation," Mr. Zherka said. "But it's not what we're there to talk about."

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