- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

D.C. officials are pleased with the attention the Democratic National Convention brought to the District’s voting-rights movement, though some have put on hold their quest for statehood.

Some officials now say they will be happy if the District gets congressional voting rights by 2008. Voting-rights supporters are gearing up to continue their campaign at this month’s Republican National Convention in New York City.

The District is the only jurisdiction in the country that pays federal taxes without a voting representative in Congress.

Statehood would make the District the nation’s 51st state and give the city the same voting rights given to others — at least one House representative and two senators. The most basic proposals for voting rights would give the District at least one voting House representative, but not statehood.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting congressional representative, said statehood has always been and will continue to be her goal, though a “far-off” one.

“We’ve got to focus on what we can get now,” Mrs. Norton said yesterday. “And what we can get now, in the here and now, is what the District is minimally entitled to, as long as it pays taxes and sends residents to the armed forces. … It’s the last great civil rights issue that our country has left unattended.”

To highlight the issue, D.C. convention delegates last week dumped tea into the Charles River in Boston to symbolize their fight for congressional representation. In 1773, colonists dumped tea overboard from ships in defiance of Britain’s tea tax and to protest taxation without representation. That helped trigger the Revolutionary War.

Mrs. Norton said she has a bill pending in Congress that would give the District a voting representative in the House and two senators. Currently, Mrs. Norton only can vote in committee, not on the House floor.

Mrs. Norton, who gave a prime-time speech at the convention, will meet with local party activists to work on the next steps and will make “overtures” to the Republicans.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who attended the Democratic National Convention, plans to attend the Republican National Convention later this month to lobby for voting rights. He wants two senators and one representative, but not statehood.

“Becoming a state is a logistical obstacle of significant size,” said Tony Bullock, a spokesman for Mr. Williams. “Our focus is on getting our voting rights in the Senate and the House. We need support from both sides.”

Statehood also would require the District to run its own prisons and courts. Ten years ago, the District temporarily gave up its right to statehood when it relinquished some of its costs for courts and prisons, among other things, to the federal government to fund.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group D.C. Vote, applauded the four pending bills in Congress that would give D.C. residents voting rights. Three of them are proposed by Republicans. No one expects those proposals to come to fruition this year, but they hope to secure voting rights by the next presidential election.

“This is a linchpin year,” Mr. Zherka said. “I am very optimistic about the next two to four years. … You know you’ve made progress when four bills are in Congress and three are by Republicans.”

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, proposed one of the pending bills, which would allow D.C. residents to vote through Maryland. Mr. Rohrabacher’s chief of staff, Rick Dykema, said the congressman is a “strong opponent” of statehood.

“He feels it is fundamentally unfair to give two senators to one city that is smaller than our congressional district and most in the country,” Mr. Dykema said.

Rep. Ralph Regula, Ohio Republican, proposed a bill that would allow D.C. residents to vote as Marylanders, a move that would return the District to Maryland for congressional representation.

Mrs. Norton opposes those bills. “The District does not want to become part of Maryland and doesn’t want to lose its identity,” she said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, also proposed a bill that would give the District one representative but no senators. The bill also would give Utah one additional representative.

Mrs. Norton said Mr. Davis’ bill is moot since population growth in Utah suggests the traditionally Republican state is entitled to one more representative.

Mr. Zherka said the D.C. Vote group will present several studies this year. One study will show the effects of disenfranchisement on public health in the District and another will depict the effects of not having representation on business in the District. Mr. Zherka said his group might send people to the Republican National Convention.

The spotlight in Boston has advanced the voting-rights movement, Mr. Bullock said. “A lot of people learned about our situation here who were not previously aware that we had this rather undemocratic aspect to life in the nation’s capital,” he said.

D.C. has tried several times to get voting rights over the last three decades.

In 1978, Congress approved the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution that would have given the District two senators and one representative. To make it a reality, Congress needed two-thirds of the states to ratify the amendment. By 1985, not enough states had approved it and the amendment was defeated.

In 1993, a D.C. Statehood bill was defeated in Congress by a vote of 277-153.

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