Dick Polman, 9/30/2014 [Archive]

D.C. Statehood: Praise for a Lost Cause

By Dick Polman

Now that Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom let's talk about the issue of statehood for Washington, D.C.

You probably don't get my segue. D.C. statehood came to mind while I was reading actor Alan Cumming's plea for a Yes vote on Scottish independence. He wrote: "Scots feel they've been patronized and disrespected far too long... Scotland is weary of being ruled by governments it did not vote for. The Conservative Party has virtually no democratic mandate in Scotland, yet too often, Scotland has been ruled by a draconian Tory government from London."

Well, that sounded familiar. Washington, D.C. is a deep-blue city whose denizens are essentially ruled by a Congress (most notably, a right-wing House of Representatives) they didn't vote for. District residents pay federal taxes, but they have no voting members in the federal legislature. Their city government can't set its own budget and enact its own laws without Republican congressmen sticking their noses in.

That does seem unfair. The District has more people than Wyoming and Vermont, but both get two senators and a congressman. What the District gets, mostly, is grief - especially on hot-button issues. Whenever it has tried to enact local progressive laws - to legalize medical marijuana, to establish a registry of gay domestic partners - conservatives on Capitol Hill have gummed up the machinery, delaying implementation for years.

That explains why advocates of statehood packed a Senate hearing room a few weeks back to support a bill, sponsored by Delaware Senator Tom Carper, that would make the District our 51st state - with a snazzy name, New Columbia. This kind of hearing doesn't happen very often; the last time Congress heard a statehood bill, there was no Internet. And who knows if there will ever be a next time, because, in truth, D.C. statehood wins the Jude the Apostle Award.

Jude the Apostle is the patron saint of lost causes.

Carper was the only senator to sit through the entire hearing; virtually nobody else showed up. Probably because everybody knows that if statehood ever reached the Republican House, it would be dead on day one. Vincent Gray, the D.C. mayor, pleaded, "We're not asking for special treatment. We're asking for the same treatment other Americans get" - but I'll go way out on a limb here and predict that no House Republican would vote to create a new state that would send two additional Democrats to the U.S. Senate.

Plus, there's another hurdle, the U.S. Constitution. According to the Founders (Article 1, Section 8), Congress has the power to create "the Seat of Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places" therein. Granted, we have tweaked the Constitution many many times over the years (to enfranchise women, etcetera), but I'll go out on a limb again and suggest that a Congress barely capable of keeping the government lights on is unlikely to sing Kumbaya for statehood.

Meanwhile, the District recently passed a law decriminalizing pot possession; for less than an ounce, it's a $25 civil fine. The law went on the books in July, with strong support from District blacks, because the vast majority of those arrested for possession are black. But a Republican congressman, Andy Harris, decided that he disliked the law. So he has inserted a line in the next federal budget, barring the District from spending any money on administering said law.

So, alas, the District's 646,000 residents will continue to live under the federal heel, to be taxed without representation. Whoever said that life was fair? Certainly not Jude the Apostle.


Copyright 2014 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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