Washington, D.C., is home to our country’s most important democratic institutions. Yet, those living in our nation’s capital lack both their own representation in Congress and full control over their local government. Congress must address this issue and push for statehood to ensure that D.C. residents have the same representation and autonomy as other Americans.
The issue of D.C. statehood is not new. For centuries, residents of Washington, D.C., have advocated for statehood or some other form of increased congressional representation. However, the issue has brought more attention to it over the past few years.
The arguments for D.C. statehood are clear. There are nearly 700,000 people who live in Washington, D.C., which makes it more populous than the states of Vermont and Wyoming. People living in D.C. are citizens, pay taxes and serve in the military, yet they lack proper representation in Congress. Washington, D.C., has one non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives and no representatives in the Senate. This means that, despite being citizens of the United States, residents of D.C. do not have any voting representatives advocating for their interests in Congress.
Washington, D.C., also does not have control over many aspects of its local government because the federal government has almost unilateral control over it. The district cannot control its budget or pass legislation without approval from Congress. The role that the federal government plays in D.C. has been demonstrated through recent National Guard responses. In all other states and territories, the governor can call up the National Guard during times of crisis. However, in Washington, D.C., the National Guard is controlled by the executive branch, specifically the president.
During the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser wanted to call in the D.C. National Guard to assist capitol police in subduing the violence. However, former President Donald Trump refused to send in the D.C. National Guard. The fact that citizens of D.C. who are serving their nation in the National Guard were not allowed to protect one of their district’s most important landmarks is reprehensible and demonstrates the lack of autonomy that D.C. should rightfully enjoy.
Washington, D.C.’s lack of representation has often been referred to as a clear form of disenfranchisement against minority voters. Over 50% of the residents of Washington, D.C., are people of color, with 46% being Black or African American. Bowser recently mentioned the statehood issue in relation to the demographics of the city, saying statehood is “one of the remaining glaring civil rights issues of our time.”
Past attempts to establish D.C. as a state have been thwarted by Republicans in Congress. During a recent hearing on statehood, many Republicans in Congress came up with bizarre reasons to argue why D.C. should not be made into a state. Some claimed that D.C. did not have a car dealership or landfill. Others argued that D.C. residents already have influence over members of Congress through their political lawn signs and bumper stickers. If this was indeed the case, you would think that the D.C. license plates, which read “no taxation without representation” would have already moved the needle on the statehood issue.
Another colorful argument against statehood came from Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., who argued that the Founding Fathers did not intend for D.C. to be a state when they created the country. This argument was especially comical given that South Dakota — the state that Rounds represents — was also not around when the U.S. was founded and is therefore not part of the Founding Fathers’ vision either.
A more serious argument against D.C. statehood is that voters in D.C. are overwhelmingly liberal, meaning turning D.C. into a state would likely lead to two more Democratic senators. This would help Democrats keep control of the Senate. While it is important to consider the partisan lean of D.C., a community’s political preference is no reason to deny it the right to be represented in its government.
It is ludicrous that there are 700,000 people living mere miles from our Capitol who have no representation in an entire branch of our government or true control over their own local government. Politics and this issue must be addressed through the admission of D.C. as the 51st state.
Isabelle Schindler is an Opinion columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.