It has been obvious for a very long time that Washington D.C. deserves statehood - just for starters, it has more people than Wyoming or Vermont and its residents pay more in total federal income tax than residents of 21 other states - but the foes of statehood just seem to get stupider with each passing year.
Earlier this week, during a House hearing on statehood, Georgia Republican congressman Jody Hice, a former right-wing radio host, offered a creative rationale for the status quo. He said that “D.C. wants the benefits of a state without actually having to operate like one,” because, for instance, it “would be the only state in America without a car dealership.”
Granted, the Founding Fathers failed to foresee the internal combustion engine, but one would search in vain for any language, in any of the amendments enacted during the modern era, that cites car dealerships as a basis for statehood. And it’s clear that Hice doesn’t get out much, because if he were to walk just nine blocks from the Capitol dome, he could buy a Tesla. Or if he were to stray a few miles north, he could buy a used car at Jimmy’s Auto. And so on.
Zack Smith, a GOP witness from the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, shrugged off the fact that D.C. residents are federally taxed without any representation. Instead, Smith contended that the residents have lots of ways of making their voices heard, asking committee members, “How many of you saw D.C. statehood yard signs, or bumper stickers, or banners on your way to this hearing today?”
Translation: Wyoming and Vermont have two senators apiece despite having smaller populations than D.C., but hey, the D.C. are empowered in their own way, because they’re free to put up yard signs.
None of these lame verbal gyrations can mask the conservative opponents’ true intent: To block the creation of a new state and deny equal rights to 712,000 taxpaying citizens, the majority of whom (53 percent) are people of color - and who tend to vote Democratic.
Republican clout in the Senate hinges on sustaining the dominance of the rural white states. Their main complaint about D.C. statehood is that it would be, in the words of one Kentucky Republican congressman, a “political power grab, and we’re going to make sure that America knows what (Democrats) are trying to do.” Donald Trump weighed in last year, warning that statehood would benefit “the wrong party.”
Well, here’s a news bulletin: Whenever new states have been proposed, there has always been a partisan element.
Republicans did it in 1864, when they tried to rush Nebraska to statehood because they wanted three new electoral votes for Abraham Lincoln’s re-election campaign. And they wildly succeeded with their push for new rural western states late in the century.
One historian points out: “In 1889 and 1890, Congress added North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, and Wyoming - the largest admission of states since the original 13. This addition of 12 new senators and 18 new electors to the Electoral College was a deliberate strategy of late-19th-century Republicans to stay in power after their swing toward Big Business cost them a popular majority. The strategy paid dividends deep into the future; indeed, the admission of so many rural states back then helps to explain GOP control of the Senate today.”
Bingo. Why should senators and representatives from those states have disproportionate influence over the citizens of D.C.?
The GOP’s “power grab” argument doesn’t hold water, so its next refuge is the Constitution. Statehood opponents claim that the founding document is on their side, but that’s wrong. The Constitution requires only that the federal seat of government shall not be located within a state. The current statehood bill would merely shrink the federal district to the two-square-mile area that includes the Capitol, Supreme Court, White House, and National Mall...and would make the rest of the district (where taxpayers live) the 51st state. Passage in the House is expected this summer.
Of course, statehood won’t happen unless Senate Democrats dump the filibuster and its artificial 60-vote threshold. The good news is that statehood has more polling support than ever before, and that the intertwined movements for equal rights and social justice have made representation for people of color more imperative.
It’s about protecting and expanding democracy, regardless of car dealerships.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org