Monday, February 11, 2008

Tea Party on the Potomac: It's Time for DC Voting Rights

Tuesday marks the Potomac Primary -- all eyes are on Maryland, DC and Virginia as the presidential primary season marches on. As a resident of our nation's capital, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the rest of the country that while our votes at the polls will give delegates to the Democratic and Republican nominees, the same folks who go to the ballot box have no voting representation in Congress.

Really. It's true. Taxation without representation is alive and well and being inflicted upon the denizens of Washington, DC. Imagine my surprise, moving here as I did to work on Capitol Hill, to find that my newly minted DC driver's license also instantly disenfranchised me. Yeah, yeah -- we have a non-voting Delegate, but Eleanor Holmes Norton is only allowed to vote in committee and then only if she doesn't cast the tie-breaking vote. In other words, she only gets to vote when it can't make a difference. She has no vote on the floor whatsoever. Meanwhile, DC residents -- many of whom are also, ironically, involved in politics like myself -- also have no senators whatsoever. The District of Columbia, in other words, has the same congressional status as Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. But, um, those folks DON'T PAY TAXES to the United States Government. DC residents do.

How can this be, you ask? Well, the U.S. Supeme Court, in its recent decision, said it's because DC is not a state. They were sympathetic to our plight, but the U.S. Constitution says only states get such representation. So, the only alternative is for DC to become a state, or for there to be a constitutional amendment allowing DC representation without statehood. There has also been this fairly silly compromise that's been voted on in the House and the Senate this Congress that would give DC voting rights in the House in exchange for Utah also getting an additional seat. Why? Well, the Republicans would only go for the radical idea of DC voting rights if the additional vote -- most assuredly a Democratic vote -- would be a wash. Utah has been whining since the last census -- they felt they got the shaft, with all the Mormons off on missions -- and that they actually should have gotten another congressional seat back in 2002. Of course, this compromise comes with all kinds of Constitutional questions, and of course does nothing whatsoever for Senate representation. That particular conundrum is further complicated by both politics and procedure, since the Republicans do not want the Democrats to gain two Democratic Senators from the District, and Senate rules allow filibusters and holds that would make any kind of vote on this issue -- voting rights, a constitutional amendment, whatever -- a very, very high hurdle indeed. The fact that my voting rights, however, are subverted for such narrow partisan interests is the very definition of hypocrisy.

The worst part about all this is that, despite the lack of representation, Congress still feels free to impose its will on Washington, DC in the worst ways possible. They like to use us as an incubator for their crazy ideas -- the Republicans are particularly good at that. Can't get school vouchers that siphon off public monies to private schools, that bypass civil rights, passed nationwide? Nope -- but go ahead, impose them on the District, whose people don't want them. Mad that those same people voted in a gun ban, which has made the streets safer and kept the nation's capital from being the murder capital of the country as well? Sue the city, and take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court because you don't think district residents have the right to govern themselves -- never mind that the gun ban has been in place for decades. Oh yeah, and forbid DC from doing any kind of needle exchange program, too, despite the fact that 1 in 20 residents is infected with HIV. There are lots and lots of examples where congressional conservatives try to -- and sometimes successfully -- impose their narrow will on a population that doesn't even have a vote in their chambers. How friggin' insulting is that?

Remember what happened the last time Americans got fed up with that kinda treatment from the powers that be? With taxation without representation? Patriots dumped a bunch of tea into Boston Harbor and the rest is history. My friends, after over 10 years in DC with very little progress made on DC voting rights, not to mention being treated like a guinea pig by Congress whenever they couldn't manage to impose their will nationwide, I'm about to throw some Lipton in the Potomac River and see if I can't foment a little rebellion myself. I'm glad we're getting some attention this primary season, but it's past time for real DC voting rights.

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