- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

D.C. delegates once again are pushing a historically Democratic cause, this time at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Delegation members this week have the chance to bend ears and seek support for granting their city full congressional voting rights, but it won’t be easy. The city’s efforts to secure a vote have long been blocked by Republicans, who doubt the constitutionality of any such provision and worry about giving the Democrats a partisan boost in Congress.

“You just go delegate to delegate and explain the equity issues,” said Robert C. “Bud” McFarlane, a D.C. delegate and member of the convention’s national security subcommittee. “You’ve just got to make your case on a retail basis one-on-one out there with other delegates.”

It’s a tough sell to Republicans, who are outnumbered in the District by a ratio of 10-to-1. The city’s lone congressional representative, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, has a full vote in the three committees on which she sits, but not on the House floor.

Last year, a bipartisan compromise proposed by Mrs. Norton and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, cleared the House with more than 20 Republican votes. A similar measure died in the Senate after proponents failed to earn the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural measure that would have moved the bill forward.

The bill would have granted the District a seat in the House while adding a fourth House seat for Utah, which is largely Republican.

Forty-seven Senate Democrats, eight Republicans and two independents voted in favor of the measure in September 2007.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who will accept the Republican Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, voted against advancing the measure. His campaign did not return requests for comment on whether Mr. McCain would support congressional voting rights for the District if elected president.

D.C. delegates are not deterred. Mr. McFarlane, who was a national security adviser to President Reagan, said the senator “has a very solid respect” for equal representation in the country.

“I think he’ll be solidly behind the citizens of D.C. being represented in the Congress in voting rights,” he said.

D.C. delegates lobbied unsuccessfully last week for an unprecedented Republican convention platform plank to support congressional voting rights for the District.

Mr. McFarlane said the Republican Platform Committee refused to endorse two proposed amendments based on Mr. Davis’ approach. Platform committee delegates said the Constitution specifically grants voting representation only to the states.

Still, Mr. McFarlane said, he sensed “strong interest” in the District’s plight and that discussions about the issue had taken a more serious tone.

“I think we’ve made gains in the sense that there is an awakening to the fact that this is an inconsistency, and yet we just have to keep working on this,” Mr. McFarlane said.

D.C. Republican Committee Chairman Robert Kabel said the delegation will continue to press the voting rights issue in St. Paul.

He noted that delegates succeeded in removing platform language to give some D.C. residents representation by retroceding part of the federal district to neighboring Maryland. He said supporters often have to stress that they are campaigning for representation just in the House, not in the Senate.

“Partly it’s an educational process, because just as in Congress, there’s a misperception about what we’re seeking,” Mr. Kabel said.

Members of the advocacy group D.C. Vote also plan to canvass and distribute literature to convention delegations.

Eli Zigas, who will dress up as Abraham Lincoln during the group’s events, said, “D.C. voting rights is a bipartisan issue and there’s no one better to communicate that message than Abraham Lincoln at the Republican convention.”

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican on the D.C. Council, stressed the importance of the delegation’s efforts in St. Paul but is skipping the convention to focus on her re-election bid.

She recalled her efforts to win support for D.C. voting rights as a delegate at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, and said this year’s forum will be “a wonderful opportunity” for delegates from the District.

“I hope my colleagues in the party are successful in passing along this very important [message] to our colleagues around the country,” Mrs. Schwartz said. “It’s an injustice and a national disgrace that needs to be rectified, and the sooner the better.”

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