The president of the National Conference on State Legislatures said yesterday that ratification of the proposed constitutional amendment that would give the District full voting representation in Congress "will not be easy."
Jason Boe, who also is president of the Oregon State Senate, said persuading 37 more legislatures to ratify (New Jersey became the first on Monday) "will require putting a very very sophisticated force in the field" to address concerns being raised about the proposal.
"The nation's 7,600 state legislators are in a show-me position" on the issue, Boe said after listening to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass) speak in behalf of ratification to the conference's steering committee.
The two dozen committee members, who represented a broad range of political and geographical views, appeared to be sharply divided on the question of ratification.
And several of the legislators interviewed after Kennedy's speech questioned the conventional wisdom that supports would likely be urban, liberal Democrats and that opponents would likely be rural, conservative Republicans.
Wisconsin state Sen. David Berger (D-Milwaukee), who described himself as "a political liberal," told Kennedy that he thought that for purposes of congressional representation, Maryland and Virginia should be reapportioned to include the District's population.
As chairman of the Wisconsin Senate rules committee, Berger said he would try to block consideration of the proposed amendment, and hoped ratification would fail so the issue could be returned to Congress for a new approach.
Kansas Sen. Paul Hess (R-Wichita), said, however, that he plans to sponsor the amendment when the Kansas legislature convenes in January. Hess said he was "convinced of the basic equity of the issue" after meeting last month with D.C. Del. Walter E. Fauntroy and a representative of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade.
Ironically, ratification by the New Jersey legislature may have slowed the drive elsewhere. The Pennsylvania legislature has the amendment before it, but a spokesman said yesterday that "the impetus for speed is gone now that we no longer can be first."
The Pennsylvania Senate's committee on constitutional change and federal vote Tuesday, but a floor vote may not occur for a week or two, a spokesman said. The committee on federal-state relations in the Pennsylvania House tabled the resolution Tuesday, allowing time for a public hearing on the issue next week.
Pennsylvania State Rep. James Ritter (D-Allentown), who is chairman of the House committee that will conduct hearings next week, was among those who heard Kennedy yesterday. While he predicts ratification in his state, Ritter said, "I don't share Sen. Kennedy's optimism" that the proposal will win in 38 states, the number needed for ratification. "It will be more difficult than ERA," Ritter said.
Oregon's Boe agreed, saying "opponents know how to attack" as the result of the ERA flight. Boe's own view is to "wait and listen" to arguments on both sides.
Florida state Rep. Richard Hodes (D-Tampa), Maine state Howard Trotzky (R-Bangor) and New Hampshire Rep. Sara Townsend (R-Meriden) at expressed fear that the debate could turn on the racial implications of awarding two senators to a city that is 75 percent black.
"Underneath, the racial thing's got to be there," said Hodes speaker protem of the Florida House.
"Unfortunately, it's becoming a black issue," added Trotzsky.
"There are racial overtones," said Townsend, who is undecided how she will vote. "I have a gut feeling the conservatives will oppose it like mad. One already is working hard against it" in her legislature.
Several legislators also expressed concern about the large number of federal employes who would get a voice in Congress with ratification.
Tennessee Rep. John Bragg (D-Murfreesboro) said Kennedy's talk, in which he stressed the number of District residents who died fighting in Vietnam, and the federal tax burden city residents bear without representation, "made me feel more affirmative" toward ratification.
But Bragg wanted to know how many District residents cast absentee ballots in other states. "If one-third of them do, as I heard, that could change the figures a helluva lot, and could change my feelings," he said. (An aide to Kennedy estimated that 50,000 District residents maintain voting rights elsewhere).
Others were more positive. Iowa state Rep. Floyd Millen predicted passage in his state; Louisiana state Rep. Joseph Accardo said, "unless I hear a strong argument to the contrary, I'm prone to vote for it" and California Assembly Speaker Lwo McCarthy, whose legislature postponed action on the amendment last month, predicted "easy passage" when the legislature reconvenes early next year.