Monday, November 3, 2008

Time for a Tea Party on the Potomac: On Election Day, DC Demands the Vote

Tomorrow's the big day. The Election Day we've all been waiting for, the one that couldn't come soon enough -- if only to cease the endless commercials, robocalls, and shredding of trees for campaign fodder. Those of you lucky enough to live outside the boundaries of the District of Columbia will also be electing House and Senate candidates in addition to a president. Lucky you. I'm soooo jealous.

As a resident of our nation's capital, I'd like to take this opportunity to remind the rest of the country that while DC votes will help to send the next guy to the White House, the same folks who go to the ballot box in the District today 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 (D-DC) 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 House floor whatsoever -- she's not allowed to vote on amendments or legislation, even final passage.

Meanwhile, DC residents -- many of whom are also, ironically, involved in politics like myself -- have no senators whatsoever. Well, we have a "shadow" senator who has even less clout than our non-voting delegate -- at least Norton gets a salary and has a staff. 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. Supreme Court, in a recent decision, said it's because DC is not a state. The justices were sympathetic to our plight, I'll give 'em that -- but the U.S. Constitution says only states get Congressional representation. So, the only alternative is for DC to become a state, or to amend the Constitution to allow DC representation without statehood.

There has also been this fairly silly compromise that was 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, a limited shelf life given the decennial census is just around the corner (making this compromise moot), and of course does nothing whatsoever for the District's 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 (who overturned the ban) 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 -- 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 almost 12 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 can'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. It's past time for real DC voting rights.

Here's a fun video about DC voting rights... get past the bit in the beginning, and it's actually a good song and video.

Copyright 2008 (text only). The Zaftig Redhead. All Rights Reserved.

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