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Jonetta Rose Barras has belatedly arrived close to the truth of how fundamental are the problems that ail “home rule” in the District of Columbia (“The Home Rule Charter: Rewrite the Damn Thing,” 5/10). Her solution, unfortunately, falls far short of the mark.
Barras’ analysis sells statehood short. Had she taken time to interview any members of Citizens for New Columbia, she might have learned that “decrying the lack of voting representation in Congress” is not the movement’s lone battle cry. In fact, we didn’t need Barras to tell us what we’ve been saying for years: “Home rule” was set up to fail; it won’t and can’t work, regardless of how much tinkering you do around the edges, how many employees you fire, or how many fancy computer management programs you put in place.
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Had we talked, she’d have learned that our comprehensive agenda includes the freedom to develop and use the tools all states, cities, and counties have in their toolboxes but that the District was denied by a miserly Congress and suburban interests who refused to accept any share of responsibility for the central city that gives them their very reason for being: the right to tax commuters, yes, but also control over our courts, our prosecutor, our own budget, and other legislation, free from congressional and presidential whim and folly. Bottom line: We want our inalienable right to self-government.
Federal assumption of state responsibilities? Forget it. That’s going in reverse, away from democracy toward more colonialism. It’s also the antithesis of the current Republican “devolutionary” binge of returning power to local governments.
A fair federal payment? Of course, but it’s a pipe dream. The D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice estimates that in 1995, a “fair” federal payment would have been $1.6 billion—double what it was—just to cover the property and income taxes we can’t collect because Congress forbids it.
Residential college enrollment and voting rights in the states of our separate origins? What a meager bone to toss us. Why not argue that, because all states claim my city of residence as theirs to run through their elected representatives, I should be free to attend college and vote as a resident of all states. If I belong to them, they belong to me. Let me attend college as a resident where I want and let me register and vote in New Hampshire in February, in Florida in March, in California in April, moving my registration when and as I see fit. Political havoc? Of course. That’s why we advocate the direct path to democracy instead: Give us statehood and true self-government.
The solution isn’t to reshuffle the same old deck of home rule limits and parceled powers, as Barras ultimately proposes. Although the idea was tossed into the mix like a sprig of parsley near the end of Barras’ analysis, Sam Smith is the only one who hit the target squarely: The fight should be for statehood.
Chair, Citizens for New Columbia