During the Democratic National Convention, a news report about controversy surrounding the language used in the party platform caught my eye. Not that story, this one. I am a resident of Washington, D.C. the capital of the United States of America and, as we like to say, capital of the Free World. Unfortunately, I lack the basic rights most Americans have. I pay taxes but I lack a representative in Congress.
I’ll put this into perspective: You live in your state. You have your own Representatives and Senators who push your issues and values. You win some legislative battles and you lose some. Even when you lose, your state has enough flexibility to reflect your community’s beliefs in its policy to almost subvert federal law. Medical marijuana laws in California, Colorado, and Washington have persisted despite federal law to the contrary. Basically you can have a kind of give-and-take relationship with the federal government and some level of autonomy.
I don’t have any of that. I have something called a shadow representative. She can introduce and co-sign bills but can’t vote. When Congress votes on how to appropriate funds for the District, Eleanor Holmes Norton can only sit and watch. That means that I have no voice in Congress, even when it acts in a way that directly affects me. In Washington, we have to sit and watch while some of our town’s other residents vote and rule against us in Congress and in the Supreme Court. While we pay them taxes. It’s easy to see why that could cause resentment.
Efforts to give DC voting rights have failed repeatedly thanks to staunch GOP opposition. Washington typically votes over 90% Democrat in presidential elections, so allowing for a vote would essentially be giving the Democrats another seat. In their platform, they describe Washington as a special responsibility of the federal government (yes, really). This isn’t to say that Democrats have done DC good. Washington’s local politics are so heavily Democratic that current mayor and future felon Vincent Gray ran unopposed once he won the primary. While under the Democrats’ watch, DC has been the nation’s leader in per capita homicides, had a mayor go to prison, and a decline in population. So what do I add to American democracy? Not a lot.
Washington’s situation encapsulates the nature of today’s political climate. In a Congress where important legislation is only passed with a Super Majority, Republicans can’t afford to let DC vote. It makes me angry that I can’t have a representative but Wyoming, which has less people than Washington, does. It makes me angrier that our political system allows this. One of the reasons no politician (besides Holmes Norton) is out fighting for DC voting rights is because no one cares. Even though it is ridiculous that citizens in the nation’s capital aren’t represented, it doesn’t affect anyone else. It simply isn’t an issue that is going to get voters in Florida into voting booths or one that will attract wealthy donors. Worse than all this is the implication that, if DC gets to vote everyone else in America will suffer, an epithet usually reserved for Arizona.
It’s not just DC statehood that gets this treatment. Plenty of other issues will get left out this election cycle. It’s just that in this case, voters are intentionally excluded from the political process, as opposed to alienating an issue voter. I am switching my residency to California before the election so that my vote will count. And maybe I can forget about Washington too.
Philip Hills Bunnell