Every American has one representative in Congress and two senators, who are elected to look out for their interests in the national government.
Every American, that is, except for the 700,000 people who live in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital.
Having an island of disenfranchisement so prominently placed in a country that promotes democracy around the world is an embarrassment. The fact that a plurality of these unrepresented Americans are African Americans is a human rights disgrace. After 250 years of chattel slavery and nearly a century of Jim Crow, allowing the people of D.C. to elect their own representatives is long overdue.
Fortunately, we can finally do something about it. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would turn Washington, D.C., into Washington Douglass Commonwealth, the 51st state.
All it would take to make this happen is for 50 senators to vote to eliminate the Senate’s filibuster rule, which allows the minority party to block legislation, and then pass the statehood bill. And no senators should be more open to that action than Maine’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King.
After all, Maine would still be a part of Massachusetts if a previous Congress had not decided that the people who lived here deserved representation. And both Collins and King would be out of a job if the Compromise of 1820 had been subject to a filibuster – it squeaked through the Senate only by a vote of 24-20.
A number of obstacles have been presented to D.C. statehood, but none of them passes the straight-face test.
Some argue that Washington is too small to be a state, but its population is larger than two of the current 50: Wyoming and Vermont.
Some argue that the land under the city could be returned to Maryland, allowing D.C. residents to vote there. But neither the district’s residents nor the people of Maryland want that to happen. The remarriage of Washington and Maryland would be about as awkward as forcing Maine to rejoin Massachusetts after 200 years of living apart.
It’s also been proposed that it would take a constitutional amendment to approve the new state, requiring two-thirds approval in both houses of Congress and ratification by three-quarters of the states.
But each of the 37 states that has come into the Union since the Constitution was adopted was admitted by congressional action, not constitutional amendment. It’s very strange that the only state that would require such an extraordinary process is the one that is predominantly Black.
Dozens of constitutional scholars and political scientists have signed a letter to congressional leaders saying that there is nothing in the Constitution that prevents Congress from doing what it has done 37 times in the past.
Another objection is that this would help Democrats politically, but that’s nothing new. There was only one Dakota Territory in the 1880s, but it became two states because the Republicans who controlled Congress wanted to make sure there were enough members of their party to keep the Senate.
Over the years, however, North Dakota and South Dakota have sent plenty of Democrats to Washington, including liberal South Dakota Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee in 1972. Political alignment isn’t always predictable.
D.C. statehood would be a victory for democracy, not just for Democrats. Stopping citizens from voting just because they may not vote for your party violates the core values of our democracy. Equality is not equality if only some people have it.
The status of D.C. residents has been a stain on the reputation of our country for too long. Rectifying this injustice is within our grasp – if the members of the Senate are willing to seize it.
Portland (Maine) Press