If the late Julius Hobson could see what has happened to the movement he fathered--D.C. statehood--he'd probably curse the whole process and storm out of the convention now in progress. Or he just might chuckle with a vengeance at the thought of Walter Fauntroy, the District's man without a vote in Congress, straddling the horns of a congressional dilemma:
While Mr. Fauntroy's preferred alternative to statehood--a constitutional amendment providing full representation in Congress--is dying on the vine, the delegate finds himself warning drafters of a constitution for D.C. not to include any provisions that might offend the folks on the Hill enough to nip statehood in the bud.
So what does it mean for the people who live here? Not much, barring a miracle. What had the makings of a sharp, two-pronged approach to representation in Congress--statehood and the voting rights amendment--has turned into a pair of blunt instruments. The 45 people elected to be the 51st state's founding parents are about to adopt a dodo bird instead of an acceptable constitution--while the voting rights amendment that was such a showstopping success in Congress looks like a turkey on the road, where ratification by 38 states is a must.
Most people living in the states would be outraged if suddenly they had nobody representing them while Congress acted on taxes, the budget, the draft, a nuclear waste bill or a declaration of war. But the plight of Americans who live here has not come through strongly enough in the state legislatures. It will take money, energy and a lot of help from friends around the country to get this message across.
Meanwhile, though the wording of the D.C. voting rights amendment cannot be changed by the states, back here in the city the words being piled into the statehood constitution may become the cause of its death in Congress--assuming it even gets past the voters here, which is no sure thing at this point. Instead of concentrating on a clear and simple document, the delegates so far have been scribbling in commercials for every conceivable pet cause from abortion pro and con, to gun controls, legalization of prostitution, a right to adequate housing and medical treatment, a ban on wiretaps and capital punishment and the "right to a job."
Maybe the fear of failure after all this hard work will jolt the delegates into some semblance of temporary harmony that can lead to a serious document with the necessary widespread appeal. It is not that the delegates have been partying; most have spent long hours in the convention hall at 929 E Street NW--up to five a day, six days a week; and most have been serious about their concerns, petty or grand, and about reaching some agreement.
Their deadline is May 29, unless they extend it, which so far they have decided not to do, and which would hold no promise of any improvement in the unfinished product anyway. In any event, the constitution they approve is scheduled for presentation to the voters this fall, and after that to Congress, where approvals by simple majorities of the House and Senate would be needed.
No matter how the voters react to the state constitution, they did favor the concept enough to put the process in motion--and they deserve the best product on which to make their next important decision. If either this decision or one by Congress turns out to be a resounding rejection, statehood--or any other hopes for an end to taxation without representation --could be dashed for another generation.