With lots of blame to go around on lack of D.C. vote, fresh ideas are needed

By Robert McCartney
Thursday, April 22, 2010

We finally got a baseball team. The Intercounty Connector will open this fall. A rail line to Dulles Airport is under construction. But D.C. voting rights are still on hold.

Why is it that the most legitimate demand is the one that goes unmet?

Among Washington regional issues that never go away, the undisputed champion is getting a full vote in Congress for the District's 600,000 residents.

The latest setback is severe. It's likely to take many more years or even decades to achieve this patently righteous objective.

The voting rights bill withdrawn Tuesday represented the furthest that the cause has advanced since the early 1980s. The next Congress is likely to be less sympathetic, assuming Republicans gain seats as expected in the mid-term election in November.

Given that this seems to be a turning point, I think it's appropriate to provide a (bipartisan) list of the villains who betray America's best-known founding principle of no taxation without representation. I'll also offer my own pet idea about how to break the impasse.

First, though, let me say I believe that House Democrats were right to shelve the bill Tuesday. It would have added two House votes -- one for the District (sure to be Democratic) and one for Utah (equally surely Republican). Good compromise, right? Unfortunately, the legislation was poisoned by an amendment, imposed by gun-rights supporters, that would have eliminated most of the District's gun-control laws.

I had a glimpse Tuesday of why that cost was too high. I was discussing the bill with a half-dozen patrons of the Expert Barber Shop in Southeast when news arrived that Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) had asked that the bill be withdrawn.

Heads nodded. She did the right thing, the customers said. Giving up gun control could be a good deal if the District were getting two Senate seats as well as a full vote in the House. But the bill on the table, providing just the House seat, didn't offer enough.

"That vote's only going to go so far. The [change in] gun laws is going to be permanent," Shawn Hill, 40, said.

Of course, the District shouldn't have to choose. Here's my roster of who's to blame:

The gun lobby. The No. 1 villain is obviously the National Rifle Association. It's just playing the bully here. It hasn't been able to pass a stand-alone bill to strip away the District's gun-control laws, so it attached the plan to the voting rights bill. That mocks conservatives' supposed respect for local rule.

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