DNC Backing Expected for D.C. Vote in House

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Democratic National Committee is expected to throw its support today behind legislation to give the District a full seat in the House of Representatives, kicking off a grass-roots lobbying effort to get it passed.

A resolution in favor of the bill will be considered today at the group's winter meeting in Washington. It has the backing of party leaders, including DNC Chairman Howard Dean.

Donna Brazile, who authored the resolution and ran Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign, said the DNC's action "will allow us to begin a 50-state campaign" in which party supporters urge their legislators to vote for the bill.

The D.C. voting rights bill, reintroduced last month, has sparked hopes among city activists and politicians that the District could get a full seat in the House after decades of seeking more representation. The measure would permanently add two seats to the House -- one for the District, which is heavily Democratic, and the other for Utah, a Republican stronghold. The District would still not have voting senators.

The District's congressional delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), can vote only in committees and on amendments to legislation. She co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), who has been trying to line up Republican support.

Norton met Thursday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other House leaders, who are grappling with Democrats' concerns about the bill. Some are concerned that the measure awards Utah an extra electoral college vote and leaves the District's electoral votes unchanged.

Party members also worry that Utah's only Democratic congressman, Rep. Jim Matheson, could be hurt politically if the state's districts are redrawn to add an extra seat. There is no set timetable for hearings on the bill.

Democrats have long supported the principle of D.C. voting rights. "What's different now is the DNC is endorsing a specific resolution of that question," said Ilir Zherka, executive director of advocacy group D.C. Vote.

Brazile, the chairwoman of the DNC Voting Rights Institute and a former Norton chief of staff, said she hoped that after the resolution passed, Dean would write to every member of Congress urging them to back the legislation.

In addition, she said, the party could "utilize not just their enormous mailing list, but their ability to help galvanize Democrats" at a grass-roots level, working with groups such as MoveOn.org.

Norman J. Ornstein, a political expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said it was unclear how effective a grass-roots campaign for the legislation would be.

"MoveOn.org is going to be, first, consumed by the war, and after that, probably by the presidential campaign," he said.

But, he added, Brazile's involvement was significant. "She's got credibility out there," he said.

Asked to comment, MoveOn.org official Noah Winer said the group "fully supports full voting representation in Congress for D.C. and what Donna Brazile is doing."

Although Democrats control both houses of Congress, the bill's passage is far from assured. It would need 60 votes to avoid a filibuster in the Senate. Republicans have been divided over the measure, with some saying that a full seat for the District would be unconstitutional.

Norton has been pressing to get the bill to the House floor by next month. Democratic congressional staffs are examining ways to fine-tune it before sending it to the Judiciary and Government Reform committees.

House leadership is leaning toward a change in the legislation to make the potential new Utah seat at-large, in order to protect Matheson, according to a Democratic aide close to the discussions. Leaders also are weighing the possibility of adding the House seats next year, to avoid special elections.

Utah has been seeking an extra seat since the 2000 Census, when it fell just short of the numbers needed to expand its delegation. State lawmakers argued that thousands of Utah's Mormon missionaries working abroad should have been counted.

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