No representation keeps D.C. from statehood: CCLWV

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Martha Sloan of the Copper Country League of Women Voters gives a presentation on the movement for Washington, D.C., statehood at the Portage Lake District Library Tuesday night.

HOUGHTON — Voters in the District of Columbia have a mayor and city council, but Congress must approve all the district’s ordinances, laws and budgets. Residents can vote for president, but their only congressional representation is a non-voting member of the House of Representatives.

“They can speak on the floor, but they can’t vote, so how much attention do they get paid?” said Martha Sloan of the Copper Country League of Women Voters during a Tuesday presentation on the D.C. statehood movement at the Portage Lake District Library.

In an effort to gain more autonomy and representation, D.C. residents have launched drives for statehood over the past few decades. Sloan said the movement for D.C. statehood is seeking for most of the land deeded by Maryland and Virginia to become a state, with a small amount remaining for the federal seat.

D.C. had congressional representation from its founding until 1801. From 1871 to 1874, it elected House members again, before instituting an appointed commission — two civilian members and one Army member — that would stand for close to a century.

The 23rd Amendment allowed D.C. residents to cast votes for the president starting in 1964. The mayor and council came in 1973.

The territories are organized similarly to D.C., with the exception that their residents do not get to vote for the president.

To become a state, residents would approve a constitution and borders, agree on a representative form of government and petition Congress. If both houses of Congress pass the bill and the president signs it, it becomes a state.

Six bills for D.C. statehood were introduced between 1985 and 2011. The pace has picked up. In 2016, a measure on the D.C. ballot to petition for statehood passed with 79 percent of the vote.

Bills have been introduced in the last three Congresses, most recently in 2017. The House bill has 136 co-sponsors, and the Senate bill has 19.

The movement has foundered in Congress in part because of a lack of representation. Racism may have also dissuaded support for the bill, due to D.C. historical status as a majority black population.

Recently, the biggest factor may be politics. D.C. has voted Democratic in every presidential election since 1964.

Others have been concerned about giving representatives to what would become one of the smallest states. Its 700,000 residents puts it ahead of only Vermont and Wyoming.

Compared to U.S. territories, D.C. has the second-highest population next to Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million. But at 68 square miles, it is a distant last in size, trailing Guam’s 571. Rhode Island, the smallest state, is a comparative juggernaut at 1,212.

Sloan said league’s discussion has been predominantly centered on D.C. statehood. She’d like to see more attention paid to the territories as well.

“I would like to see more interest in this, and if lawsuits are coming out, maybe it’ll be a natural process that will percolate,” she said.