- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2019

D.C. activists and government officials are ramping up efforts to make the District the 51st state, trying to continue momentum for the movement two months after the first congressional hearing on the issue in 30 years.

“This is my greatest frustration about D.C. statehood, that most of the country thinks we already have the same rights that they do,” said D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress.

She often injects statehood into conversations and activities where it is least expected — like the World Series. Mrs. Norton bet Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas Democrat, that Ms. Lee and her staff would have to pose for a photo wearing D.C. statehood T-shirts if the Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros.

Mrs. Norton said statehood advocates in Congress “could not be in a better position” to pass H.R. 51 — the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which has more than 218 co-sponsors.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on the bill in September. The bill would separate the National Mall and the U.S. Capitol for a federal enclave and leave the rest of the District to become the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, with two senators and one House representative.

Mrs. Norton said she expects the House will vote on the bill before the end of the year.

She acknowledged that the bill’s reception in the Republican-controlled Senate is tricky at best, saying that if she offered legislation declaring “it’s cloudy in Washington today,” the Senate would likely reject it.

“The strategy for passage for the 117th Congress will be entirely different from where if I sat down and gave you a strategy [today], there’ll be a whole set of new members,” Mrs. Norton said. “The number of retiring Republican members from the House is the most astonishing since I have ever been in Congress.”

A part of her plan is to target and work with senators in states whose House members vote for H.R. 51 and leverage relationships that more than 100 national organizations supporting statehood have with senators.

Beverly Perry, a senior adviser to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, said statehood is an educational campaign, teaching people that the city is not supported by the federal government.

“We are donor to the federal government,” Ms. Perry said, adding that the District pays more in federal taxes per capita than any state. “We get back less than we give.”

The campaign includes hanging U.S. flags with 51 stars around the District, airing ads for statehood in Kentucky and South Carolina, having the mayor appear on national news programs and engaging national veterans groups on the issue.

“We are using veterans’ [stories] as to way to capture the story of our city,” Ms. Perry said.

Meanwhile, the District’s “shadow” senator — Paul Strauss — is advancing the campaign by meeting with “anybody who can influence anybody else.” Last month, he met with a group of students from Boston University and two young political leaders from Laos and Malaysia. He said he will go to the Republican and Democratic national nomination conventions, as well.

And soon, he will travel to Geneva for a United Nations human rights meeting, where he plans to raise the issue of the lack of D.C. statehood as a human rights violation.

“The international pressure in compelling the United States to explain these things, forces our own leaders to confront the reality” of the lack of representation for the 700,000 D.C. residents, Mr. Strauss said.

He also is recruiting celebrities to help push for statehood such as Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Banks, Richard Schiff, Dave Chappelle and Hayden Panettiere.

In addition to making presentations at different conferences across the country, DC Vote is furthering the campaign by developing a lesson plan to deliver to junior and high school teachers at a social studies conference.

Whether it is climate change, access to abortion or criminal justice reform, national groups have a stake in helping D.C. achieve autonomy from Congress to make strides on those issues, said Bo Shuff, executive director of DC Vote.

“There is intersection between D.C. lack of statehood and issues folks care about on a day-to-day basis,” Mr. Shuff said.



• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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