If the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment were a horse, it would be shot. The amendment is hurting, barely hobbling its sad way around the country, apparently on the sure track to defeat. Hardball politicians in legislatures near and far say the reason for the amendment's condition is that no sane state legislator is going to give two senators to a mostly Democratic, liberal, black city (read that urban area as opposed to rural area). In some states, approving the amendment would amount to loading the enemy's gun with more ammunition. "Let's look at this practically now," said a state senator from Idaho, where the amendment has been defeated. "I'm not stupid. I know who lives there. I don't have a whole lot of liberal guilt. So you figure why I should vote for it."
Aside from its troubles on the road, the amendment is having troubles at home. Back-stabbing and name-calling between two groups vying for leadership of the voting rights drive have left few people to work for the amendment or give money to the drive. Walter E. Fauntroy's D.C. Voting Rights Service Corp. appears to be in worse shape than the amendment.On two days last week, its offices on Wisconsin Avenue were closed. Workers in the area say they rarely see anyone inside.
In many ways, the fortunes of Walter Fauntroy, the city's non-voting delegate to Congress, go up and down with the fortunes of the amendment: when the amendment beat the odds to gain passage in Congress, Fauntroy was credited with the victory; now that the amendment is on the slide, Fauntroy often gets the blame from politicians, the press and the amendment's supporters.
Fauntroy sits in his office in a high-back black leather chair. A large portrait of a pensive Martin Luther King Jr. is behind him. The delegate is asked three questons: Why are people saying such awful things about his leadership of the voting right drive? Does he think the amendment still has a chance of winning 38 states (it has already passed in seven)? And why are the offices of the D.C. Voting Rights Service Corp. closed?
Fauntroy's eyes move rapidly after hearing the questions. Then he is silent. "I don't think I want to comment on that . . . you can write that I won't say a mumbling word. Not a mumbling word." He later explained that "not a mumbling word" is what Christ is reported to have said when he was about to be crucified.
Fauntroy says he believes The Washington Post, some TV stations and a magazine have been unfair to him in their reporting. He says, for example, that he never agreed to condemn the Palestine Liberation Organization in exchange for votes from Maryland legislators, as was reported.
Sources in the delegate's office say he believes the attacks on him and his leadership of the voting rights drive come from white liberals who fear an independent black man. "You ask them why they have a problem with Fauntroy," one person said. "Is he too black? 'No, no, it's not that,' they'll say. Is he too Democratic, too ambitious? But they still say Fauntroy's the problem. The problem is that everybody is trying to cook rabbit stew before they catch the rabbit. They are thinking about who is going to be the senator when the amendment is passed. The people in the states want a senator who will vote with them. Labor wants a senator they can control.Control is the key. And Walter Fauntroy can't be controlled."
Why is the amendment stalled? "The problem is the Tarzan mentality of white liberals in Washington," the source in Fauntroy's office says. "The whites are swinging on the vine through the jungle to save all the niggers. But they don't expect a Muzorewa to stand up and say the niggers can save themselves. They can't handle an independent black man like Walter Fauntroy."
Does Walter Fauntroy have a strategy for saving the voting rights amendment? The source says the strategy is to expand the base of business, labor and liberals so that everyone will spread the word that the right thing for a democratic country to do is to give taxpayers the right to vote. "You have got to get them to stop thinking about the stew and get them to catch the rabbit," the source says.
Across town, in the offices of Common Cause, Dick Clark, chairman of the National Coalition for D.C. Self-Determination, says he wants the message to get out that his group has not given up on the amendment. Two people were hired in January to work full-time for the amendment. There is a budget of about $50,000. For the last eight months, prior to the hirings, there were few volunteers and no paid staff.This year efforts are being concentrated in seven states. The main problem in getting the amendment passed, says Clark, is the question of power. "The issue revolves around Senate representation," he says. "We could get House representation without even a lobbying campaign."
The toughest problem in some states is getting people to pay attention to the amendment. "In a lot of places," says Clark, "it isn't taken seriously. They'll say, 'Why should we deal with it. It doesn't concern us.'" Clark says Fauntroy is perceived by state legislators as having a "vested interest" in the amendment. "We are trying to create broad support for the amendment, and take advantage of leadership as it emerges state by state . . . in some states Common Cause is the wrong group to have behind you."
Prime opposition to the amendment comes from a loose-leaf binder issued to state legislators by the American Legislative Exchange Council. The binder is filled with newspaper articles, essays and a resolution opposing the amendment. It cost the group about $30,000 to send one of the books to every legislator in the country. The gun lobby, the Heritage Foundation and the John Birch Society also let their opposition be known to state legislators, according to Clark.
Joe Rauh, a main supporter of the coalition and the amendment, remains optimistic. "It's a fight we can't lose," says Rauh. "One day the people of this city will vote for two senators and a congressman. The question is when. It is morally the right thing to do and it will happen. But you may not live to see it happen."
Ed Guinan, chairman of the Statehood Initiative Committee, is seeking to get an initiative on the Sept. 9 ballot calling for a constitutional convention for the city. If the initiative is successful, the convention will be held, a constitution written and an election for the District's congressmen and senators scheduled. The elected officials will then go to the Hill seeking a majority vote from the Congress for the District to become the 51st state.
"It's not realistic to expect 38 states to pass the amendment," says Guinan. "Look at what a hard time the Equal Rights Amendment is having. They have a natural constituency in every state. . . .
"Every state except the original colonies have used the [statehood] process to get in the union. It's the traditional way of coming in."
Even if voting rights were to be approved by the states, Guinan notes, the city still would not have full control of its own budget, courts or laws. Statehood would change that. The federal government would have an enclave in the city, much like the Pentagon has in Virginia.
The statehood drive's main opposition now is coming from the voting rights drive. After Guinan announced that the statehood initiative had enough signatures to get on the ballot, the self-determination coalition sent out a notice saying that the statehood effort could "divert attention" from the fight for voting rights. t
"The all-or-nothing approach of statehood, combined with the unique and varied federal interest concerns presented by statehood for D.C., presents a formidable barrier to the success of a statehood campaign in the foreseeable future," the notice said.
"Statehood would be easier to get than voting rights," says Guinan. "We've already got two-thirds of the people up there to vote for voting rights. We only need half of them to vote for statehood. You also have to remember that people on the Hill are not that interested in the District. They don't like having to spend time on the budget, the laws. . . ."
Between the fights over who should run the voting rights drive and how it should be run, as well as the feud between supporters of the voting rights drive and the statehood campaign, the District's chances for either statehood or voting rights look to be about one in a million. It may be that the only hope for greater independence for the District is to have someone try to take away the rights the city has already won. With a common enemy, the groups could unite and attract enough supporters to get the District to do anything -- including secede from the union.