‘We the Pragmatists’

Since 1993, when the last statehood bill for residential and commercial portions of the Districts people like me who are statehood advocates have been met with eye rolls and been dismissed by voting rights groups as dreamers, idealists, absolutists, irrational because of our commitment to the only bill that will make us equal citizens. At a community event one time a staffer from a prominent DC Voting Rights group even said to me in a very condescending way “you just don’t understand how things work” when explaining to me that her organization’s incremental approach was better. And while some call us dreamers, idealists, and absolutists in a derogatory manner those terms should be looked at and treated as compliments. It is time however to add another term to the litany of words used to describe statehood activists and that is “pragmatists.” For twenty years we’ve been marginalized by folks who talk big about statehood in front of cameras, funders, and voters but who never step foot in the Halls of Congress to push statehood, yet in spite of them statehood is still the issue that comes back to the forefront because it is our ultimate goal and has the most support in Congress.

In 2013, statehood activists thanks to decades of hard work all of a sudden are not only the absolutists and dreamers but we’re also now the pragmatists in the “DC Voting Rights” community. In 2012, at the end of the 112th Congress for the first time since 1993 there was both a statehood bill in the House and the Senate. In 2013, in the 113th Congress, there is now once again both a statehood bill in the House (HR 292) and the Senate (S 132). These bills slowly but surely continue to add cosponsors thanks to the hard and not so glamorous work of citizen activists who have been meeting with House and Senate offices to advocate for the statehood bills. The New Columbia Admission Act is the ONLY piece of legislation of the list of DC Voting Rights bills that is before both Houses of Congress thus making it the most practical bill to pass, if any.

There will be no Senate hearings about one vote in the House because that bill doesn’t exist in the Senate (and is constitutionally questionable). There will be no Senate hearing about a bill to give us two Senators and one vote in the House because that bill doesn’t exist in the Senate (and is constitutionally questionable). There will be no nearing on a constitutional amendment because no one has offered that either. The New Columbia Admission Act is what we have before the Senate and the House and it is sponsored by a widely respected Senator by both parties, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), who also happens to be the chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. The statehood bill while still highly unlikely to get passed in this Congress is probably the only bill that we’ll at least get a hearing on this Congress and is thus the bill for District citizens to concentrate their efforts and energy on.

The statehood bill has a sound constitutional backing given that the bill would still maintain a small federal District (NewColumbia_StateMap1) and replicates history when Congress shrunk the size of the District in 1846/7 when it ceded land back to Virginia. And while we are grateful to our kindred spirits and neighbors in Hawaii who have passed legislation to call for a constitutional amendment to get us full voting rights the process for a constitutional amendment is much harder than for statehood. For statehood both Houses of Congress pass the bill by a simple majority (yes, I know about filibusters) then the President signs the bill into law. For a constitutional amendment to pass it would need 2/3 of each House of Congress to vote for it and then need to be ratified by ¾ of the states which is a much higher bar than the statehood bill. The one other key component about statehood that no other piece of legislation or constitutional amendment has is that there is no way to revoke statehood. Laws can be rescinded and constitutional amendments can be repealed but statehood is permanent. Doesn’t that sound pragmatic?

As leaders and citizens around the District look at our future it’s time to leave the past twenty years of incrementalism in the past and focus on the present. The statehood bill, while still a long shot, is the only bill before both Houses of Congress. The statehood bill is the only bill that would make us full and equal citizens. The statehood bill is the only bill that might be able to rally support from both the far left and the far right due to its constitutionality and call to fairness. And the statehood bill is the only permanent piece of legislation among the suite of DC Voting Rights bills. So as we move forward to continue our lobby efforts in Congress and to educate the nation about what we want isn’t it time that we all rally around the only bill that makes us full and equal citizens? It’s long past time that we coalesce around something that unites us as dreamers, idealists, absolutists, and yes, as pragmatists and that something is called statehood.

Josh Burch


We’re meeting with staff on the Hill on a regular basis and are happy to come speak to civic groups about our work to push and promote the statehood cause. For more information email us at unitedforstatehood@gmail.com

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