The statehood and legalized gambling initiatives approved overwhelmingly by District voters in Tuesday's election appeared yesterday to be on a collision course with a more conservative Congress and a frustrated City Council robbed of some its power by the referendum process.
As a practical matter, officials on Capitol Hill and in the District Building said yesterday, there is no way the two initiatives -- the first such measures ever approved in the District of Columbia -- can pass through the required congressional review period of 30 legislative days while the current lame-duck Congress is in session. A new 30-day period will begin in January when the new, more conservative Congress meets.
Some city officials voiced concern that the measures might never make it through Congress after Tuesday's election results. "I don't know about gambling, but I'd guess statehood couldbe dead," said Lawrence H. Mirel, chief attorney for the council. "Maybe the whole issue of home rule is in trouble."
"Tuesday's election, in which conservative Republicans gained control of the Senate and made major gains in the House of Representatives, signaled almost certain changes in the powerful Senate subcommittees that oversee the District government. The subcommittee on governmental efficiency and the District of Columbia, which reviews legislation passed by the council and will review the two initiatives, is currently headed by Democratic Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton.
Eagleton survived a tough reelection battle. But since the GOP won control of the Senate and has the power to appoint committee chairmen, the D.C. subcommittee's ranking Republican member -- Maryland Sen. Charles McC. Mathias -- is likely to take over from Eagleton when the new Congress convenes in January. Mathias said yesterday that he is firmly opposed to statehood, and also is inclined to oppose gambling. But he added that he wanted to study the latter issue further.
Supporters of both measures expressed some concern that the Senate could prove a stumbling block. But they said they believed the large margins rolled up by the referendums -- 2-to-1 for gambling and 3-to-2 for statehood -- would like deter congressional interference.
If the initiatives survive the congressional review period, they could both still be amended by the City Council. A number of council members have complained that the initiative process results in poorly drawn legislation that they believe could have been better drafted by the council, and some have grumbled privately that they wished the citizens would just leave the law-writing to them. Council Chairman Arrington Dixon said yesterday that he believes "some technical changes" must be made in both measures.
Dixon said he wanted to examine provisions of the statehood initiative that prohibit elected or appointed District or federal officials -- like himself -- from serving as delegates to a constitutional convention, which the measure mandates be convened to write a proposed state constitution.
"I'm not sure whether that's equitable or fair," he said. "We ought to see whether we [officials] should have some involvement."
Dixon said he also wanted to look into the possibility of earmarking revenues from the city-run lottery and numbers games established under the gambling initiative for specific areas of government. As the measure stands gambling initiative for specific areas of government. As the measure now stands, revenues will go directly to the city's general fund.
Even barring any problems with Congress or the council, timetables for both initiatives are uncertain.
Ed Guinan, cochairman of the Statehood Initiative Committee, said the first step after the statehood measure became law would be for the city to hold an election to choose 45 delegates to the constitutional convention. To run for delegate, a candidate must qualify by getting a sufficient number of signatures on nominating petitions. Five delegates would be chosen from each of the city's wards, and to run for one of these ward seats a candidate must get 50 signatures from his ward. To run for one of five at-large delegate slots, a candidate must get 200 signatures citywide, with 25 obtained in each ward.
Guinan said he hopes the election could be held next May, and the convention begin on July 4 of next year. But this assumes that election officials will decide to hold a May election. None is currently scheduled.
After a proposed constitution is drafted, it must be approved by voters and sent to Congress, where it could be delayed for years or even decades.
Timing of the beginning of the gambling operation also is unknown. Brant Coppersmith, a leading supporter of the proposal, said that after final congressional approval, which he expects in February, the first step is for Mayor Marion Berry to appoint the five members of a gaming board to run the lottery and numbers games. The initiative allows 60 days for Barry to appoint the board members, but Berry has said he would move quickly.
The board must then spend up to several months developing a set of regulations governing the gambling operation, after which a 30-day period is provided for public comment, Coopersmith said. He predicted that this process, plus the need to receive bids for subcontracted work, could mean that it will be more than a year before the city has a lottery and numbers game.