By Steve Birr
The prospect of District statehood is “literally” giving city officials “chills.” The effort boasts diverse supporters including presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, but decades of bureaucratic mismanagement and the ceaseless specter of political corruption leaves doubt over whether D.C. is ready to govern itself as a state.
“As president, I will be a vocal champion for D.C. statehood,” Clinton said in a May 11 opinion piece in The Washington Informer. “Many of the District’s decisions are also at the mercy of right-wing ideologues in Congress … Of course, it comes as little surprise that Donald Trump hasn’t given this issue much thought.”
Mayor Muriel Bowser, who says the “disenfranchisement” of the District’s 672,000 citizens is the “biggest ongoing voting rights violation,” plans to put the issue of D.C. statehood on the ballot in November.
Leaders in the District unveiled a comprehensive, 30 page draft constitution for statehood May 6, which officials promise will be presented to residents to review over the course of May and June. The draft constitution elevates the mayor to governor and turns the 13 member D.C. Council into a House of Delegates. As the issue gains momentum, there are many who doubt the viability of the DC government. Here are seven reasons why D.C. statehood is dubious at best, disastrous at worst.
1. The city’s mismanagement of the dysfunctional Metro system
Functional and reliable transit is the bedrock of any major city. Unfortunately for the District’s 672,000 residents, no such system exists. D.C. Metro launched into an unplanned 29 hour shutdown of the entire system for urgent repairs in March. Track fires, injuries and a fatality continue to haunt the Metro. Track fires, injuries and a fatality continue to haunt the Metro, which will undergo a 10-month repair effort beginning in June, bringing roughly a year of major, daily delays to commuters.
Federal inspectors found the perennially plagued Metro’s quick deterioration is the result of decades of neglected maintenance and irresponsible spending. Certain parts of the Metro have not been replaced since it opened in the 1970s.
2. Council members are regular lightening rods of corruption
Corruption is not unique to Washington, D.C., however lawlessness seems particularly pervasive in the nation’s capital. Three Council members have pled guilty to federal corruption charges since 2012, according to The Washington Post.
Many blame the political culture for the general mismanagement seen across the city, including the Metro. Council member Jack Evans, who also chairs the Metro Board, is under constant scrutiny for “shady” side jobs representing potential conflicts of interest.
3. A history of executive corruption
Two of the District’s mayors have experienced careers mired in corruption and scandal. Washington’s “Mayor for Life” Marion Barry served three terms as Mayor before he was arrested and sentenced to prison for an infamous scandal revealing him smoking crack with a woman working for police. After the scandal voters elected Barry to a fourth term as mayor.
Former D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray looks poised to take back his old Council seat, despite lingering questions over his 2010 campaign which officials busted for violating campaign finance law. The scandal derailed Gray’s future mayoral ambitions, despite never being directly tied to the corruption. Aids involved in the illicit shadow campaign, which used unreported campaign contributions to run an all cash operation on his behalf, claim Gray had full knowledge of the illegal activity.
4. Unequal power in the Senate
Much of the statehood debate centers on District citizens’ lack of representation in the Senate, where each state gets two elected officials to speak for them. If D.C. residents had representation in Congress an individual’s vote would carry more power than the votes of citizens in 48 states, reports The Los Angeles Times. Critics of D.C. Statehood note the District’s relatively small population should not grant them equal voting power to other states, despite D.C.’s population being bigger than Wyoming and Vermont.
5. Congress serves as a check to D.C. Council legislation
The D.C. Council must currently gain approval from the House of Representatives to freely spend money from their budget. While the House cannot simply reject laws passed by the D.C. Council, they can use budgetary measures to prevent D.C. from spending on laws Congress disagrees with. Many argue this serves as a necessary check to outlandish legislative proposals, one in which the Council considered annual four month paid medical leave for residents.
Most recently the House used budget authority to prevent D.C. from fully implementing the legalization of marijuana and barred the District from spending any tax dollars to subsidize abortions for low-income women.
6. There are less complex proposals to give D.C. voters congressional representation
A lesser known idea for gaining voting representation is through a process called retrocession, in which the parts of the District which don’t contain key federal buildings are returned to Maryland. The idea would leave D.C. functioning as a city like New York, but allow voters to participate in elections for state representatives.
The constitutionality of such an idea has never been ruled on, however in 1846 Alexandria and Arlington, originally parts of the District, were folded back into Virginia boundaries.
7. Making Washington, D.C., a state is unconstitutional
The constitution established the District so the branches of America’s central government would not reside in any one state. The founders wanted to avoid the prospect of one state elevating itself over others. While this logic may not seem to apply to modern America, many constitutionalists say the designation must be respected, arguing having an independent capital was key to holding together the country in it’s earliest years.
Furthermore, statehood would present problems regarding the 23rd Amendment, which awarded D.C. three electoral college votes so they could participate in presidential elections. Constitutional experts say statehood would require an appeal of the amendment, a difficult undertaking in itself.