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Posted at 5:11 PM ET, 12/28/2010

D.C. needs to be ready to fight GOP 'meddling,' Norton says

By Mike DeBonis

A week from tomorrow, the 112th Congress will convene, with a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the District's delegate to that body, said today that city residents better be ready to fight to keep gay marriage, medical marijuana, needle exchange and other hot-button legislative accomplishments of recent years.

In a phone interview today previewing the new Congress, Norton said the District's elected officials in particular need to be aggressive to prevent House Republicans from moving to overturn city laws and otherwise meddle in city affairs.

"The Republicans appear never to have accepted the Home Rule Act," Norton said, referring to the 1972 legislation that allowed D.C. residents to elect a mayor and legislature. "It's as if it never passed."

And that House voting-rights thing? For the next two years, at least, protesters' efforts will more likely be expended on keeping what the city already has, Norton said, rather than pushing for expanded rights. "We're going to need people up there when they have a bill to take away what we want," she said. "[Mayor-elect Vincent Gray] was saying he was ready to get arrested for statehood or voting rights. That's not where the action's going to come. The action's going to come taking away his own power to run the government the way he wants to."

The need for a strong reaction to Republican efforts to overturn city initiatives, Norton explained, isn't aimed at the Republicans themselves so much as the Democrats in the Senate and White House who can still pull strings, whether in conference committees or elsewhere, to keep the meddling to a minimum.

"If we don't have a good show of protest, what kind of message does that send to the Senate?" Norton said. And she put Gray and the rest of the city's elected officials on special notice: "It's not going to be about voting rights. It's all going to be about the District government. It's all going to be about their bills. It will be particularly important for the leaders of government to show how much they resent having their power countermanded." She said she's already had one "very important meeting" with Gray and Council Chairman-to-be Kwame Brown and key advocates to map strategy for the coming years.

Norton said that in the age of Tea Party politics, she didn't see personality politics -- making friends and engaging in hand-shaking and back-slapping -- making a whole lot of difference. I wondered aloud whether Mayor Adrian Fenty, who with Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee crossed ideological boundaries as a school reform proponent, might have made an effective aisle-crosser. Norton dismissed that notion out of hand: "This is not how these people think. This is not about relationships. [House Oversight Committee Chairman-designate Darrell Issa (R)] is a friend, but what difference is that going to make? If something with ideological content comes along, with the Tea Party pushing these people to the right. I don't think Fenty or anybody else with a reputation for school reform would cut it."

As for the future of the D.C. House Voting Rights Act, Norton does not express hope of getting much traction in the coming two years for the scheme, which in previous congresses would have given the District a House vote in exchange for an extra seat for heavily Republican Utah.

With new census data out, Utah now has its additional seat, and North Carolina has taken its place as the state most narrowly missing out on an extra representative. Norton said she will reintroduce the bill -- to maintain its "momentum," such as it was -- while exploring whether there's a possibility for a new compromise with the Tar Heel State, which is not so monolithically Republican as Utah was.

"That's what I have my friends in North Carolina looking into," Norton said.

By Mike DeBonis  | December 28, 2010; 5:11 PM ET
Categories:  Eleanor Holmes Norton, The District, Vincent Gray  
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