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What Won't Be On The D.C. Quarter (Nice Try, Mr. Mayor)

Mayor Adrian Fenty's three proposals for the design of the D.C. quarter have about as much chance to be accepted by the U.S. Mint's state coins program as I have of winning simultaneous admission to the Soccer and Pet-Lovers Halls of Fame.

There's nothing objectionable about Fenty's suggestions that the District flag or the images of Benjamin Banneker or Duke Ellington grace the obverse of the coin when it's finally Washington's turn to get our own coin. But in all three of the mayor's recommendations, those images would be accompanied by the slogan "Taxation Without Representation." And the federal government is about as likely to approve that message as Rush Limbaugh is to launch a torrid affair with Hillary Clinton.

In fact, if those three words end up on U.S. currency, I hereby promise to spend a week as the mayor's personal valet.

The slogan that has appeared on D.C. license plates since 2000 "is evocative of the battle cries which mobilized the founding of this nation," says Fenty's filing with the U.S. Mint. But the mayor was nervous enough about how the slogan would be received by the Mint that he included with the official recommendations a two-page memo from the Secretary of the District, Stephanie Scott, arguing that the "Taxation without Representation" phrase "defines the District of Columbia."

I don't know how hard they were chuckling to themselves over at the Wilson Building when they put together this memo, but I congratulate them for having the guts to make the attempt. Since the official design criteria for the 50 State Quarter Program state that "priority consideration will be given to designs that are enduring representations of the state," the District's government argues that hey, the license plates have been around for a whopping eight years, and a million of them have been issued. And if you don't like that argument, try this one: "Taxation without Representation is more than a phrase, it is a daily fact of life." (And it's a floor wax and a dessert topping.)

The fact is we have no vote in Congress. "The issue itself is self-evident and stands without either controversy or contravention," the city's memo says. So I guess all those court battles, congressional debates, street demonstrations, lobbying campaigns and education efforts I've been covering for the past 22 years were all one happy, harmonious embrace. But again, you gotta love the mayor for giving this the old college try.

The memo culminates in a ringing analogy to the Boston Tea Party, "a defining moment of the value Americans place on democracy." (Yes, the whole memo is written in this clumsy style.)

"Taxation without Representation stands as an apolitical and nonpartisan motto; a declarative and defining fact about the District of Columbia. We are neither advocating for any particular solution nor making any type of call to action. As such, we feel that this motto, like the distinguished mottos which appear on our currency today, would make a fitting, appropriate, dignified, historical and educational addition to the design of the District of Columbia's quarter...."

Ok, prize time: The reader who comes closest to guessing the date on which the Mint tells the District to forget about its slogan wins a fine selection from this here blog's Vast Vault of Values--with a bonus gift to the reader who comes closest to predicting the language and tone of the blow-off letter the Mint sends the mayor. Please post your entries here on the comment board. When the actual rejection letter arrives and is reported in the Post, I will review your entries, pick the winners and report back to you, at which time the winners will be asked to contact me to claim their rewards.

Have at it. (And if any of you believe the mayor will prevail on this one, please come ahead with that prediction--you too can be a winner. Yeah, right.)

By Marc Fisher |  February 27, 2008; 8:11 AM ET
Previous: I'll Have The Chicken--And By The Way, I'm Packing | Next: Mint to D.C.: Leave It On Your License Plates


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When Fenty was elected, he pointedly snubbed the President's invitation to sit with the First Lady at the State of the Union. This is just more of the same infantile and feckless partisan showboating.

But since it apparently reflects the attitude of the DC electorate, they truly have the government they deserve (... AND the number of voting House members.)

Posted by: gitarre | February 27, 2008 9:13 AM

Allowing DC to pick their own design was a bad idea to begin with. Put the US Capitol on the quarter.

Posted by: PowerBoater | February 27, 2008 9:15 AM

how's this for a prediction: the mayor gets shot down by the current regime, but when we have a democrat in the white house next year, there's no need to resubmit the design with the 'taxation without representation' slogan, because we'll be on our way to actually getting a damn vote in congress.

a democratic house, senate, and president will aid that greatly.

Posted by: IMGoph | February 27, 2008 9:15 AM

wow, i'm impressed to see that the first two commenters are republicans from the suburbs...welcome, gentlemen!

Posted by: IMGoph | February 27, 2008 9:16 AM

I predict the Mint will wait a few days before the deadline for the design is due, then the letter will say, in brief, "Congress holds our purse strings, and they say 'Get bent'."

Actually, being a bureaucracy, they will probably cite some heretofore unknown requirement that all slogans must be official state slogans or alternate slogans approved by the STATE'S (hah!) legislature, making it impossible for DC to have a slogan.

Posted by: The Cosmic Avenger | February 27, 2008 9:34 AM

Wow IMGoph, we can hardly wait.

