‘Shadow’ officials fight for District to become a state
On Tuesday, voters will pick representative, senator
Democrats running for the District’s “shadow” offices say their fight for statehood is at an all-time high, despite Republicans’ control of the White House, the Senate and the House.
“The entire statehood movement — where we are now — is a state of momentum,” said Andria Thomas, a business strategist who is running for the D.C. “shadow” Senate seat currently held by radio talk-show host Michael D. Brown.
Voters will go to the polls Tuesday to decide who will be their “shadow” representative and senator — unpaid lobbying positions that hold no legislative authority or responsibility. The District has elected its “shadows” since 1990.
Mr. Brown, who has worked as a “shadow” for nearly 12 years, hails his time in office and his accomplishments in talking about making the District the 51st state.
“I’ve taken the battle from a single vote in the House to two senators, a vote in the House, budget autonomy, legal autonomy, equality. That’s the biggest thing I’ve done. I’ve moved the ball forward towards statehood,” he said.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress, introduced in March 2017 the Washington, D.C. Admission Act, which would create the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth. It has 159 cosponsors — all Democrats — in the House.
Sen. Thomas R. Carper, Delaware Democrat, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate. It has 25 co-sponsors — all Democrats.
Congressional representation for the District has been an issue since the ratification of the Constitution, which established a federal district to be administered by Congress. (All D.C. laws must be reviewed and approved by Congress.) The statehood movement has been an on-again, off-again affair that has failed regardless of which party has control of the federal government.
Because Democrats outnumber Republicans 12to-1 in the District, political observers have assumed that a D.C. state would be a blue one. Congressional Republicans have long opposed statehood, noting that Democrats would gain two new members in the Senate.
Lamenting the lack of congressional support for D.C. statehood is Franklin Garcia, the District’s “shadow” representative, who is running unopposed.
“In this Congress, we have less people to get on board now,” said Mr. Garcia, producer of DCTV show DCiReporter and president of the D.C. Latino Leadership Council, noting that more members of the previous Congress had backed the movement.
Mr. Brown said there are two challenges facing the movement: achieving bipartisanship and making people care about D.C. statehood.
Ms. Thomas admitted that she believes many longtime D.C. residents oppose statehood and don’t want to “commit any energy” to the movement. She said “99 percent” of voters she encountered had no idea what a “shadow” senator is.
“I don’t expect them to,” she said. “They focus on roles that have a more direct influence on people’s everyday lives.”
For example, retired teacher Janet Reedy has voted early this month in the District’s primary. She supports statehood but doesn’t believe “shadows” can make a difference.
“They’re there to speak, but they can’t vote. They can’t really represent us,” said Ms. Reedy, who cast a vote for “shadow” candidates nonetheless.
“I have no institutional power, but I have a voice,” said Mr. Brown. “That’s all I have, but I use it as strategically and smartly as I can.”
Mr. Brown shadows the Senate for the District with attorney Paul Strauss, who will be up for re-election in 2020.
They share with Mr. Garcia a $235,000 budget, funded by D.C. taxpayers, to conduct their lobbying efforts — such as Mr. Strauss’ “51 Stars” campaign, in which 51 celebrities pledge their support for statehood, and Mr. Brown’s online show “Shadow Politics,” which reaches 400,000 listeners.
As for future “shadow” efforts, Mr. Garcia would like to produce a documentary on the statehood movement, while Ms. Thomas would like to exploit social media to draw support.
“I’ve taken the battle from a single vote in the House to two senators, a vote in the House, budget autonomy, equality,” said Michael D. Brown, D.C.’s “shadow” senator (center.) “That’s the biggest thing I’ve done.”