The excuse is always the same: "We forgot." Or to put it in Washingtonese: "It was inadvertent." Not true.
The most recent slight -- no, let me call it what it is, the most recent insult -- has to do with the quarter.
In 1998 Congress decided that every quarter minted would have a distinct design on the back that would symbolize the history and identity of one of the states.
So far, 21 billion quarters have been produced, with 26 states honored. Four more states will be added before the end of the year. Ultimately, all 50 states will be represented on the quarter, but not the District. We're not a state, so apparently we don't count.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has gotten a bill through the House that remedies this exclusion, but things don't look good for passage in the Senate. The bill requires the co-sponsorship of two-thirds of the senators. Not two-thirds of the senators to pass it. I repeat, two-thirds as sponsors.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) has offered to try to round up the requisite 67 senators, but it is a tall order. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Banking Committee, could make matters simple. He has the authority to make a motion to waive the sponsorship requirement. But the Maryland senator shows no inclination to help his neighbor.
Another inadvertent omission -- read "insult" -- has to do with the flags at Union Station.
As people exit that spectacular building they see the stirring sight of the U.S. Capitol encircled by the flags of the states. The District's flag is not among them. I have been told that the National Park Service could remedy this oversight, but like Sarbanes, it shows no inclination to do so.
But by far the worst symbolic insult to the District's 570,000 citizens is inside the Capitol itself. The magnificent Statuary Hall and its adjacent marble hallways have reserved spaces for statues of two distinguished individuals from each state. Once again the District is omitted. Duke Ellington, Mary McLeod Bethune, Julius W. Hobson Sr., Joseph L. Rauh Jr., Walter Washington, Mary Terrell -- there's no place for them on Capitol Hill.
Not long ago I stopped House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in Statuary Hall and asked why no one from the District was represented. He looked stunned, mumbled something I didn't get and hurriedly walked away. He didn't seem to have any answer for me.
The kind of symbolic slighting I'm talking about may seem trivial, but it is not. It is essential that the District be recognized as a real place where real people live their lives if it is ever to obtain full voting representation in the House and Senate. Instead, it is being overlooked and zeroed out.
One unlikely American institution deserves to be commended for not perpetuating this lack of respect: Sports Illustrated. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, each week beginning last July 14, the magazine has devoted two pages to the sports legends, places and passions of a state. It started with Rhode Island and will finish with California on July 5.
Sports Illustrated hadn't planned to profile the District, but now Assistant Managing Editor Craig Neff says it will "be doing something" on the District on July 12. With the likes of Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing, Maury Wills, Sherman Douglas, Shirley Povich, Chuck Hinton, Pauline Betz Addie, John Hechinger, Paul Goldman and Red Auerbach having been born or raised in the District or having starred on city teams, the magazine won't have a problem filling two pages.
Sports Illustrated is doing what Congress, the federal government and our president have failed to do -- recognize the District and its citizens as part of the United States.
-- Mark L. Plotkin
is WTOP radio's political commentator.