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Posted at 01:28 PM ET, 09/05/2012

Forty years of lip service: D.C. in national party platforms


Vincent Gray and Eleanor Holmes Norton failed to get “statehood” added back to the Democratic platform, but D.C. platform language has ebbed and flowed throughout the past four decades. (Gerald Martineau for The Washington Post)
Yesterday, with little fanfare, members of the Democratic party ratified their quadrennial platform at the Charlotte convention. Contained therein are two sentences pertaining to the District of Columbia, calling for “equal citizenship rights” for its residents.

The language was the subject of a minor controversy, with Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton striving to have their party include the word “statehood” in the platform for the first time since 2000.

The S-word was pulled in 2004 as the city embarked on a new strategy to secure a voting seat in the House through congressional legislation. The talk of statehood, it was thought at the time, could undercut support for the half-measure. But the House compromise has been essentially dead since 2008, when a gun amendment supported by many Senate Democrats fouled its passage. Now Norton, Gray and most local activists have tried to put statehood back atop the D.C. democracy agenda.

But “statehood” is not in the new Democratic platform. Norton, in a Tuesday news release, tried to spin things by noting that the platform “endorsed statehood and all its particulars” without actually mentioning it.

With all the tumult over a single word, it’s worth looking at how the District’s status has been treated in the major party platforms in the 40 years since the city’s last major step in self-determination, the 1973 Home Rule Act.

The Democrats, while more supportive of D.C. residents’ rights than Republicans, have generally been relatively terse over the years, devoting a sentence or two. Congressional “voting representation” appeared in Democratic platforms in 1972 and 1976; support for a then-pending constitutional amendment appeared in 1980.

“Statehood,” in fact, did not appear as a plank until 1988, persisting through 2000.

Republican platforms tell a different story. In 1972, just prior to passage of the Home Rule Act, the Republican platform had perhaps the most expansive language either party has put forward in the past four decades, citing support for “human rights, social betterment and political participation” for D.C. residents.

Even after home rule was reality, the party was on record supporting D.C. representation in both congressional houses and “full home rule over those matters that are purely local.”

But in the 1980s, the rights of District residents were simply not mentioned at all. And in 1992, amid fiscal crisis in the city and two years after then-mayor Marion Barry’s drug arrest, the District reappeared, in a call for “closer and responsible Congressional scrutiny of the city, federal oversight of its law enforcement and courts, and tighter fiscal restraints over its expenditures.” The Republicans explicitly opposed statehood for the first time that year, as well, a sentiment repeated in 2000, 2004 and 2012. In the past 20 years, the GOP has devoted extended passages to the city, addressing gun laws, schools and fiscal issues in addition to opposing statehood.

You can read the platform statements in full below, starting with the Democrats; special thanks to the University of California at Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project for making this possible.

1972 Democratic Party Platform , under “Taking Part in the Political Process”:

Full home rule for the District of Columbia, including an elected mayor-city council government, broad legislative power, control over appointments, automatic federal payment and voting representation in both Houses of Congress; ...

1976 Democratic Party Platform , under “Civil and Political Rights”:

We support ... full home rule for the District of Columbia, including authority over its budget and local revenues, elimination of federal restrictions in matters which are purely local and voting representation in the Congress ...

1980 Democratic Party Platform , under “Civil Rights”:

Both the ERA and District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendments to the Constitution must be ratified and our full commitment must be given to those efforts.

1984 Democratic Party Platform : Nothing. However, a Washington Post article from June 1984 indicates that a draft platform endorsed “statehood for the District of Columbia under the name ‘New Columbia.’ ”

1988 Democratic Party Platform :

WE BELIEVE that this country’s democratic processes must be revitalized ... by supporting statehood for the District Of Columbia ...

1992 Democratic Party Platform , under “Responsibility — Responsible Officials”:

And we need fair political representation for all sectors of our country — including the District of Columbia, which deserves and must get statehood status.

1996 Democratic Party Platform , under “Political reform”:

Finally, we believe all Americans have a right to fair political representation — including the citizens of the District of Columbia who deserve full self-governance, political representation, and statehood.

