- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 27, 2012

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the District’s nonvoting member of Congress are touting a coalition that will serve as allies in the city’s fight to stave off any interference from Capitol Hill in local affairs.

House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said she and the mayor will convene Tuesday at the Rayburn House Office Building to publicly outline a network of 100 organizations that the city is relying on for assistance in protecting the District’s home rule during federal budget talks for fiscal 2013.

The District has functioned under a local government for about 40 years, but because Congress still has final authority over local laws city officials frequently gird for actions from Capitol Hill - typically through “riders” on broader bills - that could affect D.C. residents.

Members of the coalition include gun-control groups and Planned Parenthood, according to Mrs. Norton’s office. It is a renewed effort after the network coalesced last year before Congress took up its appropriations bills.

A highly publicized battle over the ban on local funding for abortions in the District as part of a short-term spending battle last spring prompted Mr. Gray and several council members to get arrested in a protest near the Capitol.

“The [organizations] started to see that the far-right Republicans focus on certain social issues,” Mrs. Norton said of the groups. “They were highly effective last year.”

Much like the National Rifle Association and anti-abortion groups that score federal legislators on their approaches to certain issues, the groups in Mrs. Norton’s coalition apply pressure on members of Congress from their home districts.

“That’s what does it,” she said. “We don’t have [federal lawmakers] to help us.”

While the District usually plays defense against riders attached to the budget, abortion rights have been front and center in a pending standalone bill from Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, that would ban abortions in the District after the fetus is 20 weeks post-fertilization.

Mrs. Norton has invited Julianna Gonen, policy counsel on federal legislation for the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Nancy Keegan, president of National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice America, to join her and the mayor at their news conference Tuesday.

Mrs. Norton said besides reproductive issues, the city’s gun laws, marriage equality rights and HIV-AIDS programs also might be affected.

D.C. Vote, an organization that advocates for full voting rights in the District, will join the contingent. The organization visited Rayburn on Wednesday for a tongue-in-cheek “D.C. Constituents Service Day” at Mr. Franks’ office, although the congressman was not present.

One by one, D.C. residents stood in front of the Arizona flag outside the office and complained about a plethora of city-related problems, such as rats in Petworth and broken steps at schools, as part of a jab at the “Mayor Franks” foray into D.C. issues.

The National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, decried the protest and said “the U.S. Constitution makes it crystal clear that the District of Columbia belongs to all of the American people, and is to be governed by the Congress and the president.”

“We hope that after more reflection, the demonstrators will grasp the profound difference between a broken street light and the broken skull of an unborn child, which is crushed by a steel clamp during a late abortion,” NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson said.



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