51st State Blog

Topic: 2016/2017: Taking Stock and Still Smiling (December 31, 2016)

This was a big year for the future Washington, DC, whether it be known as New Columbia, Douglass, Douglass Commonwealth or some crazy combination of names in the meantime. DC Statehood got off to a strong start in 2016 with Mayor Bowser's announcement on DC Emancipation Day (4/16/16) that the residents of Washington, DC would vote on Statehood for the first time in a long time. This, in turn, led to the formation of the New Columbia Statehood Commission, which then convened a series of meetings and hearings throughout the summer regarding the New Columbia Admission Act (sponsored by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Sen. Tom Carper (DE)) and regarding much, much more, it turned out.

 

DC Constitution Summer & Fall

This summer's hearings on #DCStatehood became much more complicated as the discussion turned toward a top to bottom redo of the borders and constitution of our future state (first drafted and ratified in 1982, then revised by the DC Council and submitted to Congress with a petition for statehood in 1987). At the end of the day, what we learned is: 1) the public is keen to remain informed and involved in the process, and 2) DC voters will have an opportunity to elect delegates for a DC constitutional convention prior to final ratification of our new state constitution. You can see our current draft constitution, drafted by the New Columbia Statehood Commission, then revised and re-revised by the DC Council, here.

 

DC Election Day

And on November 8, as the rest of the country collectively held its breath and then went to bed, exhausted -- or stayed up all night, frustrated --  waiting for the final results of the presidential election, DC voters confidently said YES to statehood, YES to a new draft constitution (subject to future revision, as explained above), YES to new state borders and affirmed that YES, we will continue to support a democratic form of government (as opposed to a hereditary monarchy or military junta) for our new state. The measure passed with 86% of the vote (and 79% even if you count those who didn't vote on the initiative, just in case you were wondering). In taking these steps, the government of the District of Columbia has once again met its side of the bargain in applying for admission to the Union. Now it's time for the rest of the Union to act and fully enfranchise the more than 680,000 residents of its longest-forgotten territory.

 

Paid Leave: A Case Study 

Finally, in December, our DC Council took action on a measure long-debated and much noticed by national political leaders, passing the DC Paid Leave Act in its (likely) final form on December 20, becoming the fifth should-be-state to do so (after CA, NJ, RI and NY). And while we're not in the habit of taking sides on non-statehood matters here, we do want to take a moment to explain how paid leave provides an excellent example of why statehood matters in the day-to-day economics of local Washington, DC.

 

After a long study of the financial impact of a paid leave program on the city's finances, the DC Council decided that the District would largely follow the models in other paid leave states, creating an insurance pool through an increase (0.62%) to the payroll tax, a tax which is normally split between employers and employees. Like other laws applying to wages (such as the state minimum wage), the District's new paid leave law applies to all DC workers, residents and non-residents alike. The problem is that the federal DC Home Rule Act prohibits the District from collecting any income tax from non-DC residents (aka a 'commuter tax'). As a result, funding for the DC paid leave program will have to come from DC employers until such time as DC's political status and/or the DC Home Rule Act can be changed. (The new law is expected to go into effect by the beginning of 2020). 

 

Next

What does 2017 portend? After obsessive prediction-making and horserace politics throughout 2016, we'd like to take a break from predictions for a little while. What we do know is that 2017 means that we will need to reintroduce the New Columbia Admission Act to a new House and Senate, and that means that we will have much of the same work to do in terms of gathering cosponsors and explaining to other lawmakers how decades of attempted reforms, large and small, have brought us to today's movement for statehood. (See our list of cosponsors to see if your/your parents'/your sister's/your brother's/your cousin's/your friends' senators and representatives have cosponsored the bill yet.)

 

Like it and not, time marches on! 

 

Topic: Talk Back for Statehood (Nov. 4, 2016)

A big shout out to all those who spoke up once more for #DCStatehood in the run up to Referendum Day! The Washington Post's editorial on October 21 endorsed a yes vote in the District's upcoming statehood referendum, but also seemed to advise caution on focusing too vigorously on statehood legislation in Congress (you might call it a Curb Your Enthusiasm editorial). The Post instead proposed that DC officials take another look at incremental reforms such as voting rights in the House or other limited reforms to expand local DC autonomy (measures which have been attempted repeatedly over the last twenty years).

 

Not surprisingly, this editorial generated a number of responses and counter-responses from residents in the DMV. Thanks specifically to Ann Loikow, Susan Meehan and David Bardin for your contributions to this discussion. 

 

WPFW's Parisa Norouzi hosted a panel discussion on November 1 on the upcoming referendum, as well as the status of our new draft constitution. You can listen to the conversation here.

 

Finally, another shout out to Timothy Cooper and former DC Shadow Representative John Capozzi for their op-ed in The Hill on November 3 on natural rights and the unnatural loopholes that block those rights. 

