Advocates for Washington, D.C., statehood blasted city officials for cutting District citizens out of the constitutional process amid a preliminary hearing on the proposed draft constitution this week.
The D.C. Council heard testimony Tuesday from longtime proponents of D.C. statehood. Activists sharply criticized members of the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser for determining specifics of the proposed state constitution behind closed doors through the five member New Columbia Statehood Commission. Despite holding a “constitutional convention” in June, residents criticized the commission’s structure and transparency, according to The Washington Times.
There were no elected delegates representing community interests, and the New Columbia Statehood Commission, chaired by Bowser, had final say on what the document included. Residents had no real power to make their requests binding.
“To be painfully honest, there are people who have worked on this issue for 20-plus years and felt like they were cut out of the process,” D.C. Shadow Senator Michael Brown said Tuesday. “And they have a right to feel that way.”
District voters will be asked to approve the draft constitution on the ballot when they vote in the November presidential election. The Council declined to take a final vote on the language in the draft in July, and said they will only vote on it if the ballot referendum passes in November. This means it could change after voters approve it.
Some advocates of D.C. statehood urge residents to vote against the ballot measure unless the Council adds a provision to hold a new constitutional convention if Congress approves their long-shot bid. If the District became the 51st state, Democrats would likely gain two extra seats in the Senate, which Republicans in Congress are not likely to allow.
District leaders gathered with activists this week at the DAR Constitution Hall to gain momentum for the statehood push. Ralph Nader lent his voice to the movement at events throughout the week along with Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting member of the House of Representatives. Despite the show of unity, there was a degree of friction between the statehood surrogates, reports The Washington Post.
Bowser dropped out of the events at the last minute, citing a scheduling conflict, but Nader did not take too kindly to the excuse.
“Too busy?” Nader told The Washington Post. “It’s 20 minutes right down the avenue, and it’s a prime issue for her.”
The constitution would establish a 21-seat state legislature, a change from the original draft that would have simply elevated the 13-seat D.C. Council to the state’s legislative body. The numbers are also contentious for statehood advocates who feel a 21-seat legislature is far too small for a state governing body.
Bowser argues the seemingly rushed nature of the statehood process is due to the uphill battle needed to win the victory. Advocates are banking on the presidential election to bring national attention to the District’s lack of voting rights.
“It’s not a platform,” D.C. Shadow Senator Paul Strauss said Tuesday. “We wanted to come up with the skeleton. We think you have a structure that, if you approved it today, would serve the people of our new state well.”
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