2000 Democratic Party Platform , under “Renewing Our Democracy and Campaign Finance Reform”:

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.

2004 Democratic Party Platform , under “A Strong American Community”:

As we encourage democracy around the world, we must extend democracy here at home. We support equal rights to democratic self-government and Congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.

2008 Democratic Party Platform , under “District of Columbia”:

Our civil rights leaders and many Americans of every background have sacrificed too much for us to tolerate continuing denial to the nearly 600,000 residents of our nation’s capital of the benefits of full citizenship, especially the vote, that are accorded to citizens of every state. We support equal rights to democratic self-government and congressional representation for the citizens of our nation’s capital.

2012 Democratic Party Platform , under “District of Columbia”:

Every citizen of the United States is entitled to equal citizenship rights, including the 638,000 residents of the nation’s capital who pay federal taxes without representation. The American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., like the citizens of the 50 states, should have full and equal congressional rights and the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without congressional interference.

Now, for comparison, behold D.C.’s appearances in Republican platforms over the years:

1972 Republican Party Platform , under “The Individual and Government”:

We remain committed to a comprehensive program of human rights, social betterment and political participation for the people of the District of Columbia. We will build on our strong record in this area — a record which includes cutting the District of Columbia crime rate in half, aggressive support for a balanced transportation system in metropolitan Washington, initiation of a Bicentennial program and celebration in the national capital region, and support for the first Congressional Delegate in nearly a century. We support voting representation for the District of Columbia in the United States Congress and will work for a system of self-government for the city which takes fair account of the needs and interests of both the Federal Government and the citizens of the District of Columbia.

1976 Republican Party Platform , under “Puerto Rico, The District of Columbia and The Territories”:

The principle of self-determination also governs our positions on Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia as it has in past platforms. We ... support giving the District of Columbia voting representation in the United States Senate and House of Representatives and full home rule over those matters that are purely local.

1980 Republican Party Platform : Nothing.

1984 Republican Party Platform , under “Human Rights”:

The Republican Party commends President Reagan for accepting the Honorary Chairmanship of the campaign to erect a U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. and supports the efforts of the U.S. Holocaust Council in erecting such a museum and educational center.

1988 Republican Party Platform : Nothing.

1992 Republican Party Platform , under “The Nation’s Capital”:

We call for closer and responsible Congressional scrutiny of the city, federal oversight of its law enforcement and courts, and tighter fiscal restraints over its expenditures. We oppose statehood as inconsistent with the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution and with the need for a federal city belonging to all the people as our Nation’s Capital.

Also, under “Individual Rights”:

We applaud congressional Republicans for overturning the District of Columbia’s law blaming firearm manufacturers for street crime.

1996 Republican Party Platform , under, “The Nation’s Capital”:

The District of Columbia should be an example for the rest of the country. Instead, decades of domination by the Democrat party has left the city bankrupt and dangerous. Its residents — and all Americans — deserve better than that.
We reaffirm the constitutional status of the District of Columbia as the seat of government of the United States and reject calls for statehood for the District.
We call for structural reform of the city’s government and its education system. For both efficiency and public safety, we will transfer water and sewer management in the District to the Army Corps of Engineers or to a regional entity.
We endorse proposals by the congressional Republican Leadership for dramatic reductions in federal taxes — and the city’s own outrageous marginal tax rate — within the District. Bill Clinton opposes that idea. A Republican president will make it part of a comprehensive agenda to transform the nation’s capital into a renewal community, an enterprise zone leading the way for the rest of urban America to follow.

