WAMU Coverage of the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and the District of Columbia hearing titled “Greater Autonomy for the Nation’s Capitol”
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The D.C. Statehood Vote – The Washington Post, November 20th, 1993
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The Washington Post, November 20th, 1993
Today the House of Representatives begins debate on whether the District of Columbia should become a state. The deliberation is historic, as will be the vote expected to follow this weekend. The issue is not the fate of statehood legislation this year: Supporters concede they have little chance of winning. It is whether a lopsided defeat will ultimately cost or break political ground for statehood. D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton contends that even in defeat, a vote `would give the undemocratic treatment of the District the serious national attention it would never attract in any other way.’ If that is the outcome, the statehood debate will be a milestone.
There is, after all, a historic wrong to be set right. The tax-paying, war-fighting citizens of the District, unlike citizens in the 50 states, have no control over their own governmental affairs. As residents of the nation’s capital, they are denied voting representation in the Congress, final word on the budgets and laws they enact, the ability to appoint their own prosecutors and judges and the ability to work out reciprocal taxing arrangements with neighboring jurisdictions. They are at all times subject to the whims of Congress.
We had hoped a way could be found for citizens here to enjoy the full political participation that is their due and still have their city remain the seat of the national government. But the defeat of a proposed constitutional amendment that would have given the District full congressional representation, and congressional inaction on other political reforms, made that outcome impossible. It became apparent that these goals could only be achieved in the context of statehood–but statehood that fulfilled certain clearly understood conditions.
As we said earlier this year, there are critical issues to be faced to make statehood feasible and desirable. We refer to a prenegotiated agreement or understanding with suburban representatives for a limited commuter tax, resolution of the congressionally created unfunded pension liability problem that threatens the District’s financial solvency and a predictable, stable and guaranteed payment to the new state.
Of the three issues, today’s statehood proposal addresses only the payment question. It eliminates the federal payment and replaces it with a payment in lieu of taxes arrangement that mirrors the funding scheme for other states with federal property within their borders. The merits of that alternative, as well as Congress’s role in addressing the other issues that could threaten the new state’s fragile viability, ought to receive a thorough airing this weekend. If a consensus can be reached on how best to approach those outstanding issues, this unprecedented debate, whatever the vote, will take statehood to a new and better place.
Tax Fairness for D.C. – The New York Times, October 30th, 1993
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The New York Times, October 30th, 1993
With a population of nearly 600,000, the District of Columbia has more people than Vermont, Wyoming or Alaska. Yet its Mayor and City Council have limited power. And the District is denied a voting representative in the same Congress that rules on its affairs.
The colonial character of this arrangement was underscored this week when Congress voted on the Washington D.C. budget, and grandstanding politicians from other places tried to deny its citizens the right to spend their own money as they see fit.
The District’s budget totaled $3.7 billion. The $3 billion came from District citizens in taxes; all but a tiny fraction of the rest is what the Federal Government pays for occupying 41 percent of the District’s land, on which it pays no taxes. The Federal payment is a miserly sum, given that the Government presence costs the District $2 billion a year in lost tax revenues.
Still, many in government see the District as a pawn in a political game. George Bush once vetoed the city budget, forcing the District to ban the use of even locally raised tax revenues to furnish abortions for impoverished women. C-Span’s broadcast of the District’s budget vote showed the latest act in this political amateur hour.
Representative Dan Burton, Republican of Indiana, seemed not to have read the budget bill but that didn’t deter him. He questioned the salaries of the District’s City Council members, and condemned District voters who chose to return the former Mayor to office as a Councilman. He picked out random lines in the budget and asked the sponsors to explain them. This nitpicking came at the end of a tortuous 18-month process that the District suffers to get its budget.
Congress as usual? Perhaps. But imagine yourself a citizen of the District, with no voting representative in Congress, watching as Congressmen questioned not just the vote you had cast in your city, but your entitlement to tax dollars that you had paid to local government for local use. How angry would you be?
