Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of congressional adoption of a constitutional amendment for full voting rights for the District of Columbia. The euphoria last year had Washingtonians believing that by this time we would be well on the way to ratification and 1980 would likely see our first vote for 2 senators and a representative. Now the pendulum has swung gloomily to doubts about ever accomplishing our goal. Small wonder, too! With 38 states required for ratification, only 6 approved the amendment the first year.
The history of constitutional ratification tells us something of the obstacles now confronting the D.C. amendment's supporters. Eighteen separate ratification actions have been taken by the states since 1787, including the Constitution, the Bill of Rights (submitted in a package of 10 amendments) and 16 separate amendments. Ten ratifications, a majority, occurred during the first year after congressional approval and only four successful ratification drives have been taken more than two years. Even of those four, all but the 16th Amendment (providing for a federal income tax) received a majority of the states' approval during the first year. No amendment has ever passed with only 6 ratifications in the first year.
What caused this sad state of affairs? It certainly is not the strength of our opponents' case. Most of their arguments boil down to a single point: D.C. residents should be denied the right to vote because of the representatives they might elect -- liberal, urban, black, Democrats. One of the authors of this piece, Mr. Rauh, in a public debate with his friend James J. Kilpatrick suggested that it was immoral to deny people the right to vote because of how they might cast their ballots. Banishing moral issues from politics, Mr. Kilpatrick replied that conservative Republicans simply weren't ever going to give liberal Democrats two senators and that was that. We have enough faith in the American people, Republicans and Democrats alike, to predict that he'll be proven wrong one day.
Actually, our opponents' argument against ratification is not only immoral, it is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court made this quite clear in a case involving Texas discrimination against residents serving in the armed forces, saying: "Fencing out from the franchise a sector of the population because of the way they may vote is constitutionally impermissible. The exercise of rights so vital to the maintenance of democratic institutions . . . cannot constitutionally be obliterated because of a fear of the political views of a particular group of bona-fide residents."
About the only other argument that is much used against ratification is that the District of Columbia is some sort of mysterious political entity that doesn't deserve representation in Congress, especially in the Senate. But the presence here of the federal government cannot obscure the existence in Washington of a strong, vibrant, indigenous culture which has been long present and is distinct from federal activity. (Only approximately one-third of D.C. residents work for the federal government; there are more federal employees living in Maryland, Texas and California; and Arlington County, Va., a neighbor of Washington, has approximately 38 percent of its residents working for the federal government.) We have our businesses, stores, schools, hospitals and sports teams, just like other states. We pay our taxes, send our children to war, have our unemployed men, women and youth, and share all the other burdens of citizenship. We are 700,000 strong, more than the population of seven states. We pay the second highest per-capita income tax in the United States. We sent more young citizens to die in Vietnam than 10 other states. Yet, Washington, populated with citizens who are the same beneficiaries of society's accomplishments and victims of society's ills as the residents of the 50 states, still cannot vote for senators and representatives like all other citizens.
The important thing is not why we are in trouble or what mistakes we've made -- and there were plenty -- but how we go about turning the tide and winning ratification. At least 40 state legislatures are meeting in the next 12 months and this is the time to regroup and start a campaign to win over thses legislatures. Here is our program for winning retification:
The president should swear off blaming Washington for all the nation's ills. If he means that the trouble lies with his own appointees and the public servants in the agencies they run (most of whom live outside our community) let him make clear it is not the District and its residents that he is attacking. Then his endorsement of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment will have real meaning.
The vice president, who has lived here half his political life and knows us well, should let his friends in the state governments around the country know of his warm feelings toward us and our amendment.
Republican National Chairman Bill Brock who, as much as any person, deserves the credit for the Senate's favorable vote a year ago, should take an active role in the ratification campaign. As Democrats, we apologize to Mr. Brock for the failure to accord him adequate recognition, but in return we ask him to receive future overtures for a leadership role with an open mind. Indeed, with full voting rights the day may not be too far distant when D.C. will develop a real two-party system.
Mayor Marion Barry alone has the stature, ability and staff to put our own house in order by pulling together the various organizations, political leaders and individuals who are working or want to work for ratification. There is a treasure of D.C. resources ready to be unleashed, as well as organizations already in the field, like the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the trade unions and civil-rights groups, who are building state coalitions working for ratification. There are experts in this area who have taught many of the state legislators over the years and whose unheeded offers to help should now be warmly accepted. There are many in the business and professional communities who would answer the mayor's call for financial and other assistance. We recognize the many demands on the mayor today, but his youth, energy and leadership have made it possible for him to accept many foreign and domestic responsibilities beyond his day-to-day civic chores. Ratification leadership is a task he can no longer afford to shun.
Finally, every Washingtonian has a role to play in the ratification campaign -- letters to family and friends in other states; letters to newspapers and broadcasters in their hometowns; meeting with local groups while traveling in the various states; talking with convention and other visitors to our community; fund-raising; and a host of other activities. But this kind of effort requires organization and here again the situation calls for Mayor Barry to take the lead.
The first anniversary of congressional action is a good time to start the ball rolling in the right direction once again. As the nation continues its consideration of ratification, it must think about the citizens who were born and who will die here, who raise and educate their children here, who build their churches, run their groceries, deliver their services and sit in gas lines here, and who, above all else, struggle as hard as any other American citizens to meet their responsibilities and fulfill their dreams here. We ask no more from our fellow citizens than the full right of participation and citizenship in this country and especially the fundamental right to elect those who govern us.