In case folks hadn’t realized it, we can’t rely on the Democratic Party to bring us statehood here in the District. Sure our Delegate is a Democrat and she gives a real whopper of a speech on statehood, and sure there are Democrats in the House and Senate who have historically supported statehood but they have not been able or willing to push the issue forward. Since Home Rule (signed into law by a Republican President in 1973), Democrats have controlled the Presidency with majorities in the House and Senate for a combined 8 years. While that’s not a long governing period surely it’s long enough for them to pass a bill that would make 600,000+ Americans full and equal citizens. So that leaves the statehood movement wanting and needing to expand our base and broaden our support so that a majority of members of Congress, a combination so of Democrats and Republicans, join in support of the concept of statehood.
The real question is how do we build support across the political aisle? How do we get past Democrats who oppose statehood like Steny Hoyer and build bridges to the Republican Party so that both parties see this not as a partisan issue but as an American issue? First, we need to look at ourselves. Are we in the District so blindly partisan that we judge others by the label of their party rather than of the content of their character? In this upcoming special election would it be beneficial for the statehood cause to vote for a pro-statehood Republican? The reality is we have no elected Republicans on the Council and it could be beneficial to making inroads on the Hill if we have a pro-statehood Republican member of the Council. Mr. Mara, has worked on the Hill, has been a Board member of DC Vote, and is a believer in statehood. It could be best for the statehood cause to have him meeting with Republicans on the Hill helping to make our cause in a way that some of us lefties just can’t (This is no endorsement of Mr. Mara, just articulately one way to help depoliticize our cause. There are many issues that must be considered before you vote for a Council member but on the statehood issue alone it’s interesting to ponder the benefits of having a pro-statehood Republican on the Council).
Second, we need to start building bridges to Republicans on the Hill in our outreach and education efforts, something that Neighbors United for DC Statehood has been committed to from the beginning. On April 16th, as part of the larger advocacy day put on by the DC Statehood Coalition, the Neighbors United group will be meeting with 12 Senate offices consisting of 6 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 1 Independent. This is a balanced approach to the statehood movement that we must continue. Only talking to and relying on Democratic support has gotten us zilch in the 40 years since the Home Rule Charter was signed into law. We need to engage everyone on this issue, educate them (clearly Rand Paul needs to do more homework on this issue), and hopefully find a few ‘Rs’ willing to sign on to the bill.
A couple of months ago a member of our group met with staffer in a southern Republican Senator’s office who gave us this advice: don’t focus so much on cosponsors for the statehood bill, rather gather up supporters/votes first on the GOP side because cosponsors aren’t as important (ie. bills pass when they have enough votes, not cosponsors). Additionally, he advised us to not get too many Democratic Senators to cosponsor the bill prior to a Republican signing on because the more ‘Ds’ on a bill the less likely we’d find a trail blazer among the GOP to make the leap and sign-on to what appears to be a ‘Democratic’ bill. And, that is exactly what we’ve been doing and will continue to do: meet with all parties and talk their language to show them that statehood is an American issue not a partisan one.
And finally, while we might not want to focus too much on new cosponsors we do need to find a trail blazer on the Republican side of the aisle to cosponsor the statehood bill to help break down the veil of partisanship around this issue. In the past we’ve met with Republican Senators Flake, Cochran, and Scott’s offices and on the 16th of April we’ll meet with staff from the following Republican Senate offices: Ayotte, Collins, Paul, Coburn, and Kirk. Somewhere in one of these offices is a staffer who will see this issue for what it is and at some point one of these Senators will look at the issue as well and say, ‘wow, it’s really about democracy.’ Maybe it will be one of the more ‘moderate’ Senators who will join with us but part of me believes that the trail blazer will be someone like Rand Paul or Tim Scott who cares little about the ‘R’ behind their name but is guided by an unyielding set of principles that in fact line up with the cause for statehood (limited federal government, local control over local affairs, and power to the people).
The road ahead toward statehood is still long and bumpy but there are ways to make the ride smoother and faster. The first step after recognizing we have a problem is to do a bit of self-reflection. And maybe the first thing we should reflect on is whether or not the fact that we’re so heavily Democratic has aided or hindered our ability to be more democratic.
PS…And yes, I support non-partisan elections for the District.