What's with this talk about Congress punishing the District of Columbia because of former mayor Marion Barry's expected return to public office in January? No sooner had Barry been declared the winner in the Democratic primary contest for a Ward 8 council seat than the Associated Press reported that his election could place the District under increased congressional scrutiny. The AP wasn't alone.

Northern Virginia Republican congressman Tom Davis told USA Today that Barry's return to city government "probably doesn't help" Davis's bill to give D.C. voting representation in the House of Representatives. "The farther you get from Anacostia [Ward 8], the more adverse the reaction" to Barry, Davis is quoted as saying.

Time out!

Any attempt to use Marion Barry against the District ought to be opposed with all the vigor that this town's 550,000-plus residents can muster. Barry's victory is the business of District residents. It falls to voters in Ward 8, not members of Congress, to hold Barry accountable for everything that he does or fails to do while in office. Congressional tampering with the District's powers of self-governance because of disdain for one legislator of a 13-member city council is ludicrous and offensive and, if carried out, would be an example of Capitol Hill bullying at its worst.

I don't share Barry's politics or his extracurricular interests, and I have said so emphatically in dozens of columns. But I do respect the voters who cast their ballots for him. Congress should do the same.

And why not? District residents have certainly accorded the same respect to their fellow Americans, who, goodness knows, have sent some first-class doozies to Washington.

For example, some of us still have a hard time understanding why voters in Indiana's 3rd Congressional District keep returning furniture salesman Mark Souder to Washington, since that Republican from northeastern Indiana seems chiefly interested in repealing gun control in the nation's capital to make it possible for Washingtonians to carry handguns on the job and at home and to have an unlimited supply of semiautomatic weapons.

Frankly, many of us have also been perplexed by the decision of citizens in Texas's 22nd District to saddle Congress with pest control operator Tom DeLay, who spends much of his time in Washington shaking the money trees where lobbyists hang out, when he's not hammering wayward Republicans.

Texas and Indiana voters are, of course, at liberty to select whomever they want as lawmakers. That being the case, why should the District pay a price for Marion Barry?

Nary a word of scorn was uttered by Republican congressional leaders against GOP voters in Tennessee's 8th Congressional District who brushed aside Dennis Bertrand, a write-in candidate and Iraq war veteran, last month and instead gave their votes and the Republican nomination to James L. Hart -- the candidate who considers African Americans as among the "less-favored races" because of "a lower brain size [and] lower IQ." Hart ranks Europeans among the "favored races" and believes the world will be a lot better off if never the twain shall meet. Heard any talk lately about disenfranchising Republican voters in west Tennessee?

But wouldn't you know it? Some of us in this town are getting all defensive because 4,728 Southeast Washington residents decided they wanted to be represented on the city council by Marion Barry. Mayor Anthony Williams, for instance, was quoted on a radio station as saying that when he travels outside the city and on Capitol Hill he expects he will have to defend Barry's election. The mayor doesn't have to -- and shouldn't -- do any such thing.

You ever hear Mississippians apologizing for sending rabid segregationists to Washington?

Are folks in southwestern Indiana's 8th District taking hits for producing five-term GOP congressman John Hostettler -- he being the legislator who was busted in April and pleaded guilty to bringing a loaded Glock 9mm semiautomatic handgun to Louisville International Airport?

And no one is talking about turning off the flow of federal funds to Connecticut because its Republican governor resigned in the face of an impeachment inquiry and a federal corruption inquiry, the former mayor of Bridgeport was sent to prison on corruption charges, and the former mayor of Waterbury went to jail in a nasty child sex case. If residents of Connecticut are living out their lives in shame and guilt, I've missed it.

So what makes Tony Williams feel he has to explain Barry's victory in the District's poorest ward? It's almost as if Williams accepts the astigmatic view of the District held by some congressional leaders who regard themselves as latter-day Tarzans before whom D.C. leaders must prostrate themselves. An inferiority complex helps you assume that position.

District residents don't owe anyone an apology or explanation for what happened in Ward 8 on Tuesday. As with every other state, county, city and voting precinct in America, it's called democracy.