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Legally speaking, only one body is to blame for D.C.’s lack of congressional representation: Congress. So in local political life, federal legislators are like the Sith, the Borg, the White Walkers, and the forces of Mordor rolled into one. They’re our bad guys as well as our backdrop. But because D.C. contains no volcanoes in which we can destroy our antagonists’ enchanted rings (thereby robbing them of their dark magic), it looks like we’re stuck with the status quo.
All of which means Congress is a convenient scapegoat for our various local frustrations—if, at this point, perhaps also a tired one. A hefty majority of likely District voters, 68 percent, feel that D.C.’s lack of representation is Congress’ fault, but 14 percent say District officials deserve some of the blame (and 4 percent say they deserve all of it). More tellingly, 62 percent believe that D.C.’s recent corruption scandals has made it harder for D.C. to get a vote in Congress.
Anyone who lived through the control-board era should worry about what Congress thinks about the competence of D.C. leaders. But the notion that obtaining a vote in Congress has anything to do with our leaders’ good behavior is a canard. It doesn’t matter if our pols are corrupt or squeaky-clean: Absent a miracle (like, for instance, the end of the National Rifle Association’s ability to get lawmakers to make lax gun laws a condition of voting rights), D.C. is not getting a vote anytime soon.
But lately, Congress seems to be looking at the health of D.C.’s books, not its campaigns. Rather than clamp down on local affairs while the District government has faced a leadership crisis, the congressman chairing the committee overseeing the District—Republican Rep. Darrell Issa of California—has, unexpectedly, pushed for D.C. budget autonomy and shown interest in other issues of local concern, like loosening the Height Act and exploring a tax on commuters. This is hardly control board-grade meddling.
Luckily, after decades of resenting Congress for our lack of representation, we have a new group to blame: our own politicians. But once we get over that, we’ll remember there’s only one legislative body that rules them all.