The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The key question as the House considers D.C. statehood: Do we believe in the ‘consent of the governed’ or not?

The flag of the District of Columbia and the U.S. flag in Washington in 2014. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)

The nation’s capital will shrink dramatically if H.R. 51 — otherwise known as the Washington D.C. Admission Act, and the subject of a congressional hearing Monday — is enacted and fully implemented. The nation’s capital will be reduced to a two-square-mile zone encompassing federal buildings, monuments and properties near the Mall and the Capitol, including the White House, Supreme Court and other executive and judicial office buildings.

Pretty much all of the territory bordered by Maryland and Virginia will become a state with the name “Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.” Thus, new addresses, e.g.:

The Washington Post, 1301 K Street NW, Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U Street NW, Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

Catholic University, 620 Michigan Avenue NE, Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.

The change in address is, however, cosmetic.

There are deeper, more profound reasons for changing the conditions under which District residents live.

As a citizen of the District of Columbia under the control of the federal government, my uncle Marshall Colbert served in uniform in World War I. My uncle Robert Colbert served in World War II. I was a commissioned Army officer on the eve of the Vietnam War build-up. My brother, an Air Force captain, wore the uniform as well. We were sworn to give it our all on the country’s behalf.

With Democrats in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, activists say they are in their strongest position yet to make D.C. the 51st state. (Video: Drea Cornejo, Amber Ferguson, Daron Taylor/The Washington Post)

But we, and the nearly 200,000 D.C. men and women who have served to defend the nation since World War I, had no U.S. senators to give it their all on our behalf or anyone in the House of Representatives to vote with us in mind. That lack of representation for D.C. residents is still true today. It is a condition almost as old as the republic.

The quest to correct that injustice through statehood didn’t begin with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s (D) introduction of H.R. 51 on Jan. 4. Or with her earlier submissions of statehood legislation, or when the full House of Representative voted for the first time on a statehood bill in November 1993 — a vote that failed 277 to 153.

The case for simple justice was made 34 years ago, when, on March 17, 1987, House Majority Leader Thomas Foley (D-Wash.) detailed the plight of District residents before a House committee. “They fight and die for their country, pay all of the same taxes, observe all the same laws and regulations and litigate in the same courts, and thanks to the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution, they are now able to vote for the same president, but they have no vote in the Congress,” Foley said.

“The disenfranchisement of these Americans,” Foley concluded, “is the driving force behind the movement for statehood for the District, and there is simply no other justifiable reason for their lack of representation.”

H.R. 51 would change that. Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, would elect two senators and a House representative — all of whom would be full voting members.

Our current lack of representation, however, is not matched by the lack of taxation. In fact, taxation of D.C. residents is unmatched in the country. We pay the highest per capita federal taxes in the United States. Twenty-two other states pay less in total federal taxes than D.C. residents. But we — a jurisdiction of 712,000 people — are muzzled from having a say about how our tax dollars are spent.

H.R. 51 would change that, too.

But there’s more to the injustice than the lack of voting representation on the Hill.

Under the current limited form of D.C. home rule, the mayor and council cannot control their own budget. Neither can they alone make city laws.

Congress must approve spending of every dollar raised with our own D.C. taxes. Legislation passed by the D.C. Council and signed by the mayor cannot take effect without congressional approval. The president nominates and the Senate confirms D.C.’s local judges. D.C. law enforcement is directed by the Justice Department, not a D.C. attorney general.

H.R. 51 would remedy those situations as well.

The hearings and subsequent reviews of statehood should establish that Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, will have a sufficient economic base to support itself as a state.

Whether there is sufficient support in the country for statehood must be established as well. Government with “the consent of the governed,” as the Declaration of Independence states, and what statehood seeks to achieve, is the overriding interest.

Read more:

Julio Ricardo Varela: All the reasons Puerto Rico statehood efforts keep stalling

Jamal Holtz: D.C. needs statehood more than ever, and the Capitol riot proves it

Michael D. Brown: Statehood is not just about D.C. anymore

Christian Cooper: Scrap the filibuster and make D.C. a state

The Post’s View: Republicans know D.C. needs voting rights, but their own power takes precedence