Column by Sanford D. Horn
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The Washington Post, the alleged newspaper of record for the nation’s capitol and its metropolitan area, over the past seven days ending with Saturday, April 24, 2010, ran six articles, editorials or columns each decrying the lack of voting rights yet to bestowed upon the residents of the District of Columbia.
All but one missed the point entirely, and the one author who did get the point and mentioned the eight hundred pound elephant in the room that alluded all the others, while correct in his method of solution, is wrong in his thinking. Make no mistake, the Post is not the only newspaper guilty of being disingenuous, they simply provided so many examples of their nascent ignorance.
The issue in question is, and has been for decades, the potential of granting the citizens of the District of Columbia with a voting member to the House of Representatives with the same powers and authority of the current 435 members. This session of Congress seemed the closest to making those voting rights a reality for the folks in DC, yet too many believed they were hamstrung by a rider to the legislation that would handcuff the DC government regarding gun control in the District itself.
Truth be told, the question of gun rights had been resolved via the Supreme Court’s hearing of District of Columbia v. Heller and by correctly ruling in favor of Heller granting the appropriate Second Amendment rights to the citizens of the District – a long overdue decision.
There was also a compromise proposal coming in part from the pseudo-RINO, former Congressman Tom Davis (VA-11th) that would be, to borrow a phrase, fair and balanced by giving a House seat to DC and a temporary seat to Utah, which would no doubt be a GOP seat. However, as noted, it would only be temporary and the next census, this one, would redistribute the Utah seat to the state statistically due the next seat.
All of the negotiating, hand-wringing over depriving citizens their voting rights, and the notion of taxation without representation as appears on many DC license plates, is avuncular to a parlor game or sleight of hand.
The reality is the one issue not addressed by Post writers Tim Craig and Ann E. Marimow in “Gun law proposal complicates Hill vote,” or by Marimow and Ben Pershing in “District voting rights scuttled,” or in Robert McCartney’s editorial “Plenty of blame to go around on lack of D.C. vote,” or a Post editorial “D.C. voting rights? Not this deal,” or local opinions offered by DC Shadow Senator Michael Brown, the aforementioned Davis and DC City Councilman Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3).
Only in the April 24 column “What will it take to get a vote for the District,” did Colbert I. King deal with the issue head on – the Constitutionality of whether or not District citizens should have voting representation in the House. While I often enjoy Colbert’s columns and sometimes agree with him, this is not one of those times.
Colbert, does, aver correctly, that the power to grant DC congressional representation does fall into the hands of the Congress itself. However, what Congress can giveth, Congress may also taketh away. So, Colbert once again, takes the correct tack by suggesting an official constitutional amendment – this I agree with in practice, but not in theory.
If, and this is a big if, the District of Columbia is to ever attain congressional representation, it should be garnered via a constitutional amendment. This would require a two-thirds vote from both houses of Congress to propose such an amendment and then three quarters of the several states would need to sign off on the amendment making it so.
How easy is that? Since the Bill of Rights, the first 10 Amendments, were ratified on Dec. 15, 1791, the Constitution has been amended a mere 17 times. That’s one amendment every 12.88 years, and really, since one amendment repealed another, that’s 15 constitutional changes in 219 years, or once every 14.6 years, for the stats junkies.
This is a serious enough issue to demand a constitutional amendment. That’s the practice side of the issue. The theory side of the issue is where I part company from Colbert. In no way do I support the granting of congressional representation to the District of Columbia.
The founding fathers did not intend for the seat of the government of the United States of America to be treated like a state. Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution states, “The Congress shall have Power… To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings; – …”
It is a district – the seat of the government, not a permanent residence. When the Capitol was erected upon the swamp on which it currently rests, members of the citizen legislature were expected to ride into town on their horses or carriages, serve their term or two, then return to their farms, businesses, law practices, etc. and resume life as private citizens. Their staffs, small as they were, were expected to do likewise.
It was neither expected nor predicted that the District of Columbia would grow to become a burgeoning metropolis of greater than 600,000 in the city and more than two million residents in the surrounding cities and counties in Maryland and Virginia.
However, that being said, no one forced the residents of DC to become such, thus making their demands of representation disingenuous. Again, according to the Constitution, only states are entitled to representation in the House and Senate.
Article I, Section 2 states that “The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States…”
And just for good measure, Article I, Section 3 states that “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State…”
Although the issue of Senate representation has not garnered as much attention or press as that of House representation, the statehood supporters would certainly have an interest in the addition of members in both houses. Shadow Senator Brown called for as much in his April 20 Local Opinion item: “We want our full rights and we want them now…. It’s time to make us equal. It’s time to make us a state.” But Mr. Brown is misguided. His conclusion is demonstrative of a common ailment suffered by most members of the House and Senate – Constitutional forgetfulness.
This is not the partisan Republican talking here, knowing that DC would undoubtedly elect two Democrats to the Senate and one more to the House, but one who believes the seat of the government should not be made a state as it is distinct in its existence and use by the federal government.
I should also point out the absurd recommendation made by McCartney in his April 22 column. He suggests dividing California into two states, giving each new state two senators or just amending the Constitution to grant the current Golden State an additional two senators to compensate for its population.
McCartney’s trip to fantasy land suggests that Southern California would presumably elect Republicans and Northern California would supposedly elect Democrats and that the two new Republicans would be a counterweight to the two Democrats the DC voters would send up the street to the Senate. At least McCartney knows this plan is loopy. “Far-fetched? Absolutely,” he asks and answers.
Back in the world of reality, there is a solution that would make the most sense and give DC residents the representation they should have as residents of an actual state – and under my plan, they would attain just that.
The land creating the District of Columbia was initially carved out of Maryland and Virginia in July 1790. In 1847, the land on the southern side of the Potomac reverted back to Virginia, eliminating the Old Dominion from the equation. The residential sections of the District should be apportioned back to the bordering Fourth and Eighth Congressional Districts of Maryland – both of which are majority Democratic districts.
Both Congressmen Donna Edwards (D-4th) and Chris Van Hollen (D-8th) are in little jeopardy of failing to win reelection this November. Since Van Hollen defeated moderate Republican Connie Morella in 2002, Democratic candidates are all but assured of victory every other November and this would not disturb the proverbial electoral apple cart or the balance of power.
If anything, eventually such gerrymandering of the District of Columbia would create a need for a ninth district in Maryland and in that part of the state it would more than likely be a Democratically-held seat when reapportionment comes up in a future census. That said, I cannot be accused of partisan politics here.
The District of Columbia would be preserved as the seat of the government of the United States of America, the House of Representatives would remain steadfast with its 435 members and the Senate would also retain its present count of 100 senators. Crisis averted and all remains right in this corner of the world.
Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria.