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Posted at 1:30 PM ET, 10/28/2010

Fimian's cluelessness on D.C. voting rights

By Martin Austermuhle

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."


Martin Austermuhle blogs at DCist. 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 Martin Austermuhle  | October 28, 2010; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., DC Vote, HotTopic, Local blog network, Va. Politics, Virginia  
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What in the Constitution prevents the federal government from contracting the size of the District, which is a maximum of 10 miles square but otherwise of no set size? What in the Constitution dictates that land, once removed from the District, must be ceded back to its original state? Were the Federal Government to cede control over all but the federal government portions of downtown District of Columbia, it would then be free to become a state. Hiding behind mischaracterizations (as opposed to differing interpretations) of the Constitution is just the sort of thing that makes me trust a politician.

Posted by: montestewart | October 28, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Does "simple justice and equity" also demand that the "capital of the free world" have two voting Senators in the U.S. Senate? Or is the voting Representative merely "a foot in the door" for now?

Posted by: judgejj | October 28, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

"Simple justice and equity" demands that DC denizens have the same representation as is afforded every other citizen residing in the fifty united states. That is, under our system, each citizen has representing them, and can vote for, the positions of one congressional representative and two senators. The same applies whether they reside in the fifty states, or are expatriates residing abroad, or serving in the military. There is no justifiable reason why DC denizens/citizens should be excluded. If necessary, allow DC denizens to individually declare affinity/affiliation with a state, and be allowed to vote absentee in that state. Equality, Nothing More; But Equality, Nothing Less. Just Power Derives from the Consent of the Governed. Fundamental First Principles trump. Constitutional provisions are simply attempts to implement those First Principles. Constitutional changes abolishing slavery and recognizing woman suffrage are precedents that demonstrate that concept.

Posted by: citizenw | October 28, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"Simple justice and equity" demands that every US citizen have the right to vote. "No taxation without representation" was a rallying cry even before the American Revolution. There is no legitimate reason why 600,000 DC residents should have no vote in Congress while 300,000 Wyoming residents have a Representative and two Senators.

Posted by: dricks | October 28, 2010 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Willy Wonka lives in the land of pure imagination with Umpa Lumpas and schnozeberries. Why would anyone want to move?

Posted by: pejochum | October 28, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I moved to DC in 1977. I live in DC now. Delete the word "unfortunate" from what Fimian is quoted as saying, and I'd agree with that edited quote.

As for our "identity" as residents of DC. Well, many residents of western MD identify themselves more with the nearby people in neighboring states than they do with the people in Baltimore. On the other side of the country, lots of people in the northern counties of California would like to secede and join Oregon. Oh yeh, and ask the people of Buffalo and Rochester if they feel a close kinship with their "fellow New Yorkers" living in NY City.

What about the great divide within DC - highlighted by the Post in its coverage of the primary election for DC Mayor. One might ask many residents of NW and SE if they feel they have more in common with cross-town residents than they do with those in the respective nearby counties of MD. Ponder that, but the answer doesn't matter.

Fact is, there is an inherent arbitrariness to parts of America's federal system. Where state boundary lines have been drawn, among others.

Indeed, by its very concept, the U.S. Senate is unconstitutional because it violates a founding principle of one person, one vote. Except, last time I checked, the Senate was established by the Constitution. Oh, maybe the DC Statehood initiative should add a provision for a unicameral congress - abolish the Senate, just keep the House. I mean, that'd be more fair, right?

Those who promote DC statehood seem to think this can all be worked out on a blank slate. There is no blank slate. One must start with the U.S. Constitution and the history of the country to-date. Yes, warts and all. That is the context we have. And in that context, it's DC as-is or retrocession. If you want to ignore that context, then it's whatever you want - just as long as you can convince people in the requisite number of other states to also ignore that context and go along with you.

Gee, are those torches being lit in the distance? Hmmm… Are they moving this way?

Posted by: news81 | October 28, 2010 5:05 PM | Report abuse

"the U.S. Senate is unconstitutional because it violates a founding principle of one person, one vote."

Well, as this was not true at the founding... this cannot be a founding principle.

"One must start with the U.S. Constitution and the history of the country to-date. ..... And in that context, it's DC as-is or retrocession."

Incorrect, as there is no context that says it HAS to be "as is or retrocession". There are constitutional and precedent issues to cover, but Statehood is not out of the question.

Posted by: Greent | October 29, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

As a fairly new person to this part of the country I find some of this puzzling. Did the 600,000 residents of D.C. get tricked into thinking they would get to vote on a representative? There was no representative to vote on when they arrived, why should that change just because they moved here. That's hardly unjust.

Doesn't D.C. get to elect it own officials--mayor, council, president of the US. If D.C. could elect a representative, what could we expect? Marion Barry?

Posted by: dcdrury | October 31, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

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