- The Washington Times - Friday, May 25, 2007

As every D.C. license plate proclaims, the nation’s capital suffers from “taxation without representation.” Congress recently passed a bill that would correct that by giving the District a full voting representative.

The opposition to the bill is as cynical as it is transparent. If it is to ever become law, the District’s supporters will have to highlight just how hollow and hypocritical the justifications offered by the bill’s opponent are.

In the bill’s last go around, Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, attached a provision that would have neutered D.C.’s ability to regulate semiautomatic rifles and unregistered weapons. The move forced the legislation’s advocates to weigh the value of the House seat against a near certain increase in gun violence, forcing them to put the measure on hold.

The legislation — that passed the House a week ago — grants Utah an additional House seat (likely, in that red state, to go Republican) to balance D.C.’s presumed Democratic one. The law’s effect would therefore be politically neutral, benefiting neither party.

The White House has suggested it will veto the legislation if it passes the Senate. Yet, this same president bristles at suggestions that Iraqis were not ready for democracy. In Iraq, he implores us “to remember that these elections are also a vital part of a broader strategy for protecting the American people against the threat of terrorism.” Are Washingtonians not ready to be represented in Congress or U.S. elections less vital? Does the president’s commitment to the transformative power of the polls apply to Baghdad and Kabul, but not to our own capital?

What is the rationale for brandishing the presidential veto, which the president has seen fit to use only once in his six years in office?

Opponents of the bill cite the Constitution’s limitation that its members be chosen by “people of the several states.” The bill’s supporters counter that another section of the Constitution grants Congress the broad power “to exercise exclusive legislation” over the District, which has been used in the past to expand the District’s self-rule.

This is an administration that has rarely felt constrained by constitutional principle. From warrantless wiretaps to the suspension of habeas corpus to the flaunting of the Geneva Conventions, the administration has blown through legal constraints in the “war on terror” and its campaign to bring democracy to Iraq.

The issue of full voting rights for the District does not split along partisan lines. Legal experts with good Republican credentials disagree with the president on the constitutionality of the bill. Viet D. Dinh, a former associate attorney general in the Bush administration and an architect of the Patriot Act, told Congress the bill was likely constitutional. Kenneth Starr, Bill Clinton’s nemesis, has also written in support of the validity of the measure. In the past, Richard Nixon and Robert Dole have supported voting representation for the District in the Congress.

Washington is a predominantly African-American city of just under 600,000 people, with approximately 100,000 young voters (18-29 year olds). It has a long history of racial tension, inequality and crime. These are issues that require political solutions — national as well as local. Congressional representation is equally if not more important for those whose rights and safety are most in need of protection and who are most exposed to shifts in political power.

There are many ways active citizens can make their voices heard — through volunteer work, contributions to candidates for office, active participation in public debate, and protest. But the most powerful and the likely way to effect change is to cast a ballot and send a representative to Congress to make the laws of the land.

The Senate should follow the House and pass the bill. The president should uphold the democratic ideal he offers for export and sign it. This debate — happening about them without them — is why there should be no debate about this injustice.

D.C. residents deserve congressional representation, then as the broader national debate continues, they will not only have a voice but their government will have to listen.

Devin Talbott is co-founder and chairman of GenerationEngage, a grass-roots youth civic engagement effort.

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