A high demand
If D.C. civic leaders want more from Obama, they might be setting a demand that’s impossible to meet in this highly partisan town and for a president managing a full slate of national and international affairs, including two wars.
Even when Democrats held the White House and majorities in the House and Senate, advocates for the District were unable to advance their voting rights agenda.
“Nothing runs more deeply in American ideals than the promise of self-government and voting rights,” said American University law professor Jamie B. Raskin, a Maryland state senator from Montgomery County. “But nothing runs more deeply in American politics than the idea of keeping some people from voting and participating.”
What might be required to enact change, Raskin said, is a “mass movement of protest to test the conscience of the nation. It’s clear that President Obama does not intend to be the personal leader of a liberation struggle. He’s dealing with multiple crises. . . . This is not a crisis until the people of Washington make it one.”
Yet, Raskin added, the city’s traditional role and demographics “make it tricky.” While longtime residents make up a sizable portion of the population, many are transients, as has been the case since the District was established as the nation’s capital.
That complicated reality hasn’t stopped the District’s quest for autonomy, which reached a historic milestone in the early 1970s with Congress’s enactment of home rule. D.C. voters could choose their mayor and council, but the District could not enact a budget or other significant legislation without congressional review.
The quest for self-determination endures. A voting rights proposal died in Congress two years ago when Republicans made its passage contingent on repealing the city’s gun-control laws.
“Historically, it’s not an easy road, regardless of who’s in the White House,” said Douglas Patton, a former D.C. deputy mayor. “It’s just the history of presidents. Not second-class citizens.”
Staff writer Chris L. Jenkins contributed to this report.