Mr. Burton rationalized his antics by contending that Federal tax dollars were at stake. But the bulk of the budget is D.C. tax money. The Federal payment that makes up the rest is rent, and skimpy rent at that. Congress oversteps in trying to control how its bargain-basement rent is spent. Mr. Burton was performing for the people back home. But what people in Indiana need to see is that their Congressman is trampling on the rights of citizens just like them, all for a little time on camera. No wonder Congress was besieged by District demonstrators agitating for statehood.
It’s hypocrisy that America champions democracy abroad while refusing fair political treatment to the citizens of its own capital.
D.C. Statehood – The Washington Post, January 13th, 1993
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The Washington Post, January 13th, 1993
It is time to right a great historic wrong. Since 1800, the residents of Washington, D.C., have been the only tax paying U.S. citizens denied representation in Congress. With the election of Bill Clinton, it has become politically possible to give them the status that is their due. We believe now is the time to begin defining and then putting in place an arrangement that puts District residents on an equal footing with all Americans.
It has long been our preference to have this city remain the seat of the national government with increased municipal powers, which, taken as whole, would give residents the same democratic rights enjoyed by other citizens. The goals have included full voting representation in the House and the Senate, complete independence from Congress on budget and legislative matters, control over the local court system including the appointment of judges, an automatic and predictable federal payment formula and the ability to negotiate reciprocal income tax arrangements with neighboring jurisdictions. Achieving each, as a strategy was far more important than what the final package ended up being called. As a step toward that end, Congress passed a proposed constitutional amendment 15 years ago that would have given the city full congressional representation. Only 16 of the required 38 states ratified the proposal, mostly for partisan reasons. Republican lawmakers wanted no more democrats in Congress (and, as some suspect, many legislators wanted no more blacks there as well). The only achievable alternative, if citizens here are to enjoy the full political participation that is there due, is statehood.
Denying District residents the right to send people to Congress who can vote on taxes or decide questions of war and peace while at the same time expecting them to shoulder the burdens of citizenship–including the obligation to pay taxes and to fight and die for their country–is wrong. Forcing local officials to perform their duties under today’s restrictive conditions is no better.
Congress at its whim passes laws regulating purely local matters, including the spending of local tax money. Even the city’s own elected delegate to the House of Representatives can’t vote on final passage of any legislation, including District-only matters.
Statehood opponents argue that the voteless status of the District descends directly form the intent of the Framers of the Constitution-from Washington, Madison and their peers. True, the constitution calls for a federal district (and the statehood proposal allows for one, leaving the `federal seat of government’ to consist of the mall, monuments and principal U.S. government buildings). At the same time the government of the United States moved here in 1800, the largest city, New York, had a population of little more than 60,000. What would Washington and Madison say about a voteless city 10 times larger than that? We know what they said in 1776 in behalf of a colonist population only four times larger that today’s Washington, D.C. They wanted to be among those who governed themselves. So do the citizens of Washington today.
PRESIDENT OPPOSED TO SUFFRAGE IN DISTRICT – The Washington Post, May 9th, 1909
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With great vigor and with that clear insight into the ultimate meaning of the Constitution of the United States which has made him reckoned one of the foremost constitutional lawyers of the country, President Taft defended last night that provision of the Constitution which places the District of Columbia under the Federal government. He declared unequivocally that the whole people of the United States should have in its charge the government of the District, through its representatives in Congress, and that the people of the District must bow to the wisdom of the forefathers who declared in favor of this plan of government for the National Capital. The President stands, therefore, absolutely opposed to granting to the people of the District the right of suffrage.
President Taft made it equally clear that he is inclined to favor a single head for the District government as opposed to the triumvirate form of government which now exists here. He said, indeed, that he has not yet made up his mind just what changes in the form of government for the District he will recommend to Congress next fall. But he declared, in discussing the merits of the single head and the triumvirate, that he was convinced the single head was preferable where the functions of that head were merely executive. If legislative functions were attached to the head of a government, he said, the triumvirate was the better. Inasmuch as the head of the District government is merely executive, without legislative functions, the inference is clear that the President favors “one-man” rule for the District.
