Fimian's cluelessness on D.C. voting rights
It's been a while since something related to D.C. voting rights got me riled up. After all, a decade of living here makes just about anyone immune to the blather that comes out of some people's mouths when they attempt to defend the idea of denying democratic rights to 600,000 U.S. residents who don't currently have them because of a geographic misfortune. But a video of a debate between Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and his Republican challenger Keith Fimian during which D.C. voting rights came up deserves watching -- and responding to.
During the debate, the moderator asked both Fimian and Connolly to outline whether they support voting rights for the District and how best that could be achieved. Fimian responded first, stating that he opposes D.C. voting rights and would simply like to see the District retroceded to Maryland.
"The Founders were pretty bright people. They chose, for reasons that they had, to not have voting rights in Washington, D.C. The folks who live there know that. They can live there or they can not, and it's their choice to live there. I'm not in favor of tampering with the Constitution unless it absolutely must be done. It's unfortunate that they don't have the right to vote. ... The fact is that the part of Washington, D.C. that is in Virginia is now part of Virginia. Why don't we make the part of Washington, D.C. that's in Maryland part of Maryland?" said Fimian.
Fimian's response just about sums up the worst of the arguments on why District residents remain second-class citizens. First off, it's not "unfortunate" that D.C. residents don't have voting rights -- it's unjust. Unfortunate is when it rains on a day you wanted to have a picnic, or when your morning English muffin has mold on it.
Second, relocating isn't an adequate solution to an ongoing injustice. By that logic, instead of passing historic civil rights legislation in the 1960s, Congress should have rented some U-Haul trucks and helped African Americans in the South move to Canada. "That's ridiculous," you might say. Yes, it is. And so is Fimian's assertion that 600,000 people should start looking for housing in Arlington, Bethesda or Bowie if they want democratic rights.
Third, Fimian hides behind the Founders' intent, while ignoring any of the reasoning that motivated that intent. The District was created after Congress was chased out of Philadelphia by soldiers demanding back pay the best way they knew how -- as a torch-wielding mob. The theory was that since basically no one lived where the District is now located, Congress could legislate without having to worry about a similar mob of locals trying to sway their votes. Times have clearly changed -- and last I checked, District residents weren't lighting torches and marching on the Hill to demand, well, anything. (Then again, if we did, would Congress move to Kansas?)
Then there's the Maryland part. Sure, giving what's left of the District back to Maryland sounds easy and all, but Maryland hasn't indicated that it wants us, much less are many District residents jumping at the chance to become Maryland residents.
On this and other points, Connolly nails it. "They don't want a vote in Maryland," he said in his response. "They're a unique identity. Go there. It's not Maryland, and they're entitled to their own District seat."
Connolly also points out that the former representative whose seat he now occupies was himself a champion of D.C. voting rights: "Well, again, if you'd been paying attention you'd know that the bill to provide the District with a vote and Utah with a matching vote was introduced by my Republican predecessor ... Tom Davis." Exactly. Whether a Republican or a Democrat, you'd imagine that someone seeking to represent a district just down the road from the District would be a little more sympathetic to the plight of its residents. Davis certainly was.
Internal mechanics aside, Connolly just gets it. "Giving D.C. voting rights is the right thing to do. In the 21st century, 600,000 fellow residents have no voting representation in the Congress. They don't want to vote in Maryland. ... It is scandalous that the United States does not allow the District of Columbia to have a voting representation in the Congress, and it doesn't matter what party they are. It doesn't matter. We don't make decisions based on who gets a vote based on what party they might vote for. It's the right thing to do. It's a matter of simple justice and equity, and it's an embarrassment all over the world that the capital of the free world has no voting representation in the House of Representatives."
| October 28, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories: D.C., DC Vote, HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia
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