A hearing was held yesterday on the possibility of statehood for the residents of Washington, D.C. Like Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia has no voting representative in Congress. Like Puerto Rico, the people of D.C. have been trying to gain full citizenship rights for more than a century. And like Puerto Rico, the majority of D.C.’s voters voted for statehood in their last plebiscite — which took place in 1938.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), opened the proceedings with a statement pointing out the problem with this arrangement in terms that will be familiar to those who follow the similar discussions held on the subject of Puerto Rico’s status:
These residents work, study, raise families and start businesses here, just like people do in all 50 states. And they serve in the military and die for our country, just like other Americans. Yet when it comes to having a voice in Congress, these men and women do not count. In my view, this situation is simply not fair. Neither is it consistent with our values as a country. Perhaps most importantly, though, it’s not consistent with the Golden Rule: treat other people the way we want to be treated.
The bill discussed at the hearing, S. 132, the New Columbia Admission Act of 2013, would shrink Washington, D.C., to the size of the government offices and create a new state, New Columbia. The nation’s capital would be surrounded by a single state.
Apart from Senator Carper, the only other Senator who attended was Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who suggested that the bill had no chance of passage.
However, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting representative of D.C. in Congress, pointed out that the hearing is an integral part of the process of working toward statehood. Puerto Rico has also had such hearings, the most recent just last year. Norton was clear in recognizing the importance of such actions in the ongoing process.
Like Puerto Rico, Washington D.C. was also offered other options apart from statehood that would address the concerns over civil rights that come with a lack of representation in the legislature.
Rep. Norton was quoted as saying, “I think residents appreciate [the consideration of other options to statehood] because budget autonomy and legislative autonomy have overwhelming support in the city and in the council. It’s just that we know that if we got them both, we’d still be second-class citizens.”
Unlike residents of Puerto Rico, people living in D.C. have been able, since 1964, to vote in presidential elections and have three votes in the Electoral College. They also are required to pay federal income tax on D.C.-sourced income.
However, they also have a song of sorts on the subject, broadcast in 1929:
How long, O Americans, must we of Washington be compelled to say and to sing: ‘My county, ’tis of thee Not land of liberty, For District folks; Where rights for which the fathers died Are now denied and crucified, Mock’d at as jokes’?”
While supporters of statehood for D.C. had realistic expectations for the hearing, they also expressed satisfaction that the conversation on the subject has been reopened. It had been 20 years since the last hearing was held.