The President’s speech was delivered at the banquet tendered him in the New Willard ballroom by the business men of Washington. It was a dramatic finale of what resolved itself into a joint debate between the President of the United States and Justice Stafford, of the Supreme Court of the District. Justice Stafford, in an eloquent speech brought forth round after round of applause and made the blood tingle in the veins of every Washingtonian who heard him, pleaded for a voice in the national government for the people of the District. He pleaded that the 350,000 people of the District be not cut off forever from their birthright of freedom and no taxation without representation.
He asked the people be allowed to elect a senator and two representatives, who should have equal rights with other members of Congress. The people, he declared, are becoming slothful, unmindful of their duties, under the present system, but he predicted that there would come a day when, a million strong, the people of the District would not remain quiescent under the present scheme of government.
When President Taft arose to make the reply to Justice Stafford, who, as spokesman for the people, had voiced his idea of the greatest need of the District, there was the keenest interest evinced in his reply. The several hundred prominent men of affairs of the District were not kept in doubt long. The President, without a moment’s hesitation, launched into a vigorous defense of the Constitution, so far as it relates to the government of the District. He laughed at the argument of Justice Stafford, that the people of Washington were slaves, and declared that they were the envied of the peoples of all other cities of the Union.
Nevertheless, it appears that the President and Justice Stafford did not join issues directly in their debate. For Justice Stafford argued, not for suffrage in municipal government of the country and for a voice in those separate interests which directly concern the people here. The President, on the other hand argued that the framers of the Constitution had precluded all idea of the District of Columbia being governed directly by the people of the District.
Those who sat at the raised table at the west of the room were:
John Joy Edson, chairman of the joint committee; President Taft, Vice President Sherman, J.H. Small, president of the Board of Trade; W.F. Gude, president of the Chamber of Commerce; Speaker Cannon, Postmaster General Hitchcock, Theodore W. Noyes, Charles -J. Bell, Representative J. Van Vechten Olcott, Secretary of Commerce and Labor Nagel, Arthur C. Moses, Scott C. Bone, Representative Samuel W. Smith, Representative Vreeland, James F. Oyster, Allen D. Albert, j.r., Representative Philip Campbell, Commissioner Macfarland, Edward McLean, Representative George A. Pearre, Commissioner West, Charles C. Glover, Representative A. S. Burleson, Commissioner Judson, Clarence F. Norment, D.J. Callahan, Representative Edward L. Taylor, A. Lisner.
Prof. Gregory Favors It – The Washington Post, July 10th, 1883
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The Washington Post, July 10th, 1883
“Yes, I thoroughly believe in suffrage in the District,” said Professor James G. Gregory, of Howard university, to a Post reporter, in answer to the question if he favored the present agitation for giving the citizens votes. “Yes, I am in favor of it,” he repeated. “I think the people would be much more contented if they had suffrage. You can see how the people are anxious to have some part in their own government by the interest they take in the choice of the school trustees. Why, there are sometimes more than a half dozen candidates in a single district and any number of delegations going to the commissioners in favor of this or that man. This one matter serves as a sort of outlet for their political feelings.”
“What do you think is the reason for opposition to suffrage?”
“I think that one reason why many oppose giving the citizens suffrage is that they are afraid of the colored vote. They think the colored man is top ignorant to have anything to do with the District affairs. Now, this is a great mistake. Within the past seven or eight years a great change has taken place. The colored people have been greatly influenced by those of their race who have received an education. In some families, perhaps, where the parents have no had the opportunities of books, their children have, and the influence of those children on the home is very marked. Many have been admitted to the public schools and the night schools. Then many of the colored people have become educated by business. In many cases they have prospered and have become property owners. Oh, no, it is a mistake to say that there is any danger from their ignorance in giving them the franchise.”
“Do you believe in universal suffrage?”
“No, I do not say that suffrage should be without limit. Perhaps it would be well to have some property and educational qualification. That is a very broad question. I believe suffrage should be granted , because of the value it would prove the citizens as a political school. We send out children to school to be educated to become citizens, but there is another education– a political education– that the citizens should receive. As it is now very few of the citizens have much of an idea about the Government. They do not discuss the actions of the commissioners as they discuss in other cities municipal affairs. We pay our taxes and that is the end of it. We do not think. Everything is done by the commissioners merely making suggestions and asking for appropriations. This is not the way to become citizens. How do they do in other cities? Why, they meet, discuss affairs, and vote upon their intelligent and deliberate opinions. Suffrage would educate the people in government, in the finance ad in the duties of citizenship.”
