For DC, statehood isn't the only option
© Michelle Kinsey Bruns/flickr

For decades, there’s been discussion about making our nation’s capital city the 51st state. In 1993, the House voted on a D.C. statehood bill for the first time ever, with 277 representatives from both parties voting no. Many of those once no votes — now champion the proposal and voted in support of statehood last week. I disagree with my Democrat colleagues who support statehood for D.C., but not for the reasons some of the far left might lead you to believe.

I’m opposed to statehood, but I’m not opposed to suffrage. Let’s not play coy. Many of those pushing for Washington, D.C., statehood, are largely behind it not just because they want full voting representation for D.C. residents, but they also want to expand Democratic control of the United States Senate. I’m opposed to that kind of a political power grab.

Others support statehood for a different, more legitimate reason, saying D.C. residents deserve voting representation in the U.S. House and Senate. While capital residents are represented with three Electoral College votes and a delegate in the House, they do not get representation in the Senate. I do think they lack full representation, but I don’t think adding a new state is the answer.


Mostly, statehood is just impractical. D.C. is 68 square miles — that includes both land mass and water. It’s 95 percent smaller than our nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island. You could fit 1,130 D.C.’s inside the state of South Dakota. Let’s be honest: D.C. isn’t a state. It’s a city.

But, there is a compromise to ensure D.C. residents have full representation in Congress.

My bill, the D.C.-Maryland Reunion Act, would merge the residential areas of D.C. with the surrounding state of Maryland — providing congressional representation to those residents without adding a 51st state. Federal buildings, namely, the Capitol, White House, as well as the National Mall area would remain the District of Columbia.

This process is called retrocession and there’s precedent for it. After decades of similar discussions about disenfranchisement, district land south of the Potomac was reunited with Virginia in 1847.

The idea has gotten some pushback from politicians in favor of D.C. statehood. But if we’re being honest, if this idea wasn’t about power and truly focused on providing representation to voters, then those same politicians would support my bill.


Now that the House has passed D.C. statehood legislation — again — we’ll see how long it collects dust in the Senate chamber. Let’s reject the assertion that D.C. statehood is the only option. Congress should pursue an alternative — the DC-Maryland Reunion Act.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So why are Democrat leaders and statehood advocates so opposed to an alternative that will achieve the end goal of representation?

Johnson represents South Dakota at-large.