DC Statehood and the Council

When Council member Vincent Orange proposed a bill to partially fund the District’s Shadow Delegation to Congress he also included in the bill language with statehood responsibilities for the Council as well. In previous posts I’ve made suggestions for how to change the shadow delegation so that it can function more efficiently and effectively as well as recommendations for the Executive Branch. The legislative branch should play a role in the statehood movement but it should not require the funds or time needed for the shadow delegation and the executive branch to effectively manage a campaign for statehood. The legislative branch should play a reduced but important role.

In the Statehood Advocacy Act there are two items specifically articulated for the Council of the District of Columbia: 1) to appropriate $150,000 annually to hire a lobby firm to lobby Congress on statehood; and 2) to appropriate $400,000 for the Council to hire a media firm to embark on a media campaign focused on statehood and other issues. These two components sound good but should be scrapped from the bill with the money being allocated elsewhere. The Council does not need to take on executive roles and executive functions and having their own campaign for statehood might not lead to the unanimity in messaging that we need. It could be problematic if the Council has one campaign, the Mayor has another, and then the Delegation would have its own. Additionally, if the bill is already funding the Shadow Delegation with staff (and I’ve previously written that the funding should be increase from VO’s bill) why should we hire an additional lobbying firm (aside from the fact that $150,000 is small change for good lobbying firms).

Despite CM Orange’s best intentions, $550,000 should not be in the hands of the Council to administer their own statehood fight. Below are a few suggestions on what the Council could and should be doing using some of that $550,000. In large part they should play a less significant role in statehood fight than that of the citizenry at large, the executive branch, and the shadow delegation. Here are a few ideas on how the Council should press toward statehood:

  1. Hire a council staffer or two under the Committee of the Whole to coordinate with legislative bodies around the country to adopt resolutions in support of statehood. Two years ago city leadership including several Councilmembers led a horribly planned and executed statehood lobbying trip to New Hampshire. They embarrassed themselves by not adequately preparing for the trip or doing the leg work to educate more members of the New Hampshire legislature before going up there. When they got there statehood detractors ruled the day and even the N.H. legislators who wanted to defend us and support us didn’t have the necessary information to do so. The council should hire a non-flashy workhorse or two to solely focus on reaching out to legislative bodies around the country, city councils and statehouses, to get resolutions passed in support of statehood. This is one effective strategy to help build pressure on members of Congress, but unlike two years ago, it needs to be executed professionally and thoughtfully.
  2. The Council needs to keep doing (fiscally) what it has been doing. The fiscal house of the District continues to be in fairly good order and that does keep us in the good graces of Congress. Provided that we continue to balance budgets, while still debating the contents and priorities of those budgets, we are giving our detractors one less item to hold over us. At the same time, the ethical problems of the Council are something that our detractors use against us (even though we have not patent on corruption). The Council needs to clean up its act because our image does matter. If the Council cannot clean-up its act District voters should.
  3. Since the Council is only a part-time job (which I disagree with strongly) Councilmembers and their staff should make themselves available to support the shadow delegation when they go up to the Hill. Or better yet, each Council office should adopt a few states and focus their lobbying efforts on those state delegations. Jack Evans is from Pennsylvania so maybe he should commit to in one year meeting with all of the members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation to push the statehood cause. Vincent Orange attended high school in Colorado so why shouldn’t he adopt the Colorado delegation as his charge to push the statehood cause. If nobodies like me, with full-time non-statehood jobs, can find time to lobby 30 Senate offices in 4 months to promote the statehood bill why shouldn’t our Councilmembers be doing the same thing or more? Why shouldn’t they actually lead by example?

The Council does have a role in the statehood fight but it should not take up a lot of their time or our money. Their elected role is to write, amend, and pass legislation while also overseeing the executive branch of government. Their official role in the statehood movement should be kept to a minimum but their un-official role is nonetheless important. Council staff can work with other legislative bodies to pass statehood resolutions, keeping the District fiscal and ethical house in order goes a long way to keeping our detractors at bay. And most importantly, Councilmembers are citizens of the District too and they should spend some time up on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress making the pitch as to why they believe we should be the 51st State in the union. Councilmembers like citizens as a whole need to lead this fight in the Halls of Congress not because of the position they hold but because of the unjust system we all live under.

Josh Burch

Brookland

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