JUDGING FROM the score so far, ratification of the proposed constitutional amendment to give the District of Columbia voting representation in Congress is faring poorly. The latest blow came in Pennsylvania, where the state house of representatives rejected the proposal by a solid 105-to-89 vote. Unless there are some radical changes in the efforts on behalf of the amendment around the country, the proposal is in for worse trouble, we fear. As Elena Hess of the Self-Determination for D.C. Coalition put it, the Pennsylvania vote "indicates what we know, that people don't understand Washington, D.C. The think of it as the federal bureaucracy." They will continue to misunderstand this place and this issue, in our view, without more sensitive, deliberate, bipartisan - and low-key - efforts to work the votes through the state legislatures.
Delegate Walter Fauntroy, as the District's lone elected emissary to Congress, certainly has a legitimate claim to leadership in this effort. Unfortunately, however, his obvious personal interest in voting representation - including seats in the Senate - can be read as a conflict of interest when he turns up as the principal lobbyist for the proposal in the state capitals. Mr. Fauntroy says he realizes the problem and is now working with the coalition's various members - Republicans, Democrats, labor and business leaders and representatives of national public interest groups - to develop effective contacts in the various states.
Such a change is critical. One need only examine that Pennsylvania vote, in which all but two of the 83 Republicans in the state house voted against ratification. Republicans claim they were not contacted and educated on the question. Without time to study the matter, many GOP legislators - and there will be many more Republicans in Harrisburg and other state capitals next year - see the D.C. amendment as merely a move to increase the black and liberal Democratic vote in Congress at their state's representation expense. That is why someone, such as Paul Hays, chairman of the D.C. Republican Party and a dedicated supporter of the amendment, deserves a leadership role alongside Mr. Fauntroy. And on the national level, a steering committee of prominent leaders of both parties and all races must work to pinpoint concerns stemming from race, political parties, gun-control opponents, anti-abortion groups, rural interests fearing more urban domination in Congress - and who-knows-what-other reasons opponents cite.
Above all, the effort for ratification must back away from any more mad scramble to ram ratification through any legislature that happens to be open for business. there is time to prepare each case carefully and to get word to overly exuberant supporters in the legislatures not to push prematurely without having made head-counts in advance. That way, the fundamental argument in support of the amendment - that the Americans who make their homes in the nation's capital are victims of taxation without representation, and never mind their politics or their races - can at least be made as thoroughly sensitively as possible.