by Daniel Solomon
There is a hint of statehood in the air in the District of Columbia, but nobody is rushing to buy a 51-star flag just yet.
A hearing in the Senate last month on S. 132, a bill that would create the State of New Columbia, attracted crowds that overflowed two rooms in the Dirksen Building, and produced a flurry of media attention unseen since Mayor Gray and 40 others (including the author) got themselves arrested on Independence Avenue in 2011.
The hearing is likely to have a more lasting impact than that act of civil disobedience.
Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, lead sponsor of the New Columbia Admission Act, put together a hearing that answered most of the arguments against statehood. Unfortunately, no other senator was there to hear the story. Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma stayed just long enough to read a statement dismissing the whole idea of statehood for DC and listing myriad problems he said it would cause.
Viet Dinh, a Justice Department lawyer during the Bush administration, said it was perfectly constitutional for Congress to make the neighborhoods of the District into a state and put the White House, the Capitol and other critical government sites into a “federal enclave” constituting the nation’s capital. He dismissed an argument raised by the sole witness opposing statehood, that Maryland would have to consent to DC being made a state because Maryland gave the land to the country 200 years ago to be the capital. Dinh noted that Ohio was carved out of territory given to the United States by Connecticut and Connecticut and was not asked to consent.
Dinh also noted that he was testifying against his personal interest. He lives in DC but doubts that our elected senators and representative would reflect his conservative Republican views.
Forest Hills resident Alice Rivlin debunked the idea that disenfranchising District residents was a deliberate choice of the Founding Fathers. She noted that most of the residents of DC would have been unable to vote in the early years of the Republic, not because of where they lived but “because they were female, African American (both slave and free) or didn’t own property.” Those exclusionary laws have changed. DC has grown “from a village to a vibrant city.”
“It is past time,” Rivlin said, “to bring the rights and responsibilities of DC citizens up to date. Statehood would do exactly that.”
Other witnesses included Congresswoman Norton, Mayor Gray, Council Chair Mendelson, DC’s two shadow senators, Paul Strauss and Michael Brown, and Wade Henderson, testifying both as the President and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and as a resident of DC.
By the time the hearing concluded, three additional senators had cosponsored the New Columbia bill, bringing total support in the Senate to 21, the most ever for a statehood bill.
Statehood will not happen without far greater citizen involvement, within DC and around the country. If you want to help, please consider joining DC Vote (DCVote.org).
Daniel Solomon is a co-founder of DC Vote and a resident of Forest Hills.