You may recall from high school civics class that our nation’s capital lacks Congressional representation. Congress manages the budget of the District of Columbia, but DC’s residents have little say in the matter; they go to war, they pay taxes, but they do not have a member of Congress to call their own.
All of this could change if legislation pending before the House Judiciary Committee finds its way to the President’s desk. The Fair and Equal House Voting Rights Act would grant the District a single voting representative in the House of Representatives in exchange for adding another representative to Utah’s delegation. The conventional wisdom is that Washington would vote in a Democrat while Utah, a historically red state, would elect a Republican. The political status quo in the House would be maintained but with 437 members rather than 435. The bill does not mention the Senate; typically, each body does not intrude upon the workings of the other.
Unlike previous attempts to turn the District into a state–this measure has a shot of passage. The Judiciary Committee’s Republican chairman, James Sensenbrenner, has guaranteed that the bill will make it to markup, the stage where proposed legislation is rewritten prior to a committee vote to send it to the floor. And the bill–co-sponsored by Republican Representative Tom Davis of Virginia and Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District’s Democratic nonvoting delegate in the House–has drawn support from across the ideological divide. Former special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, former Bush II Justice Department attorney Viet Dinh and former GOP Representative Jack Kemp have each called for its passage–as have many civil rights proponents. Some House Republicans, such as Ohio’s Steve Chabot, oppose the current measure, contending that the Constitution relegates the District to only a federal enclave and says nothing about voting rights.
Outside the House, there are District advocates who also are not fans of this measure. They consider it insufficient and a distraction from the main issue: statehood. A movement for granting the District statehood has been around for decades, though it has not made much progress. (In 1993, when the Democrats controlled the White House and Congress, a statehood measure lost in the House on a 2-to-1 vote.) Bill Moseley, a registered Democrat and member of Stand Up for Democracy in DC, which advocates for statehood, is dissatisfied with the bill: “While I’m not statehood or nothing,” he said, “I do view this compromise as a dead end. It prevents any future moves on fuller rights further down the road, so why give up?”