The ratification drive for the proposed constitutional amendment that would give the District of Columbia full voting representation in Congress moves to Pennsylvania today, amid fears here that overeager sponsors in Harrisburg are using tactics that could prevent eventual ratification by the necessary 38 state legislatures.
Local backers, led by D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, agree that the campaign must garner widespread bipartisan support and should emphasize broad constitutional concerns rather than the narrower issue of black civil rights.
Yet both those tenets appeared to be ignored in Pennsylvania, where black legislators are set to ram the measure through Democratic-controlled houses without Republican help.
Fauntroy, who guided the resolution through Congress earlier this year, flew to Harrisburg last night in hopes of broadening support for the measure before it comes to a scheduled vote in the state Senate today.
Fauntroy and leaders of Self Determination For D.C., the coalition that is mapping strategy for ratification, blame zealous supporters in Delaware and California for the failure last month of those two legislatures to approve the resolution.
Sen. Freeman Hankins, a black Philadelphia funeral director, is the sponsor in the Pennsylvania Senate. He said last night he has the needed 26 votes to win approval in the 50-member Senate.
"But I don't have a vote to spare," said Hankins, who said all of the yes votes will come from among the 30 Democrats in the body.
Hankins, who had expected the vote to come last night, said he counted 23 sure supporters and three more who "fell off the fence" and promised to support the measure.
Fauntroy made several telephone calls to Hankins yesterday and Monday, urging him to delay the vote until more than the bare minimum number of supporters could be assured, and so that some Republicans might be persuaded to support ratification.
But Hankins said he would go ahead even if it meant falling short because legislative leaders "want to get some people on the record" on the issue. If the measure fails today, Hankins said, he will move to reconsider the vote later this week.
In the House, the sponsor is Speaker K. Leroy Irvis, the only black speaker of a state legislature in America, who has told associates he views ratification as a personal crusade.
Last Tuesday, when the House committee on state-federal relations voted to table the question, so that a public hearing could be held today, Irvis reportedly reacted bitterly and suggested that the action was a slap at him personally and at blacks everywhere.
Irvis had predicted earlier that the committee would routinely approve the measure and send it directly to the House floor, where Democrats hold a 116-to-84 advantage. Approval in the House would be expected easily.
Portraying D.C. voting representation as a black issue was a strategic error in the California legislature, according to proponents who watched the protracted parliamentary battle last month. The measure was sponsored and pushed by black members in both houses of the California legislature, with differing results. It passed the Assembly easily, but was rejected by the Senate on a procedural question.
In Delaware, a black state senator introduced the ratification amendment and pushed it to a losing vote last month without informing Fauntroy or other strategists here.
During debate on the issue in Congress, the belief that District of Columbia residents elected to the Senate or House of Representative likely would be black, liberal, urban-oriented Democrats was used as one argument against passage.
About a dozen people who have been in the forefront of the six-year drive to win congressional representation for city residents met last week to map strategy for the amendment drive, which got off the ground a week ago Monday when the New Jersey legislature became the first to ratify.
In Trenton, the resolution had bipartisan support and was introduced by a number of cosponsors, black and white, Democrats and Republicans.
Joseph L. Rauh, the civil liberties attorney who has worked with the coalition over the years, said the goal should be "to find the best people in each state to make the presentation, whether they are white, black or green."
Dick Clark, the Common Cause lobbyist who has provided the day-to-day leadership for the coalition, said the basic strategy comes down to determining "the tone to be set. Emphasizing the black civil rights aspects of the issue could be disfunctional," in states where few blacks live.
R. Robert Linowes, president of the Metropolitan Board of Trade, who also attended last week's strategy session, said he is concerned that "there has not been enough representation evidenced by the business comunity. It should not be a question of civil rights, but of common decency and justice," said Linowes, who went to his native Trenton last week to lobby in behalf of ratification.