If perception is reality, D.C. Council member David Grosso has an idea to jump-start the District’s stalled campaign to become the 51st state.
Grosso (I-At Large) wants to upgrade the names of the city’s elected leaders to state equivalents. The mayor would become “governor.” The D.C. Council would become the “legislative assembly.” Council members would be “representatives.”
The city would continue to be called Washington, D.C., but instead of District of Columbia, “D.C.” would be short for Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Grosso rolled out legislation Tuesday to legally change those names as a way to make it easier for the nation to embrace the idea of the District as a state.
“It is very symbolic, but it also reflects the real work we are doing in the government,” Grosso said. “One of the arguments against us becoming a state is we are just a city and a city shouldn’t be able to jump right to a state level. People don’t realize we do the functions of a state, county and city; this will change people’s perceptions of us.”
The nation’s capital is no closer to statehood. In fact, leaders acknowledged that the chances of the city’s becoming the 51st state are virtually dead under a GOP-controlled Congress and White House.
Still, Grosso says, the fight goes on, and a change in nomenclature could be useful.
The District has nearly 700,000 residents — more than Vermont and Wyoming — and they pay more in federal income taxes than counterparts in 22 states but have no vote in Congress, which has the constitutional right to intervene in D.C. laws and spending.
The District has had a mayor and city council since the 1973 Home Rule Act authorized self-governance in the seat of the federal government. Even that terminology was a tough sell with home-rule skeptics, according to research by Grosso’s staff.
Since then, statehood has been an elusive goal. Bowser convened a constitutional convention last year. It ended with a proposed constitution for a state named after Frederick Douglass and led by a governor and a 21-member legislature.
District voters in November overwhelmingly approved a referendum to petition Congress for statehood.
But the vote ended up being largely symbolic since Congress remained under the control of Republicans, long hostile to giving any new votes in the House or Senate to an overwhelmingly Democratic jurisdiction.
“If there’s any tool in the toolbox we can use to help break down barriers to get us closer to being a state, even if some of it is semantics in what we call ourselves, I’m fine doing that,” said Josh Burch, a statehood activist.
Grosso’s bill has picked up five council supporters: Brianne K. Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7), Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), Anita Bonds (D-At Large) and Elissa Silverman (I-At Large).
Grosso said he heard concern that the public might think D.C. already won statehood if its leaders have state-government titles. But he argued for a new approach to the statehood effort since city terminology has not helped much.
“I don’t think there will be any more misunderstanding about the status of D.C. residents than there is now,” said Bo Shuff, executive director of the statehood advocacy group D.C. Vote. “If you change that title to governor, they will be stunned to find out we have no representation in Congress.”
But others think the rebranding is a fool’s errand.
Chuck Thies, a local political operative allied with Gray, took to Twitter to pan Grosso’s proposed “Washington D.C. Preferred Terms Establishment Act of 2017,” saying it should instead be called the “Self-aggrandizement Act of 2017.”
“And let’s change the name of each ward to a county, right? Or maybe provinces and we can fool people into thinking we’re Canada,” Thies tweeted.
Bowser seemed cool to the idea of prematurely changing job titles.
“Though Governor Bowser has a great ring to it, she is more concerned with District residents having full access to our country’s democracy,” said LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for the mayor.
Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At Large), who would become speaker of the assembly under Grosso’s bill, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.