Our nation is not a democracy in which the majority rules; it is a republic in which people are represented by individuals whom they elected to serve their interests. Therefore, any good defender of the republic like myself should favor enabling citizens who live in the District of Columbia to determine their own affairs by electing local government officials. But there are a few reasons why I do not get excited these days when I hear the term "home rule."
There are two main reasons that go hand-in-hand. First, the notion of home rule presupposes that the citizens would elect individuals who would reflect our views and serve our interests. Through no fault of the system, certain occurrences have led me to believe that citizens in the District cannot realize this privilege. Second, if the interests of the people are not served by the elected officials, home rule is a farce.
In addressing my claim that neither I nor other citizens of the District have the ability to really enjoy the fruits of the republic, I would cite an attempt by Mayor Barry to limit our policy-influencing ability. In May, the mayor appealed to Congress (which, he argues, should not infringe on our privilege of home rule) to cut off the people's ability to use the initiative and referendum process to decide whether the District should sell bonds or make long-term loans. The initiative was established by an act of the D.C. council and a direct vote of approval by the citizens in a general election.
How ironic, you might say. But there is no irony if you realize that the mayor's concept of home rule must be that it is his home from which we should be ruled.
On the national level, people have the opportunity to call for constitutional conventions in the event their elected representatives fail to enact the legislation they demand. The Founding Fathers wrote this provision into the Constitution because they realized that we, the people, deserve ultimately to have tools sufficient to affect public policy. On the local level, citizens of the District have the initiative and referendum process to protect us.
This summer saw a similar attack on true home rule -- again not by outsiders but by the mayor, who was joined by members of the council and the school board. This time, they did not go to their enemy, Congress, for help; they went to the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and then to court.
When citizens seeking educational tax credits collected double the number of signatures required to place an initiative on the November ballot, most public officials did practically everything imaginable to prevent ballot placement. There were numerous challenges to the board of elections. Though the board had no ability to make a judgment of the initiative's merit, public officials argued against the initiative's constitutionality.
Since the initiative committee's treasurer notarized the petitions, the opponents thought they had a case of impropriety, and the challenges went on and on. Finally, the board of elections ruled against the initiative's supporters, only to have its ruling overturned by the D.C. Court of Appeals. Opponents of the initiative then sought -- successfully -- another hearing, this time by the full court. What these public officials were nearly successful in doing was preventing citizens from having an opportunity to make an educated decision at the polls.
Why did the public officials fight so relentlessly to prevent the voters from having an opporuntity to choose for themselves on Election Day? We have all heard their justification: they were trying to protect us. Protecting us by denying us the privilege to choose for ourselves? How ridiculous!
I have concluded that elected officials in the District supported home rule only if the concept meant rule from the homes of the mayor and members of the council and school board.
My second reason for a lukewarm feeling about home rule is the realization that it is a farce if the interests of the people are not served by those who have been elected to represent us.
Consider the case of the D.C. Sexual Assault Reform law as passed by the D.C. council and signed by the mayor in September. How could this act, with some of its ridiculous provisions, have served the interests of our citizens? During the 30-day congressional review period, House members read some of the gross provisions in this law and disapproved it by an overwhelming vote. Local officials, from council judiciary committee chairman David Clarke to Del. Walter E. Fauntroy, were quick with their words of disgust over Congress' "stroke against home rule." But thank God for Congress! If that law had been cleared, many fathers of teen-age girls would have been compelled to buy guns. The notion of home rule could never have been important enough for me or any other sound-minded citizen of the District to say okay to such garbage just because the city council passed it and the mayor signed it.
Twelve thousand District citizens petitioned Congress to disapprove that act. They obviously would agree with me that so long as the council and mayor support legislation that most of the people look at with disgust it is a good thing Congress retains the power to review.