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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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District vies for statehood

As voters prepare to hit the voting booths next week for the presidential election, some D.C. politicians are centering their attention on a different kind of vote – a vote in Congress.

Although D.C. has a city council and mayor, all budgetary and legislative decisions made by the city must be approved by Congress, including the city’s annual budget. However, there are new efforts in Congress to allow the District more autonomy.

According to the office of D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), the high level of congressional control over the District is an infringement on citizens’ rights.

While Norton is the District’s delegate to the House of Representatives, she does not have voting rights on the floor or in committee, and holds strictly an observer status. When the Democrats held a majority in Congress, she could vote in committee; but her vote was taken away when the Republicans gained the majority in 1994.

Our primary focus is gaining voting rights, said Joyce Patterson, Norton’s press secretary. No other city or state is treated in such a matter where every single city decision has to be put through numerous committee and congressional votes.

Some students said they agree.

I think it’s really unfair that the people in this city don’t have a vote in what happens to their lives, freshman Ceretha Hall said. I don’t think its right that Congress has to look over everything that D.C. residents want to do to their own city.

A press release issued Oct. 18 by Norton and D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) announced that they would undertake a number of initiatives to help gain more autonomy for the District. Among the initiatives are new House resolutions Norton plans to introduce in the next session, which have failed to emerge from committee in the past. Some resolutions call for D.C. home rule and budget autonomy.

According to the press release, Norton and Williams hope to gain virtual statehood, so D.C. can prepare budgets without interference from Congress.

In a published letter written in March, President Bill Clinton pledged support for D.C. statehood and said he would be committed to finding the best way to help the District achieve its goal.

However, Tom Briggs, a D.C. Statehood Green Party candidate for Ward 2 City Council, said there is not much support in Congress for Norton’s reforms.

Norton has been in her position a long time and she is trying to negotiate for autonomy, which has shown to be impossible, Briggs said.

Briggs said D.C. lacks fiscal responsibility, but certain rights that other cities have, like levying a commuter tax, are sources of funds that D.C. is denied.

Briggs said representatives from Virginia and Maryland control D.C. policy. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) chairs the House Subcommittee on the District of Columbia.

Briggs also cited issues such as the reopening of Pennsylvania Avenue and budget constraints as examples of the problems Congress attempts to solve without input of D.C. residents.

We tried in the ’80s to make D.C. a state called New Columbia and, though it failed, we need to work our hardest to help D.C. finally become a state that has the same rights as every other, he said.

In 1993 Congress rejected a proposal by D.C. activists to shrink the federal district to the area between the White House and the Capitol and turn the rest of the city into a state.

Briggs said the main obstacle to statehood are Republicans weary of giving away votes. If D.C. was granted statehood and congressional representation in the form of two senators and a congressman, the representatives would most likely be Democrats because the vast majority of D.C. voters are Democrats, he said. Thus, Republicans have held firm in refuting most plans for more city autonomy.

While statehood may be an eventual goal, Congresswoman Norton is striving for progressive autonomy for D.C. and will be working hard to achieve it in the next congressional session set to begin in January, Patterson said.

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