- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A draft copy of the Democratic Party platform includes one line that could give national heft to the local fight for congressional voting rights and representation.

Buried in a 40-page draft of party priorities released Friday, Democratic leaders announced that they will push for D.C. statehood, following a monthslong effort by Mayor Muriel Bowser and other advocates to prepare for a statehood-friendly president in 2017.

“Restoring our democracy also means finally passing statehood for Washington, D.C., so that its citizens have full and equal congressional rights as well as the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without Congressional interference,” the draft says.

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also has vowed to be a “vocal champion” of D.C. statehood.

“In the case of our nation’s capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy,” Mrs. Clinton wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Informer in May. “Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries, and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet, they don’t even have a vote in Congress.”

Meanwhile, the New Columbia Statehood Commission, an independent agency within the D.C. government created in 2014, last week approved a draft constitution to be used as a template should the city become the 51st state. The draft constitution is only one part of the local statehood initiative, which also would include a ballot referendum in November asking voters if they want the District to become a state.

Within that constitution, the commission — which consists of Ms. Bowser, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, “shadow” representative Franklin Garcia and senators Michael Brown and Paul Strauss — settled on “New Columbia” as the would-be state’s official name.

But even that wasn’t without controversy. Some argued that the name is too linked to Christopher Columbus, and others said naming the city after a historical black figure, such as Frederick Douglass, would have been more appropriate.

New Columbia does have history: It was approved as a state name in a 1982 referendum by city voters.

In the draft constitution, the commission also set up the legislative body for the would-be state. When the original draft was released in May, it suggested a 13-member House of Delegates that would mimic the current city council. That was thrown out after a bevy of public hearings saw activists calling for a two-chamber legislature with more members. A draft constitution during the 1987 statehood push set out a 25-member body.

The commission decided on a compromise: New Columbia would employ a unicameral body of 21 members — two delegates from each ward, four at-large members and an elected speaker of the house.

Some statehood advocates have said the process is moving too quickly without enough involvement from residents. But Ms. Bowser said the District can’t miss the opportunity that a statehood-friendly candidate — Mrs. Clinton — could become president next year and needs to have a petition ready for Congress.

That’s where the District hits a sticking point. Elections, lobbying campaigns and a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution have failed over past decades to create a state in the 68.34 square miles comprising the District.

The commission’s approach resembles that of Tennessee’s abbreviated path to statehood in 1796, when it was a federal property known as the Southwest Territory. The District tried this about 35 years ago.

In the 1980s, about 60 percent of D.C. voters approved the District of Columbia Statehood Constitutional Convention of 1979, which called for the creation of a state constitution. The next year, the District elected delegates to a constitutional convention.

The delegates drafted the constitution in May 1982 and chose New Columbia as the official name for the state. In November of that year, voters ratified the constitution.

But in 1983 Congress quickly voted against allowing the District to become the state of New Columbia.

By the U.S. Constitution, the city is designated as the seat of the federal government under the authority of Congress, and it would take an amendment to our founding document to change that. That means even if the District became a state, there would need to be a “district” designated as the seat of the federal government.

Congressional Republicans have been staunchly against D.C. statehood, and many Democratic members of Congress haven’t been actively pursuing the issue.

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