Statehood: a D.C./Puerto Rico double bill?
Could the District and Puerto Rico achieve statehood as a package deal?
The electoral plights of both regions have been in the news of late. Last week, the House approved a bill giving residents of Puerto Rico a chance to vote on whether to become a state, among other options. The week before, House leaders decided to cancel a scheduled vote on a bill that would give D.C. a voting representative in Congress because gun-rights supporters wanted to attach language many city leaders couldn't stomach.
At House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.) weekly press briefing Tuesday, WTOP political commentator Mark Plotkin asked, "Do you see the day where Puerto Rico and D.C. come in together as states, similar to Alaska and Hawaii?"
"I don't think so, Mark," Hoyer responded.
Hawaii and Alaska joined the union together in 1959, with the understanding that one was likely to be a Democratic state and the other Republican. (At the time, Alaska was considered to be the Democratic one, but the two states have since flipped ideologically.)
The dynamic would be different now, since D.C. is heavily Democratic and Puerto Rico - though more evenly split - leans in the same direction. Besides, Hoyer said, "We shouldn't have to make a deal about how the District of Columbia comes in."
Hoyer also noted that the goals of D.C. are different than those of Puerto Rico, which some residents want to become a sovereign nation. The bill passed by the House last week calls for a two-step process in which Puerto Ricans could vote first on whether they want to change the territory's current status. If they do want a change, citizens would then be able to choose among four different options, including statehood or full independence.
"There's really not an analogy" between the two, Hoyer said.
The Maryland lawmaker said he would keep working to get a D.C. voting rights bill passed into law. He noted that the language changing the District's gun laws had now been introduced as a standalone bill in both the House and Senate, raising the possibility that it could get attached to some other piece of legislation and passed into law without affecting the fate of the D.C. voting rights measure.
Plotkin also asked whether Congress might move soon toward granting the District budgetary and legislative autonomy
"As a practical matter my judgment is, legislative autonomy is, if you mean, total autonomy where Congress would not have further jurisdiction over the seat of the federal government ... I frankly don't think that would have large support," Hoyer said.
Instead, Hoyer said, he would be happy if Congress simply "does not exercise that authority on matters clearly of local relevance, as opposed to dealing with the nation's capital."
-- Ben Pershing
Christopher Dean Hopkins
May 4, 2010; 5:12 PM ET
Categories: Voting Rights
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