When I voted in favor of statehood for the District of Columbia, I didn't know what I was doing. Is ignorance any excuse? Can I get my vote back?
No, I haven't turned sour on democracy. Self-government remains my favorite kind of government, and I still believe that residents of this city ought to have voting representation in the Congress that passes so many of our laws.
But nobody told me what I was letting myself in for when I voted for statehood. They talked to me about the additional powers that would accrue to Washingtonians as a result of our elevation to statehood, but they soft-pedaled the additional problems. They never mentioned that we would still have the mayor, city council, school board and maybe even the ful slate of advisory neighborhood commissioners we have now and, in addition to all that, a governor (no doubt complete with official governor's mansion), a state board of education, a state superintendent of schools and a full-fledged state legislature.
And I do mean full-fledged. Proposals at the statehood convention last week included calls for a bicameral legislature (meeting in a statehouse yet to be constructed) with as many as 175 members. Who, pray tell, is supposed to pay all these birds? Maybe the money will come out of a new state income tax, which they also didn't tell me about.
They didn't even tell me that they would be changing the name of my city when it graduates to statehood. I never thought "District of Columbia" especially lyrical, and, in fact, the name never made an awful lot of sense to me. But I've grown used to it now, and I sure as hell don't want to go through the bother of telling the folks back home that I now live in Banneker, or Douglass, or Rock Creek or some of the other cockamamie names being suggested.
I appreciate the problem. "District" doesn't sound like a state, and Washington already is a state. So they've got to come up with something to put in that blank space in the preamble to the state constitution where it says, "We, the people of the free and sovereign State of -------."
Which is something else they didn't tell me: that we'd have to write a constitution. If I had known that, I might have voted no on the ballot in the first place--not because I am constitutionally anti-constitutional but because I could have guessed what sort of product the constitutional convention would come up with: a godawful mix of committee writing and bureaucratese.
And I would have been right. Look at what they've done: "We, the people, . . . seek to secure and provide for each person: Health, safety, and welfare." Now what on earth can they be talking about? The preamble to the U.S. Constitution, it is true, proposes to "promote the general welfare." But everybody recognizes that as high-sounding gibberish, as meaningless as saying we are all "created equal." I could have gone for something like promoting the general welfare of District residents. But these people propose to "provide" welfare "for each person." And that is something they don't need to be promising, whether they interpret "welfare" to mean happiness or a relief check.
If that is what you get when committees write prose, listen to what happens when bureaucrats turn their hand: "We recognize our unique and special history, and the diversity and pluralism of our people, and we have determined to control our collective destiny, maximize our individual freedom, and govern ourselves democratically . . ."
"Maximize our individual freedom." Sounds like something from a proposal for a government grant: meaningless and, worse, ear-jangling. I was going to say much the same thing about "govern ourselves democratically," until a friend pointed out that at least they managed to avoid undertaking a "commitment to implement individual input into the decision-making process."
Well maybe so, but they didn't avoid it by much. The whole thing is enough to make Frederick Douglass turn over in his parameters.