The D.C. statehood convention gave tentative approval last night to a 139-word preamble to a proposed constitution for the city after beating back efforts by some delegates to make the document less "radical" and more appealing to Congress.
Voting 32 to 7 following frequently raucous debate, the convention brushed aside warnings from its general counsel and several delegates that the preamble overemphasizes welfare provisions, refers to the new state as "sovereign" without mentioning that it is part of the United States and speaks instead of reaching out "to all peoples of the world to build peace and harmony."
"We're not applying for nationhood, but statehood," said Ward 3 delegate Gloria Corn, as other delegates shouted her down.
"Members of Congress may perceive this as radical," said general counsel Ralph C. Thomas III. This triggered angry accusations by several delegates that Thomas had overstepped his job as legal adviser to the convention.
"That's a political opinion, not a legal opinion," shouted Ward 1 delegate Maurice Jackson.
Ward 3 delegate Courts Oulahan, an attorney who led the unsuccessful fight to make the preamble language more orthodox, accused preamble committee chairman Jerry Moore of trying to "tell the delegates to do what the committee says." Moore, an at-large member of the D.C. City Council as well as a convention delegate, received a rousing ovation when, in an impassioned, sermon-like speech, he called Oulahan's tactics an "incursion" calculated to "embarrass the preamble committee."
Later, Oulahan asserted to a reporter that the night's activities showed an "unfortunate undemocratic trend and politicization" of the convention.
"Laughter, clapping and irrelevant remarks have replaced serious and meaningful debate," he said. "I hope the citizens of Washington will note this development."
The preamble, the first segment of the proposed constitution to be adopted on initial reading by the full 45-member convention, remained intact as drafted by Moore's committee. It says:
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 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.
The preamble, like all other parts of the proposed constitution, must now undergo two more readings for final approval by the convention.