Committee for the Capital City
PO Box 77443
Washington, DC 20013-8443
Chris Kain, "Group pushes voting through Maryland", the Northwest Current, 8/27/03
The Current Newspapers
August 27, 2003
Group pushes D.C. voting through Maryland
By CHRIS KAIN
Current Staff Writer
The Committee for the Capital City is seeking to build support for the idea of providing voting representation for D.C. residents in the U.S. Congress by treating them as residents of Maryland for purposes of congressional representation.
The group -- originally established to press for the District's retrocession to Maryland -- sees voting rights as a good interim step that would mean voting representation for D.C. residents in the House of Representatives and the Senate, said member Rick Dykema. He dismissed the political chances for statehood or any other measure that would mean two D.C. senators.
"The opportunity is there to provide full and equal congressional representation to D.C. residents, if the opportunity will only be seized," said Dykema, chief of staff and legislative director to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
The Committee for the Capital City proposal generally mirrors the idea advanced by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., whose staffers are preparing legislation for introduction this fall. Dykema said that the group's members briefed D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and then Davis' staffers on their plan earlier this summer.
Two weeks ago, a task force of prominent D.C. attorneys -- asked by Norton to examine the general parameters of Davis' plan -- raised a long list of questions. The lawyers raised strong constitutional and political doubts about any link to Maryland and suggested examination of a D.C.-only congressional district. One of their specific questions dealt with the possibility of Maryland state legislators splitting the District among multiple congressional districts.
Dykema promptly wrote a detailed response. "All their questions are not only answerable, they are answered," he said in an interview.
The Committee for the Capital City, which has drafted its own proposed legislation, proposes to give D.C. residents back their Maryland citizenship rights to vote for U.S. representatives and senators. Until Congress ended the practice in 1801, residents of the sections of the newly formed District of Columbia that were formerly in Maryland continued to vote in a Maryland congressional district.
"These rights, taken away by statute (the Organic Act of 1801), would be restored by another statute -- the District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act," wrote Dykema, who spent several years on the staff of the now-defunct House Committee on the District of Columbia.
Like the Davis approach, the committee's proposal would add a House member until the next census and reapportionment, when population shifts will lead to changes in the congressional makeup. Unlike the Davis approach, the committee did not propose adding a second temporary seat for Utah, which narrowly missed out an a fourth seat after the 2000 census.
The committee's bill, Dykema said, would require that the Maryland legislature keep D.C. intact in the new congressional district, with contiguous territory from adjacent Maryland counties added to equalize population with other state congressional districts.
He argued that the requirement passes constitutional muster since Congress has the authority to supersede the states in matters relating to congressional elections. In the past, Dykema noted, Congress has used its power to bar states with multiple representatives from having at-large congressional districts.
Dykema's memo acknowledges the political impact but describes it as necessary in order to reverse a centuries-old inequity.
"There are necessarily political consequences to providing fair federal representation to people who have been unfairly denied it for 200 years," he wrote. "We believe the D.C. Voting Rights Restoration Act is both fair and balanced, perhaps causing some relatively small amount of political pain for both parties. Any other approach (including keeping the status quo) involves its own political controversies."
Dykema labeled one alternative -- the idea of creating two new U.S. Senate seats for heavily Democratic D.C. -- as "politically undoable."
"The political questions raised ... about the 'Davis proposal' pale in comparison to the controversy involved in trying to create two U.S. senators for one smaller-than-one-congressional-district city," he said.
Dykema said he hopes that District residents and politicians will give the proposal a fair hearing.
"We recognize that voting rights through Maryland or self-government through Maryland is never going to be the first choice of D.C. residents," he said. "If they could get it, they would rather have statehood or two senators of their own. ... That is just not going to pass the Congress. What we are asking for are the rights of every other city in the country, not the rights of every other state in the country."
John Forster, an American University Park resident and activities coordinator for the Committee on the Capital City, said he sees the coming months as an important time in the fight of voting rights and full citizenship for D.C. residents.
"The debate now is about what can be done legally and what is politically feasible," he said. "That is so much better than the debate of the past 10 years. So much of the discussion has been what people want, rather than what people can get. ... The focus now is what is doable."
Though Forster sees retrocession -- or "reunion," as the committee describes it -- as the ultimate solution, he said that solving the federal voting rights issue would mark an important step forward.
"That's the outrageous issue that is the lightning rod," he said. "It needs to be fixed. It's just ridiculous -- everybody recognizes that, Democrats and Republicans. This is a problem looking for an easy solution. ... We are politically segregated from the rest of the country, and it is time to end that."