It takes time after moving to a new place to really feel a part of it. These rites of passage could include adopting the local accent or acquiring obscure knowledge of where you live. Washington, D.C., is no different. One can’t really call themself a resident of the District until he or she becomes angry that the city has no congressional representation.
The turning point for me occurred last year as Congress was discussing legislation that would repeal the District’s handgun ban. The ban was enacted by the District in the mid-1970s. The House voted to repeal the ban over the objections of Mayor Anthony Williams and the City Council.
Imagine if you will, Congress trying to do the same thing to your hometown: taking a popular local initiative and overturning it. At least you would have one voting member of Congress who would be able to fight for the wishes of your district. What is the point of representative government if the people don’t even get a representative?
As the seat of national government, Washington, D.C. will never be fully independent from federal government oversight. However, the feds should only involve themselves in the District on issues pertaining to the federal government itself and not use it as a place to score political points with the National Rifle Association.
The reason why D.C. continues to be shut out of congressional representation is as simple as it is sad. The District is overwhelmingly Democratic – more than 90 percent of its citizens voted for John Kerry in the last election. Republicans do not want to create a seat that is almost assured to go to the other side. Not only is this a mockery of democracy; it is childish as well. For a Republican Party that routinely claims it wants to do more to reach out to black voters, giving the District, whose population is 58 percent black, a voting member of Congress would be a fantastic opportunity.
One solution to this problem was proposed by Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican who represents Northern Virginia. In the last census, Utah fell 30 or so people short of gaining another seat. His bill would give D.C. one seat in return for giving one to Utah. The assumption is that D.C. will vote for a Democrat and Utah a Republican; so voting margins in the House would remain the same. Of the solutions to D.C.’s representation problem, this one has the best chance of happening. Even so, it still has problems. It would only serve as law until 2010, when it is likely Utah will have earned an addition seat in its own right. Also, why should D.C. residents’ right to representation depend on another state getting representation it doesn’t technically deserve? While it’s true census methods are known for undercounting, there is no reason to believe Utah was a greater victim of undercount than the other 49 states. In fact, the rural areas comprising most of Utah tend to be over-represented in census counting.
Besides the political hurdles to D.C. representation, there is also the lack of knowledge about the situation around the country. In an effort to raise awareness, a group of citizens is petitioning the International Olympic Committee for the creation of a D.C. Olympic team. While this sounds crazy at first, there is precedent for it. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands both have teams separate from the United States. Taiwan and Hong Kong compete independently of the People’s Republic of China. The Palestinian territories also field a team. Imagine the shock around the country, as Americans are watching the Olympic opening ceremonies, to see a D.C. delegation in the parade of athletes.
With all of the politically interested students and multitudes of political student groups here at GW, this would be the perfect issue for GW students to champion. Thousands of GW undergrads and graduate students would certainly create an important and vocal constituency.
The District has long clamored for representation in Congress and continues to face an uphill battle. It would be more than appropriate for the city to be assisted by a school whose namesake became famous fighting “taxation without representation.”
-The writer is a junior majoring in political science.