Steny H. Hoyer, a Democrat, is majority leader in the U.S. House, where he represents Maryland’s 5th Congressional District.
The most fundamental premise upon which American democracy stands is the right of every citizen to cast a vote and have that vote counted equally. From Bunker Hill to Bull Run, from Seneca Falls to Selma, the arc of our history has been shaped by the determination of Americans to have a say in their own future.
Our founders, who prescribed the creation of a national capital not within the jurisdiction of any individual state, never intended for those living in it to be denied representation. Defending the new Constitution, James Madison assured his fellow Americans that residents of this new capital district would happily live there “as they will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them.” For 228 years, our government has denied them that voice. More than 700,000 Americans remain unable to cast votes for an equal voice in Congress.
I have been hesitant in past years to call for statehood for the District because I believed that we could achieve voting rights for its residents without having to take the politically difficult steps statehood would entail. That’s what I tried to do in 2010 by pursuing a deal on legislation proposed years earlier by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to give House representation to the District and an additional House seat to Utah. Sadly, that effort to achieve a compromise fell short.
I now believe the only path to ensuring its representation is through statehood. Legislation granting representation in the House could be revoked in the future; statehood would bring D.C. residents a permanent voice in our elected institutions. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate from the District in the House, has introduced a bill to admit the District as a state, and I will cosponsor it.
Americans in the District have been denied not only a member with full voting rights in the House of Representatives but also two U.S. senators – simply because of where they live. This continues even while the District is larger in population than two states and comparable to two others.
As an advocate for voting rights throughout my life and my career in public service, I have been proud to stand on the front lines of protecting and expanding access to the ballot box and equal representation in our democracy. That’s why, for more than 20 years, I’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with those calling for D.C. residents to gain equal representation in Congress. As majority leader, I helped institute House rules allowing Norton to vote on amendments and participate fully in committee business.
But we cannot stop there. No doubt, there are obstacles that must be overcome before statehood can be achieved; nevertheless, that ought to be our goal. Statehood would provide those in our nation’s capital with the best chance of attaining what residents of every other national capital in our fellow democracies enjoy: full representation in their national legislature. Moving forward with the process of statehood would remove obstacles that have proven difficult in prior efforts to give D.C. residents the vote.
The House endorsed the concept of statehood for the District in the For the People Act, the first major piece of legislation passed by the Democratic majority this year. I was proud to bring that legislation to the floor and vote for it. I will also be proud to bring legislation to the floor making statehood a reality. I look forward to working with Norton and others who believe strongly in equal representation for those in our nation’s capital.