DENVER—-The D.C. delegation to the Democratic National Convention came out in force this afternoon to support Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Among the elected VIPs on the scene were council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, Ward 4’s Muriel Bowser, Ward 5’s Harry Thomas Jr., and Ward 7’s Yvette Alexander (Mayor Adrian M. Fenty has yet to arrive). Together, they chanted, “We demand the vote.”
The impact of those demands was, well, debatable.
Norton was placed at the very head of the daily lineup, just after an overlong invocation, the colors presentation, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a local children’s choir singing the national anthem. Perhaps a few hundred press, delegates, and staff were milling about the floor during the speech, very few paying particularly close attention.
Norton had but three minutes, but she did a fine job presenting some of the greatest hits of D.C. voting rights rhetoric (a feat helped, no doubt, by the fact she had only three minutes). The founders, she said, “did not create a new nation to get the vote, only to turn around and deny the vote to the citizens of their own capital.” She also hit on the voting-rights’ crowd’s new favorite feint: focusing on D.C.’s veterans, for instance namechecking Spec. Darryl T. Dent, who in 2003 became the first D.C. resident to die in Iraq.
As Norton spoke, one delegate unfurled a No Taxation Without Representation flag, mildly flouting rules about signs on the convention floor. Earlier today, D.C. Vote outreach director Eugene Dewitt Kinlow had talked about smuggling in some of his organization’s advocacy signs, but few of those appeared.
Before taking a strangely Burkean turn—-“Change is best achieved when wrapped in unchanging principles”—-Norton called on Democrats to “finish [Martin Luther] King’s unfinished business” and extend full civil-rights to the District.
Of course, that doesn’t include statehood. Not surprisingly, Norton’s advocacy extended only to passing the D.C. Voting Rights Act, the bill that passed the House last year but failed to gain sufficient Senate support. “Tonight, we challenge the Senate, especially the Republicans, to match the House”—-never mind that if all Senate Dems had voted for the bill it would have passed—-and she said to “have no doubt [that] if George Bush wouldn’t sign the D.C. Voting Rights Act, its most prominent co-sponsor, our next president Barack Obama, will.”
What was the impact of Norton and D.C.’s few minutes in the spotlight? Back at the D.C. bureau, LL’s boss reports that none of the 24-hour news networks emerged from their reverie of wonkitude to cover Norton’s remarks. Inside the hall, a few joined in the Washingtonians’ chant of “we demand the vote.” Rather than drown out decrepit former Kennedy aide Ted Sorenson, speaking after Norton, the chant faded fast.
After Sorenson came DNC vice chair Rep. Mike Honda, David Gupp of North Dakota, who spoke on Native American issues, and Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. Make no mistake: D.C.’s franchise, like Native American affairs or Latino affairs, is just another issue or VIP to be given a token speaking slot. But no big surprise there—-better to have three token minutes than no minutes at all.
Among the delegation the reaction was upbeat. D.C. Dems chair Anita Bonds called the remarks “stellar.” Gray said Norton “struck exactly the right themes—that this cannot be consistent with what the founders intended.” He rejected LL’s assertion that the District seemed to be an afterthought to convention organizers—-“If it were an afterthought, it wouldn’t be here at all….That alone represents progress.”
But does it? Norton took the podium in 1996, 2000, and 2004 to press voting rights; in 1992, she spoke about the issue along with then-mayor Sharon Pratt and Shadow Sen. Jesse Jackson. Attitudes toward voting-rights have improved during that time, as the District’s political and economic reputation improved, but D.C. still has no vote.
On his way off the floor, LL checked out D.C.’s neighbors. The Maryland section was deserted; the Virginia section held about a dozen folks, few of them actual delegates. In search of some reaction, LL headed over to his home state, Indiana.
There he found delegate Bonnie Reese of Winfield, Ind., which is about 10 miles from LL’s ancestral home in the northwest corner of the state. Reese said she had listened to Norton’s speech and asked LL to tell her more. He explained that D.C. has three electoral votes for president and a delegate to Congress, but no senators, and that Congress regularly tries to exert power over the locally elected leaders of the city.
Said Reese, “Well, that sucks!”
LL asked Reese if she planned to mention it to her colleagues. “I sure will,” she promised.
UPDATE, 7:03 P.M.: Pop Cesspool points out I forgot the video. Here it is: