Today marks the second anniversary of congresional adoption of a constitutinal amendment to accord full voting rights to the District of Columbia. One year ago on this page, we told the story of the first year of the ratification drive -- how the initial euphoria accompanying passage of the Voting Rights Amendment in Congress had given way to doubts that the necessary 38 states would ever ratify. The doubts arose because during the first year only six states ratified the amendment. Now, with another year gone, only three more states have been added to the ratification rolls, and people are asking why we just don't give up. This is our answer.
To begin with, who would resonably argue that anyone should quit a seven-year fight after just two years? Under the legislation enacted by Congress, there are five more years to secure ratification. Time and education across the land are both on our side.
Then, too, the argument that has been used to defeat the amendment in various states -- that the District is too urban, too liberal, too democratic and too black to be allowed two senators and a representative -- is a phony one that won't hold up forever. Denying us the right to vote because people don't like the senators and representative we might elect is immoral and unconstitutional. As on other great public issues, truth will out on this one.
Moreover, the District's current budget difficulties perfectly illustrate the incredible unfairness of the present situation. The D.C. government has projected a 1980 budget deficit of over $100 million and an accumulated deficit of over $280 million. Two major reasons for these deficits stem from the mismanagement of our affairs when the federal government had full control over the District and from the failure of Congress in recent years to rectify its mistakes. For example, Congress enacted a pension program for District government employees but failed adequately to fund it, leaving a $1.25 billion deficit for us to make up. Further, by congressional mandate the District is not able to tax certain land or the personal income earned in the District by non-residents, amounting to an annual loss of more than $500 million in potential income to the District. The federal "payment" to the District, designed to redress our foregone income, is currently averaging less than half of our loss, and only approximately 17 percent of the entire District budget. Yet the District has no one in the Senate and only a non-voting delegate in the House to speak up for its interests.
But the justice of our cause will not alone win ratification of the Voting Rights Amendment. We need a disciplined, hard-driving program, something like the following:
Supporters of the Voting Rights Amendment must achieve a unified, District-wide campaign on behalf of ratification. First, the drive was centered on Self-Determination for D.C., a coalition made up of a large number of civic, religious, political, labor, business and other groups. Then a separate group, under the sponsorship of the mayor, the council chairman and the delegate, was begun, known as the D.C. Voting Rights Service Corporation. That corporation has now closed its offices, leaving Self-Determination for D.C. as the only ratification drive in town. There should be full support for its efforts. At the Earliest possible time, the mayor should convene a District-wide meeting to which political leaders, the business and labor communities and church and civic organizations would be invited to agree on a unified approach for supporting Self-Determination's ratification campaign.
We must enlist the business community as an equal partner in supporting full voting rights. It is time to lay the cards onthe tables: too many business leaders have used the prior schism between Self-Determination and the Service Corporation to withhold financial support from the ratification effort. (Labor, fortunately, has been a faithful friend of the ratification effort in dollars and in work.) Then, with a bare six years of home rule under our belts, some in the business sector have begun to suggest openly that home rule isn't working well enough and that we were better off under the full control of Congress. But our community has not been given an even remotely fair chance to show what it can do. It is time for the business community to throw its considerable and important weight behind the Voting Rights amendment rather than standing on the side-lines or carping against it.
Once all elements of the community are involved, we must raise several hundred thousand dollars to launch a national educational campaign. If we spell out to the people of the nation, and especially to the state legislators, the reasons D.C. residents are entitled to full representation in the U.S. Congress, they will respond.
The Democrats are supporting ratification, but there is much more the executive and congressional leadership can do to press for action in the states. Equally important, we must reenlist the Republican Party in the voting rights campaign. To date, we have had the support of many Republicans, from Republican National Chairman Bill Brock and Sen. Bob Dole Rep. Stewart McKinney of Connecticut and the D.C. republican Party. Recently, however, the national Republican Party eliminated support for the voting rights drive from its platform. We must regain the Republicans' help. Building from Those Republicans whose endorsement we have, we must expand that support to make the ratification drive what it must to be succeed -- a truly bipartisan effort. We can take special hope from the fact that the Republican nominee has stood by Bill Brock as chairman of the party.
Above all, District residents must make clear everywhere that they intend to be recognized and to be brought into the full light of our American democracy. Under the direction of our elected officials and other community representatives, we must lead strong march on the conscience of our country. We have been too passive for too long.
The second anniversity of congressional action to provide full voting rights to the residents of the District of Columbia could be a happier occasion. We have not made the progress we need. But this anniversary could be the turning point if it becomes the occasion for the necessary marshalling of our forces to achieve ratification.