Mayor Muriel E. Bowser traveled to Cleveland on Tuesday to lobby for D.C. statehood, a rare Democrat working the halls of the Republican National Convention for a cause deeply opposed by the GOP.
Conventioneers approved the most forceful anti-statehood language in decades Monday as part of the party platform.
But Bowser had already committed to visiting the convention, and she said she was undeterred by the Republicans’ tough stance.
“Our job is to spread the message and make the point that this is not a partisan issue but something that is just essential to our democracy,” Bowser said. “We’ll be all over Cleveland.”
The mayor and her entourage met with the convention’s host committee and distributed snack bags full of red, white and blue M&Ms printed with “51st DC,” stapled to a card with the motto: “Make America Great, ADD the 51st State.”
She did 10 media interviews, eight with local D.C. news organizations, and had brief hallway conversations with several lawmakers.
Bowser’s evening schedule included a discussion on statehood hosted by the District’s shadow senator, Paul Strauss, and the Creative Coalition, a group of artists who organize public-policy discussions.
Strauss said that Bowser was recognized and welcomed as she made her way around the convention.
“Half of D.C. is here, and she’s the home town mayor, so people are glad to see her,” he said. “She’s talking statehood, and the occasional question about a parking ticket may have come up, but that happens.”
The Republican platform casts the District as the “special responsibility”of the federal government, echoing language in the Constitution that grants Congress supreme authority over the city. (D.C. officials consider that clause outdated, since D.C. now has a population larger than Vermont or Wyoming and its residents pay more in federal taxes than residents of 22 states do.)
The platform also says Republicans have been at the “forefront of combating chronic corruption among the city’s top Democratic officials.” It describes a budget challenge that Bowser and the D.C. Council made to Congress this year as illegal.
The platform disputes the District’s claim that it could petition Congress for expedited statehood, as Tennessee and other federal territories have been allowed to do.
According to Republicans, the District must win the highest standard of approval — from three-fourths of the states — in order to achieve its goal.
Patrick Mara, executive director of the D.C. Republican Party, said the District’s delegation stood and booed on the convention floor when the platform was approved.
Mara, who spoke in favor of statehood last month at a D.C. constitutional convention, blasted the party platform as outdated, and he said he hopes it is part of a dying era of ultra-partisanship on the issue.
“The party has some partially fossilized members on this, and I don’t see progress until they are fully fossilized,” he said.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has said little about on the issue. In an interview with The Washington Post’s editorial board in March, he said: “I don’t have a position on it yet. I would form a position. But I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C.”
Strauss noted that Trump’s vice presidential pick, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R), “once spoke in favor” of statehood for the District.
He was referring to a vote in favor of statehood that Pence made as a member of Congress in 2007, when he called the lack of representation for D.C. residents a “historic wrong.”
Pence hasn’t discussed D.C. statehood in recent years, but Strauss said the dinner Tuesday night would focus on his comments from nine years ago.
“Certainly, he hasn’t retracted it,” Strauss said, “so that’s encouraging.”