Tossing D.C. a Bone

November 18, 1992

In 1979 in opposing a constitutional amendment to give the District of Columbia two U.S. senators and one or two U.S. representatives without making it a state, we suggested that another way be found to give D.C. residents a voice in Congress. Without endorsing one way over the others, we mentioned giving the D.C. non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives full voting rights, returning the residential and commercial parts of the district back to Maryland, giving D.C. residents a vote in Maryland or even making the district a state, a thought that now gives us pause.

The Washington Post dismissed these ideas as mere "toss[ing] district citizens a bone." Well, the 1979 amendment never made it to ratification, so it's come back to that. Next month the House Democratic Caucus will consider changing the rules to give the district's non-voting delegate voting rights. And next year congressional Democrats will try to push through statehood legislation. At which time Republicans will try to return the district to Maryland, which ceded it to the United States in 1790.

The reason for the partisan lineup on this issue is obvious. District voters are overwhelmingly Democratic. George Bush got 9 percent of the vote there Nov. 3. New Columbia would automatically send an all-Democratic delegation to House and Senate.

The Democrats are more optimistic about statehood than Republicans are about retrocession of most of D.C. to Maryland. Democrats have solid majorities in House and Senate -- and Bill Clinton is in favor of statehood. As for retrocession, which Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, says he will propose as an alternative if a statehood bill comes before the Senate, that can only be done with Maryland's approval. Gov. William Donald Schaefer has said he approves of it, but it is not likely that members of the General Assembly from the suburban counties would agree to increase the state's urban population by some 607,000 Washingtonians.

The Sun would certainly favor giving the district's delegate voting rights in the House. We are intrigued by the idea of having two big cities in the state, to fight for urban-oriented programs in Annapolis, so we would probably endorse retrocession if that became realistic.

We do not support statehood. One reason is philosophical: A city is not a state, not diverse enough or large enough to deserve equal political standing in the Senate. Another reason we oppose statehood is parochial and practical: The district has made it clear that as a state it would impose a commuter tax that would drain the state's treasury of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year.

As we understand the law and the Constitution, the district may not become a state without the permission of the state -- Maryland -- that ceded the land it now occupies. Maryland political leaders should oppose statehood.

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