Mayor Barely for Congress anybody? That would be about par for the D.C. residents.

Posted by: NoVA | February 27, 2008 9:35 AM

April 15th, however, the tone will be simple and direct, they will dismiss the slogan as just that: a fad-ish slogan, not representative of the history of the District.

Personally, I have always felt that the citizens who actually reside in the District should embrace their uniqueness and support the system in status quo. The fact that they are not forced to elect the lesser of evils on a reoccuring basis should be viewed as a good thing.

But then, I don't live there, so...

Posted by: In-dependancy | February 27, 2008 9:40 AM

Chill out NoVA. D.C. will find somebody better. Then we can all have free healthcare, lower gas prices, no more war ('cause everybody will leave us alone and stop flying planes into our buildings), no crime, equality, etc.

All it will take is a Democratic Congress to wave their magic wand. It won't take an increase in our taxes at all. Just the campaign promises and the magic wand.

Posted by: VoiceofReason | February 27, 2008 9:40 AM

I'm sure the feds would prefer to hide the inconvenient reminder of their hypocrisy and political repression. Good on the Mayor for proposing the TWR language.

I predict April 1 for the rejection letter.

Where do I claim my prize?

Posted by: Free DC | February 27, 2008 9:46 AM

"The memo culminates in a ringing analogy to the Boston Tea Party, "a defining moment of the value Americans place on democracy." (Yes, the whole memo is written in this clumsy style.)"

I am not sure how successful it will be but the memo is actually much better written than most of Marc's columns. They actually pull off a "toung in cheek" style that makes their point rather well. Compare that to Marc's sledge hammer elitist urban snob writting style and you quickly realize who is the better communicator.

Posted by: Woodbridge VA | February 27, 2008 9:47 AM

It's sortof sad, how people can snark about 200 years of denying DC residents basic rights of democracy, all the while residents of DC are fighting and dying in Baghdad, ironically in theory to give Baghdad residents the rights of democracy.

Posted by: Hillman | February 27, 2008 10:03 AM

Well, the DC government certainly justified Congress' reluctance to allow non-states to get a set of quarters as well. I'm sure Eleanor Norton is happy that after all the efforts she made the mayor et al. submit a proposal that's dead on arrival.

"[Dated April 15, 2008] Dear Mayor Fenty: We have considered the proposed designs and determined that each design submitted fails to meet the criteria set forth in the design standards adopted for the 50-state quarters program. In particular, use of the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" is not consistent with the limitation on words, phrases, or depictions that may be controversial. We have determined that this phrase is principally a political statement disagreeing with the Constitutional status of the District of Columbia and is therefore inappropriate for inclusion on a coin in the 50-state quarter program. We request that you resubmit proposed designs without this phrase by May 15, 2008."

Posted by: ah | February 27, 2008 10:10 AM

I'm certainly glad that the the suburban commenters on here opposed to representation for U.S. citizens who pay federal income taxes were not alive in 1776, for they would have opposed the Declaration of Independence against King George III, supporting our servitude to His Majesty.

Fact is first and foremost we are all citizens of the U.S. The fact that there are people living in this country who believe that it is OK for people to send their money to Congress and not have a voice in how it is spent is shocking (but not surprising).

This shows the continued decline in this country of the "collective" civic spirit that so many of our forebearers fought and died for. It used to be an injustice against one was an injustice against all. Now the philosophy is as long as the injustice does not affect me, then I don't care or too bad, tough luck to the person being affected. That attitude had it prevailed in 1776 would have resulted in a far different situation in what we now call the United States than exists today.

We are the only Democracy in which the citizens of the Capital city do not have representation on how their tax money is spent. Of course this wasn't an issue when the Capital was founded because there wasn't a federal income tax. That didn't happen until the 20th century.

Posted by: Tax Payer in DC | February 27, 2008 10:10 AM

From the U.S. Mint's official guidelines for the quarters program:

"Designs shall maintain a dignity befitting the Nation's coinage.

Designs shall have broad appeal to the citizens of the state and avoid controversial subjects or symbols that are likely to offend."

I understand why the Mayor would put this forward, given the sentiments of his constituents, but to pretend that the slogan is non-controversial and apolitical is pure sophistry. The whole point of putting it on license plates and elsewhere (they considered slapping it on the Nationals' stadium) is to make a political point about the District's status, as a means of promoting a change in that status. If it were non-controversial, it would have happened already. Feeling reallly strongly about this issue and the validity of the residents' argument doesn't make it apolitical.

My guess is that the Mint's letter comes back March 28. It will be written in a legalistic, bureaucratic fashion, perhaps with some evidence pointing to the controversial nature of the slogan and justifying their decision. However, it will also include a sop to the District, stating that their rejection should not be interpreted as a rejection of the resident's complaint about their status, perhaps including some nice words acknowledging their position.

