On Monday, the House Oversight and Reform Committee held a hearing on H.R. 51, a bill that would finally make Washington, D.C. the fifty-first state. As the Washington Post noted, the bill “would shrink the federal district to a two-square-mile enclave of federal buildings, such as the Capitol and the White House, while making the rest of the city the State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.”
There are a host of very good reasons to make D.C. a state. For one, an area that has more residents than two existing states deserves to have real political representation in Congress and two, it’s currently very fucked up that Congress can overrule decisions made by the city’s elected representatives. It’s past time, said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser during the hearing, to “grant full democracy to D.C. residents through statehood by enacting H.R. 51.”
There are only very bad arguments against giving full voting rights to its residents. And all of those very bad, strange arguments—which only make a weird sense once you realize that the real reasons Republicans oppose D.C. statehood are both racist and undemocratic—were on full display on Monday.
“D.C. would be the only state, the only state, without an airport, without a car dealership, without a capital city, without a landfill,” Georgia’s Jody Hice argued. Another Republican, Wisconsin’s Representative Glenn Grothman, tried to argue that because D.C. has no mines or farms it has no need for statehood. Who knew that the authors of the Constitution were so fixated on airports!
But the strangest argument was perhaps made by the Heritage Foundation’s Zack Smith, a legal fellow at the conservative think tank, who attempted to argue that D.C. residents don’t need the political influence of being able to vote for a member of Congress because they...can display political messaging on their cars and lawns.
“There’s no question that D.C. residents already impact the national debate,” Smith said. “For the members here today, how many of you saw a D.C. state yard sign or bumper stickers or banners on your way to this hearing today? I certainly did. Where else in the nation could such simple actions reach so many members of Congress?”
Smith also argued that a constitutional amendment would be needed to make D.C. a state, which is not technically true! (The Alaska Statehood Act would like a word!) At least Paul Weyrich, the Heritage Foundation’s founder, was more honest about his motivations. As Weyrich put it in 1980, “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
The question of D.C. statehood is moot, of course, unless more Democrats commit to getting rid of the filibuster. But House Democrats recognize exactly why Republicans oppose giving hundreds of thousands of people full voting rights. As committee chair Carolyn Maloney put it in her opening statement, “The sad truth is that most of my most of my Republican colleagues oppose D.C. statehood simply because they believe it would dilute their power.”