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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 04/22/2010

What next for D.C. voting rights? Don't say 'only statehood'

By Sommer Mathis

It's tough not to be cynical about the future of the D.C. voting movement after what happened in Congress this week. Heck, it was tough not to be cynical last week, too. And last year, for that matter.

Buried within that cloud of cynicism is also a deep irony: The staunchest of statehood advocates might be the only ones who came out on top in this latest failure to achieve even a single vote in Congress for the District.

These are the same voices that howled with indignation after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton had the demand for statehood removed from the Democratic Party platform in 2004. Norton made that move because she and then-Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) had devised a fairly brilliant scheme: They would strike a bargain with Republican-leaning Utah to craft a bipartisan bill that gave D.C. a full-fledged House member. At the same time, Utah would temporarily be granted an additional seat, something it would be entitled to anyway after the next census.

But five years later, the Davis-Norton plan has failed, in all likelihood for the final time. Even if the political will existed to somehow strong-arm the now gun-amendment-laden bill through, the crux of the Utah bargain disappeared as soon as the federal government began counting U.S. residents this year. Sen. Orrin Hatch's defection from the cause last week made that abundantly clear.

Doctrinaire statehood activists have been arguing all along that Norton and Davis were selling us down the river. Why should we settle for only one-third of the representation that every other taxpaying American has?

They weren't wrong to push on that score, but they were wrong to suggest that getting something, at least to start, was worse than getting nothing. And now that the combined forces of the powerful gun lobby, disagreement among city leaders, and lukewarm support within Congress itself have managed to fell the incrementalist approach, the hard-core statehood view could well end up back in vogue. Several D.C. Council members were even overheard thisweek discussing ditching the city's relationship with DC Vote.

Statehood is the most righteous goal, but it hasn't been the most practical one for a couple of decades. If this thorough, conservative-led mucking up of the D.C. House voting rights bill teaches us anything, it's that we're going to need more creative ideas than ever, not fewer, on how to proceed. Limiting ourselves to a statehood-only approach will only prolong the 200-year-old injustice of D.C.'s second-class status.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Sommer Mathis  | April 22, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, DC Vote, HotTopic, Local blog network  | Tags:  Congress, District of Columbia voting rights, Politics, United States House of Representatives, Washington DC  
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Sometimes, truth comes in three short words: "Doctrinaire statehood activists".

Now you can all huff and puff with unmitigated indignation...for the next decade or three, as Congress ignores you all as the trivial zealots you are.

Posted by: RealityCheckerInEffect | April 25, 2010 11:48 PM | Report abuse

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