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Apr. 22 2010 - 4:39 pm | 419 views | 0 recommendations | 5 comments

Statehood for Washington D.C. doesn’t make sense

Andrew Sullivan, riffing off of Jonathan Bernstein and James Joyner, asks:

Just why, pray, is giving the 600,000 people who live in DC proper representation in the Congress granting us a “ridiculously outsized power.” You mean: unlike North Dakota (pop. 650,000) or Alaska (pop. 700,000)? There is simply no way to justify spending trillions to bring “democracy” to Baghdad, while refusing to grant it to America’s capital city. In fact, the US – because of this anachronism – is the only advanced democracy to bar the citizens of its own capital from having the franchise. I think this simple fact outweighs any practical argument whatever.

This makes no sense at all. First off, unlike Alaska or North Dakota, DC is at the very heart of the country’s power structure. It is the part-time residence of every one of our federal elected officials. While voters may indeed lack proper representation, giving DC the added clout of two Senators and a number of representatives, plus all the other perks that come from statehood, would vastly tip the scales in DC’s favor. Placing DC back into Maryland, as Joyner suggests, would give voters all the representation they’re lacking without giving them the sort of clout that no other city in this country enjoys.

Furthermore, just because something is unjust – and this lack of representation is certainly that – does not mean that said injustice outweighs ‘any practical argument whatever’. On the contrary, one would hope that the most practical answer which both solves this injustice without inflicting any new injustices would be very desirable. Statehood, alas, would be an injustice to the rest of America whereas placing DC back within the electoral confines of Maryland would not.

After all, if DC can be its own state based solely off of the size of its population, why shouldn’t other cities also become states? New York City has far more people than DC. Perhaps each of the Burroughs could become a state. If we’re going to use population as the deciding factor, then it’s high time we redrew the state lines across the entire country. That’s only fair.

It would look something like this:



Such a move would appeal to blue-state voters, as the traditionally blue North East would quite suddenly have a great deal more votes in the Senate, as would California, while the Midwest especially would be served the electoral equivalent of kick in the teeth.

Then again, the representative system in this country was never meant to be entirely based on population. As with every other aspect of our government, our electoral system acts as a set of checks and balances. That may be frustrating, but it is what it is. If there were millions more red-staters than blue-staters, the blue-staters would be grateful for such an arrangement. As it stands, the reverse is true.

This is why we have two bodies in Congress – the House and the Senate. Each state gets equal representation in the Senate, but not in the House. Granting DC statehood makes sense if we’re going to base our representative structure on population alone, but that’s not how this country works, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.


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  1. collapse expand

    Splitting the baby and giving half of DC to Maryland and half to Virginia would still run into the same political opposition; it obviously depends on the results of the Census, but you’d be adding roughly half a district of blue votes to two states in which statewide elections regularly run 50/50. And you’d likely add a congressional seat to one or both states.

    As far as other cities go, they are already within states. DC has functioned autonomously throughout its history, and there’s no reason to break up its executive structure and fold it into one or two states (whom, I imagine, don’t want to take on the deficit that this would imply) for the purpose of avoiding giving people the same degree of representation as Alaskans.

    The huge side benefit of any of these plans would be ending DC’s role as the test bed for half-baked, half-funded charter school mandates, gun control laws, etc written by folks living a few thousand miles away.

    I think a good degree of DC’s clout with lawmakers would dissolve once lawmakers no longer have any authority over DC.

    All that said, I think a much better solution would be to include DC within Virginia and/or Maryland only for purposes of Congressional representation. There’s no need to physically carve out DC, but residents should be able to vote for MD and/or VA reps yet not vote for state offices. The obvious issue here is that this would require a constitutional amendment.

  2. collapse expand

    the us is not the only country here in australia the act has not got statehood yet

  3. collapse expand

    First of all, DC It is NOT “the part-time residence of every one of our federal elected officials.”

    Most of them, and their congressional staff, live in either the Virginia or Maryland suburbs. Ordinary residents of DC can’t get the time of day from the offices of Congressmen or Senators, due to the fact that they cannot VOTE for them. And that is perfectly appropriate, since they are elected to represent their voters.

    If you could get Maryland to take back DC, you would be overcoming 200 plus years during which they have declined to do so.

    My own suggestion is, considering that DC residents do not reside in the United States, we should treat them as we do other expatriate who live outside the United States, and allow each DC resident to declare affiliation or affinity with a state, and allow thenm to vote absentee in that state, like other expatriates.

    After all, the Constitution says “the people of the several states” not “the residents of the several states. Look up the meaning of the word “of”.

    Residents of DC –ARE– the people of the several states. They are part and parcel, progeny and posterity of those same founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to preserve our Liberty. They belonged to the original thirteen colonies, which cannot be said of Guam, Samoa, or Puerto Rico. Nor, for that matter, of Hawaii, Alaska, …nor even Wyoming, which has a smaller population than DC.

    The people of DC are certainly not the people of the Asian Steppes, nor of the Arctic tundra, nor of the Australian outback, nor of the Argentinian pampas; they, like other American expatriates, are the people of the several [American] states, regardless of where they currently reside.

  4. collapse expand

    The second issue regarding DC is the degree of local autonomy. Currently, a simple majority is all that is necessary for Congress to rule with Absolute Power over DC “in all cases whatsoever.” And we all know that power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely [case in point, here].

    Given “professional courtesy”, usually all it takes is a congressman or senator or two to screw up DC completely. DC home rule as it exists is more like voting for student government, in that you KNOW it is pointless, since the Principal and the Superintendent are running things. Not exactly what one would envision as “Liberty” or “self determination” for a “free people”. If Congress DOES need to maintain the last word over DC, at least it ought to require a broad national consensus as demonstrated by a super-majority to impose that Absolute Power. What happened to the central premise on which our country is otherwise based, that “just power derives from the consent of the governed”?

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