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Statehood Still a Hot Button Issue in the District

Shantella Y. Sherman | 6/4/2009, 8:03 a.m.

Statehood and self-determination in the District have long been debated since its inception; but if Councilmember Michael A. Brown (I-At- Large) and advocates of D.C. Statehood have anything to say about it, Statehood will become a reality sooner, than later.

On Mon., June 1, the D.C.City Council€s Special Committee on Statehood and Self-Determination, chaired by Brown, held a hearing to gain clarity on how statehood would impact the District.

The hearing, Pathways to Statehood and Full-Determination: Political and Constitutional Considerations, created a strategic platform designed to address specific logistics in presenting petitions of statehood, in preparing for statehood, and in gaining and governing as a new state. Divided into six panels, the four-and-a-half-hour hearing brought many of the District€s activists and legal minds together to determine how best to frame a decades-old platform against more recent developments such as the Home Rule Charter, the now-defunct Control Board, and the D.C. House Voting Rights Act of 2009.

Among the guests and those who presented testimony included Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! For Democracy in D.C. Coalition, Charles Cassell, chair of the D.C. Statehood Constitutional Convention, former D.C. Delegate Rev. Walter Fauntroy, Maryland State Sen. Jamin Raskin (D), D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickels and Counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia Brian Flowers.
Raskin said the road to statehood is €extremely charged and difficult politically,€ but as the only community of taxable, draftable American citizens, must be addressed.

€There has been a see-saw struggle over home rule ever since it was extended during the Reconstruction period and then revoked when Reconstruction ended. And, the modern period has seen a sequence of meaningful incremental reforms like the advent of home rule in 1973, the adoption of the non-voting Delegate position in 1971, and the passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961, at the same time that sweeping proposals for change like statehood and the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment have been shot down,€ Raskin said.

Fauntroy, who established a €Coalition of Conscience€ alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to forge the Civil Rights, Voting Rights, and Fair Housing Acts of the 1960s, said that historically those things hindering the District€s demands for statehood, still exist today, namely, being €too urban, too liberal, too Democratic, and too Black.€ As a result, his initial D.C. Voting Rights Act of 1978 was never ratified, despite getting the required 2/3 votes in the House and Senate.

€The enemies of full self-determination organized in the city and around the country to prevent the ratification of the amendment,€ Fauntroy said.

Many of the participants and guests at the hearing remained hopeful that with the continued efforts of Councilmember Brown and the positively-charged atmosphere of the €Obama-era,€ Statehood for the District is attainable.

€The commitment of Michael Brown has sparked a fire under the residents of the District to mobilize for our rights and it has made it possible to put Statehood back on the front burner,€ said Jenkins, who has met and talked to a receptive President Barack Obama about D.C. Statehood.

€At the close of this hearing I felt that Statehood was something that we deserved as a right, rather than something we needed to justify having and that was a wonderful feeling,€ she said.

For Councilmember Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), who shared the platform with Councilmember Brown, the lack of self-determination for the District paints a particularly shameful brushstroke against the nation when viewed by those moving to or visiting the city.

€As a native daughter of the District, nothing is first and foremost than Statehood of the District. So many students at District colleges and universities, and also military personnel stationed in the city for years at a time refuse to give up their residency in their home states specifically because they do not want to lose the rights of representation,€ Alexander said.

€The City Council has received national and, even global attention from those outside the city who think it is an atrocity that District residents do not have full representation, but pay federal taxes.€

Brown€s efforts have included several public hearings on D.C. Statehood, including one several weeks ago. When the hearing opened for public testimony, it did not adjourn until 2 a.m., the following morning. Brown said that more than one half million (500,000) District residents have no voting representation in Congress, no vote in the U.S. Senate and no vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The District has a Delegate in the House of Representatives; however, that Delegate does not have the right to vote on legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction in the country where residents who fulfill all of their obligations and responsibilities as citizens are denied voting representation in Congress, Brown said.