Monday, April 11, 2011

Gray Area

Why do politicians who claim to want smaller government and state’s rights think they have the right to tell the city of Washington DC how to govern themselves?

A little political science refresher, in case you’re not aware of these things: There are 100 Senators, two for each of the 50 states, meaning that each state, from the smallest geographic size (Rhode Island) to the largest (Alaska) has equal representation. There are 435 members of the House or Representatives; the amount from each state varies based on population, so that more populous states like New York or California have a bigger voice than less populous states like Wyoming. The combination of those two bodies forms a balanced means for governing our country based on the wishes of our citizens.

Did you notice what’s missing? Washington DC. It is not a state, but it IS a city in our United States with 600,000 residents. Yet there is no elected Senator from the District and the one elected Representative can only speak during sessions but cannot actually vote in Congress. So more than a half-million citizens do not have a say in how their government is run. At least they do vote in Presidential elections.

Washington DC is a city and does have a Mayor and City Council, elected by registered voters who live in the city limits. But Congress can accept and reject things like the city budget and how that money is spent. The budget compromise that was reached last Friday night just in time to pass the bill that avoided a government shutdown included a rider telling DC they could not spend funds on certain family planning and drug program matters and they have to return to certain school voucher programs that the city rejected in the past. Who are they to tell the city of Washington what they can or cannot do with their own taxpayers’ money?! Senators and Representatives who are from the 50 states and who are not legal residents or registered voters in the District decided how DC’s is to be governed and not the leaders elected by the voters of the city. This is like Congress telling California or North Carolina what they can do in their state or telling Dallas or Phoenix they can or can’t spend money in a certain way in those cities, regardless of what residents of those cities or states decided.

So today, Washington DC Mayor Vincent Gray and several City Council members decided to make their case in a time-honored American manner … they staged a protest on the streets outside the Capital.

And they were arrested! The Mayor of a major American city taken away in handcuffs for protesting Congressional action telling his city what it can or cannot do; not things that are illegal, by the way, just things some of the Congress people do not like.




Huge kudos to Gray and the Council members for doing what they did. To be fair, they were arrested for blocking traffic, not for the actual protest, but how did we even get to the point that this kind of situation was even necessary?

There is NO reason why the citizens of Washington DC should not have voting representation in the Federal government … 600,000 people who represent every race, creed and socioeconomic category of Americans, many of whom fought for their country in wars approved by Congress and whose relatives died for our freedoms in those wars and others.

Actually there IS a reason … some members of Congress recognize that 85% or more of DC voters are Democrat. Do the math and draw your own conclusion as to why it keeps getting blocked.


The exact form of representation is definitely murky. Does DC become the 51st state, changing the balance of political power? Does it become part of adjacent Maryland (typically Democratic) or Virginia (typically Republican)? Does it get divided into the parts that are Federal versus residential? All of those plans have been discussed over the decades. One thing is clear, to me anyway: the residents of Washington DC should have voting representation in Congress. The method might be a gray area but I applaud Mayor Gray for standing up on behalf of his citizens.

No comments: