By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
You would have thought that a Democratic president and large Democratic congressional majorities would have cleared the way to secure fundamental rights for the more than half a million Americans living in the capital of the free world. But you would be wrong.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced today that that chamber won't consider a bill which would grant the District of Columbia a voting congressional representative. They won't bring it to the floor this week and probably not this year. Sorry, D.C. residents, you'll have to remain sub-citizens for the time being. But your money remains good--we'll continue to take those tax dollars, thanks very much. And you're welcome to keep sending your sons and daughters into the armed forces.
Hoyer, one of the few good guys in this fight, pronounced himself "profoundly disappointed" and he should be. And a large number of his colleagues, especially voting rights supporters more interested in using the issue as a proxy for gun control squabbles, should be deeply ashamed of themselves.
Some background: With around 600,000 residents, the District of Columbia is as populous as Denver and Las Vegas. And it has more people than do Oklahoma City, Albuquerque, Atlanta, Portland, or Wyoming. Imagine the outrage if any of those locales were suddenly cut out of the congressional map.
The Obama ascension, along with the large Democratic majorities, gave voting rights advocates hope: Surely not even the Democrats could bungle this opportunity. The legislation would have added two members to the House: One from Democratic D.C. and one from reliably Republican Utah, thus making sure that neither party gained an advantage from the voting rights.
But then the gun fanatics got involved. You see the district has restrictive gun control laws. When pro-gun senators added a provision to the version of the bill which would have eviscerated those laws, the debate stopped being about D.C. voting rights and became a proxy for gun control. Gun advocates (who had already gotten the Supreme Court to knock out the district's gun ban) saw an opportunity to further weaken gun control laws. Gun control advocates who ostensibly support D.C. voting rights declared they would vote against the bill rather than give an inch in the guns battle. If voting rights advocates were smart they would have swallowed hard and made whatever deal necessary to secure their rights (as D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty said they should).
But as usual this shooting match overshadowed an enduring injustice (and this bears repeating): that more than half-a-million Americans living in the capital of the free world are denied the most basic American right, representation before their government.
So shame on cynical gun nuts for suborning this issue to their agenda. And shame on pro-D.C. gun control fanatics who think their issue is more important than U.S. citizens having the right to vote. Most of all shame on Democrats for bungling this. (I won't even bother denouncing Republicans, who for the most part display no interest in the issue--they at least get points for honesty.)