We took another step forward in our fight for statehood last week, with the D.C. Council approving a constitution to go before the voters Nov. 8. While this Council-passed constitution is largely in line with the draft that the Statehood Commission approved earlier this summer, it includes several important changes.
To my mind, the two most important revisions are changing the name of our future state from “the State of New Columbia” to “the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth,” and mandating a full constitutional convention within two years of statehood. The convention would have the purview to amend, adapt or abolish the entire draft constitution that the voters will consider in two weeks.
On the name, I was happy to introduce an amendment to change New Columbia — a name that came out of the 1982 D.C. Constitutional Convention — to Washington, D.C., the name by which this area has been known for more than 200 years. My colleague Charles Allen further amended the name so that “D.C.” would stand for “Douglass Commonwealth” to honor abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
I felt it was important not to sacrifice the name and identity we have developed as a community over generations. Fears that we’ll somehow be confused with the State of Washington fall away when you consider that most people already think of Washington, D.C., when “Washington” is mentioned. Beyond maintaining our communal identity, this name will allow us to keep our postal code — critical for all of us who still send paper mail — and a long list of other seemingly minor, but potentially distracting, items that would come up if we changed our name.
The second measure of note, an expansive constitutional convention within two years of statehood, will allow for a robust public process to create the enduring form of government for our new state. The current draft constitution has been reviewed, revised, considered and revised again, but it certainly lacks some of the provisions we will want to exist for the next 200 years. The current constitution will allow us to present a document to Congress and to the president for consideration and approval. Later on, the constitutional convention will allow us to improve upon this document in a pre-planned and official way.
Among the other accepted amendments to the proposed constitution were: changing the name of the legislative body from the “House of Delegates” to the “Legislative Assembly”; that proposed changes emerging from the constitutional convention will be enacted by a simple referendum; and that any subsequent amendments will need to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislative Assembly, followed by a public referendum.
Like the United States Constitution, the document we will be asked to consider as voters in two weeks may not be perfect. I believe it will be a living document that will establish the structure and purview of our new state’s government, but will leave much to be further determined by the legislature and people of the new state. What is important is the inalienable right of self-determination. This will be our constitution and we will be able to amend or abolish it if we determine such actions to be necessary and proper. For those reasons, I plan to vote “Yes” to statehood on Nov. 8.