On Nov. 2, the voters of Washington will go to the polls and for the fourth time signal their intent to become equal to their fellow citizens across the country by joining the union of states.
The first such signal came in 1980, when the voters provided twice the necessary petition signatures to place the statehood question on the ballot. The second was the approval of the Statehood Initiative by a substantial majority. The third sign came in the November 1981 general election, when 45 delegates were elected to tend to one of the important tasks necessary for statehood -- the writing of a constitution. All the evidence suggests that the upcoming vote on the constitution will be consistent.
The evidence: three local organizations representing large numbers of voters have publicly announced their enthusiastic endorsement of the constitution for New Columbia: (1) The Democratic State Committee, elected by 70 percent of the registered voters (and it is reasonable to assume that the ability of that party organization accurately to reflect the views of its members is what allows the party to remain the majority political organization in the city); (2) the local chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, which has affiliate members throughout the country; and (3) the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, whose support is courted by most serious candidates for public office in Washington.
The members of these active and representative organizations view the constitution not as an end in itself, but as an important milestone in the valiant and impressive move away from the colonial government we have so long endured. They want their own elected governor and state legislature to determine the laws by which they must abide instead of the U.S. Congress, where they now have no voting representation. They find it demeaning and feudalistic that people for whom they cannot vote determine how they shall spend their own tax revenues.
This enlightened electorate is capable of reading and understanding the constitution prepared by those they elected to do the job. The eight-page document can be read easily in an hour or less. It does not require another year of intensive explanation, as some in its small minority of critics infer.
The great majority of voters recognizes that the purpose of a state constitution is to define the basic principles and governmental structure of the state, not to be a letter-perfect document, satisfactory in every way to every interest. As with all state constitutions, there are provisions allowing revision of the document at any time the electorate so desires.
Most of those who constitute the majority will vote for the constitution with the knowledge that the delegates conscientiously studied the constitutions of the 50 states, the Constitution of the United States and a model constitution prepared by the Municipal League. They will remember that a convention held extensive hearings at times and places convenient to the public and took voluminous testimony from citizens, historians, constitutional scholars, lawyers, judges, political officeholders and young people.
They know that the scores of meetings held by the various committees of the convention on Saturday nights, Sundays and into the early weekday mornings were characterized by intense analysis and research performed by a professional staff of legislative experts, and were also characterized by serious attention to the hearing testimony of witnesses.
Supporters know all this because they or their representatives attended many of these meetings, all of which were open to the public. While some segments of the media were focusing on the style and intensity of our discussions, debates and votes, the majority of observers were paying attention to the substance of the proceedings.
So the convention delegates know where the public support is and are not surprised at the increasing endorsements by organizations representing large numbers of residents.
Regarding the minute but vocal element of dissidents, suffice it so say that most of them have not been involved in the citizen pursuit of representative government for our city. But they can read the positive signals broadcast by the vast majority of the voters. And therein may lie the basis for what has become a rather shrill minority insistence that the whole issue be postponed for another year.
After voter approval of their constitution on Nov. 2, the major task for D.C. citizens will be to prepare together for the most effective presentation to Congress. However one may speculate about the reception by that body of our petition for statehood, the question will be one of fidelity, on the part of our national legislature, to the fundamental principles on which this nation is founded, and which set us apart from nations with less democratic forms of government. Congress cannot but be mindful of the worldwide significance of this historic moment occasioned by the desire of its national capital for inclusion among the democratically governed states of the nation.