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As the nation prepares to listen to President Barack Obama‘s last-ever State of the Union address tonight, we in the District are wondering whether he’ll touch upon a topic rather close to home: D.C. statehood.
City Desk has no crystal ball, but it could (maybe!) just happen. Early this month, local advocate Josh Burch, who founded the Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood group, published an open letter to the president in which he argued—from one dad to another—for equal representation in Congress. “I was born and raised in the District and I, like you, am now raising a family in the District but my family, unlike yours, lacks full and equal representation in Congress,” Burch implored. “Like you we pay our fair share of taxes yet we have no control or say on how those dollars are spent.”
“We have no illusions that we will become a state under President Obama, but with one paragraph he could place our cause on the national agenda,” the advocate said in a statement. Notably, the New Columbia Admission Act before Congress would create the legal framework for D.C. to become the 51st state.
On Monday, non-voting D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton tweeted the following after at least one report of the First Family staying in the District after Obama’s White House tenure surfaced online (the report was later “clarified”):
— Eleanor H. Norton (@EleanorNorton) January 11, 2016
It was also announced on Monday that Mayor Muriel Bowser would attend Obama’s 9 p.m. speech as a guest of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Huh? Reaching across the aisle to a Republican who in 2007 supported D.C.’s voting rights?
Bowser spokesperson Mike Czin reportedly told Roll Call yesterday that he could not discuss why Ryan chose Bowser as a guest, but said the mayor’s office has kept in touch with the speaker.
Norton plans to bring along the father of late local journalist Charnice Milton, who died at the age of 27 last May after she was shot while waiting for a bus on Good Hope Road SE. In a statement, the delegate explained: “With the spike in gun violence in D.C., I could not be more pleased to join with a number of us in the House who are inviting relatives of victims of gun violence to raise this safety issue to a higher level of concern.”
But so what if Obama says something about statehood? Didn’t John Oliver highlight the issue sufficiently on HBO last summer? Aren’t local pols already demanding budget autonomy as well as “Statehood or Else” (whatever that means)? And isn’t Congress—now controlled by a Republican majority—the only body that could change things?
Fair enough. But it’s not everyday that The Leader of the Free World advocates on behalf of your local cause (a cause which, advocates point out, concerns more than 670,000 American citizens who live almost literally in his backyard).
We’ll find out tonight.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery