D.C. statehood: Praise for a lost cause

    Now that Scotland has voted to stay in the United Kingdom – no surprise there; how often does Scotland ever make news? – let’s talk about the issue of statehood for Washington, D.C.



    You probably don’t get my segue. But D.C. statehood (or the lack thereof) came to mind this week while I was reading actor Alan Cumming’s plea for a Yes vote on Scottish independence. He wrote: “Scots feel they’ve been patronized and disrespected far too long….Scotland is weary of being ruled by governments it did not vote for. The Conservative Party has virtually no democratic mandate in Scotland, yet too often, Scotland has been ruled by a draconian Tory government from London.”

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    Well, that sounded familiar. Washington, D.C. is a deep-blue city whose denizens (typically, affluent white liberals and blue-collar blacks) are essentially ruled by a Congress they didn’t vote for – most notably these days, a right-wing House of Representatives they didn’t vote for. District residents pay federal taxes, but they have no voting members in the federal legislature. Their city government can’t set its own budget and enact its own laws without Republican congressmen sticking their noses in.

    That does seem unfair. The District has more people than Wyoming, but Wyoming gets two senators and a congressman; the District has more people than Vermont, but Vermont gets the same deal. What the District gets, mostly, is grief – especially on hot-button issues. Whenever it has tried to enact local progressive laws – to legalize medical marijuana, to establish a registry of gay domestic partners – conservatives on Capitol Hill have gummed up the machinery, delaying implementation for years.

    That explains why advocates of statehood packed a Senate hearing room this week, to support a bill, sponsored by Delaware Senator Tom Carper, that would make the District our 51st state – with a snazzy name, New Columbia. This kind of hearing doesn’t happen very often; the last time Congress heard a statehood bill, there was no Internet. And who knows if there will ever be a next time, because, in truth, D.C. statehood wins the Jude the Apostle Award.

    Jude the Apostle is the patron saint of lost causes.

    Carper was the only senator to sit through the entire hearing; virtually nobody else showed up. Probably because everybody knows that if statehood ever reached the Republican House, it would be dead on day one. Vincent Gray, the D.C. mayor, pleaded, “We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for the same treatment other Americans get” – but I’ll go way out on a limb here and predict that no House Republican would vote to create a new state that would send two additional Democrats to the U.S. Senate.

    Plus, there’s another hurdle, the U.S. Constitution. According to the Founders (Article 1, Section 8), Congress has the power to create “the Seat of Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places” therein. Granted, we have tweaked the Constitution many many times over the years (to enfranchise women, etcetera), but I’ll go out on a limb again and suggest that a Congress barely capable of keeping the government lights on is unlikely to sing Kumbaya for statehood.

    Meanwhile, check out the latest flap: The District recently passed a law decriminalizing pot possession; for less than an ounce, it’s a $25 civil fine. The law went on the books in July, with strong support from District blacks, because the vast majority of those arrested for possession are black. But a Republican congressman, Andy Harris, decided that he disliked the law. So he has inserted a line in the next federal budget, barring the District from spending any money on administering said law.

    That just doesn’t seem right. Philadelphia is also on the cusp of decriminalizing pot possession – a deal with the mayor sailed through City Council last night – but imagine how Philadelphians (particularly blacks, who comprise the vast majority of arrests) would feel if some random House Republican decided that he knew what was best for a citizenry he doesn’t represent.

    So, alas, the District’s 646,000 residents will continue to live under the federal heel, to be taxed without representation. Whoever said that life was fair? Certainly not Jude the Apostle.


    This and that…

    In a way, it’s too bad the Scots said no to secession, because I was hoping they’d inspire Rick Perry to reboot his ’11 rhetoric about taking Texas out of the Union. Just leave us Austin.

    The Democratic base: “Wow, they had 85 percent turnout in Scotland. If we could care only a fraction that much, and turned out for the midterms, we could keep the Senate Democratic!…….Nah.”

    In my youth as a foreign correspondent, I had a tough time finding hard news in Scotland. But alas, there was much to say about its heroin epidemic and fried-food diet.

    I hope everyone is watching Ken Burns’ PBS series The Roosevelts. Biggest takeaway so far: If Theodore Roosevelt – who advocated a government safety net and fought the one percenters – was around today and trying to win the GOP nomination, he’d never make it out of Iowa.

    In a nutshell, here’s the Sunday game schedule for the NFL: Non-arrested future brain damage patients play non-arrested future brain damage patients.



    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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