As we celebrate this weekend the American concepts of liberty, independence and democratic self-governance, less than a week after hundreds demonstrated across from the White House to call for those blessings for the District of Columbia, D.C. leaders might consider another way to achieve their goals — attaching the city of Washington to the state of Maryland.
Forty-six years ago, as a young member of the staff of Americans for Democratic Action, I assisted the legendary Joe Rauh in organizing a rally for home rule for the District. That well-attended rally was part of a multiyear, coordinated and widely supported effort that eventually led to an elected District government on several levels and a nonvoting member in the U.S. House of Representatives. Rauh hoped that these would be the first steps toward full D.C. autonomy and elected voting representation in Congress. These steps, enacted 38 years ago, were, as it turned out, the last.
The District still has no voting representation in Congress. Congress, not the District government, has the ultimate power to review and amend the city’s budget and, through that power, to reverse policy decisions and impose legislation on D.C. residents. Every effort to achieve full voting representation in Congress has been stymied, as have the many efforts to bring about full autonomy or statehood. Unless the Democrats were to have more than 60 votes in the U.S. Senate, a substantial majority in the House and control of state government in three-fourths of the states, the chances for bringing about autonomy or voting representation in Congress are slim or none.
There is a better way to achieve these aims. Maryland could annex a willing (via legislation or referendum) Washington. The benefits would be manifold:
l Washington would have a voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives and would be able to vote on the election of two U.S. senators. (And Maryland would get an additional member in its House delegation.)
l Washington would have elected representatives in the Maryland state legislature and have a vote for statewide offices.
l Washington could determine its own budget, establish city governing policies and be part of the taxation and spending regime of the state without interference from Congress. (Congress would provide a fixed amount adjusted for inflation for the city’s role in the upkeep, preservation and policing of federal properties.)
l Washington would save money because certain services (e.g. drivers’ licenses and automobile registration) would be conducted by the state.
l Washington would not be a state, but it would have the autonomy of any other city and town in the United States and would be part of a state whose policies are more tolerant than either Congress or neighboring Virginia. It would no longer be subject to the shifting political winds that govern congressional oversight.
l Washington would no longer need license plates with the message of “Taxation Without Representation,” because it would have elected representation at the local, state and national levels.
The choice seems clear: Do the District’s residents and their leaders want to continue to bang their collective head against a stone wall of opposition or should they pursue the one avenue that will provide everything that they are seeking?
The answer should be a no-brainer.
The writer is the director of the nonpartisan Center for the Study of the American Electorate.
Author: Gans, Curtis
Town: Lovettsville, VA