The D.C. Voting Rights Amendment, which would have given the District two senators and a congressman, officially dies today with only 16 of the necessary 38 states having approved it.
Congress approved the proposed constitutional amendment seven years ago, but ratification required approval by the legislatures of three-fourths of the states, or 38 states, by Aug. 22.
"Unfortunately, it's dead. We are still enslaved," Mayor Marion Barry said yesterday after his monthly press conference. He said that trying to educate 50 state legislatures about the amendment was an "insurmountable problem."
"It takes a lot of time with each state. I had to go to Iowa myself three times and we did a lot of other work there before they passed it," Barry told reporters.
The District is taking other tacks in its continuing effort to achieve more local autonomy, including an attempt to gain full statehood. District voters approved a statehood constitution in 1982, and D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) have introduced legislation in the House and Senate to make the District a state.
That legislation would require a majority vote in the House and Senate and the signature of the president, but not the ratification by state legislatures that was required for the constitutional amendment. The statehood bill has an uphill fight in Congress, however.
The D.C. Self-Determination Coalition has been struggling for seven years to gain ratification of the voting rights amendment, but has not yet taken an official position on statehood.
Kurt Vorndran, a member of the board of directors of the coalition, which includes 60 national organizations, said the group is supporting various pieces of legislation introduced by Fauntroy to give the District more home rule, including local authority to prosecute criminal cases and to appoint local judges. These functions now are with the federal government and the president.
Statehood is "seriously under study," he said, but it will require time for the 60 member organizations to decide the coalition's position.
The 16 states that ratified the amendment were New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Maryland, Hawaii, Oregon, Maine, West Virginia, Rhode Island, Iowa, Delaware and Louisiana.
"It's unfortunate," Vorndran said of the failure of the amendment. "The people in the states looked at it in a very parochial and political sense. They were trying to second-guess the District of Columbia on how they would vote."
For example, Republican-dominated states did not want two senators and a representative from the overwhelmingly Democratic District, and areas opposed to gun control feared representatives from a city that has tough gun control laws, he said.
The group also lacked funds, but if the amendment is revived in the future, the coalition has a national network in place that will make the task easier the next time around, Vorndran said.