Renewed Discussion on D.C. Statehood Draws Supporters

Ben Nichols, Editor in chief

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Renewed calls to give Washington, D.C. statehood have filled the streets of D.C., where citizens and politicians alike are putting their support behind a new bill to do just that.

On Sept. 19, House Democrats led the first hearing in 25 years on H.R.51, a bill that would create an independent D.C. state. The bill, first introduced on Jan. 3, would make D.C. a commonwealth — with the exception of federal buildings and monuments. 

“While we as a nation are engaged in promoting the strengthening of democracy around the world, the full democratic rights of the residents of the District of Columbia have not been provided,” University President John DeGioia wrote in a letter to the House Oversight Committee. “Ironically, nations around the world who have modeled their own systems of government on our Constitution have provided voting representation for residents of their capital cities.”

The act hasn’t gone without its fair share of critics. Historically, Republicans have opposed this movement, as it would grant DC three seats in Congress. These seats would have a high chance of being Democratic, helping fuel opposition against Republicans.

“Statehood would give the District two seats in the Senate — something Republicans are loath to grant to the city’s overwhelmingly Democratic electorate,” reporter Aaron Davis wrote in a 2016 article for the Washington Post.

Critics also cite local corruption as a reason to oppose statehood, with one Republican asking to delve further into a scandal involving D.C. Councilman Jack Evans.

“Sadly, the allegations against Mr. Evans are just the latest in a series of D.C. political scandals,” Representative from Ohio Jim Jordan said. “We cannot and should not ignore these unpleasant facts.”

The movement has been helped along by presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, who both endorsed it. District Mayor Muriel Bowser has arguably been one of the biggest causes of the latest push for statehood, running a districtwide vote in 2016 to which 86% of voters responded in favor of statehood. 

“I promised the people of the District of Columbia that we were always going to be in the position to be ready when the political winds aligned with each other,” Bowser said in testimony to Congress.

District license plates have the phrase “Taxation without representation,” a reference to the lack of representation D.C. has in Congress. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has represented the District in the House of Representatives for several decades, but does not have voting privileges.

“Have you ever met any Americans who wanted to pay taxes without representation?” Norton said to Vox. “Who wanted to have only a House member who didn’t have a final vote on the House floor? Who wanted not to have two senators to go to? That person doesn’t exist.”

Some alternative proposals to statehood have arose in the past. One proposal would have treated District residents as Maryland citizens for the purposes of congressional representation, while other introduced bills tried to give D.C. voting rights without giving it statehood. 

“It would have both practical and psychological consequences, frankly,” Norton said when asked what it would mean to her if statehood were achieved. “Who wants to live in a country where you are treated less equally than any other resident of the country?”