- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Advocates for D.C. statehood ripped into city lawmakers at a public hearing Tuesday for rushing a draft of a constitution without more inclusion from the public just weeks before voters are to decide whether the District should petition Congress for statehood.

“People won’t go to the polls and vote for statehood if they don’t believe they have a meaningful role in shaping the new state,” Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Markus Batchelor said at the hearing.

Longtime statehood advocate Ann Loikow said the “process needs more close examination and vetting. People want a government that is responsive to them.”

The New Columbia Statehood Commission, an independent D.C. agency, approved in July a draft constitution to be used as a template should the city become the 51st state. The D.C. Council is expected to mark up the draft on Oct. 8.

The draft is only one part of the statehood initiative, which would include a ballot referendum in November asking voters:

If the city should become a state.

If they approve of a constitution.

If they approve the state’s proposed boundaries.

If they support a representative form of state government.

Given the council’s schedule, it’s unlikely that lawmakers will be able to mark up the draft constitution and hold two votes on the measure before the Nov. 8 general election.

But even some of the most impassioned statehood advocates are telling the council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to slow the process. The District does not need to pass a constitution to petition the federal government for statehood, and some think a constitutional convention should be held next year to maximize resident participation in drafting a constitution rather than having it be decided by a commission of five city officials.

David Schwartzman, a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party, called the draft “highly deficient” and a “structure created by an undemocratic process.”

Mr. Schwartzman argued that residents should vote against the statehood referendum unless the council adds a provision requiring a constitutional convention within a year of the District being granted statehood. The current draft says a D.C. House of Delegates could hold a convention to change and ratify the constitution, but it is not required to do so.

“People won’t go to the polls and vote for statehood if they don’t believe they have a meaningful role in shaping the new state,” Mr. Batchelor said.

Even “shadow senator” Michael Brown, who sits on the commission that drafted the constitution, noted a problem in engaging the public.

“To be painfully honest there are people who have worked on this issue for 20-plus years and felt like they were cut out of the process. And they have a right to feel that way,” Mr. Brown.

Some statehood advocates questioned whether the council should be the body helping draft and approve the constitution.

The constitution was drafted by “unelected members and staff of the D.C. Statehood Commission,” said city resident Mary Alice Levine.

She said it should have been drafted by a body elected by residents for the specific purpose of advancing statehood.

Veteran statehood advocates have been making that argument since the push was announced in April.

Ms. Bowser has pushed back, saying the process is moving quickly because a constitution must be ready if Democrats win the White House or gain control of Congress in November. She also has said there has been plenty of outreach to residents by way of public meetings across the city.

“Shadow senator” Paul Strauss, who also sits on the statehood commission, defended the draft constitution as a document that would create a structure.

“It’s not a platform. We wanted to come up with the skeleton,” Mr. Strauss said. “We think you have a structure that if you approved it today would serve the people of our new state well.”

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson did not comfort those still concerned that residents are being left behind and that the process is being rushed.

“It is what it is,” Mr. Mendelson said.

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