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Marc Fisher: Columnist Says Washington Should Yield on Other Issues to Get Vote in Congress

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Congress will always conduct its little experiments on the District, so the city's belief that it can set its own course on guns is delusional. But it is possible to play politics and make some real progress. And a seat in the House is very real -- a recognition, finally, that a vote is a basic right. It's a way to tell thousands of disillusioned, disenfranchised D.C. children that they really are citizens of the United States.

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What to do? Push a compromise. Tell Congress that the city will drop its requirement that prospective gun owners take training courses; rethink the D.C. law's registration provisions.

"You can't win the NRA over," says Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, which lobbies for voting rights. "They want it all, and they want it now. But you can give pro-gun Democrats a way to say yes."

Congress remains the city's overlord, but there are often ways for the mayor and council to massage the master. Right now, for example, the city can work with Democrats on the Hill to get rid of the school vouchers program that a Republican-controlled Congress imposed in 2004. The voucher scheme, despite a touching new PR campaign that uses emotional pleas by schoolchildren to manipulate public opinion, is nothing but an attempt to smash the walls separating church from state; the overwhelming majority of voucher recipients attend Catholic schools.

But as the church itself is proving this year at seven D.C. schools, there is an alternative that does right by students, parents and the Constitution: Convert financially strapped Catholic schools into public charter schools. By removing the religious affiliation and keeping the strong academics and emphasis on values, Catholic educators have found a way to provide a valued service without abusing taxpayers.

D.C. politicians are preparing residents for another heartbreaking loss on voting rights. But being purists won't produce anything except a sense of moral superiority. Give a little on guns, use charter schools as a compromise on vouchers -- the results could be real, lasting change.

Join me at noon today for "Potomac Confidential" at http://www.washingtonpost.com/discussions.


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