The District of Columbia has fought for federal city status since the 1870s. As citizens of the U.S. taxed without the benefit of legislative representation, proponents of D.C. statehood consider the city’s status both unconstitutional and unfair.
Recent comments by U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) at a town hall meeting, demonstrated that there is still resistance to making the District the 51st state.
Harris said the District should not be granted statehood because its nearly 700,000 residents made irresponsible decisions, arguing that home rule should not be placed in the hands of those ill prepared for full citizenship. “I don’t think [D.C.] ought to be a state because they make irresponsible decisions like legalizing marijuana when the African-American unemployment rate is 40 percent and the African-American graduation rate from high school is 12 percent,” Harris said at the meeting.
In what some consider a throwback to sentiments held more than a century ago by Delaware Congressman Thomas F. Bayard that Black suffrage would sicken businessmen and developers in the city by placing governance in the hands of “its most ignorant and degraded classes,” Harris equated what he believed to be the educational deficiencies and unemployment rates of Blacks with social competency.
“Whether it is [Supreme Court Justice] Scalia or Harris, many of the nation’s leaders still believe in the inferiority of Black people and their inability to govern their own lives, let alone a municipality,” said political scientist Rob Edwards. “This level of institutional racism – that places a man’s citizenship alongside his ability to find a job or earn a diploma is a gigantic step back and one that should be addressed by Harris’ constituency going forward.”
In addition to Harris’ data being conflated to support his position against statehood, proponents of D.C. statehood noted his position was starkly antiquated. The actual unemployment rates for Blacks in D.C. stands at 13.6 percent, higher than any other state; the high school graduation rate is 59.7 percent, lower than the national average for Blacks of 69 percent.
“Rep. Harris’ comments just show how out of touch with reality he is,” Ann Loikow, a D.C. statehood proponents Yes We Can! spokesperson, told the AFRO. “It would be nice if people like him actually knew the facts. Given the state of decision-making in Congress, he is not the person to be talking about responsible decisions.”
Currently the city has no senators or voting members of the House of Representatives, though residents continue to pay local taxes that are subject to the control of Congress. After decades of hard-fought political battles, social engagement, and civic outrage, the District was granted Home Rule – the ability to directly elect its own mayor and City Council – in 1974. Prior to 1974, the District was governed by either three presidentially-appointed commissioners (1874-1967) or a presidentially-appointed mayor-commissioner and a nine-member council (1967-1974).
“Also, it seems like [Harris] does not believe in ‘liberty and justice for all’ when he grandstands in denying the right to self-government to 680,000 Americans. He is acting more like King George III than a responsible American elected official,” Loikow said. “Admission of the State of New Columbia would merely right a 215 year old wrong that stripped the people living in what is now the District of Columbia of their right to self-government.”