On June 27th, 2013, news of a draft bill in Congress to ban speed cameras in the District was released and Delegate Norton and others had a field day blasting it. In all likelihood the bill would have gone nowhere in Congress but instead of allowing this proposed intrusion on Home Rule die in a copy room in the House District Councilmember, Vincent Orange, decided give the draft bill life by sponsoring a Council bill with similar intentions. Late Friday afternoon CM Orange in letter to Representative Bentivolio claims he’s “been working on this legislative proposal for a while” and thus felt compelled to introduce legislation that would impose a two year ban on new speed cameras to stave off Congress imposing a permanent ban on us. It’s disturbing that District citizens have to worry about bad legislation being imposed on us from Michigan but it’s even worse to have to deal with similarly bad legislation coming from Michigan Park.
On its face, the “Automated Traffic Enforcement Moratorium Act of 2013,” is perfectly appropriate for a Councilmember to offer. The conditions, however, under which he offered the bill are rather telling about how far removed some on the Council are from having a mindset that’s ready for statehood. If we want to be a state we must act like it. Deferring to a member of Congress on how to operate or not operate our speed cameras shows that the Councilmember seems more interested than appeasing Congress that standing up for their constituents. Mr. Orange has set bad precedent for several reasons.
First, this is a bad case of premature legislation. Representative Bentivolio’s bill hadn’t even been introduced yet. It’s highly unlikely that it would make it past the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform because Chairman Issa has indicated he has no desire to meddle with the day-to-day operational affairs of the District. Even if the bill passed committee, it’d have to pass the House, then the Senate which also wouldn’t happen as a standalone bill. Vincent Orange is guilty of premature legislating. It wasn’t necessary to bow down at this time, if ever on this issue. Could it be added as an amendment to another bill, sure, but let’s have that fight if it comes but cave in now unnecessarily.
Second, this situation enables ideologues who like to score cheap political points by picking on the District. Councilmember Orange just empowered a weak Congressman from Michigan and probably got the attention of other grandstanders in Congress who have little to offer their home Districts. Vincent Orange is doing the bidding of a Congressman from Michigan instead of standing up for the people who elected him against unwanted and unwarranted congressional intrusion. Can we ever win a legislative duel with Congress? No, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stand up for ourselves, speak out against unwanted intrusions, and pick a fight with feckless thugs from time to time. This intrusion into our own local affairs is definitely worth a fight. Sadly, other grandstanders in Congress might see how by doing so little they can get so much accomplished if only they scare a member of the Council. Mr. Orange just enabled and empowered an ideologue who should have either been ignored or stood up to.
And finally, the cumulative effect of Mr. Orange’s actions undercut the statehood movement. The phrase, statehood saboteur, was introduced to me just a few weeks ago by a member of our group who spoke of those who talk big on statehood one minute but the next do things to undercut the cause. Given Councilmember Orange’s lead sponsoring of the imperfect DC Statehood Advocacy Act one minute then bowing down to a freshmen member of Congress seems to fit the mold of statehood saboteur. We want to be a state so that we have the ability and authority to govern ourselves and this demonstrates a lack of willingness and ability to do both. Why should we be a state if our Councilmembers just defer to the idiotic opinions of Santa Claus impersonators who have been in Washington for about 6 months? By bowing down to a lowly member of Congress on a bill whose viability was questionable Councilmember Orange undercut the statehood cause thus being a prime example of a statehood saboteur.
These bills crafted by a man from Michigan and a man from Michigan Park are a disturbing reminder of how the statehood battle is not just a legislative but a mental battle. Members of Congress need to have the mental maturity to move past trying to micro-manage affairs in the District when they have nothing substantive to offer their own constituents. And more importantly members of the Council need to have the mental maturity and personal confidence to not jump when Congress tells them to. We might not expect much from a member of Congress from Michigan but we should expect more from someone we elect from Michigan Park.
Brookland, Ward 5