I there was any doubt that residents of the District of Columbia really, truly wanted statehood, their vote in the November 8 referendum on the subject dispelled it. In that election, 86 percent of DC voters who registered a preference checked “yes,” a significant increase from the 60 percent who voted in the previous referendum on statehood held in 1980.
The Washington Socialist <> December 2016
By Bill Mosley
If there was any doubt that residents of the District of Columbia really, truly wanted statehood, their vote in the November 8 referendum on the subject dispelled it. In that election, 86 percent of DC voters who registered a preference checked “yes,” a significant increase from the 60 percent who voted in the previous referendum on statehood held in 1980.
Unfortunately, the most recent vote is likely to get no greater respect than the earlier one. Congress finally took up the issue of statehood in 1993, 13 years after the referendum, only to have the House of Representatives shoot it down. This year’s referendum surely won’t get that far under a Congress still controlled in both houses by Republicans and a President Trump (my fingers nearly froze at writing the phrase) backstopping Congress with a veto pen.
The DC statehood referendum was approved despite encountering early opposition from some activists over the draft state constitution that was part of the ballot question – one had to vote yes or no on the entire package. The text of the constitution was less at issue than the top-down process of drafting it, in which a five-member panel appointed by Mayor Muriel Bowser (and chaired by her) wrote the document and foisted it upon the public, allowing for public comment at a series of “constitutional conventions” that were really nothing more than non-binding listening sessions. This was a far cry from the convention mandated by 1980 referendum, in which delegates were elected by DC voters to write a constitution, ratified in a 1982 vote.
It was perhaps fortunate that the majority of DC voters had probably never read the constitution and was unaware of its fraught history, for the “yes” vote was largely for the concept of statehood rather than the document attached to it. And also fortunately, prior to the vote the DC Council added a provision to the constitution that provided for an elected convention within two years of the District achieving statehood, which defused most opposition to the constitution and made nearly all activists comfortable in supporting the referendum.
Bowser pushed the issue of statehood and the constitution at this time in the hopes that Trump would prove such a toxic candidate that he would bring the Republican Party to ruin, and an alignment of a Democratic president and Congress would be receptive to statehood in 2017. We now see how far off that prediction was.
And in a monumental blunder that baffled statehood advocates, the DC Board of Elections printed the statehood referendum as the lone question on the BACK of the ballots, with all of the races for public office on the front. More than 22,000 voters failed to turn the ballot over to even vote on the question. Bowser’s failure to ensure the referendum was printed in a place that voters wouldn’t miss it, not to mention her doing nothing to promote the referendum and leaving the heavy lifting to volunteer advocates acting on their own, makes one wonder how badly she really wanted it to pass.
Not only will statehood be off the calendar, but the larger agenda of the Washington region is unlikely to receive any special consideration by the Trump administration, which might seek retribution for jurisdictions that dissed him. DC itself cast just over 90 percent of its ballots for Hillary Clinton, whereas 61 of Marylanders favored her. In Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe appeared on election night to crow about his state’s delivering a bare majority of its votes to Clinton, like a man in a lifeboat guzzling champagne while the Clintanic sinks behind him. Still, Virginia remains blue, by a hair.
What chance, for instance, does a bold plan by Maryland transit activists to transfer money from highway expansion to rail improvements (see my article elsewhere in this issue) have of receiving funding from a Trump Transportation Department? How will federal employees and their unions fare under a chief that has already called them corrupt and ineffective?
In the Nov. 14 Washington Post blog, Colbert I. King pointed to provisions in the platform adopted at the Republican National Convention making plain “that the day of the White House deferring to the judgment of elected D.C. democratic leaders soon will be over.” That document spit on the District’s quest for statehood and its efforts to free its budget from the federal appropriations process, and stated the party’s intent to further gut DC’s gun laws while maintaining the school voucher program – which pays some families to move their children from public to private schools – over the objections of local officials. Now, there’s no reason to believe Trump will feel bound by the platform, or anything other than his own impulses, but neither has he shown any love for District, except for his fancy new hotel in the middle of it.
And the Nov. 21 Post shows that federal workers should be very, very worried about Trump and far-right advisor Stephen Bannon who has the president-elect’s ear. The new administration promises a diet of “hiring freezes, an end to automatic raises, a green light to fire poor performers, a ban on union business on the government’s dime and less generous pensions.” We might be looking forward to a tsunami of retirements between now and January.
While the nation as a whole has reason for trepidation, the Washington region has special cause to be appalled by the election results. And the region is fighting back, with emergency strategy meetings, protests and other actions – including walkouts by high school students in the District and Montgomery County – showing that local citizens recognize their new neighbor’s destructive potential. No welcome wagon here. And the fight is just beginning.
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