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House vote backs D.C.-statehood bid

Supporters celebrate but Senate long shot; Arkansas lawmakers oppose measure by Frank E. Lockwood | June 27, 2020 at 4:08 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-180 Friday to make most of the District of Columbia a state, the first time such legislation has passed either chamber.

Nineteen Republican lawmakers did not vote.

All four members of the Arkansas delegation voted against making the district the nation's 51st state.

The city's mayor, Muriel Bowser, waved her hands above her head in celebration, once passage was secured, according to video posted on her Twitter account.

"I was born without representation, but I swear -- I will not die without representation," she wrote. "Together, we will achieve DC statehood, and when we do, we will look back on this day and remember all who stood with us on the right side of history."

DC Vote, an organization that has fought for statehood for more than two decades, portrayed Friday's passage as a landmark occasion for the capital and the country.

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"If you're an opponent, it's a historically bad day. For a supporter, it's a historically good day. But either way, it's a historic day, and we're thrilled with where we are," the group's executive director, Bo Shuff, said in an interview.

An earlier D.C. statehood bill had been rejected by the House in 1993.

Friday's vote was largely along party lines. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota was the only Democrat to oppose the legislation. No Republican favored the proposal.

It heads next to the U.S. Senate.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has promised to block the measure.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the capital's nonvoting congressional delegate, sponsored House Resolution 51, also known as the Washington, D.C. Admission Act.

It calls for creation of what it calls Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, a nod to Frederick Douglass, the 19th-century abolitionist, orator and Washington resident.

While bestowing statehood on most of the city, it would shrink the District of Columbia so that only a 2-square-mile federal enclave remains.

It would include the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court building and certain other federal buildings, plus the Mall and the monuments and museums that border it.

Under the 23rd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which was ratified in 1961, the District of Columbia is entitled to three electoral votes.

If HR51 became law, the shrunken district would still be entitled to three electoral votes while the Douglass Commonwealth also would receive three electoral votes, opponents said.

The legislation includes "expedited procedures" designed to speed up repeal of the 23rd Amendment.

In an interview, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., said the bill shouldn't become law.

"The Founding Fathers did not intend for the District of Columbia to become a state. And even if one wanted the District of Columbia to become a state, you couldn't achieve it by running a House resolution bill through Congress. It would not be possible," he said. "I viewed this effort this week as a waste of valuable time on the floor of the House of Representatives."

The nation's capital, population 705,749, has more residents than Wyoming and Vermont.

Since its inception, its residents have not had voting representatives on Capitol Hill.

In 1978, the House and the Senate approved the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, which would have enabled Washington residents to elect one U.S. representative and two U.S. senators.

The bipartisan measure, which passed the House 289-127 and the Senate 67-32, was backed by a who's who of Republicans, including U.S. Sens. Barry Goldwater, Bob Dole, Strom Thurmond and Edward Brooke, the first popularly elected black senator.

The proposed amendment died after securing just 16 of the 38 states necessary for ratification.

In a speech on the Senate floor Thursday, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., denounced HR 51, calling it an "insane" act of "historical vandalism."

"They want to make Washington a state to rig the rules of our democracy and try to give the Democratic Party permanent power," Cotton said. "If the Democrats succeed in forcing through D.C. statehood, they'll do so only as a narrow faction that scorns the history of our country and seizes power against the will of the people, who want Washington to remain what it has been for more than 200 years: the Federal City, our nation's capital."

While noting that the capital has more residents than Wyoming, Cotton argued that it doesn't have a "diversity of interests and financial independence" necessary for statehood.

"Yes, Wyoming is smaller than Washington by population, but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing," Cotton said.

"In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded, working-class state. A new state of Washington would not be," he added.

Cotton's critics noted that the nation's capital has demographic diversity that Wyoming is lacking.

Wyoming, population 578,759, is 92.5% white and the black population is just 1.3% of its residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 2.7% are American Indians, 1.1% are of Asian ethnicity, 0.1% are Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. The final 2.2% are two or more races.

Forty-six percent of Washington residents are white, 46% are black, 4.5% are Asian, 0.6% are American Indian and 0.1% are Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander. Another 2.9% are two or more races.

In a written statement, Rob Randhava, of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, rejected Cotton's claim that Wyoming is "well-rounded" and Washington isn't.

"I wasn't aware that the right to self-governance depends on what people do for a living. Senator Cotton ought to be more honest about why he distinguishes between the people of D.C. and Wyoming, because with excuses like this, it's obvious that he has something else on his mind.

A spokesman said Cotton was unavailable to comment Friday.

CORRECTION: A statement by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights was written by Rob Randhava. A previous version of this story misidentified the statement writer.


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