The voice and vote of the citizens of the District have taken a big hit over the last week (not to mention over the last 212 years of disenfranchisement). On Tuesday, July 16th, the House Appropriations Committee issued a report that said that the budget autonomy referendum that District citizens overwhelmingly passed in a referendum in April 2013 was nothing more than an expression of opinion by the citizens of the District, thus not binding law. While it’s easy to get angry at Congress, specifically the House GOP members who crafted this report, it’s hypocritical to just blame the GOP as our own locally elected officials have their own problems listening to the voices and the votes of the people.
Although not an exact quote, ‘take your vote and shove it’ is pretty much what 8 council members said to District citizens late on July 10, 2013. Eight council members voted to postpone the 2014 Attorney General election by 4 years (technically it passed the first reading but has not been sent to the Mayor). By moving to postpone our ability to elect the District’s Attorney General from 2014 until 2018 the Council told us that our vote doesn’t matter, at least to 8 of them. In 2010, over 76% of voters on a ballot initiative (put on the ballot after the Council passed the bill to do so) approved electing an Attorney General in the 2014 election. And yet by saying that the District hasn’t defined the responsibilities of the new Attorney General coupled with worries that nobody has filed candidacy papers the District Council voted to override both themselves and the vote of 76% of the people.
It’s right to be upset with the House GOP for not respecting our voice and more importantly our vote, but it’s important that we also turn our attention to our own locally elected officials who don’t respect our vote either. Council members Alexander, Barry, Bonds, Bowser, Cheh, Graham, Evans, and Orange all voted to postpone the A.G. election and thus are the eight Councilmembers who chose not to respect the vote of the people. If they don’t respect our vote, why do they deserve ours? As we push forward for statehood in the District it’s fair, should the Council move forward with its plan to postpone the Attorney General election, for members of Congress to ask ‘why should we respect the will of the people of the District if your own Council refuses to do so?’
The Council needs to set an example that they respect the will of the people and that we’re ready to take on the functions of a state. Keeping the Attorney General election in 2014 is the first step. The Council needs to stop giving our detractors in Congress reasons to pick on us and at some point if we want to be a state we need to start acting like a one. While Congress and the Council have effectively told ‘we the people’ to take our vote and shove it, it’s time we turn that phrase back on them.