With the California legislature set to vote as early as today, supporters of the District of Columbia voting rights amendment said yesterday that the measure could be ratified by the states in time to allow D.C. residents to begin electing congressional representatives and senators by 1980.
The same coalition of civic, civil rights and voting reform groups that successfully guided the constitutional amendment to its historic 67-32 passage in the Senate Tuesday already are busy applying the same strategy nationwide in an effort to win the necessary approval of 38 state legislatures within seven years.
"I am cautiously optimistic," said Walter E. Fauntroy, the District's non-voting delegate who has led the voting rights crusade this far and plans to remain in the forefront of the final ratification battle.
Late last night, Fauntroy and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker flew to Sacramento, the California capital, to be on hand for the legislative action.
Fauntroy said yesterday his initial goal is to complete the ratification process by 1980.
Some opponents and proponents of the voting rights amendment had predicted before its approval by the Senate that the legislation would encounter resistance among state legislators to rival that faced by the still unratified Equal Rights Amendment.
That view was not expressed yesterday, however, as specific checks with legislative officials here and around the country showed legislators to be largely supportive or neutral in discussing the amendment.
"Probably most legislators will have no problem with the amendment," said John J. Callahan, director of the office of state federal relations for the National Conference of the State Legislatures.
Callahan, whose group functions as a service and resource organization for the nation's 50 state legislative bodies, said his members have "an open mind on the issue" of voting rights for the District and would likely be susceptible to the same arguments that ultimately proved persuasive in Congress.
In California, State Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-L.A.) and Assembly Speaker Leo McCarthy (D-S.F.) introduced a resolution calling for adoption of the amendment and said a vote could be scheduled as early as today. The assembly will reccess on Aug. 31 until December.
Waters seemed confident that supporters of the bill would obtain approval of leaders in the state Senate to waive procedural rules so both houses can vote on the amendment before the recess.
"The District of Columbia is larger than seven other states, and they can vote in the presidential elections but they have no senators or representatives," she said, explaining her sponsorship of the amendment.
A two-thirds vote is required in both the Assembly and the Senate to approve the amendment.
While its sponsors in California were striving to have that state become the first to ratify the D.C. voting rights amendment, black legislators in Pennsylvania also were vying for that honor.
Pennsylvania should be the first state to ratify the amendment because this state is the keystone of the nation's independence," said state Sen. Freeman Hankins, a black Democrat from Philadelphia. "The District of Columbia's population has been too long denied its voting representation in Congress."
The Pennsylvania legislature is expected to take up the bill Sept. 11, after its Labor Day recess. Hankins and other black legislators hope to start a Philadelphia-based movement to gain approval.
In Fauntroy's office yesterday, an automatic typewriter was cranking out copies of a letter to 4,000 black elected officials asking their renewed support in their home states to win approval of the amendment.
"We must now look for speedy ratification by 38 states," the letter said. "As an elected official, you can be especially helpful in insuring that your state legislature considers and ratifies" the amendment.
Fauntroy promised in the letter to write or call each official very shortly "to organize a meeting in your state to discuss a stategy for achieving ratification."
In addition to California and Pennsylvania, the state legislatures of Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey all will hold sessions before the end of the year, according to Dick Clark, president of the national Coalition for Self-Determination for D.C. He said supporters of the amendment intend to visit them one by one.
Legislative leaders in Maryland and Virginia differed over the amendment's chances of adoption in their home states.
Maryland Senate President Steny Hoyer (D-Prince George's) said he had not had a chance to talk to any legislators but expected the amendment to receive "very significant support in both houses of the General Assembly," where the measure needs just a majority vote for approval.
In Virginia, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Adelard L. Brault, of Fairfax County, said the measure would be considered by the 1979 session of the Virginia-General Assembly.
But Brault cautioned that what he called the "Proposition 13 syndrome" against spending and high taxes could very well have a negative effect against the legislation.
"Additional senators can be very expensive . . . they cost about $1 million in operational expenses a year each," Brault said.
Brault predicted the amendment would have the backing of most of the Northern Virginis delegation, and he said legislators in some parts of the state would find it politically inadvisable to antagonize black voters by opposing the measure.
"We're all going to be up for reelection," said Brault, who added that "black organizations and all liberals are going to support this."
Sen. Dong Wilder, a black Democrat from Richmond, said he had already contacted Fauntry and planned to begin seeking cosponsors for the amendment.
Del. Gary Myers (R-Alexandria) issued a news release calling on the Virginia legislators to adopt the amendment as soon as possible. "The representational form of government in the United States began here," he said.
This was the status of the amendment in other states, according to wire service and other reports yesterday.
Michigan: State Rep. Jackie Vaughn III said he would introduce a resolution next month when the legislature reconvenes to obtain immediate ratification of the amendment.
Illinois: William Redmond, speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, said, "I would see no reason why we wouldn't approve it and my guess is we will approve it with no problem." The Illinois legislature meets in October.
New Jersey: Assembly Speaker Christopher Jackman pledged yesterday to introduce the ratification resolution in that legislature, which aill meet Dec. 31.
Late yesterday afternoon AFL-CIO President George Meany urged labor's state organizations to "begin immediately . . . to bring maximum support for ratification by your state's legislatures at the earliest possible time."
And several national organizations that supported the amendment's passage in Congress were gearing up yesterday to get it introduced and passed in legislatures around the country.
"While it has been on the front burner here, it is astoundingly unknown in the states," said Ruth Hinerfeld, president of the League of Women Voters. She said her organization's first job would be to educate the public and state legislatures about the District.
Democratic Gov. Robert Ray of Iowa, president of the National Association of Governors, has submitted a resolution to that organization, urging the 50 governors to support the amendment and work for its passage in their states. The resolution will be voted on during the governors' meeting next week in Boston.
The strategy for obtaining passage will differ from state to state, Clark said. Some of the ingredients for determining how to proceed include the amount of knowledge legislators have about the District's nonvoting status, the presence or absence of a strong governor and the size of the legislature's calendar.
If the Equal Rights Amendment is under consideration in a legislature, Clark said, then the supporters of the D.C. amendment would not move quickly for ratification of the city's voting rights amendment, fearing a backlash against all constitutional amendments.