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Proponents of D.C. statehood came into today’s U.S. Senate hearing with realistic expectations: They didn’t think this hearing would immediately lead to a Senate vote and statehood, but rather hoped it would spur a new conversation that would eventually, someday, lead to New Columbia becoming the 51st state.
Sen. Tom Carper, the Democratic chair of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called and led today’s hearing. None of the 17 co-sponsors of the Senate legislation to make D.C. a state was in attendance. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn spoke briefly, expressing his opposition to the legislation. But in all, the more than two-hour hearing felt like a friendly conversation—-albeit, a sometimes scripted conversation—-between proponents of statehood and Carper, one of the biggest champions of the cause in the Senate. (There was one detractor who testified: Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute.)
“This situation is simply not fair, and not at all consistent, in my view, with our values as a country,” Carper said in his opening remarks. “Perhaps most importantly, it’s not consistent with the Golden Rule: Treat other people the way you want to be treated. Voting rights is a passionate cause for many of the citizens of the District of Columbia, and it should be a concern and cause for all of us.”
Coburn, however, brushed off the importance of the hearing, noting that no one from the Department of Justice or the Obama administration was in attendance He said D.C. residents suffered an injustice, but added that admitting it as a state would be absurd and passage of the legislation didn’t stand a chance. He also questioned the logistics of it becoming the 51st state.
“You can learn a lot about the seriousness of the hearing by seeing who is not here,” Coburn said.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said the District is prepared to answer these detailed logistical and constitutional questions, but that those questions are for further along in the process. Today, she said, was about restarting the conversation about statehood and reviving attention to the issue.
“Our residents are grateful for today’s hearing even though they doubt statehood will come tomorrow,” she said in her opening remarks. “The considerable appreciation in the District for this hearing comes because residents know that a hearing is a significant and necessary step in putting an issue on the congressional agenda.”
Mayor Vince Gray offered similar testimony, explaining why D.C.’s lack of statehood is unjust.
“This forced dependence on congressional approval can potentially paralyze the core functions of the District of Columbia.,” he said. “The numerous threats of federal shutdown directly impact D.C. government because we are treated as a federal agency rather than a municipality or state government.”
Acknowledging that statehood was unlikely in the immediate future, Carper asked the people in the second panel what they could agree on, if not statehood.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said he would settle for nothing less than statehood. Viet D. Dinh, a Georgetown University professor, said passage of previously failed bill that would have given D.C. a vote in the House would be good start. Alice Rivlin of the Brookings Institute said budget and legislative autonomy would be the right step. And Pilon—-well, he didn’t really say anything.
At the end of the hearing, Carper did not give any indication that he would try to get his bill to a vote—-the Post reports that he will not push for one—-but encouraged D.C. residents to not give up on the issue.
Photo by Mr. T in D.C. via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0