New Strategy for Statehood Proposed

By Eric Pianin and Tom Sherwood
The Washington Post
Wednesday, February 18, 1987

From The Washington Post archives, February 18, 1987

A majority of the D.C. Council, meeting privately yesterday with D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D), agreed to a strategy for winning congressional approval of statehood legislation that requires abandoning a controversial statehood constitution approved by city voters in 1982.

Fauntroy and other statehood proponents have long viewed the proposed constitution -- with its bill of rights guaranteeing every resident a job -- as one of the stumbling blocks to enactment of legislation granting the District full representation in Congress.

Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D), council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large) and eight or nine other members at the meeting agreed to Fauntroy's plan to substitute the existing D.C. home rule charter for the proposed statehood constitution as part of overall legislation granting the District statehood, according to several participants at the meeting.

The D.C. Council later approved the measure overwhelmingly on a voice vote with no debate. Mark Plotkin, a Ward 3 representative to the D.C. Democratic Committee, was one of the few statehood activists to attend last night's council session and to voice strong disapproval of the emergency bill.

"If the Congress did this to this city council and canceled their election, there would be outrage," Plotkin said. "You have a charade here . . . people who are for statehood, but when they have a chance to take concrete steps, they vote against it. This is a real blow."

Clarke said late yesterday that the Fauntroy-led effort is to focus debate in Congress on "the issue of statehood and not the content of the {proposed} constitution." Clarke said a "bare bones" document is more likely to pass in Congress and quoted Fauntroy as saying that congressional leaders have said "the simpler the measure the better."

"I think the notion is to create something with which everyone is familiar," Clarke said.

Fauntroy argued that members of the House and Senate are accustomed to the District's home rule charter, approved by Congress more than a decade ago, and would be far more likely to vote for D.C. statehood legislation if that were the new state's constitution.

Mason, an early proponent of statehood and a member of the statehood convention that drafted the constitution in early 1982, said she agreed with Fauntroy's approach.

"I think it was a very good effort," she said. "Mr. Fauntroy has done a very good job. He feels it's the best time to try to put forth a strong effort to try to get it through Congress. Now that we have a lot of people who support statehood, we don't want to complicate it."

As for those in the statehood movement who will be disappointed by the abandonment of the constitution, Mason said, "There will always be someone upset, but I hope people will understand the major objective is to get statehood, and if we get statehood no one can cry about that except crying for joy.'

Fauntroy said in a statement released by his office that both the mayor and the council support his lobbying game plan and agreed to hold hearings on the proposed constitution "to see if a document can be crafted to ensure that the vote in Congress is on statehood and not on the contents of a controversial constitution."

The constitution approved by voters in 1982 calls for the election of two "senators" and one "representative" who would serve as paid lobbyists in seeking approval of statehood for the District.

According to city government sources, Fauntroy yesterday initially tried to get the Council to agree to repeal that portion of the law. Several council members, including Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) and Harry Thomas (D-Ward 5), objected because the issue had been approved by voters.

Council member Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) is expected to introduce a bill postponing the election of the lobbyists for three years.

Congress approved a D.C. Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1978 that would have granted the District full representation in Congress, but the amendment expired in September 1985 for lack of ratification by three fourths of the states within the required seven-year period.

Staff writer Ed Bruske contributed to this report.

© 1987 The Washington Post Company