 

Topic: A New State Constitution (Oct. 21, 2016)

Since Mayor Bowser's unveiling of the new draft state constitution in May, DC residents have been thinking a lot more about the design of our new state government. This includes everything from the name to the new legislature, state borders, state courts, and agencies, independent and otherwise, that will help manage the new state's laws and finances. In the end, though, after months of hearings, much of this comes down to what gets put into our new constitution and who gets the final say-so over that document. 

 

On Tuesday, October 18, the DC Council finalized its work on amending the draft constitution submitted to them in July by the New Columbia Statehood Commission. In so doing, they made some changes to the Commission's earlier draft. One key issue for many DC residents has been the constitutional convention. As a result of the Council's vote, we now know that the constitution provides for a mandatory, binding convention with elected delegates which will take place "no later than the second anniversary of the date of  admission" (Article VII, Section 4 -- p. 39).

 

You can see the full draft constitution here (and note that pp. 1-7 describe the borders of our new state ("State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth" aka "State of Washington, D.C." aka ???? -- we'll obviously figure that out later), while the text of the constitution begins on p. 8.

 

A quick outline:

  • Legislature -- a 21-member, unicameral "Legislative Assembly" made up of 16 members from each of the 8 "legislative districts" plus 5 at large members (21 being the number proposed by Mayor Bowser in July) -- pp. 10-13 
  • Advisory Neighborhood Commissions -- pp. 14-15
  • Auditor -- pp. 15-16
  • Executive Branch -- pp. 16-20
  • Independent Executive Agencies (Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, State Board of Education, Board of Elections) -- pp. 20-23
  • Judicial Branch -- pp. 23-25
  • Budget and Financial Management & Borrowing (Article IV and Article V) -- pp. 26-35
  • Initiative, Referendum and Recall (Article VI) -- pp. 36-38
  • Miscellaneous, including Construction of Constitution, Constitutional Amendments and Constitutional Convention -- pp. 38-40
  • Transfer of Offices and Transition from District to State -- pp. 40-45 (end)

 

Topic: Statehood in the 2016 Presidential Race (July 24, 2016)

It's general election season, which means we're hearing more about each of the candidates and their (or their parties') platforms on statehood for the people of DC. First and foremost, we're happy to say that of the four "leading parties" (by which we mean parties whose presidential candidates will appear on the ballot in many, if not all, of the states on November 8), three of their presidential candidates are on board in support of statehood. These include Democrat Hillary Clinton, Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Dr. Jill Stein.

 

First, the Democrats:

Hillary Clinton, Democratic Party nominee, has gone on record strongly endorsing statehood for the people of Washington, DC. She made this clear early in the race, telling DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton that statehood will absolutely be on her agenda. Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, is a cosponsor in the Senate of the New Columbia Admission Act (S. 1688).

 

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform (see p. 18) reads, "Restoring our democracy also means finally passing statehood for Washington, D.C., so that its citizens have full and equal congressional rights as well as the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without Congressional interference."

 

Next, the Republicans:

On the Republican side, Republican nominee Donald Trump created some buzz early in his campaign when he said in 2015 that he was for "whatever's best" for the people of DC in a less-than-enlightening interview on Meet The Press, leading some to speculate that he might be open to a conversation about statehood. More recently, however, he stated that he would prefer to limit DC to a single vote in the House, a view his running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, appears to share (Pence supported the DC House Voting Rights Act while in Congress).

 

Meanwhile, the 2016 Republican Party Platform strongly opposes statehood (along with a variety of other reforms such as budget autonomy or DC voting rights). Regarding statehood, the platform begins, "Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment. Any other approach would be invalid." This assertion runs counter to the analyses of numerous legal experts who have affirmed the constitutionality of the New Columbia Admission Act, including Georgetown University law professor Viet Dinh, who defended the bill in testimony before the Senate in 2014. (Viet Dinh served as Assistant Attorney General and senior legal advisor to President George W. Bush.)

 

The Platform concludes, "A statehood amendment was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 and should not be revived." In fact, it was not a statehood amendment, but rather the 1978 District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, intended to confer full voting rights in Congress -- but without the local government autonomy conferred through statehood -- which passed Congress with a two-thirds majority (including many Republicans such as House Republican leader Howard Baker). The amendment was ratified by 16 states, but failed to achieve the 38 states required (three quarters of the fifty states) by the 1985 deadline.

 

DC Republican Party Chair Patrick Mara denounced the GOP's 2016 platform language and said that the DC delegation stood and booed on the convention floor during the vote to approve the 2016 platform. A previous draft of the 2016 platform is said to have removed the anti-statehood language, but the language was apparently reinserted at the behest of Tony Perkins, Louisiana delegate and former head of the Family Research Council.

 

The Libertarians:

While the 2016 Libertarian Platform does not specifically address the issue of statehood for the people of DC, Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson met with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser in the spring and stated his support for DC's efforts.

 

And the Greens:

Support for statehood for the people of Washington, DC has long been a part of the platform of the Green Party. Green Party nominee Jill Stein has also gone on record to support statehood in her own 2016 platform statement (see section "Empower the People: Fix our Broken Elections with Real Democracy").

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