- The Washington Times - Friday, May 17, 2002

It's a shame when you have to go begging for something that rightfully belongs to you.

That's exactly what D.C. leaders and residents were doing Wednesday when they went to Congress promoting the same voting rights guaranteed every other American by the U.S. Constitution.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (that's nonvoting delegate, mind you), D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, D.C. Council members, civil rights advocates and 250 residents descended upon Senate offices for Lobby Day. They were there to seek support of a pending bill that would either grant residents of the nation's capital full voting rights with two Senate seats and one House seat or exempt residents from federal income tax.

Though D.C. residents pay nearly $3 billion annually in income taxes, neither proposal will see the light of day anytime soon given the long-standing though inexplicable resistance to granting fundamental rights of democracy and freedom to the Last Colony.

All they get is more lip service.

On Thursday, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, will hold a hearing of the Government Affairs Committee on the pending legislation. Hello, we've been down that road before on the other side of the street. To no avail.

Mrs. Norton at one time had a vote in the House Committee of the Whole, but that was snatched away when the Republicans won control of that body.

It's pure politics that keeps D.C. residents disenfranchised. Truthfully, it really hasn't mattered much which party was in power at any given moment. The arcane limited home-rule bill, forced through Congress by Rep. Charlie Diggs, a Michigan Democrat, in the early 1970s has yet to be revised, as was promised.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, patronizes these Americans who, by the way, bore a heavy burden of the terrorist attacks on September 11 by saying that he is for looking at a voting rights proposal for the District but "not at this time."

How many times have we heard that weak excuse? What's he waiting for? Is it for the rapidly changing demographics of the District's electorate to change enough to give his party a better shot at winning one of the newly created seats? Don't hold your breath.

But the Democrats' hands are also dirty. They wasted plenty of opportunities to help ratify the Constitution or push for statehood or (perish the thought) force retrocession back to Virginia or Maryland.

"The absence of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia is one of the leading civil rights failures of our time," said Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way, which joined with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights headed by Wade Henderson and D.C. Vote in Lobby Day.

Speaking from New York, Mr. Neas recalled how in the 1970s when he was working for Sen. Edward Brooke, Massachusetts Republican, they forged a bill, co-sponsored by D.C. Delegate Walter E. Fauntroy, a Democrat, for voting rights for the District. Here we are some 30 years later and nothing has changed.

But "it's a new day on this issue," said an optimistic Mr. Neas, citing the new leadership team of Mrs. Norton, Mr. Williams and D.C. Council Chairman Linda Cropp, and the renewed sense on the part of congressional representatives to do the right thing.

In the latter, it still seems a bit premature to hold promise.

The timing is better, Mr. Neas said. In view of the controversy surrounding the 2000 presidential election where "3 million disenfranchised people were not able to cast a vote or cast a vote that counts," Mr. Neas said "we have to do something" about the 600,000 D.C. residents "who cannot cast a ballot that counts."

At least they now can vote for president of the United States. It wasn't too long ago that they couldn't even do that.

For their part, Mr. Neas said he and Mr. Henderson would work with local leaders to take the message to the masses around the country.

Part of the problem is that a lot of Americans are totally unaware of the District's unique voting status. A national poll conducted in 1999 by Bisconti Research indicates that 72 percent of Americans don't know that residents of their capital city have no representatives in Congress. Of those, 82 percent favored an amendment giving them the same representation as all other Americans.

If they knew, goes the general consensus, they would insist on full voting rights. Such was not the case when D.C. officials pushed for statehood.

For those who argue that the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that Congress shall have oversight over the federal enclave, it must be pointed out that the bedrock document has been amended more than a dozen times. And for very compelling reasons.

Laws are passed and rescinded and passed again to right fundamental flaws in the laws of the land. Were that not the case, yours truly, a black female, would not be allowed free voice or a vote.

It is the height of hypocrisy to insist that D.C. residents be denied full voting representation when they are fully taxed by the federal government. Wasn't taxation without representation the very reason the American colonies fought for their freedom?

So shouldn't the Last Colony finish the fight?

It is an international disgrace that nearly 600,000 residents of the capital of the free world do not enjoy their birthright as American citizens while the United States is engaged in a war against tyrannical terrorists to preserve America's freedom and franchise.

Still, the question begs to be asked: Why should people be forced beg for what's theirs?

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