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Columnists

Washington, DC Shouldn’t Become a State, But It Needs A Makeover

For all those claiming that the Democrats are spineless jellyfish, it’s time to give credit where credit is due: though many of their policies range from irresponsible to outright wacky, it seems Dems have finally grown a backbone. Maybe it’s because they think their current reign will be cut short by the 2022 midterm election results and figure it’s best to go all in now, as it may be their last chance to govern for a long while.

That may be what’s prompting looney legislation proposals, such as to convert the nation’s federal district into the “State of Washington, DC,” the initials standing for Douglass Commonwealth (Douglass as in Frederick, the former slave and much-lauded abolitionist leader).

The bill, HR 51, known as the Washington, DC Admissions Act, would admit the District into the Union as the 51st state, replete with all the fixins of statehood, including two senators and a House member.

Predictably, Democrats and Republicans are lining up on either side of the bill, touting the pious and the noble while concealing their self-serving agendas. The Democrats would likely not gain a net three additional electoral votes, as some of HR 51’s opponents claim, because DC already has them – although there’s more to that than meets the eye (more on that later). However, almost as importantly, they’d gain two Senate seats, which would remain in Democrat hands as far as the eye can see. The other addition, of one representative to the 435-member House, is less significant.

Republicans, of course, are making their own claims about constitutional integrity and the Founders’ intent, citing the need for a federal district that is not a state, so as to give it autonomy and not to render any state “first among equals.” That happens to be a reasonable argument and one I support, though the skeptic in me wonders if they’d be so interested in preserving tradition were it not for their own practical partisan interests.

Democrats, in turn, also make a good case, that DC residents need to have a voice in Congress. I agree with their argument as well, though I don’t think they’re any more altruistic and well-intentioned than are the Republicans.

In other words, this is yet another game of political jockeying. I tend to vote Republican more so than Democrat most of the time, but it doesn’t mean I respect one side more than the other. In fact, many American voters remain duped in thinking that their major party of choice – whichever it happens to be – consistently fields men and women who are more upstanding, more patriotic, and morally superior to the ones on the other side. That type of folly, fueled by whichever media outlet provides them with comfort food news, is at the root of our national political divide.

Returning to the matter at hand, ulterior motives aside, both sides do have a point: our nation should indeed have an independent federal district, but all American citizens should have a voice in Congress.

Here’s how to accomplish both goals: allow for the reduction of the capital district’s size, as proposed in HR 51, to the area where the governing takes place – the White House, the Capitol, etc. – and then cede the residential portions to the adjacent states, Maryland and Virginia, using a logical and equitable formula.

That would allow the District to retain its unique federal status, independent of any state, but would transform DC residents into Virginians or Marylanders, with full representation in Congress.

It is a compromise that works for both sides. Democrats would still enjoy a gain: they’d pick up an additional House member (due to an increase in the population of whichever state adopted DC) who almost certainly would be of their own party. They won’t gain the prize of two additional Senate seats, and that’s where the Republicans can breathe a sigh of relief.

The partisan grab would’ve been temporary anyway. Inevitably, the GOP will gain control of Congress at some point, whether it’s one, three, five, or seven years from now, and that’s when they could cajole Republican states – such as Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, and the Dakotas – to divide into two, thus creating a windfall of new Senate seats, all likely to be in Republican hands.

Soon enough, that would mean our country would increase to 55 states, maybe 60. It would be a shamefully stark example of putting party before country, and would probably cause Congress’ approval ratings to fall even below their longstanding already-abysmally low levels. But, hey, with all the changes, at least the flag making industry would be booming.

Finally, there’s that pesky detail known as the 23rd Amendment to the United States Constitution, which gives DC residents the right to vote in presidential elections, and gives the District electoral votes equivalent to the number of senators (two) and representatives (currently, one, based on population) to which it would be entitled if it were a state. If DC became a state, the 23rd Amendment wouldn’t magically go away: it would require two-thirds of Congress to repeal it, as well as three-fourths of all of the state legislatures (which would become 39 instead of 38, because the number of states would be 51, not 50). Looking at it that way, there really is some validity to Republican claims that HR 51 is also an electoral vote power grab, because DC would gain more votes via statehood but not lose the ones it already has. Democrats counter that the Electoral College is rigged against them to begin with, so they’re just leveling the playing field.

If every kid in the schoolyard says: “my dad can beat your dad in a race,” they may be biased, but if all the dads raced, there really would be an objective winner; one of those kids would be correct.

Similarly, it may sound convenient for me to say the Democrats are wrong on this one, because I don’t want them to hold a political edge, but the Democrats are wrong on this one.

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