Hearings will be held next month before the House Government Reform Committee on four bills that take different approaches to granting congressional voting rights to District residents.
Behind the scenes, the District's demand for representation -- pushed by panel chairman Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) -- has created political tensions in Utah and among District and national Democrats, who traditionally have been strong advocates of voting rights.
Davis recently told the D.C. affairs section of the D.C. Bar that "fairly intricate politics" are involved with his bill to give city residents a full vote in the House. The slow progress of his bill, the D.C. Fairness in Representation Act, has set off finger-pointing among District Democrats and in Utah's congressional delegation. Utah was next in line for a new seat after the 2000 Census.
Davis's bill would temporarily expand the House from 435 seats to 437 to give the District a full voting representative and add a fourth member for Utah. The House would revert to 435 seats in the next reapportionment before the 2012 election; the District would keep its vote.
By coupling the interests of the overwhelmingly Democratic District and heavily Republican Utah, the bill seeks to unlock a partisan logjam in the House.
For years, GOP leaders saw no long-term political gain from creating a D.C. representative who has a full vote. Now that the GOP stands to gain a member from the state that gave President Bush his highest share of the vote in 2004, however, Democrats fear a ploy to gerrymander Utah's sole House Democrat out of his seat.
The result is cross-cutting pressures on politicians in both locales.
D.C. elected statehood lobbyist and "shadow" Rep. Ray Browne (D) is encouraging the D.C. Democratic State Committee next month to endorse Davis's bill despite opposition from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). The Democrat-dominated D.C. Council passed a resolution supporting the measure last year.
Browne has faulted Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's nonvoting House member, for so far withholding her nod, which he said could propel enough Democrats to join GOP moderates to force a House vote.
"Her reluctance to support this bill is costing us Democratic support. Why won't she vigorously support this bill that gives us a seat in the House?" Browne said. "Simply being supportive of all D.C. voting rights bills won't do it. . . . We are sensitive to this being her turf . . . but it's our turf, too, and she represents us."
Norton has said that she supports working with others, including Davis, "to achieve the strongest" voting rights bill but that it is premature to give an endorsement.
"I know exactly how to give leadership on a bill, that is, to act whenever you get the best deal you can get, and by making sure you have maintained the city's position," said Norton, citing the drive for full D.C. representation in the House and Senate.
Among the four bills that are before Davis's panel, Norton's long-standing bill would give the District two senators and one House member. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) would count District votes toward the election of Maryland's U.S. House and Senate members. Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) would retrocede most of the District to Maryland, where residents would vote as state citizens.
In 1993, the House voted down a full D.C. voting representation measure, 277 to 153; and Maryland leaders have opposed variations of retrocession.
Davis expressed sympathy with Norton, saying he would continue to work with her. "She has her own bill. She can't readily retreat from that and say, 'Oh, Davis, I'm going to support your bill for one vote.' "
Norton and Pelosi, who said she supports voting rights in the District, say that if Republican leaders were serious and were not targeting Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) for the third time, the GOP majority could pass the legislation by itself. (See related item on page 2).
"Right now, Republicans control Congress, and this can't get anywhere without Republican votes," Davis acknowledged. "If I can do my job on the Republican side, Democrats will come around." Davis said he is seeking to sign up "30 to 40" Republican co-sponsors, up from 16 now and three Democrats.