D.C. Statehood: The Time Is Now

Mayor Muriel Bowser, whose political career has not been marked by any particular passion, has all of a sudden distinguished herself by becoming a fervent advocate for D.C. statehood. To accomplish this long-sought goal, she has created a process by which she has constructed a mechanism and a timetable. The mechanism is a statehood constitution.

Last week, there was a flurry of activity. There were four different sites where D.C. citizens were asked to present their views on a new constitution. Much has happened since the last one was completed (1982) and amended (1987). A draft constitution has been made available to D.C. residents.

The biggest and most vehement objection to the draft is that the new state legislature will be so small. There would be only 13 state legislators for a state of nearly 700,000 residents.

The other issue is the name of the new state. It has been called New Columbia. Josh Burch has proposed that it be called Douglass Commonwealth, in tribute to iconic figure Frederick Douglass.

After taking testimony and comments from citizens, five people will finalize the new constitution: Mayor Bowser, Council Chair Phil Mendelson, D.C. Shadow Senators Paul Strauss and Michael Brown and Shadow Representative Franklin Garcia. Then the document will go to the District Council for approval. The final step will be to put it on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, with all D.C. citizens asked to vote yes or no.

I call all of this the overture; it’s not the performance. The performance, or final act, will occur when the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate vote on our request to be the 51st state.

There has been one vote on D.C. statehood. It took place in November 1993 and it garnered only 153 votes in the House. It needed 218. There has never been a vote in the U.S. Senate. The plan is to have a new president (Hillary Clinton, per the plan) and a new Democratic-majority Congress take up the bill in 2017.

Clinton says she will be our champion, but last week her designated Democratic party platform representative Neera Tanden spoke at the session in Anacostia. She never mentioned the word statehood and would not commit to including the word in the party platform.

The other obstacle to success is Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, who continues year after year to congratulate herself on losing, bragging that in 1993 she got two-thirds of the Democrats to support statehood. This defining of defeat as victory is a mindset that must end.

We will soon see if Hillary Clinton will offer more than just talk on D.C. statehood. If she is elected in 2016, will she vigorously push this issue and round up the votes in both Houses of Congress in 2017? Or will we D.C. residents be told once again to wait?


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