On July 20, a key advisor of Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser briefed members of the New Columbia Statehood Commission on the administration’s latest strategy to secure statehood for the District of Columbia.
Beverly Perry, Bowser’s senior advisor, announced a 10-state campaign that will start in a few weeks to convince Americans to support the full citizenship rights of District residents.
“We are going to focus on states where we can make inroads,” Perry said. “Those states are Alaska, Washington state, Maine, New Hampshire, Georgia, South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona and Indiana, and Illinois.”
Perry didn’t go into details about the methodology used to select the states or why she felt those states would be amenable to a District statehood message. Perry noted that 86 percent of District voters favored statehood in the November 2016 General Election, utilizing the Tennessee plan that would require congressional approval instead of a constitutional amendment.
She said a change in strategy took place when Donald Trump won the presidency and the U.S. Senate remained in Republican hands.
“We were counting on a different president and a different Senate,” she said.
Perry also said each registered voter in the District would be asked to send a letter to a senator selected by the administration to ask for support of statehood.
“We will pair each senator with 4,000 residents,” she said. “Residents will then contact that senator and explain why their support of D.C. statehood is important.”
Bowser, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), District Statehood Sens. Paul Strauss (D) and Michael Brown (D), and Rep. Franklin Garcia (D) were present at the meeting that took place at the John A. Wilson Building in front of an audience of 40 people.
The District has a population of 681,000 people—more than Vermont and Wyoming—but lacks voting representation in the U.S. House of Representatives and has no presence in the U.S. Senate. Even so, District residents are required to meet the obligations of citizenship such as paying federal income taxes and serving, if the draft is reinstated, in the country’s wars.
District government statistics reveal that the city, as a state-level jurisdiction, sends to the federal government about $37,000 per resident—more than any other state.
Perry said the administration is keeping an eye on another jurisdiction that is interested in becoming a state.
“Puerto Rico recently voted 97 percent for statehood,” she said. “We cannot let Puerto Rico get ahead of us.”
Perry explained that Puerto Rico, a commonwealth where its residents don’t have voting representation in the U.S. Congress but its residents are exempt from paying federal taxes, could become an ally of the District’s push for statehood.
“Puerto Rico has 3.5 million people and that has been worked out by some experts to have three Republicans and two Democrats in the Congress,” she said. “That would help us because we could provide the balance with our representative being a Democrat.”
Perry compared a possible “Puerto Rico-District” statehood entrance team to Alaska and Hawaii becoming states together in 1959, with Alaska leaning Republican and Hawaii favoring the Democrats. She also noted that the NAACP, currently finishing up its national convention in Baltimore, will consider a resolution of support for District and Puerto Rican statehood.
Some opponents of statehood have argued the District is too small to be a state and it would be confusing determining the boundaries of the federal district and the state. Perry said her team has drawn the federal district boundaries that focus on the White House, the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Supreme Court and federal agencies that are on or near Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
“The federal district would comprise only 2 percent of D.C.’s land mass,” she said. “We will have markers where the federal district begins and the new state would be.”
Perry said Norton has amassed 134 supporters for her statehood bill while Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) has 19 supporters for his D.C. statehood bill that was introduced in 2015.
Bowser told the group she is seeking the support of District Republicans.
“We are reaching [out] to the D.C. Republican Party,” the mayor said. “Republicans oppose D.C. statehood but seem to support statehood for Puerto Rico and that seems inconsistent to me.”
Garcia has reached out to Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner for support and “he is waiting for us,” he said.