On DC

Ezra writes in favor of voting rights for DC, but strays off message:

We should have two votes in the Senate, too! At 591,000 residents, DC is more populous than Wyoming. It’s poorer, too. In deserves representatives able to leverage their votes in service of their constituencies. Jack Kemp calls it a “civil rights issue,” and he’s correct…

The District is more populous than Wyoming, and it’s in more or less the same neighborhood as Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, and Vermont, all of which have between 500,000 and 1 million people (Vermont had better watch out, too, because we’re within 30,000 people and gaining). They all also have a voting representative and two voting senators. For some reason, people focus on geographic size as if that should be an important qualifier for democratic representation. That’s pretty silly, but Rhode Island and Delaware should be examples of how teeny pieces of real estate that look, on a map, like they may as well belong to their neighbors can function quite well as separate entities.

The District is not poorer than Wyoming (all of this data can be easily found at the Census). Not in terms of median or average household income, and not in terms of per capita output. But of course, that shouldn’t have anything to do with the issue. In fact, it is an issue that even in states with full representation, urban centers are underrepresented, which contributes to the general movement of public funds away from productive metropolitan areas and toward rural places, which makes it more difficult for productive metropolitan areas to stay productive. Granting the District full representation would help to push the scale a little closer toward balance (though still, not that close). Smart alecks will point out that the District is the big exception to the funding rule, retaining much more in federal money than it pays out in income taxes. But this, of course, is because so much of the city’s most valuable land is occupied by entities that don’t pay taxes. The government helps out the District budget so that we don’t have to jack up tax rates on private business so high that they all immediately leave.

Anyway, I feel very strongly that whatever steps need to be taken to get Washington treated like its own state, in all respects, should be taken. In most instances, the District already gets this treatment, with the notable exceptions of home rule and legislative representation. And the only reason that this remains the case is because the city is overwhelmingly Democratic. Ezra says that retrocession to Maryland should be the backup plan. I disagree, because the District already has most of the institutional infrastructure of a state, and because I don’t actually think that plan is any easier logistically, than statehood. Neither DC nor Maryland wants it to happen.

What is clear is that without a much larger Democratic majority, the District will never get more than a voting House member. It’s just one of those lingering, unfixable embarrassments that pepper our political system. I just wish that more Republicans were embarrassed about denying the vote to hundreds of thousands of people who send in their federal tax payments every year. But then, I wish they were embarrassed about a lot of things.

Comments

  1. Doug says:

    I always thought it was an odd arrangement, myself. You’re right that if you’re waiting for Republicans to feel embarrassed, you’re stopped.

  2. Evan says:

    While I am one hundred percent behind DC getting representation in the House, and have been my entire life, I just don’t see how giving the district a senator would fly. I can’t lie, I am not against it for moral or even constitutional purposes, I am just against it for pure politics. I just can’t see it happening, so I don’t want to push it, especially when getting a voting rep in the House is becoming such a near reality. Whaduya think??

  3. BruceMcF says:

    In Australia, they have a similar arrangement … states get 12 Senators, 6 at a time elected on overlapping 6 year terms, territories get 2, elected for three year terms.

    2:12 = 0.333:2 , or in round number ratios 0:2, but for sticklers that “1/3 rounded down to 0 means no representation”, rounding up would yield 1 Senator … perhaps elected for a four year term in the mid-term.