Issues & Insights

D.C. Drive For Statehood Reminds Us Of What’s Gone Wrong With Our Country

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I&I Editorial

The campaign for Washington, D.C., statehood has come up yet again. If nothing else, this shows how far out of control the federal government has become.

The drive to make D.C. America’s 51st state isn’t new. But, with a Democratic president and a Democratic majority in Congress, the ruling class is in a mood to consolidate its power, and with the Democrat-media industrial complex demanding that everything must be seen through the lens of race, it’s now an overheated topic.

For decades the pro-statehood forces have complained about being subject to taxation without representation. (We’ll have more to say on this later.) Today’s argument is centered on race. It is “a historically black city,” according to the district government, with 47% of residents black, 41% white.

“This is not about politics. It’s about a fundamental voting and civil rights issue,” says House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney, who is of course a Democrat, the party that’s pushing hard for H.R. 51, which “provides for admission into the United States of the state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth.” (We’ll have more about the party’s power grab later, too.)

To hear David Litt, a speechwriter for Barack Obama, tell it, “the D.C. statehood fight is part of an ugly effort to disenfranchise black and brown people.” Opposing views, he says, “echo the last gasps of the Jim Crow era.”

While the Democrats and the media put everything they have into dividing the country, allow us to shine a light on what many are missing: When Washington, D.C., was established as the nation’s capital, the founders didn’t foresee it being a city of permanent residents and the base for an intrusive leviathan command center. It was to be merely the seat of the federal government.

The question of statehood reminds us that D.C. has become an unchecked political force. Our national government is too large, too powerful, and too involved in private lives. We’d all be better off if Washington had remained a sleepy village on the Potomac while the bulk of government business was decentralized to state capitals, as the framers intended.

As compelling as that argument is, this one is even more powerful: The Democrats’ appetite for absolute power should be denied. They don’t want Washington, D.C., to be a state for reasons of fairness or justice or equity. The party of the left sees in D.C. two new U.S. senators and an additional House member.

With more than three-fourths of district voters registered as Democrats and only 6% as Republicans, the Democratic Party would have a clean sweep of representation. D.C. statehood is a path to sating Democrats’ ravenous hunger for a permanent, unchallengeable majority.

“Nothing is more toxic to a nation’s liberty than the increase and concentration of power,” political historian and president emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education Lawrence Reed tells I&I. “Nothing is more poisonous to a person’s character than the lust for that power. Make no mistake: The D.C. statehood idea is all these objectionable things wrapped up in one package – a lust for more power by people who think power is more important than either the nation’s liberty or even their own personal character.”

It was important to America’s founders, as reasoned by James Madison in Federalist 43, that the nation’s federal district would be “separate and apart from the territory and authority of any one of the states,” says Cato Institute constitutional scholar Roger Pilon. Congress, not a governor and state-elected legislature, was to “exercise ‘exclusive’ jurisdiction over that district, thus keeping the federal government from being dependent on any particular state – and, equally important, so that no state would be either dependent on the federal government or disproportionately influential on that government.”

Pilon continues:

In Federalist 51, Madison discussed the ‘multiplicity of interests’ that define a proper state, with urban and rural parts, and economic activity sufficient and sufficiently varied to be and to remain an independent entity. That hardly describes the District of Columbia. Washington is largely a one‐​industry town (though not as much as it used to be), with its economy closely tied to the federal government, and that would not likely change if most of the city became a state. 

If Democrats were truly interested in district statehood for objective reasons, they would also support the addition of a 52nd state for purpose of balance. When the country last added states, the Democrats favored Alaska, Republicans Hawaii. In a sensible compromise, they were admitted within months of each other in 1959, neither party gaining an advantage.

Of course some Democrats do want a 52nd state – Puerto Rico, which they believe, not without reason, would yield two additional U.S. senators and yet one more lower-chamber representative for their party.

Finally, let’s remedy right now district residents’ taxation without representation troubles: Exempt D.C. residents from federal taxes.

If that’s not satisfactory, then Washington, D.C., can join Maryland and enjoy all the benefits of taxation with representation. Problem solved.

— Written by the I&I Editorial Board

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The Issues and Insights Editorial Board has decades of experience in journalism, commentary and public policy.

1 comment

  • If DC residents were exempted from federal taxes, all the lobbyists, professional influence peddlers, and swamp creatures in general would be able to avoid them.

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