The drive for Senate passage of a constitutional amendment that would give District residents full voting representation in Congress has won the support of Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).
Black leaders have scheduled a meeting today with Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) to see if they can win a similar commitment from the influential Senate minority leader.
Thurmond said last night that it is important to give Washington residents votes in Congress "to set an example for the rest of the world." Failure to do so, Thurmond said, "could result in the issue being thrown back in our faces at a time in history when the U.S. is urging other nations to extend full human rights to their own citizens.
Baker, who earlier had said he opposed the proposal, has agreed to meet with the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Urban League president M. Carl Holman and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, on the voting question and other matters of concern to blacks. A spokesman for Baker said last night the minority leader has "moved away" form opposition to the question and now is "not committed."
Thurmond, the one-time segregationist candidate for president who is locked in a tough reelection campaign for his Senate seat, made his decision known in letters to two prominent South Carolina black leaders, Bishop Frank M. Reid Jr. and of the AME church and Dr. Henry Ponder, president of Benedict college in Columbia.
Thurmond also said last night that a poll he commissioned "on my own election" showed that 57 percent of South Carolina voters favored giving residents of the nation's capital full representation in the Senate and House.
The poll result was "of some influence, but not conclusive" in his decision, Thurmond said. He said he had been considering the question "ever since the House passed it" in March.
Asked if his decision might help him in his race against Democrat Charles (Pug) Ravenel, Thurmond said "it could cut both ways." Blacks make up nearly one-third of registered voters in South Carolina.
Thurmond noted that with 750,000 residents, the District has a population "greater than seven or eight states . . . Those people deserve representation, and it is going to happen sooner or later."
He indicated he had some reservations about awarding two Senate seats to "an area only 10 miles square," but he said Senate passage of the question will permit it "to go to the grass roots, where the state legislatures can submit it to the people of all the states."
In his letters to Reid and Ponder, dated July 10, Thurmond said "although there are some arguments against full District participation in Congress, based on a federal-state system of representation, the overwhelming reason for its approval is the fact that three quarters of a million people in the District of Columbia do not now have a vote in Congress."
Supporters of the amendment, led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), plan to put the question to a vote in the Senate later this year, but want to hold off until they can line up enough support for passage.