JUST THE OTHER DAY we suggested in this space that one reason it has been difficult to win immediate support for congressional representation for the District of Columbia is that it takes some careful understanding. On Sunday, an editorial in The Baltimore Sun underscored the point. It began by misstating exactly what the General Assembly will be voting on -- claiming that the proposed constitutional amendment would, among other things, "allow the citizens of the District of Columbia... to cast votes directly for the president and vice president and... to vote directly for or against constitutional amendments." Not so. The citizens would vote -- as they do already -- for presidential electors . The proposed amendment would merely put District citizens on the same electoral system as other Americans instead of restricting them to a maximum number of three electors (which is the number they now have anyway). Nor would citizens "vote directly" on future constitutional amendments; Congress would set up the machinery for that.
Now to The Sun's main points:
Human rights . The Sun says District residents have "a major say in how their governments are run" because they elect a mayor and City Council and a non-voting delegate to the House. But without senators, for example, what "say" do these Americans have when treaties are considered for ratification? Or when presidential nominations are considered for confirmation? Or when war is declared and conscription is imposed? As for the actions of the mayor and City Council, are they not, unlike any other comparable jurisdiction, subject to being overruled by Congress?
No taxation without representation . The Sun says D.C. residents "complain that they pay a higher federal tax per capita than do residents of 49 states. They imply this is because they are unrepresented. But it is really because they earn more per capita. Much of that comes in federal paychecks." We've never heard anyone "imply" that his or her taxes are the result of no representation. What is argued is that D.C. citizens pay these high taxes without representation. And that "federal paycheck" business is misleading, too: Of the District's work force, an estimated 33 percent are employed by the federal government. That also happens to be less than one-third of the federal government employees in and from a metropolitan area that includes Maryland and Virginia residents. In Arlington County, for example, a total of 38 percent of working residents are federal government employees. Two-thirds of the District's work force doesn't work for the government, in any case.
Civil rights . The Sun says that amendment supporters have been stressing "to the brink of demagoguery" the fact that the city's population is predominantly black. That hasn't been the case in Annapolis, nor should it be. The representation would apply to all Americans who live in the District -- and in that sense is indeed a matter of the civil rights of all citizens.
Population . The Sun says it is irrelevant that the District's population is larger than that of a number of states, since in the Senate every state is equal -- and only to every other state. That isn't the point. The real weakness in The Sun's argument is that Senate representation would set some kind of "dangerous precedent" by treating the District as though it were a state. The fact is, it already is treated as a state in other regards that apparently do not offend The Sun, including for taxation purposes.
The editorial goes on to suggest that there are other ways to toss District citizens a bone, one being to let their lone emissary to the House have a vote -- and never mind how this would upset the bicameral balance of the U.S. Congress. Then there is that old bugaboo about Puerto Rico, Guam and Samoa -- whose residents don't even pay federal taxes. Of 115 countries in the world with elected national legislatures, only Brazil and the United States deny representation in their legislatures to the residents of their capital cities. So it is a matter of human rights -- and we hope that members in both houses in neighboring Annapolis will give the amendment the sensitive understanding and support that it deserves throughout this country.