Coast to Coast: Why DC Home Rule Matters to a Californian

As a resident of California, a state about as far away from the District of Columbia as one can get, I am often faced with the question, “why should I, or any other resident outside of D.C. for that matter, care about local autonomy for the District of Columbia?”  I live outside the jurisdiction of D.C.’s local laws and am virtually unaffected by its local politics and policies. Then, while sitting in on a House Appropriations Committee markup of the Financial Services and General Government sub-committee bill a couple of weeks ago, it hit me. 

During this markup, the Committee spent twenty-three minutes and fifty-seven seconds (approximately) debating Rep. Andy Harris’ (R-MD) Amendment barring the District from spending local funds to decriminalize marijuana.  These twenty-three minutes and twenty-seven seconds passed in a room full of federal representatives, some from my home state, who could have been discussing an issue actually relevant to the people who elected them.

In a Congress that is already accused of being inefficient and unproductive, I was surprised to see a member derail the conversation from topics of national importance such as the US Postal Service and the IRS to a debate about an issue that has already been decided upon by duly elected D.C. officials.  To me, this not only seemed undemocratic, but a waste of time and resources. 

Not only had Rep. Harris dedicated time and energy to drafting an amendment and promoting his proposal in committee, but since the markup Harris has sat down for interviews againand againand again, to discuss his unjust actions and the boycott of his district that ensued. 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a member of Congress has deviated from matters pressing to their districts and the nation as a whole to meddle in D.C.’s local affairs.  Earlier this week, Rep. Thomas Massey (R-KY) challenged the District’s strict gun laws by adding amendments to the 2015 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act (HR 5016) that stripped the District of its right to use funds to enforce these laws.  In 2013, Rep Trent Franks (R-AZ) had the audacity to design a bill from scratch which dictated D.C. abortion policy (H.R. 3803). Tragically, the Congress also enacted legislation in 2003 that barred the District from using local funds for a lifesaving syringe exchange program at a time when the District led the nation in HIV/AIDS infection rates.

It is time all Americans stood up against the transaction costs Congress incurs while legislating for the District.  The time, energy, and resources expended by congressmen seeking to make policy for D.C. should be directed towards creating and supporting policy relevant to their constituents.  D.C. gun control laws, marijuana decriminalization, and abortion policy are not the questions I, or any other American, should be concerned with.  The primary issues with Congress’s nonsensical control over the District of Columbia are the violation of local sovereignty and the misallocation of Congressional resources.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

You Gotta Start Somewhere

DC Vote wants voting representation in Congress and full equality for the residents of the District of Columbia. It is an admirable and valiant goal, but one that has been going on for nearly 200 years. Achieving this mission will require not only concerted involvement from elected officials and citizens, but a very specific political climate as well. 

This raises the question: why even bother with the issue, especially when the end seems so out of reach? 

The answer comes from Kim Perry, Executive Director of DC Vote: You gotta start somewhere. 

In my first couple of weeks as a Karel Fellow with DC Vote, I have learned both the importance and significance of these words to not only this organization, but to other nonprofits and advocates as well. Nonprofits often have lofty missions such as ending poverty or eliminating child hunger. These issues are difficult to tackle because they often originate from deep social and systemic inequalities in our society. 

I know now that working in a nonprofit takes a lot of skills, such as coalition building and organization. However, the most essential thing is a little something called perseverance. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (another great reminder from Kim). I have fully come to this understanding through my fellowship. 

For DC Vote, this means chipping away at the issue to make our stance heard. We remain vigilant against Members of Congress like Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) who have attempted to impose their will on and meddle in the affairs of the District. We introduce legislation such as the Budget Autonomy Act which will allow DC residents to decide how they spend their own tax dollars. We celebrate individuals who fight and inspire others to do the same against DC’s lack of representation at our annual Champions of Democracy gala. 

Some days come with big steps, like when President Obama publicly supported statehood for DC, and others are much quieter. But each day is a step forward in the right direction as long as we keep going. 

Although I came to DC Vote with little knowledge or connection to its mission, I have quickly become swept up in the excitement of the work that it does and feel more prepared to continue public interest communications work in the future. 

Besides improving my skills in working both independently and collaboratively in an office setting, I have felt the beginnings of a determination for the obtainment of voting rights in DC. The lessons I have learned from my host organization in perseverance and the observations of their extreme dedication to obtaining a difficult goal have inspired me to continue this sort of amazing work in my future. 

