On June 3 the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District heard testimony on the 2005 budget sent to Congress by the D.C. Council and Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D).
After the hearing, residents and journalists gathered around the subcommittee chair, Rodney P. Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), as WTOP Radio's Mark Plotkin asked a question on the minds of many:
"Do you support the proposal of Tom Davis [R-Va.] for voting representation in Congress for the District -- one seat for D.C., one for Utah?"
"No," Frelinghuysen firmly replied. "This is a federal city. The Framers did not intend to have voting members here. Congresswoman [Eleanor Holmes] Norton [D-D.C.] does a tremendous job, without a vote, representing the interests of her constituents."
The lawmaker was then asked if he was aware that his father, Peter Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.), who served in the House for 22 years (1953-75), had sponsored proposals to amend the Constitution to allow D.C. residents to elect voting members of the House.
"No," he answered, "I was not aware of that. Next time I see him, I'll ask him about it."
When Peter Frelinghuysen was elected to Congress 50 years ago, he supported a Republican Party platform that advocated giving residents of the nation's capital votes in the electoral college, representation in Congress and a locally elected government.
The GOP, then led by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, was committed to these goals. Eisenhower, for example, sought action on District voting rights in at least nine addresses to Congress, specifically calling "unconscionable" the situation that citizens residing in the capital had no voting member in Congress. According to archival records from Republican Congressional Caucuses, the GOP always had District voting rights on its legislative program, but it did not set the agenda in Congress because it was the minority party.
During the Eisenhower administration, Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) and Prescott Bush (R-Conn. and grandfather of George W.) led Senate efforts for D.C. voting rights in the electoral college and Congress. By 1960 they put together a bipartisan coalition to yield the two-thirds vote necessary to send an amendment to the states for ratification.
Initially, the Senate version provided for votes in the electoral college and at least one voting member of the House. In the House, Peter Frelinghuysen and a majority of Republicans committed to vote for the Senate version, but Democratic House leaders took to the floor a measure providing solely for electoral college votes.
It was that measure that was sent to the states. Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address to Congress, backed by the party platform, urged speedy ratification. Ratification by the required 38 state legislatures was achieved in a record nine months.
Until the end of his House service in 1974, Frelinghuysen was the co-sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment providing that "the people of the District constituting the seat of government of the United States shall elect at least one representative in Congress and, as may be provided by law, one or more additional representatives or senators or both, up to the number to which the District would be entitled if it were a state."
Today, there is a Republican president who, along with Rodney Frelinghuysen and the Republican leadership, apparently would contend that for more than 100 years the GOP was mistaken. Current party leaders, including the president, maintain that the Founding Fathers really never intended the District to have a voting member in Congress.
Do they believe treating the District as a state for purposes of voting in the electoral college was also a mistake, enacted contrary to the supposed dictates of the Founders about the federal city?
I hope that Rodney Frelinghuysen will reconsider his views on this issue -- that he will consider the Republican Party's 125-year support for D.C. voting rights and his own father's record of advocacy. I hope that he will speak to his father about this issue, which was of concern to the member of Congress throughout his long and distinguished career representing New Jersey in the House.
-- Nelson Rimensnyder
is the former director of research
for the House Committee
on the District of Columbia.