by Daniel Solomon
The concrete evidence of the continuing struggle for DC voting rights can be seen on Aviva Kempner’s lawn, house and car.
Less visible but equally significant are the remaining constraints on DC’s autonomy.
Forty years ago, in December 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the DC Home Rule Act. The law permitted us to elect a mayor and a council. It did not and does not permit us many rights accorded to all other U.S. citizens.
We will elect a delegate to the U.S. House in November, of course. But we will not elect a representative who can vote. We will not elect U.S. senators.
We will elect two at-large Council members. But unlike in states and other cities, the two candidates who receive the most votes may not necessarily win. Congress requires, under the Home Rule Act, that at least one of those elected not be from the majority political party.
The Mayor and Council have already begun discussions about the District’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015. But DC, unlike other cities and states, has a budget subject to congressional oversight and a fiscal year inappropriately aligned with federal agencies.
We voted in April to separate DC’s local budget from this unjust federal oversight. An overwhelming majority (83 percent) of the District’s voters approved a referendum giving us control of the $6 billion of locally-raised funds and the right to establish our own fiscal year, an important and money-saving action. The DC Council has begun consideration of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget using the procedures set forth in the referendum.
While this is progress, the District still faces potential threats from some in Congress who are unwilling to give DC local control over local tax dollars, despite the expressed will of the people, which is now the law.
The need for D.C. to separate itself as much as possible from federal budget control was highlighted during the recent government shutdown. Our local government managed to keep operating using reserve funds, but our right to do that was not clear. No other city or state had to scramble to stay open during the shutdown.
DC Vote will seek in the coming year to make budget autonomy for the District clear – both through pushing for implementation of the referendum and by pursuing congressional action.
We will also continue to press for our basic demand: equal representation in Congress for residents of the nation’s capital, whether through statehood or a change in the law. For the first time in 25 years, there will be a Senate hearing on a statehood bill. DC Vote will be there. Join us.