We, the people of the free and sovereign State of ---, seek to secure and provide for each person: health, safety, and welfare; a peaceful and orderly life; and the right to legal, social, and economic justice and equality.
We recognize our unique and special history, and the diversity and pluralism of our people, and we have determined to control our collective destiny, maximize our individual freedom, and govern ourselves democratically, guaranteeing to each individual and to the people collectively, complete and equal exercise and protection of the rights listed herein.
We reach out to all the peoples of the world in a spirit of friendship and cooperation, certain that together we can build a future of peace and harmony.
Therefore, being mindful that government exists to serve every person, we do adopt this constitution and establish this government. By Paul W. Valentine Washington Post Staff Writer
It begins with a familiar cadence, leaving a blank where the state's name will eventually go. The painstakingly written passage of four paragraphs, 139 words, is designed to serve as the preamble--the touchstone--of a state constitution for the District of Columbia.
The preamble, the first substantive act of the three-week-old statehood convention, was adopted by a convention committee Wednesday night. Members of the preamble and rights committee celebrated the occasion with a champagne and ginger ale toast at the convention's headquarters on the ninth floor of the old Pepco building at 10th and E streets NW.
Meanwhile, another committee was reported nearing adoption of a unicameral, or single-house, legislature for the city, with at least five of the nine committee members favoring or leaning toward that position. All 50 states except Nebraska have bicameral legislatures. A committee vote on the unicameral-vs.-bicameral issue may come Monday.
The preamble language, approved by a 7-to-1 vote of the preamble and rights committee, goes next to the full 45-member convention for consideration, possibly next week. Nine other committees of the convention have also been laboring on various aspects of the constitution but thus far have adopted no articles.
The preamble, longer and more florid than those of many states, emphasizes individual freedoms, the "diversity and pluralism" of the District and its "unique and special history" as a federal enclave.
Its unusual length also reflects the variety of committee members and their attempts to reconcile differences in philosphy and style.
"Every word was carefully weighed and considered," said committee member Franklin Kameny, a homosexual rights leader and convention delegate from Ward 3. " . . . We considered every punctuation mark."
Maurice Jackson, Ward 1 committee member and head of the D.C.-Virginia chapter of the Communist Party USA, proposed a preamble that, among other things, called for the new state government to "eliminate poverty and inequality and its sources."
This language did not survive committee debate, but Kameny said its essence was maintained "in a more positive tone" by a reference in the final draft to the new state government providing "economic justice and equality."
The lone dissenter from the approved draft, Kenneth Rothschild, a 37-year-old cabdriver and housing activist, said he agreed with much of the text but had "problems with specific words and phrases."
" 'We, the people . . . ' is too much of a cliche," he said. "We need to appeal to a higher authority." Since the committee had agreed to omit any reference to God, he said, "we needed to appeal to something like the 'world community.' "
Rothschild said, the preamble's assertion that the state "exists to serve every person" smacks "too much of a welfare mentality." He said he would have preferred a text that put more emphasis on community development accountability of government.
Other committees in the convention have been hearing from experts in various fields such as courts, housing, health, education and suffrage. Additional draft proposals for articles of the constitution are expected soon with public hearings on them to follow.
The constitution, which must be completed by May 29, will likely go on the ballot in this fall's elections. If approved by city voters, it then goes to Congress where approval by a simple majority of both houses is required for statehood to be implemented.