On July 11th, 2013 at 10am the Committee of the Whole of the District Council will hold a hearing on bill B20-171, the DC Statehood Advocacy Act of 2013. This bill presents a great conceptual step forward for the District as it finally commitments financial resources to the statehood cause. The bill however, needs amending to make it more effective. Here’s my full testimony to the Committee of the Whole:
Testimony on the DC Statehood Advocacy Act of 2013
My name is Josh Burch, I’m a native Washingtonian and Brooklander. Statehood is only practical, permanent, and constitutionally valid path forward for achieving equality for me, my family, and my neighbors which is why I am testifying in support of the DC Statehood Advocacy Act of 2013. For too long Congress denied us the right to spend our own money to lobby and advocate for statehood and for too long since that ban has been lifted the Council and the Mayor have refused to commit resources to the statehood cause.
Although born and raised here I’m relatively new to the statehood cause. Over the last two years I have become active in the statehood movement in Brookland, across Ward 5, and throughout the city. A group of dedicated neighbors and I have met with over 60 House offices and 45 Senate offices to advocate in support the statehood bill. Too often we’ve heard from staff that we’re the first people from the District they’ve ever met with on statehood. Too few citizens and too few elected leaders are actively engaging Congress on the issue of statehood and we need to put an end to it. We need to have an active citizenry, an active Council, an active Mayor, and an active statehood delegation becoming a constant presence on the Hill. Every single member of Congress needs to hear from all of us about why we believe statehood is the best path forward. And now with a statehood bill in both Houses of Congress this is the time to redouble efforts and commit resources to pushing this cause forward.
Funding the statehood delegation is one important piece of the overall puzzle to achieving statehood. The delegation needs to be a constant presence on the Hill. We need to pay them and their staff to work full time so that no member of Congress goes untouched or ignored. We elected the delegation to advocate for us and we need to give them the necessary resources to do it. We cannot continue down the path we’ve been on and expect different results.
While I believe this bill is a good start I first want to point out that this bill will not by its enactment end our disenfranchisement. Secondly, I think there are a few changes that could be made to this bill or thru additional legislation or referenda to make it more effective for the statehood cause.
The major changes I believe that should be made are as follows:
1. Fully Fund & Require Full-time of the Shadow Delegation: Pay them a full time salary (similar to the Council), fund their staff equitably, and require that they work on statehood full-time. To be honest, our shadow delegates have been ineffective, partly because the District never committed resources to their positions and offices. By not paying them or paying them inadequately as this bill presently does we have people who cannot commit their full time and energy to their offices and the statehood cause. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right. Let’s pay the Delegates what we pay Councilmembers and really put our money where our mouth is on statehood. We should have delegates that focus all their time and energy on the statehood cause and not have any excuses to do otherwise. Let’s pay them fairly and require them to commit their full attention and efforts to the statehood cause. And finally, councilmembers should know that staff play an invaluable role in the legislative process and in legislative achievements thus fully funding staff and programming is a vitally important component of this proposal.
2. Allocate Staff and Resources Proportionally: I believe shadow offices should be staffed proportionally to the House of Congress each office is tasked with focusing on. Therefore since we have only one Shadow Representative for 435 members of the House I believe that office needs more staffing and more resources. The dynamics and logistics of the job means that the Shadow Representative’s office needs more people setting up meetings, educating staff, and lobbying members. Our delegation’s staff and resources should be distributed to reflect where we need to commit time and resources.
3. Remove Language on Voting Rights: Statehood is the only way to make us equal and I believe that language regarding ‘voting rights’ should be removed from the bill. With so-called voting rights Congress can still act, as the House Appropriations Sub-Committee did this week, to manipulate our budget and our laws. Statehood is the only way to make us equal and protect us from an unaccountable and irresponsibly meddlesome Congress.
4. Non-partisan Offices: I believe the Council should consider, possibly through a referendum, making our shadow delegation non-partisan with an open primary. Symbolically 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 (New Columbians) are presently disenfranchised and statehood is the only way to make us all equal.
5. No pay until after the next election won: While I strongly believe we need to fully fund the delegation I also believe that we need to be fair to the voters first. I believe that any funding for salaries of elected officials should not take place until that office holder wins their next election or a referendum is put to the voters so we can approve salaries for the elected officials. The voters made a decision on who would best serve the office candidates were vying for and in this case the Shadow offices were all unpaid at the last election. We should not change the office without the approval of the voters first. I do think that we can and should still fully fund staff and programs immediately.
I urge the Council to enhance and pass this important piece of legislation. I was born and raised here and I know the indignity of growing up in the shadows of the US Capitol yet being denied representation in it. I am now the father of a 2 ½ year old and I feel a sense of personal responsibility to not allow my daughter to grow up disenfranchised in the same shadows of democracy. The District should fund the delegation fully and require them to work full-time on this issue and we the citizens of the District will work with them to make statehood a reality so that all of us can not only live in the shadows of the Capitol but enter it one day and say this is our democracy too.
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Brookland, Ward 5