Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Voting Rights vs. Statehood

As recently as Sunday afternoon (three days ago), I would have been much more joyful about the prospect of the citizens of Washington, DC getting a vote in the House of Representatives, and very skeptical of the notion of statehood ("are you kidding me? A governor, statehouse, two senators, etc., all for one city?" I thought).

Then, along comes Mike Brown, one of the Districts two elected "Shadow senators", and within 15 minutes, there goes my worldview (again!) Here's what I quickly learned:

1. Getting a vote on the house floor will not effectively change the governmental structure of the District, nor will it give the government any more autonomy.
2. The trade-off at the house level is that Utah will be granted a new seat in the house as well, giving that state 4 seats (and almost assuredly a Republican seat knowing that Utah is, by voting record, the most Republican state in the nation).

So, while the citizens of the District will most assuredly now have a voting person in congress, the District government will be no more autonomous, and in fact could very-well be further away from that autonomy. Why? Becuase on a national level there could very much be a sense that now that there is a voting voice in the House, the District should just be quiet about any other complaints.

What other complaints could there be? Well, here's three examples:
1. This city, with its high rates of HIV, cannot establish its own policies regarding such things as needle-exchange programs (which have been proven to be effective in reducing HIV-transmission). Thankfully, last year, President Bush authorized needle-exchange for the district, but it should not come to this.
2. The district cannot tax the incomes of people who work in the district but live in Maryland and Virginia. This is the only city in the country not doing this. As the Brookings Institute pointed out, it's like a restaurant being forced to serve all-comers, but only being able to charge one-third of the clientele.
3. The federal government effectively can establish gun laws in the District, moreso than in any other city.

This lack of autonomy effects so many things, including environmental policies, water policies, education policies, and the list goes on.

This city has so many challenges - internally and externally. It is a very divided city (just sit in Starbucks in Potomac Palisades, and Starbucks by Eastern Market, and you'll see the difference - and that's just within Starbucks). It has such a long history of disenfranchisement. That history continues. So, while it seems certain that there will finally be a DC voice (1 in 436) on the House floor, and Holmes-Norton may finally get her wish, it may be the long-time citizens of the District who will continue to suffer.

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