My hometown of Washington DC has a poor tradition of executive governance — or a tradition of poor executive governance — for many historical reasons, from patronage to developer money to strong social divides.
It also hurts us to be so monolithically of the Democratic Party. Last Tuesday was the primary election, which is effectively the outcome of the general election once the Democratic slate is chosen. Of that slate, more than half the council ran unopposed, and the one candidate suspected of gross campaign finance fraud won after his challengers split the rest of the vote.
I’m not going to go so far as to blame Republicans for this state of affairs but I think they are missing an opportunity. For all that they inveigh against Washington-the-symbol, Washington-the-city is a natural environment for Republicans. Some of us are wealthy and many of us are well-educated. We are reflexively meritocratic and more religious than most people expect. Want a Jewish trial lawyer who feels government has grown too intrusive? Want an articulate protest against gay marriage from a black Baptist who marched with Dr King? I’d be surprised if Republicans didn’t.
But local Republicans will never get traction here if national Republicans refuse to face the “statehood” issue. According to the Constitution, the District of Columbia is not a state, and thus has no vote on the floor of Congress. (By agreement our delegate can vote on House committees; we have no role in the Senate.) Making us a state would give us one representative for our population and two senators for our statehood, an outcome Republicans wisely don’t want.
I honestly think that most Washingtonians don’t want that either. Sure, our population equals Wyoming’s, but DC can barely keep its municipal house in order. That our local grandees would step onto a national stage and usefully discuss statecraft, presidential appointments and interstate commerce is not likely, and we know it. Instead of ignoring the issue Republicans should bluntly state why it’s a pipe dream and a non-starter. The columns would attack but columns are just paper. At least half of the city would agree.
If Republicans could find a way to make our delegate a full representative voting on the House floor, all but the most caffeinated of our activists would declare victory on the spot. All the win would go to the Republicans.
Years of courtship and prickly chaperons to follow, of course, but good governance and some respect would mean a lot to Washingtonians. In less than twenty years, I guarantee, that vote in the House won’t be the Democratic lock it is today.