The optimistic view of the statehood constitutional convention is that the delegates represent the diversity of the city and that the resulting document will reflect a sophisticated blend of that diversity.
The pessimistic view is that the convention will turn out roughly akin to what an "Up With People" performance would look like if produced by the D.C. school board--a reflection of the District's bizarre political culture, which sometimes seems to consist of several hundred people each trying to stage a coup with no help.
I tend to the former view because, despite the fact that the delegates are indeed a variegated group (including statehood movement founders and statehood critics, Republicans and Democrats, independents and socialists), this town has shown its ability, when the cause is sufficiently important, to put away political toys and concentrate on what unites, rather than divides, us. It happened during the anti-freeway movement, where black militants and white Georgetowners shared the same speaking platform. It happened during the numerous meetings in every ward to hammer out ground rules for the neighborhood commissions. It can happen at the statehood convention if the delegates remember that the problem is not their colleagues, but rather those in Congress and elsewhere who do not favor ending the city's colonial status.
There is, of course, the danger that some delegates won't see it that way, but this danger can be avoided if the more exuberant delegates keep their eye on the real purpose of the exercise and the more thoughtful ones concern themselves with the spirit as well as the substance of the meetings.
A second danger at the convention is that the delegates will forget that their final document is subject to veto, not only by the Congress, but by D.C. voters. As one delegate told me, "If we fail with the voters, then everything we have done has failed." Victories in the convention that cannot be sustained in the polling booth will be Pyrrhic ones.
I have occasionally suggested that the best thing the convention could do would be just to plagiarize the Kansas constitution or some equally stolid document of Middle America. Of course, that's not possible, since there are issues here that don't exist to the same degree in Kansas, such as the relationship between the state and the neighborhoods or between the state and the fedcral government. But even in such instances, it would seem better to follow a pragmatic course rather than one of ultimate political virtue, remembering that the constitution can, in any event, be amended as soon as we become a state.
A third danger is that the delegates will miss the point at which a constitution should end and legislation begin. Not only is an overlegislated constitution an overly controversial one, but it becomes a restraint on the imagination and progress of the future. The writers of the U.S. Constitution are honored not only for what they said, but for what they were smart enough not to say. If the delegates come up against a sticking point, it may well be a sign that the matter is best left for legislative debate and action. For example, the delegates might simply write that the state legislature may delegate such functions as it sees fit to neighborhood councils with the exception of functions X, Y and Z. Likewise, a certain amount of vagueness concerning federal-state relationships seems wise. After all, the power of the federal government over the new state can, under the U.S. Constitution, be no more or less than it is for any other state. An attempt to write a specified federal payment into the constitution, for example, might lead us straight to the Supreme Court.
A fourth danger is that the convention will have neither the time nor the money to do its job properly. The D.C. Council has been unjustifiably stingy about both matters and should reconsider as soon as possible. D.C. Statehood: A Chance of Unite . . . and Participate