Posted by: JJ | February 27, 2008 10:23 AM

JJ writes. "The whole point of putting it on license plates and elsewhere (they considered slapping it on the Nationals' stadium) is to make a political point"

First and foremost it is a FACTUAL point. It is a fact that is undeniable. Now it is also a point that the citizens who are affected wish changed.

If raising this awareness among the population in order to bring about change makes it political then so be it. I have yet to find anyone who supports taking peoples money under the threat of imprisonement without giving them representation on how it is spent.

Posted by: Tax Payer in DC | February 27, 2008 11:01 AM

I have a good idea: Put Eastern Market on the quarter, then have a nationwide drive to encourage people to send in their Eastern Market quarters to pay for the restoration!

Posted by: elizabeth | February 27, 2008 11:07 AM

Why don't we have the mayor's office doing a line of Coke, stealing money, or having someone picking up a prostitute. If DC gov wants to be a cute, then give them back a equally cute response.

The bottom line is there are places to make a stand and times to be quiet. This is a time to pick the positive aspects of DC, not the negative ones. No other state has a controversial statement, DC should be happy they are even getting a STATE quarter instead of using it as an opportunity to cause trouble.

Posted by: Jon | February 27, 2008 11:29 AM

I'm not in favor of DC statehood, but I like that slogan - it's historic!

Taxation Without Representation is Tyranny

I think put it on, but be sure to credit it to whom it's due (John Jay?)

Posted by: RoseG | February 27, 2008 11:33 AM

Where are the pandas? They're more enduring than this slogan, and much more likely to be approved.

Posted by: Paula | February 27, 2008 11:49 AM

Do you think District residents care about having a quarter design? I applaud Mayor Fenty and D.C. Vote for keeping this issue in the public eye at every turn. If the "Taxation without Representation" design causes us to be excluded fron the design process so be it. We really have nothing to lose and a lot to gain in terms of exposure for this grave injustice. The Cherry Blossoms don't define the District; taxatation without without representation does.

Posted by: Donald | February 27, 2008 11:52 AM

The historical problem of "Taxation Without Representation" was only partially the lack of Representation. Our Revolutionary War ancestors were dissatisfied with the high levels of taxation. Unfortunately we pay much higher tax rates now, but people don't complain about it anymore.

When the Constitution is changed by Amendment, DC will get voting representation in Congress. It will NEVER happen without an Amendment. We will all be dead before the states agree to ratify that Amendment.

Posted by: Leesburger | February 27, 2008 11:55 AM

How would 'Taxation Without Representation' be different from New Hampshire's quarter design, featuring 'Live Free or Die' prominently displayed?

In all seriousness, the design should be something to commemorate the locals that live and work in DC, not tourists. It should be a symbol of the city of Washington, DC - not the National Capital. That means no monuments,

Posted by: Alex | February 27, 2008 12:07 PM

Am I the only one to find it ironic (and to be uncomfortable with) that our mayor refers to the DC flag as the "stars and bars"? Do any search and you'll get a find a very different flag!

Posted by: Capitol Hill | February 27, 2008 12:57 PM

I have a feeling the rejection will come today, maybe even a few minutes ago, and will look something like this:

The United States Mint has notified District of Columbia officials that their proposal to include the inscription "Taxation Without Representation" does not comply with the law that authorizes the D.C. commemorative quarter-dollar coin.

Changing how the District of Columbia (the Seat of Government of the United States) is represented in Congress is a contemporary political issue on which there presently is no national consensus and over which reasonable minds differ.

Although the United States Mint expresses no position on the merits of this issue, we have determined that the proposed inscription is clearly controversial and, therefore, inappropriate as an element of design for United States coinage.

The United States Mint has followed an established process for analyzing proposed narratives and design proposals for all the quarters in the 50 State Quarters(r) Program and will do so for the District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarter Program. The United States Mint looks forward to working with District officials to develop narratives that will lead to a quarter honoring the District of Columbia of which the entire Nation can be proud.

Posted by: voteprime | February 27, 2008 12:58 PM

"Of course this wasn't an issue when the Capital was founded because there wasn't a federal income tax. That didn't happen until the 20th century."

So why not just abolish the federal income tax (amendment 16) instead? And while we're at it, the 17th should go as well (popular election of senators).

I'm all for DC representation in the House, where the people themselves are meant to be represented according to their state. The Senate, however, is meant to be the province of the states; of which DC is not, not should be considering its unique role as home to the capital of the federal government.

Posted by: ende | February 27, 2008 1:41 PM

I find it rather amusing that that those who oppose any rights for the District of Columbia point out the dark moments in its history and how it is unmanageable. They love to point out how Mr. Barry is a coke-head, and how ungovernable is the District. In other words, DC is held to higher standards than everyone else.