2000 Republican Party Platform , under “The Nation’s Capital”:

The District of Columbia is a special responsibility of the federal government and should be a model for urban areas throughout the country. Its downhill slide has at least been arrested, both through its internal efforts and the active intervention of congressional Republicans, who have taken unprecedented steps to help the city recover. Their D.C. homebuyers’ tax credit is helping to revitalize marginal neighborhoods; their landmark tuition assistance act has opened the doors of the nation’s colleges to D.C. students.
Now, to enhance the city’s economic security, reverse the movement out of the city, and ensure a safe and healthy environment for families, we advocate deep reductions in the District’s taxes, currently among the highest in the nation, and encourage user-friendly development policies.
We call once again for structural reform of the city’s schools so that none of its children will be left behind. We strongly support both charter schools and the opportunity scholarships for poor kids that have been repeatedly blocked by the administration.
We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution that our nation’s capital has a unique status and should remain independent of any individual state.

2004 Republican Party Platform , under “The District of Columbia”:

Washington, D.C., is a special responsibility of the federal government and should be a model for urban areas throughout the country. The city’s downhill slide was stopped in the 1990s, both through its own internal efforts and through the active intervention of Congressional Republicans. The D.C. homebuyer’s tax credit helped to revitalize marginal neighborhoods and should be reinstated. A landmark tuition assistance act opened the doors of America’s public colleges and universities to residents of the District. And, thanks to President Bush acting in concert with Republicans in Congress, District elementary and high school students are now benefiting from the $14 million D.C. School Choice initiative – the first federally-funded school choice demonstration program.
Local government reform is an issue of importance to both Congress and residents of the District. Recent city administrations have made great strides in improving the operations of city government and, as these efforts continue, we support yielding more budgetary and legal autonomy to local elected officials.
As the seat of our federal government and a likely target of the September 11th attacks, Washington, D.C. also plays a critical role in homeland security. The federal government should continue to work closely with city officials to ensure maximum public safety for both residents of and visitors to the District, and respect the unique budgetary constraints under which the city operates.
We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution that our nation’s capital has a unique status and should remain independent of any individual state.

2008 Republican Party Platform , under “Preserving the District of Columbia”:

The nation’s capital is a special responsibility of the federal government. Yet some of the worst performing schools in the country are mere blocks from the Department of Education, and some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country are blocks from the Department of Justice. Washington should be made a model city. Two major Republican initiatives — a first-time D.C. homebuyers credit and a landmark school choice initiative — have pointed the way toward a civic resurgence, and a third piece of GOP legislation now guarantees young D.C. residents significant assistance in affording higher education. Because Washington’s buildings and monuments may be top targets of terrorist groups, the federal government must work closely with local officials to improve security without burdening local residents. We call on the District of Columbia city council to pass laws consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case. We honor the contributions of the residents of the District of Columbia, especially those who are serving honorably, or have served, in our Armed Forces.

2012 Republican Party Platform , under “Preserving the District of Columbia”:

The nation’s capital city, a special responsibility of the federal government, belongs both to its residents and to all Americans, millions of whom visit it every year. Congressional Republicans have taken the lead in efforts to foster homeownership and open access to higher education for Washington residents. Against the opposition of the current President and leaders of the Democratic Party, they have fought to establish, and now to expand, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, through which thousands of low-income children have been able to attend a school of their choice and receive a quality education.
D.C.’s Republicans have been in the forefront of exposing and combating the chronic corruption among the city’s top Democratic officials. We join their call for a non-partisan elected Attorney General to clean up the city’s political culture and for congressional action to enforce the spirit of the Home Rule Act assuring minority representation on the City Council. After decades of inept one-party rule, the city’s structural deficit demands congressional attention.
As the center of our government, the District contains many potential targets for terrorist attacks. Federal security agencies should work closely with local officials and regional administrations like the Washington Area Metropolitan Transit Authority. A top priority must be ensuring that all public transportation, especially Metro rails, is functioning in the event of an emergency evacuation. Also, to ensure protection of the fundamental right to keep and bear arms, we call on the governing authority to pass laws consistent with the Supreme Court’s decisions in the District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago cases, which upheld the fundamental right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.

Also, under “The Sanctity and Dignity of Human Life”:

[W]e applaud U.S. House Republicans for leading the effort to protect the lives of pain-capable unborn children in the District of Columbia. ...

By  |  01:28 PM ET, 09/05/2012

 
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