- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 11, 2006

Two centuries after lawmakers arrived in the federal city and nearly a hundred years after the last expansion of Congress, a bipartisan group of House members says it’s time to give D.C. residents a vote there.

The legislation crafted by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and the District’s nonvoting delegate — Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat — balances the proposed addition of what would be a solidly Democratic D.C. seat with a new seat for Utah, a state that voted 71 percent for President Bush in 2004.

“It is simply inexcusable that residents of the District of Columbia, the capital of the free world … do not have a representative with a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives, the people’s house,” Mr. Davis, who leads the House Government Reform Committee, said at a press conference yesterday.

Mr. Davis said his committee would vote on the measure soon, and that Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican, would take up the issue.

Mr. Davis and Mrs. Norton have been promoting the D.C. vote issue for years, but this would be the first committee vote on the matter.

House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said yesterday that he knows the issue is important to the District and Utah.

“I’m in a wait-and-see mode. Let’s see what the committees can do,” he said, “and we’ll talk about it.”

Ilir Zherka, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group D.C. Vote, said the Davis-Norton bill is “the closest we have ever been to voting representation in Congress, and D.C. residents should be shouting from the rooftops and engaging friends across the country to make this critical bill a law.”

The House has had 435 representatives since 1913, except from 1959 to 1963, when the number was 437 after Hawaii and Alaska became states. A 1929 law made the 435 figure permanent.

Congress in 1801, shortly after moving to Washington, took away the voting rights of D.C. residents, who up until then had voted for Virginia or Maryland lawmakers.

The 23rd Amendment, ratified in 1961, gave D.C. residents the right to vote in presidential elections, and the city of 537,000 has been allowed to elect its own leaders since 1973.

Mrs. Norton, who can cast votes in committees and participate in House floor debate but can’t vote on the floor, said her ultimate goal is to achieve voting rights for the District in the House and the Senate, but acknowledges she doesn’t have enough support for that now.

“My 16 years in Congress has been defined by the search for some way to get full representation for the city where my family has lived since before the Civil War,” she said.

Utah, which just missed getting an extra House seat after the 2000 census, has two Republicans and one Democratic representative.

To avoid an immediate shift in this balance, the fourth seat under the Davis-Norton bill would be at-large, representing the entire state, until the 2012 election. Mr. Davis’ office said this was a common procedure in the 19th century, when the House expanded as the nation’s population grew.

“I have been to Iraq 12 times and have met members of our armed services from D.C. risking their lives for our country,” said Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican. “They deserve a representative in Congress that has a vote. Ultimately, the politics of this issue will sort themselves out.”

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