When Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) introduced the New Columbia Admission Act in the US Senate on December 19th, 2012 many statehood supporters (myself included) cheered the move. Yet, for some, mainly in the media the move was met with snarky headlines and dismissiveness even referring to it as “somewhat useless.” While it surprises even me to write the following words, I want to commend Senator Joe Lieberman for introducing the bill and I think there is great value to what I’ll call JoeMentum-2012.
In pieces in the Washington Post and in DCist, a key point of each article was that while the measure is good it’s too late to matter. By introducing the bill so late in a congressional session there’s no time for hearings or a vote. Very true, however, all is not lost on this. Having spent the last two years meeting with offices in the House and the Senate it’s been hard talking about a bill that hadn’t been offered in the Senate since 1993. This bill as offered now gives us, as statehood supporters, a bit more leverage next year because we have a recent bill to point to not something from 19 years ago. This Senate bill is helping us, as statehood advocates introduce a whole new generation of Senators and Senate staff to the issue of DC Statehood. This alone gives great value to JoeMentum-2012.
The pieces also point to the fact that our Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, offered the statehood bill in early 2011, which they imply means she’s more serious about statehood (which she should be). Delegate Norton has never wavered in her public support for statehood but it cannot be forgotten that she never once offered a statehood bill from 1995 until 2011. So if the media wants to pick on Joe Liebermann for his timing in offering the New Columbia Admission Act, in fairness, our Delegate needs to be asked about her timing. Why did it take 16 years to offer a statehood bill if it’s so important to her and her constituents (us)? It’s only fair to also ask about the timing gap of our Delegate’s support of statehood in addition to that of a Senator from Connecticut. In other words, cut JoeMentum-2012 some slack given the fact that our own Delegate, our elected leader in Congress, had a 16 year gap in championing this cause in Congress.
JoeMentum-2012 also helps set a clear picture for the ultimate goal of District citizens. For almost 20 years, since the last real push for statehood, the District and its case for statehood has been put on the back burner by congressional overseers (not just the GOP but you too, Steny!!!), our own elected officials, and DCVote who have all spent time, money, and energy talking about everything but statehood. Statehood has been the subverted subject for too long and after 19 years Joe Lieberman helped present a clear narrative as to what our ultimate goal is. Next year, thanks to Joe Lieberman and his three cosponsors in the Senate we’ll be able to go back on the Hill and say that “the New Columbia Admission Act offered in the 112th Congress is our ultimate goal and we want you, Senator X, to join the cause.”
JoeMentum-2012 should get deserved credit because ultimately it’s better late than never. Heck, we’ve been waiting for 212 years for equality at least he’s giving us something to work with. While this isn’t a perfect situation Senator Lieberman has given statehood advocates both a new sign of hope and something meaningful to work with next Congress. His three cosponsors are all still around and it is much easier to discuss a bill offered “last Congress” as opposed to “back in 1993.” Hopefully, Delegate Norton and statehood advocates across the District will use this move as a motivator to get organized, to get active, and to get our butts on the Hill (and not New Hampshire) and to continue to push for the New Columbia Admission Act as our one and only legislative priority in the coming Congress. JoeMentum-2012 is far from perfect but it’s a helluva a lot better than 19 years of silence on the issue in the US Senate and for that alone we should be grateful to Senator Lieberman.
Thank you for standing up for democracy, Senator Lieberman.