The City of Washington, DC was set up in a Congressional Act in 1787. The city is limited to space of no more than 10 square miles.Until “Home Rule”, the City was ruled by the Federal Government, under the auspices of Congress. Until 1961, citizens in the City could not vote for election of the President or local Officials. In 1973, Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, ceding some of its power over the city to a new, directly elected city council and mayor. Walter Washington became the first elected mayor of Washington, D.C.
Congress still maintains the power to approve any law passed by the City council and Mayor. This was demonstrated most recently when the council approved a bill legalizing Marijuana, and the Republican led Congressional Committee nixed the Law.
Unique among cities with a high percentage of African Americans, Washington has had a significant black population since the city’s creation. As a result, Washington became both a center of African American culture and a center of civil rights movement. Since the city government was run by the federal government, black and white school teachers were paid at an equal scale as workers for the federal government. It was not until the administration of President Woodrow Wilson, a southern Democrat who had numerous southerners in his cabinet, that federal offices and workplaces were segregated, starting in 1913.This situation persisted for decades: the city was racially segregated in certain facilities until the 1950s.
DC Statehood is still a hot local issue. Republicans oppose such for much the same reason the slaveholding South demanded the compromise that all future states added to the Union be balanced between slave and free – due to a large black population, the City leans Democrat. Meaning statehood would likely add two more Democrat Senators to the Senate, and 1 -2 Democrat Congressmen.
It sucks to live in Washington, D.C.—or so says John Oliver, the surprisingly nimble political satirist and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight. Yes, if you thought Sen. Marco Rubio making The Hill’s ultra-silly list of the “50 Most Beautiful People” on Capitol Hill was bad, well, that’s just the tip of the iceberg for D.C. residents.
“There is one U.S. territory that suffers a lack of representation in D.C., and that is D.C. itself,” Oliver announced on Last Week.
District of Columbia license plates say “taxation without representation” for a reason. If you’re a resident of D.C., you’re forced to shell out for federal taxes and can fight in wars, yet no member of Congress is there to fight on your behalf, even though D.C.’s population eclipses that of states like Vermont and Wyoming, and its GDP is higher than 16 other states.
Oliver noted that when the Dalai Lama came to visit D.C. some years back “…he wondered why ‘a small pocket’ of people living in the world’s ‘champion of democracy’ lacked full voting rights,” calling the practice, “Quite strange”—and Tibet isn’t exactly a bastion of democracy.
The District of Columbia does have Eleanor Holmes Norton, who acts as delegate to the U.S. Congress representing D.C., but “she basically has pretend power,” Oliver said, since she votes by committee, can’t vote on the House floor, can’t vote on tax reform, and can’t vote on whether the country should go to war.
There’s strange historical precedent here, including a clause in the U.S. Constitution granting Congress the power to “exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever” over the district. Residents in D.C. couldn’t even vote in presidential elections until 1964, and it took a constitutional amendment to grant them that right. Also, D.C. residents weren’t allowed to elect a mayor and City Council until July 17, 1966—when they were granted “Home Rule”—but it was still required that all legislation, including the city’s budget, be subject to congressional approval.
So for over two decades, Norton has introduced a series of bills trying to grant D.C. statehood or a vote in Congress—to no avail.
“Over the years, Congress has repeatedly stepped in when D.C. is about to do anything they disapprove of,” said Oliver.
Last November, 70 percent of D.C. voters approved Initiative 71 to legalize marijuana, but then congressional Republicans stepped in and enacted a rider preventing them from allocating funds to pass the law—which, Oliver said, doesn’t square with the Republican ethos of “limited government” and “states’ rights.”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), a member of the House Oversight Committee, tried to justify stomping all over D.C.’s rights with the following explainer: “Well, Washington, D.C., is not a state. Washington, D.C., has a lot to offer, but…free rein on marijuana use? I just don’t buy that. I just don’t think that’s the way they should operate. So, states’ rights? Yes. But Washington, D.C., is not a state.”
But that isn’t even the half of it.
“The award for the most depressingly cynical thing that has ever been said about D.C. actually goes to our current president, who in 2011 avoided a government shutdown by striking a deal with John Boehner that included prohibiting D.C. from spending its own money on abortions for low-income women, saying, ‘John, I will give you D.C. abortion. I am not happy about it,’” Oliver said.
It seems that it’s been the GOP congressmen who, time and again, have sought to limit D.C.’s voting power or fought its right to statehood. Back in 2009, a bill to give D.C. a vote was introduced in the Senate, and the Senate did, according to Oliver, “the most dickish thing imaginable” by passing it with an itty-bitty addition: an amendment that would repeal all of D.C.’s gun control laws, including its ban on semi-automatic weapons; remove criminal penalties for possession of unregistered firearms; and alter its ability to enact future gun control legislation.
“As a result of that amendment, the bill was dropped, and D.C. hasn’t been close to getting a vote since,” said Oliver.