A Trumpian path to D.C. state­hood


The Dis­trict is fac­ing the most hos­tile Congress in decades as some Repub­li­can con­gres­sional lead­ers are threat­en­ing to re­peal or other­wise med­dle with D.C. laws. In this po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, state­hood for the Dis­trict ap­pears to be a pipe dream. How­ever, Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion to the pres­i­dency could make that dream a re­al­ity.

To bet­ter un­der­stand how Trump’s elec­tion could make a dif­fer­ence, one must first con­tem­plate why the out­look for D.C. vot­ing rights is bleak. Anal­y­sis of the Dis­trict’s vot­ing-rep­re­sen­ta­tion plight must be­gin with a frank ac­knowl­edg­ment of the key rea­son state­hood re­stricted to the Dis­trict’s cur­rent geo­graphic bound­aries is a fan­tasy. The chief ob­sta­cle is sim­ple: The Dis­trict is an ex­ceed­ingly par­ti­san, Demo­cratic ju­ris­dic­tion.

The Dis­trict has never sup­ported a Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the gen­eral elec­tion and prob­a­bly never will. Ev­ery Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date has lost the Dis­trict’s gen­eral elec­tion in a land­slide — Trump re­ceived only 4 per­cent of the vote. Even in 1984, the year that Ron­ald Rea­gan won 49 states and lost Wal­ter Mon­dale’s home state of Min­nesota by only 3,761 votes, the Great Com­mu­ni­ca­tor con­vinced only 13.73 per­cent of D.C. vot­ers to sup­port him. Sim­i­larly, aside from the two at-large coun­cil seats set aside for non-Democrats, the Dis­trict has never elected any Repub­li­can to a Dis­trict-wide lo­cal, par­ti­san of­fice.

Given the Dis­trict’s vot­ing record, the Demo­cratic af­fil­i­a­tion of two new D.C. sen­a­tors would be a fore­gone con­clu­sion. Un­der­stand­ably, Repub­li­cans op­pose any vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion so­lu­tion that hands two U.S. Se­nate seats to the Demo­cratic Party. To be suc­cess­ful, ad­vo­cacy for con­gres­sional vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion must ac­count for this par­ti­san dy­namic.

More than a decade ago, Del. Eleanor Holmes Nor­ton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) pro­posed a po­lit­i­cally neu­tral, prag­matic so­lu­tion. Their leg­is­la­tion would have given Repub­li­can-lean­ing Utah and the Dis­trict each a seat in the House. Un­for­tu­nately, many Repub­li­cans ques­tioned the con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity of the mea­sure, and the leg­isla­tive ef­fort reached an im­passe in 2007.

Ja­son Chaf­fetz (R-Utah), chair­man of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Reform Com­mit­tee, re­cently re­vived a long-stand­ing pro­posal that would retro­cede the res­i­den­tial ar­eas of the Dis­trict to Mary­land. Nor­ton re­sponded by ask­ing: “Has the chair­man ever asked any­one from the state of Mary­land how they feel about that?”

Bet­ter yet, Chaf­fetz should ask the Mary­land Repub­li­can Party for its re­ac­tion to the pro­posed ad­di­tion of 366,000 Democrats to the vot­ing rolls in Mary­land, a state that re­cently elected a Repub­li­can gov­er­nor by a mar­gin of 65,000 votes.

D.C. lead­ers should aban­don ad­vo­cacy for a con­ven­tional state­hood plan that would come only at the ex­pense of Repub­li­can po­lit­i­cal power. In­stead, an unconventional so­lu­tion that is mind­ful of po­lit­i­cal re­al­ity is re­quired. Trump may be the right pres­i­dent at the right time for the Dis­trict, given his will­ing­ness to em­brace unconventional solutions and buck party lead­er­ship.

Con­sider the fol­low­ing unconventional “re­verse retro­ces­sion” pro­posal, a ver­sion of which was pro­posed last year by Lars Hy­dle, then-chair­man of the D.C. Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee’s Pol­icy Com­mit­tee. Un­der this plan, the staunchly Demo­cratic North­ern Vir­ginia ju­ris­dic­tions of Fair­fax County, Ar­ling­ton County, Falls Church and Alexandria could be merged with the Dis­trict to form a new state. As a re­sult of the merger, Vir­ginia’s sen­a­tors (cur­rently two Democrats), the gov­er­nor’s of­fice and pres­i­den­tial elec­toral col­lege votes would likely swing to the Repub­li­can side, thereby off­set­ting the Dis­trict’s two new Demo­cratic sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

If Trump re­solved the D.C. state­hood co­nun­drum, he would demon­strate his deal­mak­ing prow­ess, earn some civil rights cred­i­bil­ity and, un­der the re­verse retro­ces­sion plan, walk away with Vir­ginia’s elec­toral col­lege votes. D.C. res­i­dents should wel­come con­sid­er­a­tion of an op­tion with bet­ter po­lit­i­cal prospects than the Dis­trict-only po­si­tion pushed un­suc­cess­fully for sev­eral decades. North­ern Vir­ginia res­i­dents should con­sider join­ing a ju­ris­dic­tion with which they share more cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal com­mon­al­ity than Rich­mond.

Af­ter more than 40 years in the po­lit­i­cal desert, a new ap­proach to D.C. vot­ing rights is needed. D.C. vot­ers must de­mand fresh, fea­si­ble solutions to the vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion co­nun­drum. An unconventional deal to give Dis­trict res­i­dents con­gres­sional vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion might well be bro­kered by our very unconventional pres­i­dent.

The writer, a del­e­gate to the 2016 Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, is a mem­ber of the D.C. Repub­li­can Com­mit­tee.

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