You gotta start somewhere, for me, provides not only the motivation to begin on the right track towards change, but it also gives me hope that one day soon DC residents will gain their full voting rights and win the liberties that they deserve as American citizens.

Voting Rights

Debunking Harris' Myths

Rep. Andy Harris has been attracting attention with some wild comments. After successfully attaching language to a spending bill that would  overturn DC’s  marijuana decriminalization law, Harris proudly stepped forward to defend the blatantly undemocratic maneuver.  We now know that he doesn’t “usually” interfere with DC’s local laws (gee, thanks!) and that he believes DC officials should focus more on subpar schools (how’d he manage to change it to that subject?). And of course, we should not be bothered by his single-handed attempt to make policy for the District because, well, he’s a doctor. It’s tough to argue with the last point, but let’s take a deeper look at some of the claims the Doc has made during interviews.

This is not about DC home rule

 I’m sorry, what? Overturning a local law is not a  home rule issue? Harris points out that  the Constitution gives Congress the right to set DC policy. But just because Harris can be a “bullying interloper” doesn’t mean that he should be one. Harris has voted to defer to state legislatures on issues ranging from energy production to welfare, despite the fact that the Federal government can trump their authority in these areas. The federalist principles that characterize Harris’ conservatism should apply to DC:  regional governments are “closer to the people” than the Feds, so those local legislatures -- elected by local citizens -- should be left uninterrupted. In addition, local politicians have a better grasp of what their constituents need than a Congressman with a God complex. On this point, Dr. Harris is a hypocrite.

“Mr Catania can come see me when he's ready to deal seriously with drug abuse. This is just a campaign prop.”

When DC mayoral candidate David Catania dropped by Harris’ office asking for a meeting about the rider, Harris refused, claiming that Catania was pandering to the electorate. Harris’ response exemplifies a general unwillingness to discuss his encroachment on home rule.  As Catania noted, Harris and his staff never sought any discussion with any elected DC official before introducing the amendment. Not only did Harris stamp on DC’s autonomy, but he simultaneously gave the proverbial finger to DC’s Delegate, the DC Council , and the mayor.

I’m glad to take the arrows for this

Harris has righteously maintained that his rider is politically unpopular, branding  himself as a martyr fighting for people’s health. In reality, Harris isn’t exactly on the path to sainthood.  As Ben Freed noted in the Washingtonian, Harris is gunning for an open seat on the Republican Study Committee. For members of Congress on the rise, one of the best (and most cowardly) ways to win the support of their colleagues without risking the ire of their home district is to mess with DC. This “leadership” isn’t admirable.

Considering that Harris has belligerently continued to take shots at those opposing his amendment, it’s unlikely that he will back down any time soon. Hopefully the Senate will kill his rider before the Appropriations bill goes to the President.

Budget Autonomy · Voting Rights

DC Brau: Raising the Bar in Corporate Responsibility

DC Brau logoDC Vote’s inaugural 3 Star Ball is only one week away and one of our most treasured local companies will be a big part of the festivities.  

We are very excited to present DC Brau with the Raising the Bar award for Corporate Responsibility. In addition to brewing delicious beer, Brandon Skall and Jeff Hancock are dedicated, longtime supporters of full equality for DC. Not only do they spotlight the cause on their website, but their beer cans also feature factoids about the history of DC politics. In addition to the cans, DC Brau’s slogan is “Fermentation without Representation,” a play on the “Taxation without Representation” slogan which adorns DC license plates. Both the cans and stickers have been amazing conversation starters about DC voting rights both in bars and on the street.

Brandon and Jeff’s approach to raising awareness has really resonated with DC’s young population making the Ball: Party with a Purpose the ideal place to honor this unique local brewery. We are excited not only to be honoring them on May 22nd, but also to be featuring their Citizen and Public Ale beers at the Ball.

A number of local elected officials will be joining us, including Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Councilmembers, mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and David Catania, and more.  

Internationally acclaimed DJ Biks will be providing the music for the evening and Windows catering will be providing delicious bites.

Purchase your 3 Star Ball tickets today. We hope to see you on the 22nd! 

Voting Rights

The Injustice Down the Road

by Amanda Palmer

In 8th grade I had to memorize all of the articles of the Constitution. I did not have to recite it word for word, but I had to know the basics of each article.

The assignment taught me two things: 1) I hate rote memorization and 2) I would never be a political science major.  

