by Ann Hoffman and Daniel Solomon
Congressman Trey Gowdy of South Carolina is actively lining up the votes to replace Jason Chaffetz as the chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee when Chaffetz leaves Congress on June 30. If Gowdy reviewed the history of members of Congress who messed with residents of DC, he might rethink his planned promotion – or he might tread lightly when it comes to oversight of the District. We “take care” of members who mess with our local control of our local affairs. Some call it The Curse.
The Curse dates back almost 45 years. Congressman John McMillan of South Carolina had chaired the House District Committee since 1948, regularly putting a lid on efforts to bring home rule to Washington. In 1967, McMillan railed against a Johnson administration measure to replace the appointed three-member board of commissioners that ruled DC with an appointed mayor and city council, viewed as a step toward home rule.
“Who’s going to have time to keep up with all this Council is doing uptown?” the congressman’s Washington Post obituary had him demanding. In 1970, Washingtonians journeyed to McMillan’s district to register black voters. McMillan survived that race, but two years later the newly-registered black voters did him in. That was the end of McMillan’s career, and the beginning of The Curse.
Lauch Faircloth, a North Carolina hog farmer turned Senator in 1992, chaired the Appropriations subcommittee dealing with the District. He was determined that DC would never have home rule. Black residents of DC were determined that Faircloth would not rule our city. Once again, a DC-assisted effort to register African-Americans in North Carolina spelled the end of a career. Faircloth was a one-term senator. The Curse at work again.
Senator John Ensign of Nevada was forced to resign his seat in 2011 after a four-year affair with the wife of his close aide and friend. Eventually a Senate Ethics Committee investigation and allegations of a cover-up led to his resignation. But don’t underestimate the DC connection. In 2009, in the middle of the turmoil over his personal life, Sen. Ensign introduced an amendment to the DC House Voting Rights Act to repeal DC’s gun laws. The amendment and the bill passed the Senate, but controversy over the amendment ultimately killed the bill in the House. Was it The Curse that sealed Ensign’s fate?
Editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao of the Washington Post coined the term the “curse,” but didn’t necessarily believe in it. Future members of Congress should not take a chance. Note that shortly before Jason Chaffetz announced his plan to spend more time with his family, or something, a PAC was formed by DC residents to support candidates who would run against Chaffetz. The PAC raised a respectable amount of money. It won its first fight without so much as writing a check when Chaffetz stepped down. That PAC might now be available to defeat (or just Curse) the next representative or senator who blocks DC’s quest for justice, equality and statehood.
And if The Curse is the secret weapon against DC’s enemies, DC Vote has a public weapon to use in support of our friends. The veteran voting rights nonprofit has launched District 435, an advocacy program to use DC residents’ networks in other parts of the U.S. to spread the word about DC’s quest for statehood. If you have friends or relatives in a congressional district anywhere in the country, go to DCVote.org and sign up to activate your network on behalf of the 51st state. It is fun, it is free and it is for the cause.
Ann Hoffman is a DC Vote volunteer and member of the National Writers Union. Daniel Solomon is a DC Vote board member and Forest Hills resident.
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