D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is working to breathe life into a longstanding, but controversial, effort to convert the nation’s capital into America’s 51st state.
The mayor doubled down on the fight for D.C. statehood on Friday, pledging on Twitter to introduce legislation that would put statehood on the ballot in November 2016. Bowser also called for a citywide vote on the matter at a gathering of Democratic and civil rights leaders and D.C. residents, The Washington Post reports, an event that took place at around the same time that protesters were descending on D.C. to rally for statehood.
It’s practically an official District of Columbia past time to lament the fact that residents of the nation’s capital pay taxes but lack full voting representation in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate to Congress, is barred from voting on final passage of legislation. The somewhat odd state of affairs is a sore subject. License plates in the District defiantly read “Taxation Without Representation.”
Advocates for statehood have been kicking around ideas to achieve their aim for years. Supporters have even proposed naming the 51st state, if it ever comes into existence, “New Columbia.”
The statehood fight highlights some of the disparities and apparent contradictions of the nation’s capital. D.C. plays host to the country’s powerful political elite. It is also a city where many residents live in abject poverty, and where the divide between the haves and the have-nots is stark, and often overlooked by the political class. For statehood supporters, the fact that D.C. residents lack a voice in Congress on par with residents of states across the country is an egregious embodiment of that disparity.
Nevertheless, the renewed push for D.C. statehood will undoubtedly be an uphill battle, and one that likely puts the Democratic mayor on a collision course with Republican congressional leaders.
Congressional Republicans tend to bristle at the notion that the District of Columbia should become the 51st state. Conservative critics often invoke the Constitution to make their claim. “Voting Representation for the District of Columbia: Violating the Framers’ Vision and Constitutional Commands,” reads the title of a legal memorandum published in 2009 by the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Since D.C. is a liberal stronghold, if it were to achieve statehood that could also help Democrats consolidate power in Congress.
Aides for Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not immediately return requests for comment.
The mayor appears to be setting an ambitious statehood agenda, championing a plan to achieve greater fiscal independence from Congress for the nation's capital as well. The wonky fiscal plan would, the Post writes, amount to a “declaration of independence by the District of Columbia” and stand as a “clear challenge to the ‘absolute supremacy’ that Congress has wielded over the District since it was created in 1790.”
The future of the fight is unclear, and it could fail to gain much traction. But the mayor’s efforts are sure to raise the profile of the issue even if they ultimately fall short of transforming D.C. into the 51st state . The campaign might also endear Bowser to D.C. residents who seem to be increasingly in favor of statehood. A Post poll released last year found that: “Nearly 3 in 4 residents say they are upset that the District has no voting representation in Congress, and about half describe themselves as ‘very upset’ over the absence.” For now, the more immediate question is how far the mayor is willing to take the fight, and how forceful the pushback will be.