Civic News

Could DC statehood finally happen?

The response to a violent mob brought another reminder of the District's unequal representation. Could the measure have a chance with a new president?

The Capitol.

(Photo by Flickr user Adam Fagen, used under a Creative Commons license)

On Wednesday, the nation watched dumbfounded and appalled — frustrated, but not surprised — as a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump breached the U.S. Capitol and mounted a violent insurrection. The coup attempt stopped a joint session of Congress that was supposed to finalize the election of President-elect Joe Biden.

If ever there was a moment to call in the National Guard, this seemed to be it.

Yet, for that to happen, D.C. had to get approval from the U.S. Department of Defense. It was initially denied, according to the D.C. Council, while governors from Virginia and Maryland both acted to deploy their units. The U.S. Army did eventually approve the 1,100-troop deployment, and its secretary and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser spoke together. But the delay in a true crisis and the fact that the task ultimately fell to the military rather than D.C. underlined the District’s unique place not as a state, but a city with heavy federal presence between two states. A sort of federal-local entity.

In a crisis, it was a reminder that things could be different — if D.C. were a state.

It’s not a new conversation in the District, as there are lots of reasons why D.C. residents have long pushed for statehood. One is right there on the license plates that read “Taxation Without Representation.” The District doesn’t have a full member of Congress, merely an at-large representative. Along with not getting its say in Congress, it also means the federal executive branch can make decisions without the local government’s input.

That was evident during June’s protests following the death of George Floyd. Trump called in troops to intimidate and tear gas protestors. Mayor Bowser objected, but couldn’t stop it.

Even in thinking about growing local tech economies, there’s a difference. Most local economies have a city and a state, which has meant additional economic support for companies, something brought to the fore through economic challenges facing small businesses and the question of how to maintain a workforce in the shadow of the federal government. They also have a guarantee that there would be a voice in Congress. D.C. has instead had to work for years to form regional economic bonds across state lines, even as it is the center of a metro area.

After gaining support among Democrats — no doubt in part from legislators who see the potential to add seats in a deep blue area to their ranks of the chamber — D.C. statehood is moving up the agenda on Capitol Hill.

Increasingly the call is emerging in the national consciousness in a crisis, sort of a policy Zelig. The situation changes, but it keeps popping up. In June, it emerged as troops were acting violently. On Wednesday, it happened as the response wasn’t swift enough. It was there again after U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death in late September, when Democrats eyeing control of the Senate in November’s election floated it as among the items that would help them gain an advantage.

If federal power brokers do decide to take it up, the bill is already filed. As the new Congress gaveled in on Sunday, D.C.’s delegate, Eleanor Holmes Nortonintroduced a bill backing statehood, making these points:

“D.C. pays more federal taxes per capita than any state and pays more federal taxes than 22 states. D.C.’s population of 712,000 is larger than those of two states, and the new state would be one of seven states with a population under one million. D.C.’s budget is larger than those of 12 states, and D.C.’s bond rating is higher than those of 35 states. D.C. has a higher per capita personal income and gross domestic product than any state.”

Similar measures passed the House in 2019 and again in 2020, though they were blocked both times by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Wednesday’s events at the Capitol mean there will be lots for Congress to deal with, the first of which is certifying the election and results, and the transition of the current president out of the White House. But with Senate elections in Georgia poised to give Democrats control of the Senate, will this be the moment to circle the wagons?

“This could become a 100-day priority, D.C. statehood, for our next president,” Bowser said Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

On Wednesday, the exit of the current president might’ve helped.

Subscribe to our Newsletters
Technically Media
Connect with companies from the community
New call-to-action