“Do you think the District affairs would be managed as economically under popular government?” inquired the reporter. “Was not the opposite found to be the case when there was suffrage?”
“I think that the state of affairs was more the result of circumstances than the system. Before the war nothing had been done for the city. When I came to Washington it was a mudhole. After the war improvements were projected on a large scale, and what it required many years to do in other cities was done here in a short time. Perhaps Governor Shepherd went rather too fast, but you can see what has been accomplished. There are many who object to giving the poor man the ballot because they are afraid property-holders will suffer. Now, the poor man is interested in having property protected. If he has no property, he hope to acquire some, and this will keep him from making any laws injurious to property rights. I lived in Cleveland for some years, where some of the richest men in the country live, and I never saw anything to cause any alarm.”
“Do you think the citizens would take any more interest in the government, or feel any responsibility in its right management if they could vote?”
“Certainly, they would feel that they had something at stake. Then look at the injustice of the thing– to deprive a man of his highest right as a citizen. If we lived in a State of Territory we would have a vote. Why should we be refused it here?”
“Is not Congress given full control over the District?” the reporter asked.
“Certainly; but I do not believe that power implies a right to take away the citizen’s vote. There is not another city in the Union where the same thing is done.”
“What would be your plan for the government of the District?”
“Well, I believe in having three commissioners as now, and if Congress insisted on the right of representation in return for paying half the District expenses, would give to the President the appointment of the engineer commissioner. The other two should be chosen by the people. I believe something of the kind will soon come, too, for the people generally are favoring it.”
Suffrage in the District – The Washington Post, January 24, 1880
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The Washington Post, January 24, 1880
We cannot understand how any man who believes in the fundamental principles of republican government can seriously contend for the continued denial of suffrage to the inhabitants of the District of Columbia.
If it be true that governments derive their just power only from the consent of the governed, what justice is there in ruling this great community– a population equal to that of the State of Nevada– by a system that does not ask consent, and which assumes the right to defy the wishes of the people?
If our fathers of the Revolution were justified in protesting, rebelling, and fighting against taxation without representation, if they were not criminals, rather than heroes, for going to war on such a question, if their memories should be revered and their example held up as worthy of imitation by their descendants, how can taxes be gathered, year after year, from the property-holders of this District, who have no more votes than the negro babies Central Africa, no representation than the mummies in the Smithsonian institution?
We can conceive of no circumstances under which a Democratic Congress can deny the right of suffrage and local self-government to a peaceful, law-abiding community without direct violation of the very essence of the Democratic creed. While it is true that the Constitution devolves on Congress the duty of providing a government for this District, while it is true that the people have no recourse but to accept such provision as Congress makes, it will not be contended by any sane man that Congress has a right to violate the spirit of the Constitution and set up the most detested features of despotic systems of government in the Capital of this Republic.
Here, if anywhere on the continent, we ought to be able to present to all the world a fair illustration of the practicability and advantages of Republican institutions. But we can’t do this in cities that are denied the ballot. And when we say that this great and intelligent community is incapable of self-government and not fit to be trusted with the ballot, we present a strong condemnation of the basis of our whole system; we direct encouragement to the opponents of free institutions.
It is said that suffrage has been abused here. Granted. There isn’t a doubt that it was shamefully abused. There is no question that great wrongs were perpetrated and that numerous evils prevailed under the system that was abolished in 1874. But where is the city, where is the State, in which suffrage has not been abused? Where is the community in which righteousness has always been voted up and iniquity always voted down? Where are the people who have made no mistakes in the selection of officers? Where, on this continent, shall we look for a town, city, county or State in which the ballot has always worked for the greatest good of the greatest number? If suffrage is to be denied to all who fail to use it always with wisdom and justice, let us call in a king and down with the ballot-box.
