Columbia, the 51st state?

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

SO FRUSTRATED are D.C. officials with the failure of Democratic congressional leaders to win voting rights for city residents that some are wondering if they should just scuttle the effort. They suggest, instead, a full-blown effort for statehood for the District. The frustration is understandable -- but it would be premature, and possibly foolhardy, to abandon the seven-year campaign for congressional representation.

Local officials and activists, as The Post's Mike DeBonis reported, are increasingly speaking up in support of seeking statehood for the District, with the issue becoming fodder in this year's elections for mayor and council. D.C. Council Chairman and mayoral candidate Vincent C. Gray (D), while not giving up on voting rights, said at a recent candidates forum that the city should work to become a state. Michael D. Brown (D), a D.C. shadow senator, argued it's not any more difficult to get statehood than it is to get a single House vote for the District.

What's overlooked in that thinking is that while chances may be slim for voting rights, they are close to nonexistent for statehood. Consider that the last time the House voted on D.C. statehood in 1993, 105 Democrats -- including Maryland's Steny H. Hoyer and Virginia's James P. Moran Jr. -- voted against the measure. There is little nationwide support to confer statehood on a place many people see simply as a small city. Finally, there are serious budget obstacles; federal support for functions such as the courts, for instance, would have to end.

Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting delegate, rightly remains focused on the achievable. There is still time in this Congress, where the votes are lined up for voting rights, to come up with a strategy to stop unacceptable amendments to gut the city's gun laws. Utah, which was to receive an extra seat to balance the District's because it came closest to qualifying for another member of Congress member in the 2000 Census, could be replaced with the state that is in the same position following the 2010 Census. The District's chances would be enhanced if everyone were working together. Local officials need to do more than bemoan how the gun lobby outfoxed Democratic leaders and voting rights lobbyists. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) started his inaugural speech with a pledge to fight for voting rights, but has he asked to meet with President Obama to press the city's case for protecting D.C.'s gun laws? Mr. Gray has talked about civil disobedience, but how many senators has he visited to make his case?

Fighting for voting rights is hard. That isn't reason to give up.


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