- The Washington Times - Friday, April 7, 2006

The idea behind the District’s plan to give $1 million to advocacy groups for statehood radio and advertising campaigns is, as one grantee put it, “to educate more people so that we can activate them.” That opens the latest chapter in the futile quest for D.C. statehood, this one being a publicly financed war of ideas.

As The Washington Times reported this week, the city will split the grant money between the League of Women Voters; D.C. Vote, founded in 1998 “to secure full voting representation in Congress for the residents of the District of Columbia”; and Our Nation’s Capital, founded in 2003 to combat “fiscal unfairness imposed on our Nation’s Capital by Congress.” The campaign could only be intended for consumption outside the District, since D.C. residents clearly favor statehood and since lawmakers representing everyone else are those whom the District must persuade in order to achieve it.

The political dynamics behind statehood are as follows: Municipal politicians resent the glass ceiling which home rule places above them; the District’s leaders want the legislative powers of statehood; certain long-desired items like a commuter tax could be enacted if the District were a state; and, as a political issue, “self-determination” is a winner however politicians slice it.

As a policy matter, this is an attempt at an end-run around the U.S. Constitution, which is unambiguous about the oversight by Congress of D.C. affairs. And Congress, it’s worth noting, prohibits the use of federal tax dollars to lobby Congress. It may not be considered lobbying by the supporters of the city’s efforts, but it is clearly an attempt to influence Congress.

For the most part, however, the legal and constitutional circumstances are unchanged and still prohibitive. In some scenarios a constitutional amendment would be required to alter the exclusive jurisdiction which Congress has over the District; in another, the District would be carved into a federal zone and a second zone over which D.C. officials would preside. None of these attracts much support in Congress, which largely stands by the Constitution’s designation of Washington, D.C., as a place of federal oversight.

Thus it’s difficult to regard the city’s latest move as anything other than quixotic. Spending $1 million to air statehood ideas won’t do much to move national public opinion — which, of course, in the minds of backers, would be a reason to redouble the effort. The District government should concentrate first on learning how to competently run a city. There is much work to do.

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