The D.C. Plantation: Freedom Soon?
New York Times, Nov. 25, 1991
The effort to grant statehood to Washington, D.C., could well become a campaign issue in 1992.
A bill that would admit the District to the Union as New Columbia, the 51st state, was introduced in the Senate on Thursday. And hearings on the House version of the bill saw a welcome burst of enthusiasm. Three Democratic Presidential candidates testified in favor of statehood and others sent messages of support.
That’s as it should be. The District’s treatment is a scandal, albeit one with a long history. The Federal Government runs the city like a plantation, denying it a voting representative in Congress, forbidding it even rudimentary self-rule and limiting severely its ability to raise revenue.
President Bush favors keeping the District on its knees. But Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Gov. Douglas Wilder of Virginia and Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa testified before Congress that the District deserved to become a full partner in the Union. The three were on the mark.
Washingtonians have long been denied rights that the rest of us take for granted. They weren’t allowed to vote in Presidential elections until 1964. And it was not until the Home Rule Act of 1973 that they could elect a mayor and city council; both had previously been appointed.
The Home Rule Act left the Federal Government’s dictatorial powers intact. Congress can overturn any law the District council passes. A powerful senator can throw some cash to friends by attaching amendments to the city’s budget bill. And one meddlesome Congressman can by himself trigger bearings on any law by simply raising an objection to it.
The Federal Government is not above extortion. Mr. Bush recently vetoed the city budget, forcing the District to ban the use of locally raised tax revenues to furnish abortions for impoverished women. And Congress used similar blackmail to force repeal of a law that made gun dealers and manufacturers liable for injuries from assault weapons. The citizens have reinstated the measure; gun-lobbying senators may yet thwart it. The District’s non-voting representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, spends much of her time fending off odious infringements like these.
Fiscal restrictions abound. The Federal Government’s real estate is exempt from taxation; the city is forbidden to tax the earnings of commuters, most of whom are Federal employees. District officials say these restrictions cause the city to forgo $1.9 billion in revenues per year. Last year the Federal Government paid a paltry $430 million in return. Denied sources of revenue, the city levies some of the highest taxes in the nation.
Those who oppose statehood typically offer weak constitutional arguments against it. It seems fairly clear, however, that Republicans who oppose statehood do so because the District would send two more Democrats to the Senate.
But most Americans understand democracy well. The issue of statehood for the District raises an obvious question: How can we justify championing democracy abroad while inflicting second-class citizenship in the nation’s capital? The answer is obvious, too: We can’t.
This newspaper article was obtained from the Congressional Record in the Library of Congress related to H.R. 51, The New Columbia Admission Act of 1993. The article is not in the public domain but is being republished here under the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law in order to continue my advocacy for full representation for the American citizens of the District of Columbia.