D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy encountered loads of gracious Southern hospitality but very little sympathy today as he appeared before a Virginia General Assembly panel here to urge passage of a constitutional amendment giving the District of Columbia voting rights in Congress.
Invoking the name of the state's most revered citizen, Thomas Jefferson, Fauntroy informed, cajoled and, occassionally, entertained a largely skeptical group of legislators. The Virginians said they could see no good reason why the city of Washington should have voting representation in Congress, particularly in the Senate.
"Without a vote, it's like playing baseball without a bat," complained Fauntroy, who said the District of Columbia is entitled to at least one representative in the House and two senators "because it takes both the House and the Senate to pass legislation."
Fauntroy's reception in Virginia was in sharp contrast to the one accorded him in Maryland on Tuesday, where many legislators said they were so impressed with his presentation that they had altered initial reservations about the amendment.
Despite Fauntroy's impassioned pleas to the Virginia lawmakers "to be true to what Thomas Jefferson wrote down on paper," even the most ardent supporters of the voting rights amendment said today there is no chance for the measure's passage during this session of the legislature.
"It has a better chance [for eventual passage] than the ERA," said Del. William P. Robinson Sr. (D-Norfolk), referring to the controversial Equal Rights Amendment for women that has been rejected by the assembly for the past seven years.
Robinson, the senior black delegate in the House, and State Sen. L. Douglas Wilder (D-Richmond), the only black in the Senate, each sponsored the D.C. amendment in their chambers. A joint House-Senate hearing on the measure was held today.
Other legislators have introduced a resolution calling for a study of the Washington representation issue, and Robinson said that after such a study is completed, "there will be time to deal with the matters and myths" of the amendment next year.
Some of those "myths," as Fauntroy and Robinson call them, were turning up today from opponents of the D.C. voting rights amendment and were cited as reasons that four states have rejected the measure.
The amendment needs to be ratified by 38 states over the next seven years' to become, but so far has been approved by only three states since Congress passed the amendment last August.
"Despite all the flowery statements about the thinkin' of our forefathers, if you all would research the thinkin' of our forefathers, you would see that the D.C. amendment is way over equal representation," argued Mary Lou Curtis, a Fairfax City resident.
Citing information she said she got from former Sen. William Scott (R-Va.), Curtis complained that District of Columbia residents are totally dependent on the federal government, do not vote in great numbers, anyway, and cost more in U.S. funds than they contribute in taxes.
Fauntroy attempted to counter each and every point, noting that the District of Columbia pays more than $1.4 billion in U.S. taxes a year, has a better than average voter turnout in local elections and has three-fourths of its citizens in nonfederal jobs.
He also tried to soothe the concerns of several Northern Virginia legislators, telling them that "three more votes among 535 in Congress" would not tip the balance of power in favor of a controversial D.C. commuter tax.
Washington's nonvoting delegate made his biggest hit with the Virginia lawmakers when he joked that the District of Columbia "would be tempted" to drop its voting rights bid "if we could expand our tax base and annex" parts of neighboring Maryland and Virginia.
D.C. might also abandon its amendment campaign, Fauntroy teased, if it could be exempted from paying federal taxes as Puerto Rico and the other U.S. territories are exempt.
"If we could get back the $1.4 billion we pay, we'd be tempted, but you'd have to put a guard at the city gate to stop all those Virginians and Marylanders who would want to move to the District," he said. The legislators laughed and nodded in agreement.