Comment: Senator King and Collins should give DC residents the same rights as the Mainers
The essence of democracy is the idea that the people govern themselves. That the people are the source of power. Let those who serve do so with the consent of the governed. May the people have the right to be heard, to seek redress if necessary, to petition the government, to vote and to be counted.
And that’s how the American citizens who reside in Washington, DC, asked the United States Congress to become the 51st state. HR 51, the Washington DC Admission Act, has been passed by the House of Representatives, and S.51 will soon be taken up by the Senate.
The call for statehood is broadly supported, fully constitutional and appropriate.
It is also one of the most important steps our generation can take to bring our nation closer to “freedom and justice for all”.
The more than 700,000 residents of the District of Columbia do not have voting representation in Congress. This means that when invoices such as HR 51 and S.51 go to vote, DC residents have no one to call – no one to email with a “Please support”, “Please object.” Or “Please consider this information” like any other American message citizens do. The state is correcting this.
In addition to the lack of electoral representation in Congress, DC residents lack sovereignty over local affairs. While the government of DC is very structured like that of a state, with executive, legislative and judicial branches, it operates with one thing that does not weigh on any state – constant interference from Congress. Whenever DC’s duly elected leaders pass a law, Congress must revise it before it comes into effect. Congress can, and often does, change or overturn legislation, and sometimes Congress imposes unwanted law on the District.
DC residents are subject to the political whims of a Congress in which they are not represented. Laws dealing with everything from minimum wage and Obamacare implementation, marriage equality, gun control and needle exchange programs have been affected.
In 2016, the year the petition for statehood was approved by 79 percent of DC voters who voted, members of Congress attempted to change or overturn local laws.
Appropriately, license plates in Washington say “Taxation Without Representation.” DC residents pay federal taxes but have no electoral representation in Congress, but that’s not all. Congress also retains control over DC’s local budget, a budget funded entirely by locally generated public money.
Let it sink in. It would be like everyone in the Maine Legislature having the final say on your local budget and laws – except those that actually represent your city.
And this judicial power? Once again, DC stands out as the only jurisdiction in the United States without the power to choose its own judges. They are appointed by the president.
Over the years, DC residents have repeatedly raised their voices in favor of self-determination. Congress has responded with an incrementalism that naturally leaves residents frustrated. For example, it was in 1964 before DC voted in the presidential elections, thanks to the passage of the 23rd Amendment. It was 1971 before DC voters could elect a non-voting delegate to Congress. Over time Eleanor Holmes Norton, who has been a delegate since 1991, was granted the right to sit on a committee, present bills and vote in committee – but not in the final and all-important vote.
It’s not enough. The democratic rights and aspirations of DC citizens have been suppressed for far too long.
Now that S.51 is before the United States Senate, it is up to us to do what the residents of DC cannot. We need to pick up the phone, write a letter or send an email and let the Senses know. Angus King and Susan Collins that the time has come for full representation and local sovereignty for our fellow Americans in Washington, DC. Let us welcome the new state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth and the emancipation of 700,000 Americans.
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