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D.C: To Be or Not To Be A State


On Sept.19, for the first time in 25 years, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform heard arguments from officials pushing for statehood for the District of Columbia. In recent months, politicians, lobbyists, and civilians have increased visibility within the legal realm of the district.

The hearing in Sept. observed arguments in support of upgrading the nation's capital from its current non-voting representation in Congress to one of statehood that embodies voting members within both chambers. 

Currently, the House of Representatives holds D.C.'s representation under Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton. Unlike other state representatives, Norton is only allowed to vote in the committees on which she sits, and not on any legislation up before the entire chamber.                                                                                                   

According to the U.S Census, Washington D.C. has an estimated population of 711,571 as of August 2019. This means that D.C is more populous than states such as Wyoming and Vermont—and yet, a large majority of Americans are still opposed to the idea of statehood.

The latest Gallup poll—an American analytics company best known for its public opinion polls collected worldwide—64 percent of Americans think the District shouldn't be a state. Additionally, the idea is more popular on the east coast, among Democrats than Republicans (50 percent to 15 percent, respectively).

Much of the resistance seen today about statehood stems from similar past arguments. In 1978,  Congress passed a Constitutional Amendment granting D.C. voting representation in Congress—only to be met with rejection from the states in ratifying the amendment. 

From the very beginning, several of the arguments in opposition to this idea are thought of to be rooted in racism. In 1972, when D.C. was more than 70 percent Black, Rep. John Rarick of Louisiana said that D.C. was "a sinkhole, rat infested, the laughing stock of the free and Communist world." He added that allowing the District to govern itself could result in a Black Muslim "takeover" of the capital, per news coverage at the time. 

An advocacy group called Citizens United Against D.C. Statehood in the 1990s ran advertisements that said that granting D.C. the opportunity to govern themselves could lead to future senators embracing  "Arab terrorists" or "Black Muslim hatemongers" in the region, according to Floyd Brown, founder of Citizens United, who started Citizens United Against D.C. Statehood. These stereotypes have made their way into couching the claims of the opposition on the topic of D.C. statehood as well. 

As per the D.C. Attorney General's office, lawmakers have "continued to assert old stereotypes about the District's supposed inability to govern itself." In 1993, Norton's statehood proposal was met with rejection in the house, with all but one Republican voting against it. Norton's most recent Democratic House proposal, titled H.R. 51, already has 222 co-sponsors as of Oct. 2019.

Arguments from the conservative side of the aisle at the time focused on the state of affairs in D.C.'s local government, with then-GOP Representative Tom DeLay arguing that the District's "hug-a-thug attitude on violent crime" and the city's reputation as "a liberal bastion of corruption and crime," automatically disqualified D.C. In the upcoming months, resistance is expected to be met from both sides on the bill, with politicians galvanizing each other on the road to DC statehood.

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