DC Statehood: The Fight for Equal Representation Under the Law

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The D.C. Statehood Green Party has fought on behalf of District residents for self-determination and same basic rights of democratic self-governance since the party was founded in 1970 as the D.C. Statehood Party by Julius Hobson, Josephine Butler, and other human rights activists – the right to Congressional representation, pass our own laws, and the right to spend our own tax dollars.

The United States is the only nation in the world with a representative, democratic constitution that denies voting representation in the national legislature to citizens of the capital.

People who live in the District of Columbia pay federal taxes, are subject to federal laws, and serve, fight and die in our country’s wars, yet have no voting representation in the Congress that imposes those taxes, passes those laws, and declares those wars.

While Congress is empowered with the constitutional authority to legislate for the District as the country’s “seat of government,” Congress frequently and inappropriately uses that authority to decide local DC issue, including how the District should spend its own locally-raised tax dollars.

A History of Green Activism

DC elects a non-voting Delegate to the United States House of Representatives who can draft legislation but is not permitted to vote. DC residents also elect two United States Senators and a United States Representative. This “shadow” congressional delegation lobbies Congress on statehood for the District.

Both Vermont and Wyoming have populations smaller than the District of Columbia, yet they have full representation in Congress and control over their own local affairs. The case for DC Statehood is fundamentally one of democratic principle: under no circumstance should any American lack basic rights because of where they live. If ever there was a place in the United States where democracy should be fully protected, it is in our nation’s capital of Washington, DC. 

In 1846, Congress retroceded the nearly one-third of the District located west of the Potomac River to Virginia, in part because it wasn’t needed for the seat of government. Congress can and should do the same with the rest of the District, allowing it to become the 51st state.

Our Constitution and Bill of Rights, no matter how progressive and forward-thinking, requires change from time to time. It must be reactive to the realities of the modern world.  Among the historical prejudices enshrined in our Constitution were the institution of slavery, lack of rights for women, and a host of other injustices, now corrected by Constitutional amendments.

As the former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put eloquently, “We [the Supreme Court] are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final.” Making the dangerous and inaccurate assumption of the infallibility of the Constitution leads to essentialism and a lack of reflexivity, which has particularly far-reaching implications on domestic policy-making.

2016 Referendum and Beyond: YES to Statehood but NO on Nov. 8th:

Over 80% of voters said “YES” to DC Statehood and the proposed “Constitution/Advisory Referendum on Statehood” on November 8, 2016,  DC Greens remain fully committed to statehood, but rejected the 2016 referendum as written because the process it advanced violated basic democratic principles.

The BOTTOM LINE is that the mayor and a 13-member Council are not and should not be accorded sole authority to author the District’s new Constitution. DC Statehood is too important an issue to advance without genuine citizen input and a Constitutional Convention whose end product assures a voice for all.  

A Constitutional Convention with elected delegates must follow the example of the 1982 D.C. statehood convention, which produced the 1982 Constitution that was directly ratified by voters.

As Chair of the DC Statehood Greens Darryl Moch argued, "[T]his was not a democratic process, no one elected the New Columbia Statehood Commission to come up with a new Constitution, now being considered by the DC Council. This task is not in their job description. No one was a delegate to a real Constitutional Convention."

Prior to the November 8th referendum, the DC Statehood Green Party qualified its “No” stance with a pledge to reconsider support  if the following Constitutional language has been changed no later than one week before early voting and absentee balloting began. 

"c. On or about the fifth anniversary of the effective date of the Admission Act, the House of Delegates may call for a Constitutional Convention to assess the transition from a federal district to a member of the Union."

As a substitute we urged the following language:

"c. No later than one month following the effective date of the Admission Act, the House of Delegates shall initiate steps to hold a Constitutional Convention with the charge of creating a constitution for our new state with this process following the model of the 1982 Constitutional Convention, with elected delegates. The name of our new state shall be reconsidered in this Constitutional Convention. The completion of the work of this Constitutional Convention and the ratification vote of its Constitution must occur no more than one year after the effective date of the Admissions Act. If ratified by a majority of qualified voters this Constitution shall replace 'The Constitution of the State of New Columbia.' The election of new members to the House of Delegates should only be scheduled after this process is completed."

No such revision was made. Furthermore, there have been no serious attempts on behalf of the Council to clarify whether or not the language “on a partisan basis”  found in of Article VII  (section: “MISCELLENOUS”)  in the proposed Constitution would mean the two Delegate seats currently set aside for non-Democrats would be revised. In effect, the Constitution no longer contains protection of minority party rights with a guaranteed set-aside in the legislative body.

An 8-5 vote by the DC City Council on October 18, 2016 on two amendments that required the convening of an elected, delegated Constitutional Convention to create a Constitution no later than two years after achieving statehood did increase accountability, but was ultimately not enough to secure official backing from DC Statehood Greens.

Looking forward to 2017 and 2018, DC Statehood Greens support parallel legislation by the DC City Council for the convening of a Constitutional Convention in 2017 following the 1982 model as the basis for a petition for statehood to the U.S. Congress.

DC Statehood: Part of a Larger National Conversation on Electoral Reform

While the denial of democratic rights to Americans citizens who happen to live in our capital should rightly outrage us all, DC Greens and DC leaders must back the current statehood effort with a well-organized, well-funded, and sustained national campaign. 

First enacted in 1916 by Democratic and Republican legislators in many states across America, alternative parties must wrestle with ballot-access laws that privilege major-party candidates while simultaneously hindering others. In some states, alternative parties are effectively banned from participating.

When alternative parties do get on the ballot, they are often subject to the perennial label of the “spoiler.” Votes are earned not given, but to Urlaub’s point, the alleged spoiler factor could easily be eliminated by replacing the current "first past the post" system with a system of Proportional Representation or Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) voting, which allows voters to rank their preferences.

Reforms like RCV and Proportional Representation -- which have given Germany and other European countries their multiparty legislatures -- are considered radical here in the United States, even though they give voters greater power and more options.

Greens have actively campaigned for such reforms for decades, however, Democrats and Republicans prefer to maintain their exclusive hold on the electoral system.

In America today we don't have a two-party system, we have a two-party racket and voters are aware they have been cheated. Neither the Democrats or Republicans have made serious attempts to introduce a Constitutional Amendment authorizing DC statehood, and it is therefore important to recognize that such change is only like to come about as part of a larger narrative about electoral reform and integrity. This includes: ending Citizens United, ending corporate personhood, enacting Ranked Choice Voting, and local and federal redistricting that fairly represents minority voters and minority citizens.

The abolition of slavery, women's suffrage, the eight-hour workday, workers' benefits, public schools, unemployment compensation, the minimum wage, child labor laws, direct election of senators, Social Security and Medicare, civil rights for Blacks and other disenfranchised peoples were all once considered “radical ideas” first introduced in the electoral forum by minor parties.

The Green Party says we must do better.

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