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Democrats not prioritizing D.C. voting rights
Despite efforts by D.C. voting rights advocates, the Democratic Party failed to include D.C. statehood in the platform it unveiled last week in Charlotte, N.C. While the platform gives a nod to full representation for D.C. citizens, acknowledging the need for “full and equal congressional rights” and budget autonomy, this provision seems like little more than lip service to the representation of D.C. citizens.
As a federal district, D.C. does not have voting representation in Congress, but still lies under Congress’ jurisdiction. Congressional oversight has often left D.C. social programs, like needle exchanges and lower-income abortion services, vulnerable to Republican attacks. Democrats should fight for D.C. budget autonomy and voting rights, if not to confer full citizenship rights on D.C. citizens, then to protect District social programs that are in line with the party’s priorities.
During the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, D.C. abortion services were used as a bargaining chip to avoid a federal government shutdown. President Obama ceded D.C. abortion funding, telling House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), “John, I’ll give you D.C. abortion.” In a less-than-heartening qualification, he did add, “I’m not happy about it.”
What’s at stake here is not only theoretical voting rights, but tangible social programs. At the very least, then, protecting these programs should be a priority for the Democrats. However, even when the party has had almost full control over the federal agenda, D.C. budget autonomy has received little attention.
Immediately after President Obama’s election, Democrats controlled the House and had a super-majority in the Senate but D.C.’s voting rights status went unchanged. The only bill that went anywhere would have also tampered with District gun regulations.
The Democrats’ attitude at the DNC suggests that, win or lose, D.C. statehood–and indeed, voting rights in general–will not be a priority for the party over the next several years. In a symbolic move, the D.C. delegation to the DNC went unacknowledged and, to some extent, snubbed. The DNC denied speaking time to D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), a veteran DNC speaker. The D.C. delegates were also assigned to sit in what some call the “nosebleed seats.”
Recently, voting rights advocates like Norton have changed tactics, now pushing for statehood rather than other representational schemes. Not only was Norton not allowed to speak at the convention for the first time in 20 years, but the party also did not agree to explicitly include their support for D.C. statehood in their 2012 platform.
In the radio show The Political Hour, guest Mark Plotkin, political analyst for Fox 5, expressed that “the White House obviously didn’t want the word ‘statehood’ in the primary,” as was clearly conveyed in the treatment of the D.C. delegation throughout the Convention.
Plotkin commented on the fact that D.C. statehood wasn’t included in the platform by alluding to a conversation he had with Cory Booker, Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J.: “He said it was a contentious issue… As if same sex marriage isn’t contentious or abortion isn’t contentious.” In point of fact, D.C. voting rights just aren’t a priority for the Democrats.