Mayor Bowser Plans Big Fight With Congress Over DC Statehood

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Washington, D.C.’s, mayor is planning to put the issue of D.C. statehood on the ballot in November, giving the people a chance to make their voices heard and promising an ugly showdown with House Republicans.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Josh Burch of Neighbors United for DC Statehood told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “I think there is something special about actually going to the ballot box, but it’s more of a symbolic effort.”

Burch, who is part of a grassroots network of residents fighting for recognition and representation in Congress, says ultimately the solution must include the House of Representatives, saying advocates need to start making inroads with Republicans.

Mayor Muriel Bowser looks ready for another fight with Congress over the matter. She calls the disenfranchisement of the District’s 672,000 citizens, many of which are black, the “biggest ongoing voting rights violation,” and notes polls show the vast majority of residents support statehood.

“One hundred and fifty-four years after President Lincoln abolished slavery in the District of Columbia, we remain at the mercy of those we did not elect to office,” Bowser said in her State of the District. “It is just not right, and we must stand together until our rights are recognized.”

Bowser is setting up for a confrontation with the House, using the District budget for leverage to draw attention to the issue. In 2012 the District passed a budget autonomy amendment eliminating a a measure from the city charter requiring them to wait for congressional approval before spending money from their budget. The amendment says the city can start spending after a 30 day review period upon submission to Congress in which they can only cast an up or down vote approving the budget.

The U.S. District Court struck the amendment down, however the D.C. Superior Court ruled in March the District has a right to spend freely. Congress is not yet responding in a definitive way, but the budget challenge could have severe repercussions affecting the District’s finances if the House takes a stand against the mayor, according to The Washington Post.

D.C. citizens currently don’t fully control their budget and legislative process, and are denied representation in the Senate. Bowser has to propose a budget for approval by the Democrat-dominated D.C. Council, which is then approved through a congressional process that gives members ability to actively change proposals they disagree with before giving the city the green light to spend.

In 2015 for example, District voters passed the ballot measure in favor of legalizing marijuana with 70 percent support, but Congress quickly countered to stop further liberalization of the law. Congress used a budget measure to effectively ban the city from taxing or regulating marijuana. For all practical purposes, the measure prevents the local District government from expanding legalization outside personal home consumption. (RELATED: DC’s Legalized Weed Is One-Year Old, And Crime Has Cratered)

“I propose we take another bold step toward democracy in the District of Columbia,” Bowser said Friday, announcing the ballot initiative plan. “It’s going to require that we send a bold message to the Congress and the rest of the country that we demand not only a vote in the House of Representatives. We demand two senators — the full rights of citizenship in this great nation.”

Much like the ballot measure on marijuana, the symbolic vote for D.C. statehood faces political realities likely to kill any effort. D.C. is dominated by Democrats, and statehood would give Democrats two extra seats in the Senate, a prospect Republicans are unlikely to support. Critics charge Republican opposition is the only thing standing in their way, however activists say the pressure must be kept on both parties to act.

“I always make the point, and it drives some people nuts, but in 2008 there was a Democratic House, a Democratic Senate and a Democratic President,” Burch told TheDCNF. “During that time not one D.C. statehood bill was introduced. So I always caveat that and make the point that we need to stay on top of Democrats on this issue as well.”

Bowser says she will propose legislation for the ballot initiative sometime in the summer, but opposition from Republicans is expected to be stiff.

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