We knew this showdown was coming.
The House of Representatives passed a bill to make Washington D.C. a state. This sets up a battle in the Senate.
Back in October, I talked to South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson and District of Columbia shadow senator Paul Strauss about the possibility of making D.C. a state. Rep. Johnson had a plan to address one of the major arguments in favor of D.C. statehood without changing the flag or balance of power in the Senate.
Residents of the district established in the constitution as the home of the federal government pay federal income taxes but they don't have any voting representatives in the legislative branch of the government. Thanks to the 23rd Amendment, voters in D.C. have had electoral college votes for President since the election in 1964. Treating the district like a state in Presidential elections and not giving them representation in Congress doesn't make a lot of sense.
Taxation without representation is one of the tenets that ignited the American Revolution.
Johnson's plan would move those voters into Maryland. Shrinking the Constitutional seat of government to only that land where government is physically seated makes residential areas available for placement into Maryland congressional districts.
Honestly, that's not a bad idea on its face.
It is a good-faith compromise plan that achieves many of the stated goals sought by D.C. residents. The problem with Johnson's compromise is that it is about as popular as Solomon's recommendation to cut a baby in half to solve the Biblical custody dispute. The residents of D.C. don't want to be Marylanders and the residents of Maryland - especially Republicans there - aren't excited about adding about 700,000 people who vote almost exclusively for Democrats to their state.
Johnson has also argued that the Founding Fathers never intended for Washington D.C. to become a state.
The founders also never intended:
- For there to be 50 states.
- For women to vote or hold political office.
- For slavery to end. Obviously, they never intended for black people to become American citizens, own property, or vote.
- For us to remotely fly a helicopter on another planet
- For Tex-Mex restaurants to provide free chips and salsa.
It's safe to say that the founders never intended for a lot of things to happen that have made life better.
That is an argument against Johnson's argument, not necessarily in favor of statehood for the district. However, granting the D.C. electoral college votes like a state does set a precedent that seems to say the residents there deserve to be treated like a state.
Many point out that D.C. has a population greater than two existing states and close to several others. Rep. Johnson has argued that the population argument is only part of the equation and an area about the size of Sioux Falls shouldn't have two Senators and a Representative in the House.
Like many arguments, both sides have strong points to support them. The real problem is motive. I believe Sen. Strauss and the other residents of the district really want to be treated like a state. I don't think Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer or Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi care much at all about the residents of Washington D.C. Their motivations are obviously to offset some of the rural Republican Senate seats with urban Democrat Senate seats. The people of D.C. are just pawns being used by kings and queens to secure the win.
There's nothing wrong with that.
Sen. Mitch McConnell and the Republicans blocked Merrick Garland from the Supreme Court at the end of President Barack Obama's tenure and pushed Amy Coney Barrett through at the end of President Donald Trump's because they had the votes. They don't have the votes now, so the Democrats are pursuing their goals.
The idea of bipartisanship is a quaint memory shelved alongside "Leave it to Beaver" and "Andy Griffith Show" reruns. Congress has been defined by a "tyranny of the majority" in recent history.
It isn't perfectly clear how the Senate will vote. Party lines would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to break yet another tie and create a new state. However, the measure will face a Republican filibuster and it is difficult to imagine a scenario in which 10 GOP members cross the aisle to support the bill.
A Senate debate on the bill would be historic. However, it would be the ultimate moral victory. It might feel good to reach a new milestone, but the end result would still be the same 50 states we started with.
Kent Bush is the editor of the Rapid City Journal. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org