"I came up here today," said Norma Melendez, "because I wanted people in Delaware to see a Washingtonian who isn't in national politics, who isn't on welfare and who really cares about having voting representatives. There really are a lot of us."
Jay Wingate, a Democratic state representative from Rehoboth Beach, leaned back in his chair and fixed Melendez with a skeptical glare.
"There are?" he said.
Lobbying is never easy, and lobbying for voting rights for the District of Columbia is proving especially difficult for volunteers like Norma Melendez. Only 13 states have ratified the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment in the five years since Congress passed that proposed constitutional amendment and sent it to the states. Twenty-five more states must pass the measure for the city to get voting senators and representatives for the first time.
But only two years remain before the proposed constitutional amendment dies automatically. Therefore, citizen lobbyists are dropping in on legislators all over the country this spring to plead the city's case.
For several weeks, I've been following DCVRA's progress in nearby Delaware. Last week, the Delaware House set May 24 as the day to vote on the D.C. question. So I accompanied Melendez to Dover one morning to watch her take the temperature of the legislature as up-or-down day approaches.
The thermometer reads lukewarm.
Despite a strong local lobbying effort headed by Vince Croze, president of a United Auto Workers local in Newark, only 18 of the 41 members of the Delaware House are firmly in the "yes" column. Two-thirds of them, or 28 members, will need to vote aye next Tuesday if DCVRA is to pass.
And even if it does, the Delaware Senate still must approve the measure. Prospects there seem dim. Croze and his helpers have rounded up only five definite "ayes" from among the 21 Senate members. Fourteen are needed.
Can it be done? "Well, I don't want to say never," says Vincent P. Meconi, a New Castle County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill in the Delaware House. "But, I mean, well, I've seen bills with a better chance," he finally says, diplomatically.
Win or lose, the reception Norma Melendez got as she "did Dover" the other day speaks volumes about how Washington is perceived in state capitals these days.
The perception? We've got enough already.
When Melendez marched up to House majority leader Robert Gilligan in a hallway and asked where he stood on DCVRA, he replied bluntly, "I'm opposed to it. The District's not a state."
Melendez pointed out that statehood isn't addressed in the DCVRA. "And I'm not proposing anything that would interfere with the running of the government. Just voting representatives like you have," she said.
"They want the best of all possible worlds over there in Washington , don't they?" Gilligan replied.
"You're talking about disenfranchised citizens," Melendez said.
"Well, thank you," said Gilligan, turning away abruptly and walking into his office.
Melendez got a better reception from Phillip J. Corrozi, a New Castle County Republican.
"Right now, I couldn't tell you how I'd vote," Corrozi said. "But I would certainly hope all our U.S. citizens have the same kind of representation."
Melendez asked if the District's huge Democratic registration edge worried him. Corrozi smiled and said it didn't.
"I don't look at it that way," he said. "It isn't a matter of parties. It's a matter of fairness. I'll certainly take a good look at the bill," he said.
Translation: He's waiting to see which way the wind blows on the 24th. And he isn't alone.
"You could have a swing of several votes, if it's close," said Meconi. "With one like this, you never know until the last minute."
The last minute is a week away. I'll be back in Dover on the 24th to report on the bill's passage -- or its death.