After Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders met with President Obama at the White House on Thursday, Sanders explained that he would keep campaigning through the District of Columbia primary on June 14—the last contest on a very long schedule for both the Democratic and the Republican parties. “The major point that I will be making to the citizens of the District of Columbia is that I am strongly in favor of DC statehood. The state of Vermont which I represent has about the same number of residents that Washington, DC, has—except we have two United States senators and one congressman with full rights, while DC does not. That does not make any sense.”
This was not a new line from Sanders. He has been supporting DC statehood initiatives since he was a member of the House back in the 1990s and the senator from Vermont is currently a co-sponsor of the “New Columbia Admission Act,” a bill that would lay groundwork for making Washington, DC, the 51st state.
Sanders has a strong ally in this fight: Hillary Clinton. The former secretary of state wrote a detailed article for The Washington Informer last month, in which she argued that support for DC statehood is critical to “restoring faith in democracy.”
“[Enfranchisement] isn’t solely a matter of individual rights. In the case of our nation’s capital, we have an entire populace that is routinely denied a voice in its own democracy,” explained Clinton. “Washington, DC, is home to nearly 700,000 Americans—more than the entire population of several states. Washingtonians serve in the military, serve on juries and pay taxes just like everyone else. And yet they don’t even have a vote in Congress.”
“Hard as it is to believe, America is the only democracy on the planet that treats the residents of its capital this way,” continued Clinton, who argued that: Lacking representatives with voting power, the District of Columbia is often neglected when it comes to federal appropriations. Many of the District’s decisions are also at the mercy of right-wing ideologues in Congress, and as you can imagine, they don’t show very much of it. Everything from commonsense gun laws to providing women’s health care and efforts to cut down on drug abuse has been halted by Republicans, who claim the District is an exception to their long-held notion that communities ought to be able to govern themselves.”
The consensus between Sanders and Clinton is important as the Democratic Party shapes its agenda going forward. As recently as 2000, the Democratic platform declared support from what should be a basic premise of a party that advocates for voting rights and robust democracy: statehood for the District of Columbia. The platform on which Al Gore ran for the presidency that year declared, “Just as our country has been the chief apostle of democracy in the world, we must lead by example at home. This begins with our nation’s capital. The citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to autonomy in the conduct of their civic affairs, full political representation as Americans who are fully taxed, and statehood.”
In 2004, however, the word “statehood” was dropped. While the party still advocated for equal rights and representation, it no longer declared that the residents of Washington, DC, should be able to lock in their rights as residents of a state that is equal to every other American state. Despite efforts by DC officials and statehood advocates to get the word restored in 2008 and 2012, the platform has remained vague on the issue.
That should change in 2016.
Note to Readers: The final slots on delegate slates and standing committees for the Republican and Democratic national conventions are being filled. My partner has accepted an invitation to serve as a standing committee representative from Wisconsin in Philadelphia, as a platform representative for the Wisconsin Sanders delegation.