The Senate Betrayed Washington in Its Version of the D.C. Voting Rights Act

By Colbert I. King
Monday, March 9, 2009; 12:05 AM

In Washington, D.Colony, the politically correct thing to do is to praise the Senate for passing the D.C. House Voting Rights Act. Mayor Adrian Fenty set the pace following passage when he rushed out a press release expressing thanks to "Senators Joseph Lieberman, Harry Reid and Orrin Hatch for their tremendous support and leadership" in steering the bill through the Senate. Other city officials followed suit with hosannas of their own.

Please allow a more modest appraisal of the Senate's performance. Thanking senators for what they did to the District is akin to expressing pleasure at getting a swift kick in the rear. ("Thank you, sir; may I have another?")

The Senate-passed bill actually thumbs its nose at home rule and disrespects officials duly elected by District voters. For evidence, look no further than the gun amendment that was blessed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and tacked on the voting rights bill by a whopping 62-36 vote.

But before taking on the gun amendment, let's consider the bill itself.

Bestowing congressional voting rights on our city was no skin off the Senate's teeth. The Lieberman-Reid-Hatch-backed measure gives the District a vote, but only in the House of Representatives. District citizens will continue to be taxed without representation in the Senate.

Another politically incorrect thought. GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) is being hailed as a champion of District voting rights. Hold that profile in courage award. The bill adds two seats in the House: one for the District, and the other for Hatch's Republican-majority home state, Utah. His support, therefore, is hardly an act of charity or political selflessness.

What's more, Hatch voted for the gun amendment, which riddles holes in the city's gun laws and shoots down District lawmakers like clay pigeons.

A quick personal digression on guns. I qualified with the M-1 rifle (like multitudes in the military), years ago carried a .38 special when on protective assignment as a U.S. government special agent, and I have been a registered long-gun owner in the District for more than 20 years.

But I also favored the city's former strict hand gun laws, and I support the comprehensive gun law enacted by the council and mayor after the District of Columbia v. Heller Supreme Court decision. The Senate gun amendment sponsored by Nevada Republican John Ensign, however, is a blast at District governance.

The Ensign measure, among other things, overrides the city's laws and:

* lets District homes and businesses keep on premises powerful military assault weapons.

* repeals District prohibitions against persons under 21 from possessing firearms.

* permits District residents to cross state lines to buy guns in Maryland and Virginia without regulation by the city.

* repeals a District law prohibiting gun possession by people who have poor vision.

* repeals all existing safe storage laws and prohibits the District from enacting any additional safe storage laws.

No true supporter of self-government would impose such measures on the District.

Unfortunately, Hatch was not the only so-called District friend to give aid and comfort to anti-home rule forces. Chief among the Democratic turncoats was none other than Harry Reid (Nev.), the Senate's majority leader. Reid had plenty of company from his side of the aisle, too: Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mark Pryor (Ark.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), and District neighbor Jim Webb (Va.), to name a few.

Bayh cut and ran on the District, even as his Indiana colleague, Republican senator Dick Lugar, chose to stand with home rule by voting against the Ensign amendment. West Virginia Democratic senator Jay Rockefeller had a similar experience. He voted against the Ensign amendment only to watch as his fellow West Virginian, Democratic senator Robert Byrd, cross over to help a majority of Senate Republicans plunge the knife in the city's back.

Now the scene shifts to the House of Representatives, where the voting rights bill is stalled. House Democratic leaders are trying to come up with a way to get the bill considered on the floor without the possibility of having a vote on gun amendments, which, if recent history is a guide, will surely pass.

Voting rights advocates are blaming the delay on the NRA and House Republicans who have drafted gun amendments. That, however, doesn't go far enough. The blame should start with the Senate, where the gun amendment originated and passed with a comfortable majority.

To their great credit, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) took the floor to speak forcefully against the Ensign amendment. Feinstein and Schumer, it should be noted, didn't receive any public, fulsome thank-yous from District leaders, on whose behalf they were fighting. Municipal adoration, instead, was reserved for Hatch and Reid, the two senators who helped make possible the NRA's success and home rule's defeat.

Ah, but Washington's colonialists also consider that to be a politically incorrect thought.

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