The Statehood Yes! Campaign, intended to convince District residents to vote for D.C.’s statehood in a November referendum and consequently convince Congress to vote on the issue, launched last Wednesday.
The campaign committee is chaired by D.C. philanthropist George Vradenburg and supported by Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) and 12 D.C. councilmembers.
While the final language of the four-part ballot initiative is still being determined, residents will vote in a November referendum on whether or not to instigate a process of getting statehood for Washington, D.C. The final say about statehood for D.C. will come from Congress.
The ballot initiative will ask whether citizens support D.C. becoming a state, its proposed name of New Columbia, the borders of the state and the constitution of the new state.
If the ballot initiative passes, Statehood Yes! will then lobby Congress to vote on giving the District statehood.
D.C. Vote Director of Advocacy Bo Shuff, who serves as a member of the Statehood Yes! committee, said the campaign will use volunteers, rallies and fundraisers to mobilize voters in favor of the measure, which he expects to pass overwhelmingly.
“Every time we’ve had conversations across the District, residents in the District want to be a state, they want equal representation that comes with being a state, they want to end second-class citizenship that occurs,” Shuff said. “I anticipate that it’s going to pass and we hope that it will be passed with large margins.”
However, Shuff is slightly less optimistic about the measure’s prospects beyond the ballot. He cautioned that even if the measure passes, it will simply be the first step in a long process that will determine if D.C. receives statehood.
“That’s one of those questions that is always fun in a hypothetical realm,” Shuff said. “But until you actually press the question to the lawmakers who make the decision, the U.S. Congress, answers around hypotheticals are different than answers around legislation.”
D.C. statehood has faced obstacles in Congress before. Previously, a D.C. statehood amendment failed in 1985 when it attained support from only 1 of the 38 states necessary for ratification.
The proposed D.C. constitution was drafted by a five-person council, including Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). The constitution stresses the importance of equal rights for citizens of D.C.
“We will enjoy the full rights of citizens of the United States of America: to democracy and a republican form of government, to enact our own laws governing state affairs, and to voting representation in the United States Congress,” the constitution draft reads.
The D.C. Council elected to include the question of statehood on the ballot in July and will hold two more hearings through October to determine the appropriate wording for the November ballot.
In a November 2015 poll by The Washington Post, 67 percent of surveyed residents said they supported D.C.’s ratification as the 51st state. However, at a national level, D.C. statehood has faced stark opposition from many.
The Republican Party’s national platform, announced this summer, included language advising against statehood for the District.
“Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment. Any other approach would be invalid,” the platform reads. “A statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived.”
However, the Democratic Party included support for D.C. statehood in its national platform.
“Restoring our democracy also means finally passing statehood for the District of Columbia, so that the American citizens who reside in the nation’s capital have full and equal congressional rights as well as the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without Congressional interference,” the Democratic Party platform reads.
Georgetown University Student Association Federal and D.C. Relations Committee Secretary of D.C. Statehood Cheryl Liu (SFS ’19), who is part of Students for D.C. Statehood, said she will help campaign for the ballot initiative this November. Students for D.C. Statehood’s main goal is to spread the word to residents to vote for D.C. statehood this November.
“We are doing everything we can to support the mayor’s referendum,” Liu said. “That’s doing things like participating in the Students for 51 Speakers Bureau, which basically trains students and community members to talk to organizations they are involved in to inform people about the ballot referendum.”
Liu noted the drive for statehood is inspired by two main grievances: D.C.’s lack of voting representation in Congress and the congressional meddling in D.C.’s local politics.
“People all over the country want D.C. to become a state so that they will get a representative and two senators,” Liu said. “Congress also has complete control over D.C. affairs, so they can come in and supersede any law passed in D.C.”
D.C.’s current nonvoting representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), who has campaigned for D.C. statehood since she was first elected to Congress in 1990, said residents of the District need to put continuous pressure on Congress to support D.C. statehood in an interview with WAMU on Sept. 7. The last time Congress voted on the issue in 1993, it was defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 277 to 153.
“In the past, D.C. has often showed up for statehood, but our tendency is to show up when the Congress does something bad to D.C. and then there’s an outpouring. It’s been very episodic,” Norton said. “We need sustained work.”
Liu noted that support for D.C. statehood can extend across party lines, which may help its chances.
“I am very optimistic that D.C. will gain statehood because everyone is coming to realize that this is not a partisan issue,” Liu said. “It’s a civil rights issue, and it really should just be common sense.”
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