Barack Obama Should Make D.C. Voting Rights a Priority.

Friday, January 16, 2009

PRESIDENT-ELECT Barack Obama told us yesterday that he's a "strong proponent" of D.C. voting rights but that "this is just a pure political issue: Can we get it done?" If politics is the major obstacle, the answer should be an emphatic and overdue yes.

As Mr. Obama noted, the legislative agenda is crammed, and D.C. voting rights take on "a partisan flavor." An economic stimulus package will, and should, be at the top of Mr. Obama's agenda. But the voting rights bill is ready to go and would not require Mr. Obama to expend much political capital. The measure, which was passed in the House of Representatives last session but fell just short of the votes needed to stop a filibuster in the Senate, would give the overwhelmingly Democratic District a true voice in the House while also creating an extra seat for solidly Republican Utah.

Mr. Obama emphasized that he and his family planned to be active leaders in the D.C. community. He said that he would try to make regular visits to local schools and that he and his wife, Michelle, would attempt to use their "leverage" as leaders to "get kids and parents and teachers excited about the possibilities of an education." Mr. Obama also said he would "be engaged in homeless issues" and would "invite people into the White House in ways that haven't been done before."

That Mr. Obama seems dedicated to District issues is encouraging, but leadership by example isn't enough. For 200 years, the government has treated the residents of its capital as second-class citizens. With Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, and a "strong proponent" in the White House, there is no reason that a bill giving the District a true representative in Congress shouldn't pass -- and soon.

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