In September, a House-approved bill granting 600,000 citizens in the District of Columbia a voting representative in Congress for the first time, fell just 3 votes shy of overcoming a Republican filibuster for an up or down vote in the Senate. Republican Sen. Orin Hatch declared that the tactic of filibustering against civil rights had been “resurrected” and DC Mayor Adrian Fenty observed that “not since segregation has the Senate blocked a voting rights bill.”
DC Councilman David Catania was there when the vote went down and he decided to take action. As he told the Washington Post, “We’ve talked ourselves to death about this issue, but we need to take our show on the road and build allies.”
Catania reached out to New Hampshire state Representative Cindy Rosenwald who serves with him on the National Legislative Association on Prescription Drug Prices(a group Catania spokesman Ben Young told me doesn’t make them too popular with Inside-the-Beltway folks!). At Catania’s urging, Rosenwald crafted a resolution for the New Hampshire legislature that Young said “expresses regret” that New Hampshire Senators John Sununu and Judd Gregg “voted to deny the District of Columbia the right to be represented in Congress.” Young noted that once Rosenwald decided to proceed, voting rights advocacy organization DC Vote was instrumental in the effort.
“We’ve been in constant contact with Rep. Rosenwald and helped to prepare for Wednesday’s hearing [on the bill],” DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka told me. “We’ve also helped to promote the legislation to the media there and here in DC.”
New Hampshire’s House committee on state-federal relations will hear testimony on the resolution on Wednesday – the day after the primary – and witnesses will include Fenty, Catania, and Zherka. In all, the mayor, nine councilmen and the DC shadow (non-voting) congressional delegation will attend the hearing.
This is a smart and important effort spearheaded by Catania who has no short supply of courage and backbone. He’s openly gay and was first elected to his at-large seat in 1997 as a Republican in heavily Democratic DC. He became an Independent in 2004 after speaking out against President Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and then opposing his reelection.
Young said this is the very first time that DC’s elected officials have left the city to push the voting rights issue. As Catania told the Post, “I want to cause these members of Congress who are voting against voting rights . . . to wonder, ‘What will this mean to me back home?'”
Indeed, Zherka said that New Hampshire is the “first leg of a multi-stop road trip” that will make sure constituents know which senators are standing in the way of voting rights for the citizens of the District. Over the next few months DC Vote will meet with media, coalition affiliates, students and others in Montana, Oregon, West Virginia and Kentucky.
“Rep. Rosenwald’s bill supporting democracy for all Americans echoes the sentiments of many who have learned about DC’s lack of voting representation,” Zherka said. “New Hampshire is just one of many states DC Vote will visit to educate Americans about the disenfranchisement of the more than half a million District residents who pay taxes, serve on juries and fight in wars yet are denied a vote in Congress.”