The Race for Nonmember
Sunday, September 3, 2006
Hang out for a while with Mike Panetta or James S. Bubar, candidates in the Sept. 12 Democratic primary for shadow U.S. representative, and it's easy to conclude that only the Shadow knows what a shadow representative is. And the shadow himself -- incumbent Ray Browne (D) -- is not running for reelection.
Many D.C. voters don't know about the peculiar system of electing shadow senators and representatives as unpaid lobbyists for D.C. statehood. These local officials have been elected since 1990, although they've had relatively little to do since 1993, when the House decisively slapped down a statehood bill.
On a sweltering Sunday morning at the Dupont Circle farmers market, Panetta, 35, dressed in khaki shorts and a yellow polo shirt, usually had to patiently explain, first, what the position is and, second, that no, he's not running against Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's longtime delegate to Congress.
"I had no idea there was a shadow representative office," said Heather D'Agnes, a U.S. Agency for International Development employee, as she sat on a curb by the Metro escalator and scanned a bright yellow campaign flier Panetta had given her. She wasn't the only one befuddled.
"I had to do a lot of educating out there when I was getting my 2,000 signatures," said Panetta, an assistant vice president for the advocacy group Grassroots Enterprise. "And when I told them it was an unpaid position and that I supported Eleanor Holmes Norton, usually they'd listen."
The paramount issue in what is now a two-person race -- John J. Forster dropped out last week -- is what form of representation, statehood or otherwise, is feasible for the District.
Statehood is also the issue in the race for shadow senator, where longtime Ward 8 activist Philip Pannell and Michael D. Brown -- known as "the other Michael Brown" in candidate forums that include Democratic mayoral candidate Michael A. Brown -- are running for the seat held since 1990 by Florence H. Pendleton (D). The incumbent is running as a write-in candidate after failing to gather enough valid signatures to be on the ballot. The other shadow senator, Paul Strauss, whose term ends in 2008, is running to be the Democratic Ward 3 council candidate.
Bubar touts his record of community involvement and experience in local politics. "He [Panetta] seems to be a nice guy, but he hasn't been around as long as I have," he said.
A California native and a Washington resident for 28 years, Bubar, 53, has been co-chairman of the District of Columbia Affairs Section of the D.C. Bar for three terms. He was an alternate member of the Democratic National Committee and a John F. Kerry delegate to the 2004 Democratic National Convention. He volunteers much of his time as commissioner of Babe Ruth Baseball in the District.
Bubar supports taxing nonresident income earned in the District. He supports legislation co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) that would give the District a voting member in the House of Representatives.
"I believe strongly in D.C. autonomy," he said.
Panetta said statehood is the way to accomplish that, someday. For now, he's supporting the Davis bill.