The day after the Senate passed the D.C. voting rights amendment in August, D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy jumped on a plane to Sacramento to help the California legislature win the race to be the first state to ratify the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Now, six months later, the ratification drive is moribund. Only three states have ratified the amendment -- and California is not one of them. None has ratified since most state legislatures convened in January.
Seven states have rejected the proposal, and only quick action by proponents in withdrawing it from consideration saved the resolution from defeat in several other states.
Legislators in North Dakota, Wyoming and Idaho defeated the proposal by lopsided margins, saying they feared senators and representatives elected by District residents would not understand the problems of ranchers and farmers.
In Maryland, fear of a commuter tax imposed by a District government that had votes in Congress helped the proposal fall shy by one vote.
In South Carolina, Delaware and Pennsylvania, Republicans stood firm against a proposal that they envisioned would result in the election of more Democratic members of Congress.
But despite those early defeats, backers of the amendment re confident they can eventually get 38 legislatures to ratify the amendment if they can get legislators to consider the "simple justice" of the proposal instead of what Fauntry charcterizes as the "narrow self interests" of opponents.
The amendment has been introduced in all but 11 of the 50 states. In addition to the 10 legislatures that have brought it to a vote, nine others have deferred it one way or another, and it is still pending in 20 others.
"It's far too early to even consider throwning in the towel," Fauntroy said yesterday after testifying in behalf of the amendment in Rhode Island. (Thirty-eight states must ratify it within seven years of congressional passage to make it part of the Constitution.)
Like a candidate who remains confident of an election victory even when he trails in early returns, Fauntroy remains confident that when all the votes are in, the amendment will be ratified.
"Maryland will be the first" this year, he said, clinging to a hope that members of the House in Annapolis will reverse their vote of last week and adopt a Senate-passed version of the amendment next week. (A House committee sent the proposal to the floor yesterday by a vote of 16-4.)
"Even if we don't get Maryland this year," Fauntroy added, leaving the door ajar for the possibility, "the cause is right. Given the resources and the opportunity, we will win the fight in the allotted seven years."
Backers of ratification asked sponsors to stall action in Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia, while opponents have bottled up the proposal in Viginia, Washington, Arizona, New York, California and New Mexico.
In many states opponents have suggested that they would support representation in Congress for District residents if the proposal were either for the city to become part of Maryland or a state of its own.
Dick Clark, the Common Cause lobbyist who is working full time in behalf of the ratification drive, dismisses those statements as "examples of duplicity of politiciatans."
In Maryland, for example, Clark said, "statehood equals a commuter tax," yet the very legislators who fear such a tax say they would vote for statehood.
Clark and Fauntroy agree that neither statehood or retrocession are acceptable or feasible alternatives to giving the District its own two senators and one or two members in the House.
"There's not a dozen membrs in the (U.S.) House who would support sttehood," Clark said. "Not in this century, or at least not for a decade or two."
As for retrocession, "you can't find a single elected official in Maryland who would support it," Clark said.
Fauntroy believes it would be possible to force retrocession on Maryland "by passing a couple constutional amendments," but he said it is "something I would never entertain."
Fauntroy rejects statehood as "illegal and impractical,"
Clark said, however, it might not be a bad idea to encourage examination of retrocession and statehood. "It would narrow the debate," by showing how unworkable they are, he said. "Congress went through that same debate" before settling on full voting representation, Clark added.
An aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) said Kennedy, an outspoken advocate of the amendment, "is not discouraged. It's going to be a seven-year stretch.
Kennedy sees the opposition as part of the "pervasive anti-Washington, antigovernment, antispending mood of the country, the aide said.
Confusion about what ratification would mean was illustrated by Minneapolis cab driver Tom Breem, who feared "it could set a precedent, lead to more government control." He pointed to "the threat from Washington" to cut off highway funds if the Wyoming legislature raised the speed limit to 65 miles an hour.
Attorney Joseph Rauh, who is treasuter of the ratification drive, believes part of the blame goes to lack of organization by backers, "including me."
Rauh does not believe racism is a major reason for the opposition, but he said opponents "have us over a barrel. In farm states they say we're against farmers, and they tell conservatives we're in favor of gun control and abortion. We've got to gace that, and answer that it does not matter. What we want is right."
Since that first abortive try to win ratification in california last summer, the impetus for quick action has swung from the proponents to the opponents.
Conservatives who once complained that advocates of ratification were trying to railroad the resolution through without public hearings now have adopted a strategy that calls for bringing the issue to a vote so that it can be killed.
If 13 states adopt negative resolutions, the theory goes, it would be impossible to ratify the amendment. The idea has caught on -- last week 40 of the 70 members of the New Mexico house of representatives cosponsored a resolution that would inform Congress that the amendment was rejected in Sante Fe. The Idaho House passed a similar resolution by 54 to 16.
But Fauntroy is not dismayed. He remembers when "people told me the Senate would never give us two Senators. I was unrealistic. Well, we got it.And we'll get this. I'm never discouraged by what appears to be impossible."