“WHEN I talk about all who want to be heard in the halls of the federal government, I am talking about the more than 600,000 taxpayers who, like me — like me — live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress. We pay our taxes. We die in the Army. . . . It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities and full rights.”
Good for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. for giving voice to the injustice of D.C. disenfranchisement. Yes, as some have suggested, it would have been nice for him to have spoken out so forcefully earlier and not waited until the day after he announced his departure from the Justice Department. But the timing of Mr. Holder’s words cannot detract from their power or their truth; let’s hope they spur President Obama to undertake a new effort on the District’s behalf.
Past ideas to remedy the situation did not get the necessary traction. At the moment no one can lay out a realistic route for the District to gain congressional representation by becoming a state. The Senate’s recent hearing on a bill that would make the District the 51st state focused attention on the issue but also underscored the political difficulties. There are no plans even to bring the measure to a vote. Republicans simply aren’t going to countenance what would amount to the addition of a Democratic vote in the House and two in the Senate.
What then might be realistic? As we recently suggested, there is a need for new thinking on how to make the District whole. We proposed that the White House establish a commission, ideally with Congress, to look at the issue with fresh eyes. Find people smart about government, politics and the law and challenge them to come up with workable solutions. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District’s non-voting congressional delegate, told us she was intrigued by the idea and has asked to meet with the White House. The White House didn’t respond to our inquiry about prospects for a commission, save to remind us that the president spoke in support of statehood three months ago.
We think Mr. Obama, with two years left in office, has an opportunity to kick-start the debate. Mr. Holder rightly framed the District’s disenfranchisment as a civil rights issue. Since he will soon have a bit more free time, why not name him to lead a presidential commission? No one would be better suited to promote fresh thinking on how to give his fellow Washingtonians the rights to which they are entitled.