Achieving statehood for the District is no easy task but primarily the statehood movement needs to be needs to be smart, strategic, hardworking, and focused. A strategy now advocated for by one of the Democratic candidates for Shadow Senator seems more like “strategery” than strategy which is quite troubling. Shadow Senate candidate Pete Ross believes that the next step in the path to statehood should first come by pursuing once again the DC Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution. In a nutshell, Mr. Ross thinks we should undertake a process more complex and cumbersome than the statehood process to achieve an outcome that is substantively less than statehood.
In the late 1970s the DC Voting Rights Amendment which would constitutionally grant DC equal congressional representation (two Senators & one Representative) passed the House & the Senate with two-thirds majorities but when it went to the states it failed to gain the support of ¾ of the states and thus failed to be adopted. Passing a constitutional amendment is an extremely difficult process. It’s so hard that it rarely happens. We’ve added more states to the Union since our founding (thirty-seven) than we’ve passed amendments to the Constitution (twenty seven).
Mr. Ross’ strategy is mind-boggling to put it mildly. Most puzzling about this strategy is that the threshold to adopt the DC Voting Rights Amendment is so much higher than statehood yet it gets us less substantively in the end. While passing a constitutional amendment requires passage by 2/3 of each House of Congress plus passage by three-quarters of the states (now, commonly over a 7 year period) it is a very burdensome, exhaustive, and expensive undertaking. To gain statehood we’d only need 50% plus 1 vote in the House and 50% + 1 vote (or maybe 60 if filibustered) in the Senate plus the President’s signature. Then the District (New Columbia or some other name) would need to adopt a state constitution (which we’ve already done but might be worth reexamining). Statehood is a much easier process than a constitutional amendment, so why pursue a process that is more cumbersome and has a higher threshold but gets us substantively less?
Additionally, there has been a clear partisan divide on support for the citizens of the District and our rights which makes any legislative process difficult especially the one that needs more votes. Presently, Republicans in Congress are uneasy about DC statehood less because of budget autonomy and more because of the District’s left-leaning politics and the likelihood of two new Democratic Senators. Both statehood and Mr. Ross’ plan would grant two Senators to the District, but Mr. Ross’ path would need 67 Senate votes and 291 votes in the House while statehood would need 51 (or 60) in the votes in the Senate and 218 votes in the House. We get a better result, equal congressional representation plus full local autonomy, with fewer congressional votes with statehood. In the coming years I’m confident we’ll find congressional Republicans to support the statehood bill but we’d need to find much more than a few to pass a constitutional amendment (not to mention the increasingly conservative lean of many state legislatures which is phase two of amending the constitution).
Mr. Ross’ plan could not be more ill-timed and ill-considered. For the first time since 1993, it’s likely that there will be a hearing in the Senate on the statehood bill (New Columbia Admission Act) this year. The Chair of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, Tom Carper (D-DE), is the lead sponsor of the bill and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is one of the bill’s cosponsors. With Senator Carper’s public support for statehood and willingness to push this issue forward why in the world should we elect someone who is advocating a plan that diverges from the work Senator Carper and countless activists have already put into having statehood in its best position since the 1993? Pursuing the DC Voting Rights Amendment would undermine our ability to focus exclusively on statehood for the first time in 20 years.
The DC Voting Rights Amendment isn’t all bad, if adopted it would clearly be better than our current status but we’d still be unequal, and it’s just an insanely bad idea to pursue it right now. There is a focus now on statehood, our ultimate goal, so why take a step backwards now. The statehood movement is under resourced as it is and pursuing misguided strategies will only put the process further back. If candidates want voters to give them serious consideration the least the candidates should do is give serious thought to the policies and strategies most important to the office he or she is seeking. Pursuing the DC Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution is not a path toward statehood it’s a path toward futility.
We should expect and demand sound strategies from our leaders to achieve statehood; instead what have from one candidate is misguided strategery. The people of the District deserve better.