The D.C. League of Women Voters yesterday urged District residents to defeat the statehood initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot, calling it "poorly drafted" and "not compatible with good government."
The league's opposition signaled the first organized attempt to defeat the measure, which, if approved, would set in motion a complex and perhaps problem-fraught process designed to make the nation's capital the 51st of the United States.
Virtually all the District's top elected officials support the statehood ballot referendum. The lone exception, Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, predicted Tuesday that the measure probably would be approved over his objections because of widespread popular support for any attempt to gain more home rule for the city.
The league, like Fauntroy, said it preferred the Voting Rights Admendment to the Constitution over statehood as the better way for the District to win full voting representation in Congress. The constitutional amendment is now stalled after being approved by only nine of the required 38 state legislatures.
In a written statement, the league said it did not necessarily oppose the concept of statehood, and could conceivably support some future statehood measure despite its preference for the Voting Rights Amendment. Rather, the group focused on the specific provisions of the current ballot initiative, which would authorize the calling of a constitutional convention to draft a new state constitution.
If the measure passes, D.C. residents would have to vote again to choose 45 delegates to the convention. After a constitution is drafted, voters would once more have to go to the polls to ratify the document. The consititution would then be sent to Congress, which could make the District a state by a simple majority vote of both houses. Proponents of the measure predict the entire process will cost around $750,000.
But the league stated, "Passage of this initiative would begin an extremely expensive process. The initiative sets no time limit to lobbying [of Congress] or to constitution writing, so that these costs may go on year after year. The prospects of success with Congress are too slim to warrant such expenditure of D.C. funds."
Though the league stated that it "recognizes and shares the frustrations of D.C. citizens" that gave rise to the initiative, it added that "our first choice for achieving representative government for D.C. is ratification of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment and expansion of home rule."
City Council member Hilda Mason, the only Statehood Party member who is an elected official, reacted angrily to the league's statement. "I think it's unreasonable, and I'm really disappointed," she said. "We have bent over backwards to deal with those people. We have met with them several times. I am a member of that organization [the league], and they do not represent me." a
Mason added, "There is no way to un-state a state, but Congress can take away home rule. If the league prefers not to have control, if it prefers to have something that can be taken away of Congress wants to take it away; then that's their option."
The league called the statehood measure "ambiguous" and said that if it is approved it will require amendment by the City Council or interpretation by the courts -- an apparent reference to anticipated problems in carving out a small "federal enclave" in the monument area of downtown Washington, which would remain in the hands of the federal government.
But Mason argued that the delegates to the constitutional convention, working together with federal officials, could work out this issue. "This has been the case with every state except the 13 original colonies," she said. "Every state has had to work things out with the federal government."
Mason accused the league of misrepresenting the provisions of the initiative. "We made it all very clear to them," she said. "I am really surprised."