Witness some of the truly ridiculous arguments advanced this week at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform on a bill that would make D.C. the country’s 51st state. A Republican witness said D.C. residents already impact the national debate, noting the yard signs and bumper stickers posted in support of D.C. statehood. “Where else in the nation could such simple actions reach so many members of Congress?” he asked. GOP lawmakers pointed to the paucity of car dealerships in the District and noted that the District doesn’t have an airport, a landfill, manufacturing or an agricultural sector. “A normal state” was the phrase used by one congressman who suggested the District simply doesn’t merit a seat at the table.
Never mind that D.C. residents have fought in all of the United States’ wars and helped bring democratic freedoms to people of other countries. Never mind that D.C. residents have paid billions of dollars in federal taxes and that they fulfill all the other responsibilities of citizenship. Never mind that no other modern country denies residents of its capital city the fundamental right of a voice in their government. “One of the remaining glaring civil rights issues of our time,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said of the District’s lack of representation.
There are reasonable arguments about the constitutionality of the bill now before Congress that is likely to win House approval but faces an uphill battle in the Senate. No court has ever ruled on this matter, and it is difficult to predict how — or even whether — a court would rule on it. The problem posed by the 23rd Amendment giving the District three electoral votes, and what happens to those votes if the District becomes a state with a carved-out federal enclave, needs to be confronted.
Sadly, those substantive issues were never really addressed at Monday’s hearing. Instead, Republicans railed about a “power grab” by Democrats and talked nonsense about yard signs, car dealerships and landfills. Overlooked were the core issues that once were so clearly outlined by Mr. Davis. He was a Republican who understood that “the primary tool of democratic participation” is “representation in the national legislature.”