Over the decades-old fight for D.C. statehood, the city has been likened to such things as a halfway house between servitude and autonomy, and one former official once said the city’s relationship with Congress was similar to a form of child abuse.
However, after a historic vote last month in which Congress voted 234-193 for statehood and a 2016 referendum that passed with 80 percent of the vote, the District is as close as ever to gaining full autonomy.
On Friday, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Mayor Muriel Bowser led a coalition of national and local organizations in a news conference designed to protect D.C.’s local laws during the upcoming fiscal year appropriations process in the 1539 Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill.
Norton and Bowser said they were more confident than ever statehood was within reach, particularly with Democrats now controlling the House of Representatives.
“We are committed to building support across the nation by educating our fellow Americans about our struggle,” Bowser said.
During the news conference, Bowser said federal lawmakers should have granted D.C. statehood a long time ago.
“D.C. residents pay taxes, have fought in all of the nation’s wars, and have all the other obligations of citizenship,” the mayor said. “Now, we are demanding our fundamental rights as American citizens.”
Bowser noted that though District has a larger population than two states and that its residents pay more per capita in taxes than in any other state, the city still has no representation in the Senate or a full vote in the House.
Despite Republican control in the last Congress, Norton successfully fought off seven riders in an appropriations bill — the largest number seen in years.
Those riders prohibited D.C. from using its local funds on abortions for low-income women; on commercializing recreational marijuana; on carrying out the Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act; on carrying out D.C.’s health insurance mandate law; and on seizing assets to enforce the insurance mandate tax penalty.
They also prohibited the repealing of the Death with Dignity Act and the Local Budget Autonomy Act.
Norton was able to keep all but the abortion and marijuana riders out of the enacted fiscal 2019 D.C. Appropriations bill.
“We are doing well in moving toward statehood in the House, but, fortunately, we are also entitled under the Home Rule Act to local control of our local budget,” Norton said.
“We will be pressing for our full rights on every front available to us,” she said.
In addition to reaching a record-breaking 200 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Norton has secured the backing of 20 state attorneys general from around the nation in the fight for statehood.
“We intend to press the law as it exists today to its limits,” Norton said. “At the same time, we are simultaneously demanding to become the 51st state of these United States.”
Bowser added that statehood is “critical” to D.C. residents “for our self-determination and for our self-respect.”
“We know well the objections to D.C. statehood,” she said. “It used to be that people would say we weren’t ready for statehood and we can’t take care of ourselves but we’ve proven them wrong and we run the city better than most jurisdictions.”