One of the most interesting conversation starters in DC is to ask someone whether they think it should be a state or not. Everyone has an opinion, for the most part. While I haven’t truly been persuaded to either side, I think it’s something interesting to look at both as a DC resident and as a national issue. What would it mean for me as a resident for DC to become a state? What do citizens outside of DC think about the issue? And what, legally, can be done about it in either direction?
First, let’s look at the arguments made by those who WANT the District of Columbia to become a state.
Full political participation
Proponents of DC statehood argue that DC citizens are currently being barred from full political participation. There’s a reason the DC license plate reads “taxation without representation.” DC does not have a voting member in Congress, as we’ll get to, and they do not get to vote for president. They do, however, pay federal income taxes. Hence, taxation without representation. Statehood would change that.
DC meets the “population threshold”
The process for becoming a state is laid out in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1. Essentially, it’s up to Congress. Most states have become states by first becoming an “organized incorporated territory” before achieving statehood when they reach a sufficient population, which has changed overtime. Once, it was 60K, then 125K, but now, the baseline number is considered to be 600K. DC has over 700K residents. It should be noted that the population of DC is higher than the population of Vermont and Wyoming. Puerto Rico, which is also sometimes considered in the discussion of what the 51st state will be, has a population higher than 21 existing states.
DC currently has one non-voting member of Congress. The current office holder, Eleanor Holmes-Norton, can propose legislation, but she cannot vote. That’s another form of taxation without representation that DC residents would like to change. DC does not currently have any representatives in the Senate at all, voting or non-voting. Statehood would give DC two senators and voting rights to their congressional representative, though there would most likely still only be one representative based on DC’s current population.
Now, let’s look at what the people who are against DC statehood have to say.
DC statehood goes against the founders’ wishes
As we’ve discussed, statehood falls under the purview of Congress. In 1801, Congress passed the District of Columbia Organic Act, officially putting DC under the control of the US Congress. Therefore, Congress would have to pass something that changed this. Furthermore, opponents argue that if the Founders wanted DC to have voting rights, they wouldn’t have taken them away with the Organic Act. They would have given DC statehood provisions. DC statehood has also come up again and again since the first Congressional hearing on the issue was held in 1921. As you can tell, it’s never gone too far. The capitol was moved away from an existing state/city (Albany and Philadelphia) because of a desire for the nation’s governmental seat to not be too closely tied to any one jurisdiction.
Concentration of power & rampant liberalism
Another argument against DC statehood is that because it is also the nation’s capital, it would result in an unhealthy concentration of power. Also, as a conservative I must note this, DC is pretty liberal. It may end up being another reliable blue vote. Some argue that this reliable vote is why Democrats over Republicans most often push for DC statehood. Plus, what is to stop the state and federal government from intermixing in each others affairs in a way that defies the intentions of federalism in a way that could hurt or unfairly benefit the state of ‘New Columbia.”
The ugly number 51
Many people who are not particularly politically-motivated bristle at the idea of DC statehood. Why? Because it would disrupt the existing order that 50 states has brought us since 1959. 51 is an odd number, would require a new flag design, et cetera, et cetera. This is why some proponents of statehood have argued for Puerto Rico to be made a state at the same time–52 is better than 51. Similarly, the addition of new representatives in Congress would change the way voting breaks down and what constitutes a majority, a super majority, and on and on.
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