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Why finally making Washington D.C. a state makes so much sense for Democrats

Why finally making Washington D.C. a state makes so much sense for Democrats

Can Democrats still wield power once they have it? That is a question I and other political analysts have pondered a lot in the last few decades.After

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Can Democrats still wield power once they have it? That is a question I and other political analysts have pondered a lot in the last few decades.

After watching two Republican presidents get elected despite losing the popular vote, and after the Republican Senate majority leader from Kentucky stole President Barack Obama’s third Supreme Court seat only to hand it to President Donald Trump, one would think the Democrats would have had enough.

Can Democrats still wield power once they have it? That is a question I and other political analysts have pondered a lot in the last few decades.

Now, with the House, Senate and White House under Democratic control, Democratic representatives and senators have a real chance to seize the moment and level the playing field. They may even be able to gain some ground.

As Republicans discuss their next gerrymandering projects in key swing states, Washington, D.C., deserves statehood.

More than any actual state in the union, Washington has been at the mercy of the de facto minority party of the GOP. Conservatives have inflicted their ideological checklist on the city government for years, preventing it from enacting strong gun control and recreational cannabis laws and limiting access to abortion within the district.

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Statehood would also have a lasting and significant impact on the push to make America truly small-d democratic. This matter is truly urgent: Political scientists predict that by 2040, 70 U.S. senators from smaller states will represent just 30 percent of the population.

Despite housing a symbol of global democracy, America’s capital still operates as the kind of colony the American Revolution was fought to free. The city of around 705,000 contains more souls than the states of Vermont and Wyoming — all taxed without real representation. Its budget and its laws are controlled by Congress, where its sole representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, sits in the House as a special delegate without voting rights.

On Jan. 6, as a mob overran the Capitol, further cracks in the system were exposed. City leaders can’t easily call out the D.C. National Guard without explicit federal government approval.

The problem is bigger than logistics, however. Racially, Washington is a majority Black city, and has been for decades. The current mayor, Muriel Bowser, is the latest in a long line of Black mayors. And yet, it remains under majority white federal control. This status goes to back the Civil War era, when refugee slaves fled into the federal city’s confines. Slavery remained legal in the district until 1862, and slaves lived and worked in Lafayette Square — now a park across from the White House.

Only in 1973 did the city gain “Limited Home Rule” and a modicum of a say in its own affairs.

This year, the House will again consider a bill to make D.C. the 51st state. Legislation has been introduced in every Congress since 1965, but this year the bill has a record numbers of sponsors — more than 200 in the House and 38 in the Senate .

A man walks by some of 51 murals related to D.C. statehood in Washington on July 7, 2020.Caroline Brehman / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Headlines, though, consistently note that the proposal has zero chance of final passage. To be fair, while the House will very likely pass its bill this year, the Senate’s filibuster rule requires any controversial Democratic measure to get 60 Senate votes — meaning at least nine Republicans would have to commit political hara-kiri for it to get to the president’s desk.

Bo Shuff, executive director of DCVote, one of several D.C. statehood groups, still has hope, however. “Momentum for statehood is growing,” he told me, perhaps not surprisingly. “Public support is higher than ever before, the number of elected officials is higher than ever before, the coalition of national organizations that we’ve built is larger than ever before.

To Shuff’s point, even before the Jan. 6 riot, new statehood activist groups like 51 for 51 had been traveling the country pushing their cause in the hinterlands of South Carolina, New Hampshire and Iowa. Momentum is building, but will it be enough?

During the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington last summer, Bowser published an op ed in The Washington Post tying D.C.’s sub-state status to the national legacy of white supremacy. “It is no coincidence that Washington — affectionately known as Chocolate City — is also the only capital of a democratic nation that denies its residents a vote in the federal legislature,” she wrote. “To think these two truths are not related is to be willfully ignorant of our nation’s history.

Bowser reminded readers that the district’s curious position means she functions as a governor, county executive and mayor. “For the purposes of thousands of federal laws, we act as a state, and we do it well, overseeing a $16 billion budget and paying more in federal taxes than we get back. In fact, we pay more than 22 states, and our residents pay more to the federal government per capita than any other state.”

By making D.C. a state, two likely Democratic and very likely Black Senate seats would be added to the Senate. And despite flipping Georgia in January, the reality is that a party really needs 60 votes, not 50, to pass ambitious legislation.

Bowser reminded readers that the district’s curious position means she functions as a governor, county executive and mayor.

Obama, frustrated in attempts to pass his own progressive agenda, once called the filibuster a “Jim Crow relic.” Senate Democrats can mitigate the filibuster by making an exception — a “carve-out” — to the filibuster for this issue and allow passage with a simple majority. But any move to elude the filibuster is sure to cascade into a partisan brawl.

Obama was right to be frustrated. The relative power of the majority of the American population remains curbed by the Senate, as Mitch McConnell has proven for years. He and Republicans effectively turned the Senate into a graveyard for progressive legislation during both Obama and Trump’s administrations.

Last June, when D.C. statehood was once again being discussed on the Senate floor, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark. — who had spent the summer calling for Black Lives Matter protests to be violently suppressed — claimed that D.C. would not be “a well-rounded working-class state,” like Wyoming.

Cotton’s implication was that the district is somehow lesser, a kind of federal government parasite. At best, this canard feeds Republican sloganeering about Washington as a city of insiders, lazy bureaucrats and lobbyists. (And last time I checked lobbyists and revolving door-cronies were as likely to be Republicans as Democrats.) At worst, Cottons comments play on tired racial stereotypes, suggesting the majority-Black city cannot be trusted to govern itself.

When the House sent a statehood bill to the Senate in 2019, McConnell, in refusing to consider the bill, called it a “power grab” and “full-bore socialism.” Last year, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called a statehood bill “a brazen power grab.”

Putting aside the incredible irony of men like McConnell bemoaning power grabbing, Republicans aren’t wrong: Adding D.C. would be a power grab for Democrats, as much as it would be a bid to secure better representation for the people of the district. D.C. statehood could be the first test of how ruthlessly the Democrats plan to use the power they have won.

Source: | This article originally belongs to Nbcnews.com

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