In the category of ungovernable, how about Michigan, where it has been in a slump for almost two decades, where the Detroit mayor was found sending steamy e-mails to his secretary. Corruption, Randy "Duke" Cunninghmam and William J. Jefferson have as corrupt history as any political boss or bureaucrat in the DC Tax Office. We can add Alaska's pork barrel duo of Don Young and Ted "Bridge to Nowhere" Stevens to the list of weird political figures.

Sure DC has a coke-head ex-mayor, but let's see, Louisiana gave us a KKK Grand Wizard in the form of David Duke running for Congress and the Governorship. How about, Idaho's own Larry "Wide Stance in Minneapolis" Craig? Indeed, I'd prefer that DC have a less storied political figures gallery, but it seems that the District nothing special in the annals of political corruption.

Mayor Blackberry... err Fenty may have been gutsy by using the DC unofficial slogan for the State Quarters Project. However, it points out the District's political reality. It can be argued that this was the original slogan that led to the Revolution. It is only controversial as it implies the fact that 600,000 people do not have representation in the national legislature that actually writes laws that directly affects them. It would be nice that the Mint, who already accepted New Hampshire's motto, to allow DC's unofficial one. However, the Mint will sidestep hiding behind narrow interpretations of the rules.

My only wish is that Mayor Fenty would have gone full-bore and used the image of another famous former DC resident, Frederick Douglas. The image of the abolitionist great and the motto would have been a clear reminder of DC's status. Nevertheless, Mr. Fenty's use of the soapbox on this issue gets the support from this Marylander, who once lived in the District.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 27, 2008 1:43 PM

Eight states use their state mottos on their state quarters: (1) "Pennsylvania - Virtue, Liberty, Independence"; (2) Georgia - "Wisdom, Justice, Moderation"; (3) New Hampshire - "Live Free or Die"; (4) Vermont - "Freedom and Unity"; (5) Indiana - "Crossroad of America"; (6) Wisconsin - "Forward"; (7) Idaho - "Esto Perpetua" ("Let It Be Forever"), and; (8) Hawaii - "Ua Mau, Ke Ea Oka, Aina I Ka Pono" ("life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness"). A ninth state, Wyoming uses a variation "The Equality State" of its state motto, "Equal Rights."

In addition two other states use historical political statements on their state quarters: (1) New Jersey - "Crossroad of the Revolution", and; (2) New York - "Gateway to Freedom." D.C.'s motto is "Justitia Omnibus" - "Justice For All." If New Hampshire's motto, "Live Free or Die" is appropriate for its state quarter, then there is no reason that D.C.'s official submission of "Taxation Without Representation" should be even questioned, let alone potentially rejected.

One of the design guidelines is: "Consistent with the authorizing legislation, the states are encouraged to submit designs that promote the diffusion of knowledge among the youth of the United States about the state, its history and geography, and the rich diversity of our national heritage." The Constitution and the Bill of Rights provides all United States citizens, even residents of Washington, D.C. with Freedom of Speech, and a right to petition the government to redress grievances.

The lack of representation in the world's greatest Democracy is one of the most glaring contradictions and hypocrisies that the rest of the world duly notes whenever the U.S. Government preaches to other nations about their less than democratic practices. D.C. is oftentimes called "The Last Colony" because of its lack of representation.

The placing of the phrase "Taxation Without Representation" on the District's state quarter will be a great reminder of the Founding Father's unfinished business and excessively funded mandate, and a fantastic lesson for American children, and adults, about the continued inequitable treatment of the residents of the nation's capital. If we don't practice Democracy at home, why should our allies and adversaries give any credence to our suggestions and interference in their internal affairs?

If D.C.'s submission of "Taxation Without Representation" is rejected, then I recommend that it be contested, and, if not overturned, then the District should submit "Justice For All" or "The Last Colony" in its stead.

Posted by: Alvin C. Frost | February 27, 2008 7:07 PM

How about:

"A Monumental Effort"

It handily captures both the District's skyline and the ongoing level of exertion needed to influence its institutions.

Posted by: Sloganeer | February 28, 2008 5:22 AM

The letter has already been rejected. However, as a prank it will be postmarked 4-15-08. Fentey's retort; an image of Petey Green with "Chocolate City" as the new slogan.

Posted by: Don't Tread on Me | February 28, 2008 11:43 AM

The quarter should have Marion Barry buying an 8 ball from a ho at 3 AM in a SE parking lot. He's in a black caddy missing 2 hub caps with the bumper wired on.

This sucks, but that's how the rest of the nation views us. Why? We gotta do better.

Posted by: Kwame Shawn | March 8, 2008 7:42 PM

I think the whole thing is idiotic and wished I could have had a plate that said 'A Capital City' because I love this city, not some gripe-y moan-y complainer plate whining about taxation without representation. And when the city finally gets their act together to work out city problems with city financing and not have a hand out for support all the time, then we'll finally be on our way to deserving the statehood we keep asking for.

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