DC Statehood Is Up for a Vote Again. It's Still a Bad Idea.
Since regaining their House majority in the 2018 midterms, Democrats
have floated a raft of proposals that, if enacted, would upend bedrock elements of our American system of government.
One such Democratic undertaking is H.R. 51, the District of Columbia (D.C.)'s statehood bill, a measure introduced like clockwork by statehood activists to every Congress and co-signed by top Democratic leaders. Statehood for the District of Columbia, the obstinate, long pursued, and all-or-nothing insistence on making the small enclave that hosts the nation's federal government the 51st state, is similarly purposed.
And they're serious. Dozens of American flags with 51 stars were just recently hung in downtown Washington, D.C. in advance of the House Oversight and Reform Committee's hearing on September 19 on the bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state. It is the first House hearing on D.C. statehood since 1993.
Let's dispense with any pretense. For the Democratic Party, this issue is about raw politics. Always has been. It is about the pick-up of two possible Senate seats and a House seat that one political party believes would be dependably and forever its own. And why not? Seventy-six percent of registered District voters are Democrats, while Republicans tally in only the mid-single digits. Over 90% of the District's vote went for Hillary Clinton in 2016's election. With the even further leftward shift in the House Democratic majority, the bill's sponsor, D.C. delegate to the House of Representatives Eleanor Holmes-Norton, has this time secured a notable 215 co-sponsors for her statehood bill, which surpasses the previous record for total co-sponsors (181).
Democrats do not hide their why for the all-or-nothing quest for D.C. statehood. The bill's sponsors' no-substitutions, no-middle-ground approach further reveals their true political motivations for this measure. But for statehood advocates, like Delegate Norton, if "representation" for D.C. residents is of such primal concern, why not at least broach the possibility of alternatives to specifically address this issue? Pragmatic solutions exist to attend to the supposed concern for its citizens' full voting representation. (Current District of Columbia vehicle license plates feature a twist on the Colonial-era protest slogan "no taxation without representation" to instead read, "Taxation without representation.")
What if the District became part of a border state like Virginia or Maryland (or some combination thereof)? The 68 square miles of land that form the District could become another county of either Virginia or Maryland, and its citizens would have their "representation." After all, it was both Maryland and Virginia that generously donated land for the capital district at its founding. Plus, D.C. already went through this process once. The District once encompassed 31 square miles of Virginia, including Alexandria, until 1846, when the territory was given back to the state.
"Retrocession" (as the process is termed) would return the territory Maryland ceded to the government in 1790, and current Washington, D.C. residents would get representation through Maryland's senators and representatives. Problem solved.
Other possibilities exist to address "representation." Given today's technology, ease of travel, and connectivity, the District could become the easternmost county of, say, Nebraska, or another geographically separated part of Michigan like the Upper Peninsula. The point is that representation for and full rights of District residents as state citizens that supporters of independent statehood so vocally advocate for would be fully achieved if Washington, D.C.'s citizens became legal residents of another state.
Alternatives aside, Washington D.C., has since the nation's founding had designated special status as the U.S. capital and seat of the federal government — for good reason. It is not part of any state; instead, the District of Columbia is under the jurisdiction of the Congress of the United States in accordance with Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. So, regardless of sponsors' and supporters' intent, the only way for the District to become the 51st state is through a constitutional amendment, which would pose a stiff challenge even for a progressive majority.
When the Constitution was adopted in 1787, the Founders included a provision for Congress to create a seat of government for the new country from land ceded by states (Maryland and Virginia) for such a purpose. In Federalist paper no. 43, James Madison explained that the national capital needed to be separate from any state's authority to safeguard that the federal government would not become dependent on an individual state for fear of favoritism that might disrupt the impartiality of a government "by and for the people." The capital was to be a "neutral ground for co-equal sovereign states to come together to transact the nation's business."
If the Founders' actions at the nation's beginning aren't reason enough, the early 2017 inauguration day's near riotous protests over the elected president and the following day's Women's March atmosphere inimical to opposing views serve as further evidence that the host location for the seat of the federal government must be kept as neutral a site as possible. A neutral location — a special non-politicized site — to host the federal government was clearly the intention of the nation's founders. That is why the District of Columbia was designated, and has remained, as a district and not a state.
If the District of Columbia were allowed to be further controlled by one political party or the other, a strong case could be made that it would be difficult for the opposing or minority party to fully, effectively, and conveniently participate in the governing of the nation, particularly given that legislators and government officials reside in or near the District.
Having a specially designated neutral enclave as the seat of the national federal government benefits the entire nation and all Americans. That standard must be maintained for the "common and greater good" of the entire nation and our constitutional republic. The wisdom of the Founding Fathers got this one right from the start.
Colonel Chris J. Krisinger, USAF (ret.) served in policy advisory positions at the Pentagon and twice at the Department of State. He was also a National Defense Fellow at Harvard University. As a military aviator, he flew C-130 "Hercules" aircraft. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.