Despite being born in the District and growing up in the Maryland suburbs, the fact that the Constitution gives Congress the power to exercise, “exclusive Legislation in all cases whatsoever,” over the District of Columbia didn’t really sink in. I remained largely unaware of the struggle for equality in the District, and never even thought about the consequences for DC residents.

Before joining DC Vote as the Development Intern, I did a little homework. The more I learned, the clearer the injustice became. DC citizens pay full federal taxes, but have no voting member of Congress? Congress has the power to overturn DC’s local laws? Even DC’s local tax dollars are controlled by Congress? None of that adds up.

It would be easy for me to read the facts, say “I’m glad my parents decided to live in Maryland,” and move on. Instead, I’ve thrown myself deeper into the issue. At DC Vote, I see firsthand the desire of DC residents to gain full voting rights.

One of the most valuable aspects of my time at DC Vote has been interacting with the DC residents, and hearing how this inequality affects them. For me, it has taken the issue from an abstract statement in the Constitution to a tangible problem that affects hundreds of thousands of people.

After my internship ends, I will keep these experiences with me. I may enjoy full voting representation, but knowing that over 636,000 Americans just 30 minutes away don’t have the same rights as I do, and recognizing that this injustice is largely ignored outside of DC, will motivate me to continue advocating for DC voting rights. 

Voting Rights

DC Emancipation Day: The Forgotten Holiday

In case you didn’t know, today is DC Emancipation Day. On its face, the little-known District of Columbia holiday is meant to commemorate President Lincoln’s freeing of the slaves living in the District of Columbia as a prelude to the Emancipation Proclamation.  But District of Columbia voting rights and statehood supporters have since taken the holiday as an opportunity to remind Americans in the fifty states that DC residents will never truly be free until we’re granted the same basic democratic rights as they enjoy.

In the week leading up to Emancipation Day, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) gave a series of speeches on the floor of the House of Representatives highlighting the District of Columbia’s lack of equality.

There are many ways to show your support on this special Holiday.

Today, many will join DC Vote to march in the DC Emancipation Day parade, showing our support and spreading the message to DC residents and anyone else who tunes in.

Others will join the DC Statehood Coalition and take to Capitol Hill for a Lobby Day, using DC Emancipation Day to hopefully increase Congressional support for the DC Statehood bills currently in both houses of Congress.

So, if you’re a DC government employee, enjoy your day off, but make sure to take some time to spread the message about the District of Columbia’s second-class citizenship status. If you had to work today, I’m sorry, but it would still be nice if you took some time to support DC equality.

 

 

Voting Rights

Democracy Delayed

Again, the DC Council has failed to take action on a bill that would get the Attorney General election back on track and respect the will of the 75 percent of DC voters who in 2010 supported a ballot measure to create an elected office. 

Despite the best efforts of DC Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, and others, DC’s elected leaders appear unable or unwilling to follow the lead of the voters and expand democracy in DC.  

It is hard to imagine how DC elected officials can demand Congress give the District greater democracy when so many elected leaders refuse to follow the expressed desire of the people to elect an Attorney General. The objection to the latest attorney general election bill raised by Mayor Gray and his appointed Attorney General Irv Nathan involves a disagreement over what constitutes a “partisan” election.  The referendum called for a partisan contest for Attorney General.

We get it. No dominant political party anywhere wants to willingly risk having a member of another party or an independent elected to a new political post.  This attitude puts petty partisan insecurities above the will of DC voters to have greater democracy.

There is still hope for DC residents though. Attorney General candidate, Paul Zuckerberg, is currently engaged in a lawsuit that would force District leaders to respect the will of the voters and hold the Attorney General election this November. DC Vote, along with DC Appleseed, DC for Democracy and others, has filed an amicus brief showing our support for Zuckerberg, and we are hopeful that the courts will overturn this injustice.

Last week, DC Vote and residents from across the region visited more than 80 congressional offices to call for greater local autonomy for the District of Columbia. Next week, another grassroots delegation will head up to the Hill on Emancipation Day. Our calls for greater democracy are a tough sell in many Congressional offices. An effort by some of our elected leaders to deny the expansion of our local democracy – an advance won through the ballot box -- doesn’t help our argument.

The quest for equal rights and greater democracy is a harrowing one already. It is not helpful for our own local government to add obstacles. Congress will never respect our voices if our own elected leaders refuse to.

Voting Rights

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