There is reason to believe that many of the evils of the past will not be repeated here when self-government is re-established. When corruption had its carnival here it was having an equally jolly time in many other places. That era is past. All over the country there has been great improvement in municipal management. Public plunderers have been brought to grief and better men have been put in authority. With the experience of the past as a warning and guide, the people of this District would avoid the reproaches and scandals which caused the last radical change in their government.
But because it is a right; because it is a republican, because it is democratic, because it is in accordance with the great principles on which this Republic stands because no Democrat can consistently deny it, we are compelled to favor the demand that the ballot be restored to this community.
District Representation – The Washington Post, January 22, 1879
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The Washington Post, January 22, 1879
With the exception of the Indian tribes, the only community within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States unrepresented in Congress is the District of Columbia.
Territories whose few inhabitants are scattered over a broad expanse like the masts of ships on the ocean, and which neither commerce nor manufactures, send their delegates to Congress to represent their interests, and procure for them such legislation as shall tend to develop their resources and afford encouragement and protection to their people the embryo state advances toward maturity.
States with half the population of this District have their representatives in the House, and have an equal voice in the Senate with the oldest, largest, richest, and most populous members of the family states.
It is only here, at the capital of a country whose government is based on suffrage, that suffrage is unknown.
Holding to the theory that governments derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed, and that the ballot is the proper mode of expressing that consent, our Government denies the ballot to the inhabitants of its capital city.
Believing and teaching that is should be no taxation without representation, and that such taxation is tyranny, our Government levies taxes on the property of this people, and if those taxes are not paid it sells the property under the red flag and the hammer of a Government auctioneer. Thousands of homes have thus been sold here during the last few years.
We cannot see how any man, whatever may have been the result of his observation here in times past, can hold to the Democratic creed, to the great underlying principles of free government, and oppose the representation of this District in the law-making department of our governmental mechanism.
And because out faith in true Democracy is a vital reality, and not a sham, we approve the proposition to have the District of Columbia represented in the House. We see no reason why this community should be an exception to the general rule- why all should have a voice in the Capitol and we be mute.
It may be urged that the horde of negroes who swarm here will be used to elect a delegate who will misrepresent our people. We do not believe it. Intelligence and social influence, if rightly employed, will so direct public opinion that the election will be a fair expression of the wishes of our people.
As the delegate will not vote, and as his influence will depend on his being in accord with the dominant party in Congress, there will be no temptation to resort to any of those schemes and tricks that brought reproach upon popular suffrage here some years ago.
But whatever may be the fears of the timid and doubtful, we see no way in which an honest believer in Democracy can deny representation to this community. The taxpayer has a right to be heard. A delegate can speak for him. Consistency demands that this proposition should not fail for want of the support of Democrats in Congress.
Indirectly mentioned in today’s Washington Post
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By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009; Page B03
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer vowed yesterday to hold a vote “in the very near future” on legislation that would give the District a full voting seat in Congress.
“As majority leader, I tell you I intend to bring that bill to the floor,” Hoyer (D-Md.) told the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He criticized Washington’s status, saying the city is “the only capital in the free world whose citizens do not have a voting member of their parliament.”
The hearing marked the first step in the bill’s path through Congress. It drew an overflow crowd to the wood-paneled room, including the measure’s sponsor, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and numerous activists — one in a purple colonial-style coat and a tricorn hat.
These photos were taken in 2006 in the same room where representatives were discussing the same unconstitutional bill.
Its sad that while times have changed, my colonial status has not…
YouTube Video featuring the 6pm News Coverage Mashup of the 2009 DC House Voting Rights Act
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Today was the first hearing for the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009. Although I feel this bill is flagrantly unconstitutional, I attended the hearing……
This video features three clips I recorded and the 6pm coverage of three Washington, DC news organizations. The video starts out with my friend Chris on the microphone outside of the Rayburn building, then cuts to the ABC7 coverage, then cuts to the line waiting to get into the hearing, then cuts to the DC Fox5 coverage, then cuts to my footage inside of the hearing room, which features DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, and finally concludes with NBC4’s coverage.
In each of the clips you can spot me in the footage wearing my colonist outfit, which was worn to highlight the fact that DC residents are actually colonists who are forced to live under the tyranny of 535 unelected members of congress and suffer taxation without representation.