Why Washingtonians need to have statehood for District of Columbia

The residents of the District of Columbia are equal to all other residents of the United States. We pay taxes, serve on juries and in wars, participate in our communities, go to work and run businesses, and raise our families. However, there is one clear and significant difference between those of us who proudly call Washington home and those who live in the 50 states.

Residents of the District of Columbia do not have full representation in Congress. In the late 18th century, when Washington was established as the capital of the United States, the folks who lived in the area had their representation in a state legislature and in Congress stripped away from them. The founders of the new nation were concerned about any one state wielding power over the capital and stopping the business of government as had occurred in Philadelphia in the summer of 1783.

The effort for equal representation for Washingtonians started almost immediately and, over time, the country has moved to make government for the residents more closely resemble democracy. Congress established a council and mayor with the limited ability to pass laws and to institute a budget with local funding. The country adopted the 23rd Amendment to include Washingtonians in presidential elections, granting three electoral votes starting in 1964. The courts have recently agreed that the District of Columbia should have autonomy over its own budget, though Congress continues to interfere with local expenditures for its own political gains.

Americans increasingly support the idea of full and equal representation for Washingtonians. Polls conducted by Navigator Research and Data for Progress find support for ending “taxation without representation” between 51 percent and 66 percent, depending on the wording of the question. This critical debate has now shifted to how we end injustice and ensure that all Americans can fully participate in our democracy. Statehood for the District of Columbia is the only answer to enfranchise residents while also preserving the history and culture of the population.

The Washington Admission Act would preserve the capital and maintain the federal district required by the Constitution. The remaining land with the neighborhoods, schools, and parks would become the 51st state. This acknowledges the people of the District of Columbia, whose population is larger than Vermont and Wyoming, are distinctly different from those who call Maryland home. While we share similarities, Washingtonians are not Marylanders any more than those who hail from Massachusetts would be considered the same as their neighbors who hail from New Hampshire.

Statehood for the District of Columbia is not a partisan effort. History shows us that electoral trends and demographic patterns change with time. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats would take a position that there is no election they cannot win with a strong candidate that responds to the needs of constituents. Indeed, Washington has elected district officials who were Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

Statehood for the District of Columbia is the solution most in line with the history of the United States. Any unrepresented population seeking full participation in its own government should be treated equally to every previously unrepresented population. There is no need to reinvent the wheel or to challenge historic norms for the people of Washington. This great nation has invited people who were not part of the original colonies to be part of this union many times before. It is time to do it once again.

Bo Shuff serves as the executive director of District of Columbia Vote.

Tags Congress Constitution Democracy Government statehood Washington

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