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D.C. Delegation

2 GOP Members Of Council Absent

By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 29, 2004; Page A28

Life has never been easy for District of Columbia Republicans, a red state party in the bluest jurisdiction of them all.

Their push for a change in the national party platform -- to support voting representation in Congress -- has been ruled out by President Bush. One of their two citywide elected officials, D.C. Council member David A. Catania, was bounced from the 19-member delegation by D.C. Republican Committee Chairman Betsy Werronen for refusing to support Bush's call for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

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The other, council member Carol Schwartz, is boycotting the convention in sympathy. It doesn't help that Schwartz's son, Doug Levitt, a 32-year-old journalist-turned-musician, is organizing an anti-Bush national bus tour by Hollywood artists and entertainers.

District Republicans say the tumult is business as usual for a party that resides in the Electoral College's most liberal jurisdiction. The GOP makes up just 8 percent of registered voters and is outnumbered by Democrats 10 to 1. Of 205,748 voters who turned out in 2000, just 18,073 supported Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Their votes are hardly crucial. Washington has not backed a Republican for president since joining the Electoral College in 1964. As for the absence of two local elected GOP leaders, Werronen said, "It really doesn't say anything about the state of our party. Our party is resilient. Our party is strong. Those were individual choices. I wish both of them were with us, there's no question about it. [But] David has done what he feels is right, so we just move on."

Catania said he has "gotten over it," but he added that Werronen "cared more about her stature among the national party than she did about promoting the local party." He added, "She's now left with trying to build a party having completely severed relations with one of her two elected officials. I wish her luck."

Schwartz calls Werronen's treatment of Catania disrespectful, and she said that while she supports the president, his proposed amendment is an "odious and unnecessary" idea that has alienated parts of the national party.

D.C. Republicans are accustomed to savoring small victories, and despite their troubles, there have been a few this summer. For the first time in its history, the local GOP committee has its own office and meeting place on K Street, not just a room on at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Capitol Hill.

It also scored modestly with the party's national platform committee.

After a public hearing in June, the local GOP committee endorsed an eight-plank plan calling on the national party to support voting representation in Congress for the District, starting with the House of Representatives.

The D.C. GOP plan also included a call for elimination of the requirement that Congress approve all locally passed laws and a limit on congressional meddling in the city's $8.7 billion annual budget bill. Bush and the Senate have endorsed the latter provision.

D.C. Republicans also want the federal government to make a payment to the city, in lieu of property taxes, for nontaxable land. Otherwise, they say, the District should keep income taxes earned by commuters -- as the states can do -- instead of sending that revenue to surrounding states.

Werronen said the effort would be a success if only one of eight measures was adopted.

On Thursday, the GOP platform committee did not mention voting rights, but it supported "yielding more budgetary and legal autonomy to local elected officials." It also opposed returning the District to Maryland or any other state, which some Republicans in Congress have proposed as a way to address the voting issue. The platform urged the federal government to work closely with the city "to ensure maximum public safety" while respecting D.C. budget constraints.

Despite the vague language, District Republicans declared themselves happy. The modest point, delegation Chairman Susan R. Denniston said, "is to get some favorable publicity so we can get people attracted to our local party, when they see that we're a party that really cares about the citizens of the District. Being a small party, we listen to everyone."

It is also a diverse party. Counting alternates, the delegation has 18 men and 16 women -- 22 Caucasian, nine African American, two Hispanic and one Asian American, and three openly gay members.

Up-and-comers in the group include Michael Monroe, at 25 the youngest delegate from the District, who is running as a long-shot challenger to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.); and Jerod Tolson, a business owner and challenger to D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7).

Among the highlights on the delegation's calendar this week is a Tuesday reception to be hosted by a notable Democrat, D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who held a similar event at the GOP convention four years ago in Philadelphia. A supporter whom Denniston would not identify also will host a lunch Thursday at the New York Yacht Club.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company