Promises to push for D.C. statehood and to protect voters’ decision to legalize marijuana were a common refrain among the city’s newly elected leaders.
In speeches at their swearing in ceremony on Friday, several of the newest elected leaders as well as those returning to office told city residents they’d continue the ongoing battle with Congress for the city to advance its autonomy.
“As your first elected attorney general, I will be fierce and unyielding in defending the will of the people, including Initiative 71,” said Attorney General Karl Racine, referencing the marijuana legalization ballot measure that passed in November.
A budget rider adopted in a congressional spending package bans the city from using funds to enact the marijuana legalization initiative.
Pressed on the issue during an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser was noncommittal on whether she might file a lawsuit on behalf of the city against Congress.
“We’re going to explore every option,” Ms. Bowser said.
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Proponents of the bill have taken the stance that the initiative was officially enacted when 70 percent of voters endorsed it at the polls and that Congress’ only means to block the law now is to file a disapproval resolution.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said Friday he intends to transmit the referendum to Congress as required in order to begin the clock on the legislative review period required of all enacted city laws.
“I will send Initiative 71 to Congress as required,” he said.
Congress is set to reconvene Tuesday, after which the bill can be sent.
Mr. Mendelson said he doesn’t intend to make a show out of the transmission or do anything special to distinguish it. Many other bills enacted in the last legislative session must also be sent up to Capitol Hill for review and he intends to send them all together.
Addressing the crowds who came to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for the swearing in ceremony Friday, newly sworn in D.C. Council members talked about the their goals in leading the District forward and how local autonomy should be a part of that future.
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Supportive of full statehood, D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman, at-large independent, noted that Congress’ power over the District means that the city of “more than 600,000 residents can be silenced by just one.”
D.C. Council member Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Democrat, pledged her support to continue to address needs among immigrants, gays and the homeless and to push forward with meaningful legislation, no matter how the plans might be received on Capitol Hill.
“We will keep doing what we think is right and we will keep fighting for the autonomy we need to get it done,” Ms. Nadeau said.
Returning D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, said the city needs to challenge Congress and even the president to secure full representation for residents.
“It’s all very well the president put the ‘no taxation without representation’ plates on his limousine,” Ms. Cheh said. “But really, is that it? Is that really it?”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, noted that with Republicans taking control of both the House and the Senate that “this may not look like the best time for us to achieve statehood for the District of Columbia.” But she said that with strong leaders and guiding principles among those being sworn into office that the city would be able to build a strong movement to advocate for the District becoming the 51st state.
“Cheer up D.C., it can be done,” Ms. Norton said.