Monday, December 4, 2006

In honor of the bill before Congress that provides a congressional vote for the District in the House of Representatives, Statehood Green Party advocate Nikolas Schiller has designed a new license plate: “Taxation with 1/3 Representation.”

Although many are rejoicing that the long-overdue measure — introduced and negotiated by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative — appears closer than ever to passage, the very people who have been working tirelessly for decades for full democracy in the District are none too pleased.

Odd? Statehood advocate Tim Cooper, executive director of Worldrights, said in an electronic mailing that “only local politicos, who profit more by the practice of compromise than principle, would claim that a bill that grants D.C. residents one-third of a congressional vote after 200 years of disparate treatment at the hands of a hypocritical Congress represents ‘a new dawn for democracy’ in Washington, D.C. It is nothing of the kind.”

Those who agree with Mr. Cooper and their all-or-nothing stance maintain that the voting rights bill is nothing more than a token, a pacifier and possibly even a ruse.

Why? First, the bill, which gives the politically blue District one vote in the House balanced against an additional vote for the politically red state of Utah, does not address representation in the U.S. Senate for nearly 600,000 residents of the nation’s capital.

Second, the bill, which creates 437 permanent seats in the House, provides an additional vote for Utah in the electoral college but not the District. Statehood advocates suggest that the Davis-Norton bill is destined to be challenged in court on its constitutionality.

Last week, Mrs. Norton and Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty met with House Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, to win assurances that if the bill is not enacted in these final days of the 109th Congress, it will be among the first items on the agenda next year.

Can we blame these advocates for being skeptical?

Some contend that the District’s Democratic leadership, especially Mr. Fenty, is being hypocritical.

Others have stated that they feel betrayed because Mr. Fenty is seeking more elected representation in Congress while advocating less representation on the local level by attempting to nullify the elected school board in his takeover bid of the school system. Indeed, his actions do appear to be counteractive and at cross-purposes.

Historian and longtime statehood advocate Sam Smith writes in this week’s Progressive Review that you can argue for the Davis-Norton bill or for the mayoral takeover of the schools, but not both.

“But, what you can’t do, unless one is a total hypocrite, is support both these positions at the same time,” he said. “And an elected school board — birthplace of home rule — is far more essential to self-government than is a token vote in the House.

“A further assault on its already weakened elected position is nothing less than an attack on home rule and should be seen that way.”

In the 30 years since enactment of home rule, D.C. residents still have not been granted full local autonomy, though Mrs. Norton has worked to gain greater local control over the city’s finances. Still, the underlying fear is that the Davis-Norton bill for partial representation will be terminal, too.

For her part, Mrs. Norton has attempted to assure skeptics that this long-awaited measure is only the beginning. A fair number of folks are willing to accept how hard the legislative struggle has been to get even this far.

“It may have taken us 200 years to get one vote, but it won’t take us that long to get the other two” in the Senate, Mrs. Norton said yesterday, after meeting with some statehood advocates.

On the other side, members of the DC Vote Coalition are convinced that the Davis-Norton bill “can bring the dawn of a new democracy to D.C.,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director.

“These [congressional] leaders understand the urgent need to end the blemish on America’s democracy,” she said. “With support growing across the country, we can correct this injustice by the end of the year.”

Jack Kemp, the former Republican representative and housing secretary who is a member of the DC Vote, said he has been having conversations with House and Senate leaders and that the D.C. Voting Rights Act has a strong chance of being enacted during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“This cannot wait,” Mr. Kemp said. “We have built up momentum this year to complete the unfinished business of American democracy. Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. would be proud of the work done thus far. However, we should not put off until next year a civil rights victory we can achieve today.”

It would be a disgrace if congressional representatives did not push for more representation for the nation’s capital instead of less. Given the unfairness with which D.C. residents have been treated in the past, these apprehensive advocates may be right to worry that they will be told they should be satisfied with one vote in one chamber of Congress in perpetuity.

We must continue the struggle to make certain their fears will be unfounded. Residents of the nation’s capital cannot continue to be denied the full democratic birthright of every American citizen.

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