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D.C. statehood project put on hold

State-by-state campaign loses its biggest voice

An uphill initiative to promote D.C. statehood in handpicked pockets of the country is in limbo as state lawmakers gear up for sessions in their respective capitals.

For years, voting rights proponents in the District have bemoaned the indifference of Congress to their taxation without representation, their lack of budget autonomy and their unique duty to send local laws to Capitol Hill for 30-day reviews.

So D.C. Council member Michael A. Brown, at-large independent, began to reach out to state legislatures that would consider support for the city's statehood ambitions through resolutions in their chambers – part of a multiplatform campaign that the city began last year. City officials wanted sitting members of Congress to look at opinions in their home districts while getting some state-level politicians to sympathize with D.C. self-determination efforts before they springboard to Capitol Hill.

Mr. Brown lost his seat in the general election this month to independent challenger David Grosso, so he will have to win a special election for a vacant at-large seat this spring if he wants to rejoin the council anytime soon. For now, council Chairman Phil Mendelson, a Democrat, said he does not know where the state-by-state project stands as the council enters a legislative period of its own in January.

"After Michael leaves, the council reorganizes, and at that point the issue of statehood will be reassigned," he said Wednesday.

Mr. Brown and a spokesman for council member David A. Catania, an at-large independent who co-organized the state-by-state efforts, said they are evaluating their options.

D.C. officials will consider whether the effort is worth continuing even as their chances of success have improved, at least on paper. Democrats received a net gain of four state legislatures on Election Day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Democratic politicians are generally more sympathetic to the District's plight for increased autonomy over its affairs. But city leaders have found an ally in Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, in the District's attempt to gain fuller control over how it appropriates its local funds and sets its fiscal year.

The District has a Democrat in the House, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, but she is not allowed to cast final votes on the chamber floor.

States that swung to the left in elections include New Hampshire, a development that the NCSL described as "the biggest surprise of the election night." Data show that Democrats must have picked up at least 115 seats to accomplish that feat.

Incidentally, the Granite State played a central role in early efforts to rally state lawmakers around the D.C. statehood banner. A snowstorm torpedoed the District's chances at gaining support for the initiative during a visit to Concord during the mayoral term of Adrian M. Fenty in 2010, and an attempt led by Mayor Vincent C. Gray this year failed to sway a conservative-led committee.

If the project continues, D.C. officials and advocates will look for a sunnier outcome. Florida state Rep. Alan Williams introduced a D.C. statehood resolution in Tallahassee during the state's legislative session this year, but it died after languishing in committee.

The closest activists came to statehood likely was in 2009, when the D.C. Voting Rights Act passed in the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority of 61 votes. It was the first time in 31 years that such a bill passed in the Senate, but a last-minute gun-rights amendment essentially killed the legislation.

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