The District's long struggle for democracy leads some people to wonder if we will ever get there. We will, but the activism of residents must be guided by unvarnished, accurate information -- a purpose not served by Mark Plotkin's Aug. 22 Outlook piece, "Look Who's Rallying for D.C.'s Cause."
Plotkin praised Republicans for trying to get D.C. voting rights back in their platform while he admonished Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry and Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) "to show some support for the idea of representation in the House." Yet both have been leading advocates of voting rights and statehood. I was charged with ditching my own constituents.
Says Plotkin, who claims to know, we are ignoring the "desires and aspirations" of D.C. residents for passage of a bill by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.); that bill would give the District a vote in the House -- but not the Senate -- as an incremental step toward democracy.
I have worked closely with Davis on his bill, and I have welcomed two other voting rights bills by Republican colleagues, because these bills mark the first bipartisan support for D.C. voting rights since passage of the voting rights constitutional amendment 30 years ago. The first step toward acceptable legislation is to achieve consensus on the necessity for voting rights. Then we can work toward a bill we all can support.
Abandoning my bill to provide full voting rights -- which has strong citizen support -- for the Davis bill or the other bills would senselessly give up my leverage to get the best D.C. bill.
My approach already has been vindicated by changes in the Davis bill. All three GOP bills involved Maryland. I worked with Davis, and he later dropped his original version, which made the District a voting district that included Maryland residents, in favor of a stand-alone D.C. district.
However, Davis's idea to eliminate Republican opposition by giving a vote to the Democratic District and to Republican Utah, which barely missed getting an additional House seat in the last census, has been overwhelmed by two events.
First, for the first time in history, Republicans in Texas and Colorado overturned lawful redistricting to redistrict again, as The Post noted, in an undisguised and "abhorrent" attempt "to wipe out moderate and white Democrats" ["The Soviet Republic of Texas," editorial, Oct. 14, 2003]. This outrage killed any chance that Democrats would trust Republicans to play fair on the redistricting necessitated by the Davis bill.
The fatal flaw, however, was demographics, not politics. Utah Rep. Chris Cannon (R) told the Salt Lake City Tribune, "Why would we fool around with a seat now when we are going to get one, and possibly two, after the next census anyway?" The latest census figures support his claim. The truth is that the Davis bill never had a chance with the Republicans. They repeatedly have refused to return my less-valuable House vote in the Committee of the Whole. Davis's bill still belongs on the table, of course, but it has no greater chance of passage than my bill for the full voting representation favored by D.C. residents.
Plotkin's accusation that I took statehood out of the Democratic platform also is untrue. I will never give up on statehood, because statehood alone gives the District House and Senate votes and eliminates congressional interference in local affairs. However, my colleagues have told me that our voting rights bill is surrounded by confusion concerning statehood and voting rights. Consequently, because the Democratic platform is a national document, I tried using the same wording that commonly defines statehood -- "equal rights to democratic self-government" joined with "congressional representation for the citizens of the nation's capital."
My statehood bill, which I got two-thirds of the Democrats and one Republican to support in a 1993 House vote, is one of my most important congressional achievements. I would be pressing statehood today if the District had not temporarily given up state functions to recover from insolvency.
The confusion about what the District wants needs to be sorted out, but sowing division among people on the same side is not the way.
-- Eleanor Holmes Norton
a Democrat, represents the District
in the House of Representatives.