D.C. Statehood Is Good for the Democrats, Good for DemocracyRoundup
tags: African American history, urban history, Washington DC, DC Statehood
Chris Myers Asch teaches history at Colby College. George Derek Musgrove is associate professor of history at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. They are the co-authors of Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.
As Election Day nears, conservative lawmakers like Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming have warned that Democrats plan to “stack the Senate” by admitting new states to the union if they win control of the presidency and Congress. We certainly hope so. Democrats should make District of Columbia statehood a top priority if they win in November. Adding a star to the American flag for the district would be good for the Democratic Party and good for democracy.
This is especially important now, as demographic shifts risk radically unbalancing the electoral system. As Democrat-friendly urban areas continue to grow, low-population conservative states in the Midwest and Mountain West have gained electoral strength that far exceeds their numbers. As per one estimate, if this trend continues, by 2040 roughly 30 percent of the population will control nearly 70 Senate seats and a disproportionate chunk of the Electoral College. With many Republican state legislatures openly pursuing an agenda of gerrymandering and voter suppression, the enormous power reserved to small states will be disproportionately wielded by the old, the white and the Republican.
We already have seen the impact of this imbalance. In 2016 Donald Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots yet won the presidency in the Electoral College. Democrats earned 18 million more votes nationwide than Republicans among 2018 Senate candidates, yet the GOP increased its majority in the chamber. And in the past four years a bare majority of senators, representing a minority of Americans have blocked an effort to remove a President from office despite incontrovertible evidence that he committed impeachable offenses. They have confirmed two Supreme Court justices and are poised to confirm a third.
Such a radical disconnect between the will of the majority and the power of a minority has created a crippling crisis of legitimacy.
This summer, the House of Representatives voted 232-180 to turn Washington, D.C., into the nation’s 51st state. The first D.C. statehood bill to pass a house of Congress, the legislation would shrink the federal district to the White House, the National Mall, and the Capitol complex, and grant voting representation in the House and Senate to the 700,000-plus D.C. residents who live outside of those areas.
Republicans are vehemently opposed. Why? Not for any procedural or good-faith constitutional reasons. D.C., which has more people than Vermont or Wyoming and is gaining on Alaska, pays more in federal taxes than 21 states and its young people have served in every U.S. war of the past two centuries. D.C. residents originally had the right to vote in congressional elections, but it was stripped away by the Organic Act of 1801, a hastily crafted bill passed by a lame-duck Federalist Congress. They have been fighting for voting representation in Congress ever since.
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