Council Recess: A Time for Statehood

While Councilmembers are on their summer break it I think it’s not too much to ask that they spend a little bit of tax payer funded time up on Capitol Hill lobbying for the statehood bill in both the House and the Senate. All members of the Council do a great job of talking about statehood in speeches to constituents but it’s probably more important that they put in some face time meeting with staff of key offices trying to gain the public support for statehood by members of Congress. In the 46 meetings our group has had on the Senate side this year only one office has said that they’ve spoken with a Councilmember or their office about the statehood bill. That is shameful.

Since, they have not taken the initiative (aka leadership) on their own to advocate for statehood I thought I’d give some suggestions on how they should prioritize meetings to better focus efforts on the Senate side of the Hill. First, in order to take care of some low-hanging fruit there are several members of the Senate who have previously either cosponsored the bill or voted for it in the House or Senate back in 1993. We’ve reached out to all of these offices yet in some cases our meeting requests have gone unanswered or our meetings didn’t bear co-sponsorship on the bill therefore it would be great if Council members went to the Hill to meet with the offices of Senator Leahy (D-VT), Schumer (D-NY), Brown (D-OH), Menendez (D-NJ), Wyden (D-OR), Cantwell (D-WA), & Markey (D-MA). These seven Senators are already on record for previously supporting the New Columbia Admission Act in 1993 so why not get their public support once again as new cosponsors on S. 132. Additionally, Senator Leahy as head of the Judiciary Committee as a cosponsor to the bill would lend significant weight and could help rally more Judiciary Committee members on the bill. The other aforementioned also can in their own way influence other colleagues into joining the bill which helps give weight and momentum to it as we move into the fall.

Second, Senator Tom Carper as Chair of the Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) is the lead sponsor of the bill and has publicly stated that he plans to hold hearings on the bill this year yet no member of the committee, except Senator Carper, is on the bill. Our group, Neighbors United for DC Statehood, has met with 11 out of the 17 committee member’s staff yet those meetings have not produced new HSGAC cosponsors yet we have educated the staff on the bill as most have never discussed the bill internally. With a potential hearing looming it is vitally important that we continue to meet with, educate, and pressure HSGAC members to cosponsor the bill. And more importantly, we need to work to see if we can get a Republican cosponsor on the bill to help demonstrate that this is an issue of fairness not partisanship. If each Councilmember met with just two HSGAC offices on their summer recess we’d have the whole committee covered and then some and hopefully a cosponsor or two as well.

And the third and final group Councilmembers could target would be those Senators where they might have a personal connection or relationship that would help start the conversation. A while back I made suggestions on who each Council member could focus on and while it might need some updating it provides a general framework that Council members can and should use to determine their personal links to Senators.

Council members like all workers deserve to take a break and have a vacation to relax and re-energize but at the same time they ran for offices to represent the people of the District so they also bear some responsibility for actually making an effort to push the statehood cause. Their lofty speeches around town have done nothing to further the statehood cause on the Hill so now it is the time that they demonstrate some leadership but doing the slow, methodical, and none flashy work that might actually bear fruit and hopefully statehood. And should they want their constituents to join them they should just let us know, we’ve been there (having now met with 46 Senate offices), and we’ll be there again should they need us. If we do nothing for statehood we’ll get nothing and that’s been our recent track record, now is the time for the Council to follow the lead of citizen activists and start having meetings on the Hill to say, ‘yes, the people of the District want statehood and we need your support on the bill.’

Just a few thoughts,

Josh Burch

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