D.C. Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) and several of her colleagues ventured into the congressional trenches yesterday in the campaign for D.C. statehood legislation, and Jarvis found the going a bit rough.
"I like a challenge," Jarvis said gamely, after Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) told her he absolutely was opposed to the bill and Rep. Timothy J. Penny (D-Minn.) said he had "serious reservations" about it.
To add insult to injury, Skelton told Jarvis that if the District was so anxious for full representation in the Senate and House, it should consider petitioning to become part of Virginia or Maryland.
"I don't know how that idea sets with you, but that's been suggested," Skelton said in his office.
Yesterday was the first day of the D.C. Statehood Coalition's fall offensive to obtain House passage this year of statehood legislation introduced by Del. Walter E. Fauntroy (D-D.C.) and approved by the District of Columbia Committee.
Fauntroy said that 177 House members so far have pledged to support the bill -- including one convert rounded up yesterday by council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) -- and 41 more are needed for a majority. He and other supporters say they are confident of lining up sufficient support, but it is far less certain whether the leadership will bring the bill to the floor this year.
House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and other Democratic leaders have endorsed the bill, which would make the District the 51st state -- with full representation in the House and Senate -- and carve out a separate federal enclave. However, Majority Leader Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) said recently that the measure might have to be held over until next year if other major legislation piles up near the end of the year.
"We're going to lay groundwork carefully," Foley said last week. "We won't rush it to the floor. The one thing that might put it over until next year is the rush of legislation in October or early November . . . . But it's still a possibility this year."
Fauntroy, who early this year predicted the bill would be passed by July 4 and then said it would be brought up some time in October, said yesterday, "it's hard to gauge when" it will be brought up.
He said the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork "have slowed us up" because many civil rights groups that otherwise would be lobbying for statehood are concentrating on trying to defeat the nomination. Moreover, Fauntroy said he is tied up with other legislation, including a multilateral development bank bill.
"I must sit down with the leadership soon and see when we might have a window of opportunity" for the statehood bill, Fauntroy said.
Nearly 30 labor, civil rights, business and professional groups -- including the AFL-CIO, the National Urban League, the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and National Rainbow Coalition -- are taking part in the lobbying effort that was kicked off yesterday.
Representatives of many of those groups, along with Council Chairman David A. Clarke and seven other council members, attended a lobbying rally on Capitol Hill.
Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3) said he was encouraged by his meeting with Rep. Jimmy Hayes (D-La.), who until now has been cool to the legislation.
"When I left he told me I could record his as 'leaning to support' statehood," Nathanson said.
Winter, who left the afternoon rally briefly to meet with Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), rushed back to announce that Durbin was now on their side.
But Jarvis' journey through the halls of Congress was far less successful. Penny, who as a Minnesota state legislator opposed the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution, was visibly cool to the idea of statehood during the meeting.
"I'm wrestling with whether it is constitutional," he said. "The Constitution reserves to Congress certain rights over the District. Statehood for the District is much different than statehood for some other territory."