On March 5th, 2013, Councilmember Vincent Orange introduced legislation that would allocate more funding to the District’s Shadow Delegation to Congress. His legislation is a good start but needs amending prior to being considered for passage and enactment. While his bill focuses mainly on compensating the current delegation it might be a good time to rethink how the Shadow Delegation is structured to see if we can make changes to it so that it works more effectively and efficiently.
Because of Councilmember Orange’s legislation, the Mayor saying he’ll create a statehood office and commission, and the growing movement for statehood across the District it’s a great time to think strategically about this. This piece solely focuses on the current structure of the shadow delegation and how we might look to rethink and restructure it so that it can become more effective. I hope to pen additional pieces in the near future on how the executive office might be able to use existing staff or to add new staff and offices to more effectively promote the statehood cause but for now I wanted to suggest changes to the shadow delegation.
First, as noted in a piece I wrote on March 4th (A ‘High Five for DC Statehood or Is It?), the shadow delegation should be fully staffed and funded so that they can commit their full-time and energy to this cause (similar pay to District Councilmembers). This should not be part-time work or part-time pay. These elected officials, with staff and resources, should be our full-time lobbyists elected by the people of the District to work toward our full-time equality through statehood.
Second, there should be a rethinking around if the shadow delegation really needs to be distributed the way it currently is with one Shadow House Delegate and two Shadow Senate Delegates. These positions are to lobby Congress for Statehood (and other District affairs) but we send one person as our House delegate and two to the Senate. From a logistical point of view that doesn’t make sense. The House is 4.35 times the number of members in the Senate and they serve only two year terms yet we elect only one person to the House. The logistics alone should make it so that if we have a shadow delegation of three that two delegates should focus on the House and one on the Senate. Although it’s nice symbolically to have two Shadow Senators and one Shadow Delegate it’s just not an effective or efficient way to lobby. We need to dedicate more resources where they are needed and the House is much bigger and they serve shorter terms so we need to concentrate more time, energy, and people there. Our delegation should be distributed to reflect where we need to commit time and resources.
Third, in addition to restructuring the distribution of shadow delegates it also might be worth restructuring their terms in office. Since they aren’t real members of Congress why not make it so that they run once every four years similar to how the Council elections are held. No one, specifically our currently unpaid House Shadow Delegate, should have to run every two years for an unpaid position. This dilutes the time and attention he/she can give to actually lobbying Congress. On the flip side why should we elect Shadow Senators to six year terms for no other reason than pretending like they are real US Senators. Every four years (while arbitrary in and of itself) is a time period where our delegates would have time to forge relationships on the Hill without having to spend too much time running for reelection.
Fourth, we should examine making our shadow delegation non-partisan with an open primary where the top two candidates from the primary then face off in the general election. Having non-partisan candidates elected to these offices could help bridge the pettiness based on partisan affiliation that often surrounds this debate. Non-partisan delegates would help send a message to Congress that this issue is not about partisanship rather it’s about citizenship and all Washingtonians are presently disenfranchised and statehood is the path we’ve chosen to pursue to make us all equal. While elected officials from political parties can fairly and equally represent the people of the District irrespective of partisan affiliation a non-partisan statehood delegation would send the right message to Congress: that these delegates are not pushing a partisan cause rather a civil rights cause.
The above four suggestions are just one small microcosm of what needs to be done to put the District in a better structural position to push for statehood. The shadow delegation should serve a vitally important role in pushing for statehood so now might be a good time to rethink whether or not we have structured and funded these offices in a manner which positions them well to push for statehood. District voters need to demand more of our shadow delegates but also and more importantly need to be willing to support their work and not just sit on the sidelines complaining. The statehood movement is really in the hands of the people of the District (and yes, Congress) but having a properly structured and funded shadow delegation could help us achieve statehood sooner.
Just my thoughts on a not-so-snowy Snow Day while the little one sleeps!