The District of Columbia was never intended to be treated as a state. It was a different entity altogether; a separate region to house the federal government, independent of any state so that there was no dispute over jurisdiction. The never-ending quest for more and more political power has overshadowed such temperance, though, and the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives on April 22 voted to advance legislation to grant statehood to D.C.
Proponents say that it is all about the right of representation in Congress, but there has never been a good reason why residents of the District did not already enjoy that right. Statehood for D.C. is really about creating two additional Senate seats that will inevitably be filled by Democrats – probably for the foreseeable future.
What About Maryland?
Originally, the District of Columbia was established on land ceded to the federal government by the states of Maryland and Virginia, though Virginians had second thoughts later and reclaimed their territory. Still, there has never been any reason why residents of D.C. could not have been granted the right to vote in either Virginia or Maryland – or, today, just in Maryland.
The counter-argument to this seemingly simple solution is that no state has jurisdiction over the District, and so those votes cast in Maryland would have had no effect on the people who reside in D.C., which has no senators and one non-voting representative in the U.S. House.
Then again, there was no good reason to carve out the District in the first place. Federal government buildings and other facilities could always have been given special status – subject only to the rule of the federal government, as the current bill describes – while everyone and everything else in what is known as D.C. could have been subject to the state laws of Maryland. If that were the case, then non-government residents of D.C. would get what they voted for, as Maryland residents.
It is hard to reject the argument that the 700,000-plus residents of the District deserve representation. It is equally hard to ignore the assumption that, if D.C. were a Republican stronghold, Democrats would have no interest in conferring statehood upon it. Perhaps it is fair to presume that, were this the case, Republicans might be pushing for the creation of this 51st state.
The Race Card Gets Played Again
Unfortunately – and regardless of the merits or criticisms – Democrats chose, as usual, to take the low road and inject race into the equation. During a heated House debate, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY) went for the low-hanging fruit favored by members of his party: “I have had enough of my colleagues’ racist insinuations that somehow that people of Washington, D.C., are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy,” Jones said of Republican opposition to the bill. The District of Columbia has a non-white majority and 46% of residents are black.
Nevertheless, the argument over statehood has little to do with race and maybe even less to do with the right of representation. This is not a case of government enacting the will of the people – and, these days, is it ever? No, this is about one additional voting seat in the House and two additional seats in the Senate – all of which will doubtless be filled by Democrats.
The real travesty of it all is that the federal government itself will, if perhaps only symbolically, become further ingrained into American culture: D.C. was, after all, established to be a federal enclave – a massive government compound, one could say – and now it is on the road to equal status with the 50 states, should Democrats pull off the unlikely feat of getting their bill through the Senate; a feat that could be achieved only by eliminating the legislative filibuster. Watch this space.
Read more from Graham J. Noble.