The Massachusetts Senate, after gingerly debating the racial implications involved, voted 24-to-13 today to give the District of Columbia voting power in Congress.
The resolution supporting the D.C. constitutional amendment now goes to the more conservative state House of Representatives, where a closer vote is expected.
Three state legislatures have ratified the amendment and seven others have rejected it.Massachusetts is the first New England state to take action on the proposal.
Opponents of the amendment argued there was no reason to treat Washington as a state when its land area -- 67 square miles -- was so much smaller than even that of the present smallest state, 1,214-square-mile Rhode Island. Minority Leader John H. Parker (R-Taunton) discounted Washington's economic importance, claiming it had no industry "except marijuana."
The two-hour debate stuck to territorial and economic issues until Sen. Alen D. Sisitsky, a supporter of the amendment, observed that because of the district's "composition," there were people fighting the amendment "for base reasons."
Sen. Joseph B. Walsh (D-Boston) quickly objected Sisitsky's remark, asserting it was not a "black, white, green or pink" issue but a question of fairness He said if the District is granted two senators and one or two congressmen, the same should be accorded to Puerto Rico, Guam, and even Nantucket -- the island off Cape Cod that has been smarting over its recent loss of a separate seat in the Massachusetts House.
Sen. Bill Ownes (D-Boston) the upper chamber's only black urged supof returning a black to the U.S. Senate. Sen. Robert A. Hall (R-Fitchburg) retorted that Massachusetts Democrats had just teamed up to defeat the only black senator of recent times, Edward W. Brooke.