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Plan would give D.C. a House vote

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-dcvote22nov22,1,6204229.story?coll=la-headlines-politics&ctrack=1&cset=true Plan would give D.C. a House vote
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 22, 2006
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      http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-na-dcvote22nov22,1,6204229.story?coll=la-headlines-politics&ctrack=1&cset=true

      Plan would give D.C. a House vote
      Reliably Republican Utah would gain a seat under a
      proposal to let the solidly Democratic district in the
      club.
      By Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer
      November 22, 2006

      WASHINGTON — For decades, efforts to give the District
      of Columbia a voting representative in Congress have
      run into a brick wall. Constitutional amendments
      failed to win the states' support. Ad campaigns about
      "taxation without representation" did not help the
      cause.

      Now, unexpected political forces are aligning behind a
      plan to give the district a House vote — along with a
      new seat in Congress for Utah — when lawmakers return
      for their lame-duck session in early December.

      "This is closest we've come in at least 30 years,"
      said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, an
      umbrella lobbying group. "The stars are aligned on
      this."

      The unlikely union of the District of Columbia and
      Utah is the brainchild of Rep. Thomas M. Davis III
      (R-Va.). Davis, who represents the district's Virginia
      suburbs, said he offered his proposal to "take the
      partisanship out of this."

      Efforts to empower D.C. residents in the past always
      came up against the partisan reality that Republicans
      were unlikely to vote for a safe Democratic seat for
      the district, a Democratic stronghold with a 57%
      African American population.

      The problem for Utah is that the 2000 census left it
      857 residents short of getting a fourth member of
      Congress — a decision the state protested to the U.S.
      Supreme Court, saying the census failed to count the
      thousands of Mormons serving abroad as missionaries.
      Utah lost the case.

      For the district, not being declared a state by the
      founding fathers means the city's 515,000 residents
      pay federal taxes, cast votes in presidential
      elections and serve in the military without having a
      voting member in either the House or the Senate. The
      district does have a nonvoting at-large
      representative, Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton.

      By balancing the district with reliably Republican
      Utah, Davis won bipartisan approval in May by the
      Government Reform Committee for his bill, which would
      raise the total number of House members to 437.

      In the House Judiciary Committee, legal experts
      questioned the legitimacy of giving Utah an at-large
      seat, which was the plan at the time because Utah Gov.
      Jon Huntsman Jr. balked at enacting a redistricting
      plan to carve out a fourth district.

      But after Democrats swept to power in the midterm
      election, some officials in Utah worried about their
      cause in the new Congress. So the governor called the
      Legislature into special session, beginning next week,
      to approve a four-district map.

      "I'm confident we can do that," said state Sen. Curt
      Bramble (R-Provo), incoming majority leader in the
      Utah State Senate. "Whether or not Congress will act,
      that's out of our control."

      The folks at DC Vote are banking on it. They have an
      ad campaign to move public opinion — after their polls
      found that 78% of Americans thought D.C. residents
      already had congressmen and senators. And they are
      lobbying the Senate, where they say their best weapon
      is Jack Kemp, the former congressman and vice
      presidential candidate who has been privately
      buttonholing his former colleagues.

      "My argument to them is that you can't send residents
      of the city of D.C. to Afghanistan and Iraq to fight
      for the right to vote of people there without allowing
      the residents of D.C. to elect a member of Congress,"
      said Kemp, a Republican who said he was trying to get
      the GOP "back to the Abraham Lincoln wing."

      Another potent weapon in DC Vote's arsenal is Kenneth
      W. Starr, the former special prosecutor who
      investigated President Clinton. Starr, now dean of
      Pepperdine University's School of Law, wrote in a
      widely quoted article with former D.C. Court of
      Appeals Chief Judge Patricia Wald that Congress had
      the constitutional right to give D.C. residents a
      voting representative.

      Davis agrees, noting that the courts have "never, ever
      overruled Congress" in its legislation affecting the
      district.

      But Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law
      professor, believes the D.C. portion of the bill is
      "flagrantly unconstitutional" because the Constitution
      gives representation to "the people of the several
      states."

      It would take a constitutional amendment to give the
      district unquestioned congressional and Senate
      representation, he said. Addressing it legislatively
      means another Congress could always revoke the voting
      privilege later.

      "This is the equivalent of having Rosa Parks go to the
      middle of the bus, the ultimate compromise of
      principle," he said, referring to the civil rights
      protest Parks launched when she refused to move to the
      back of a bus, as required by Jim Crow laws. "Either
      D.C. residents are entitled to be full citizens or
      not."

      If Congress passes the bill giving the district a
      voting seat and Utah an additional seat, most
      observers believe President Bush would sign it, even
      though he said earlier this month, "It's the first
      I've heard of it."

      The larger issue for Democrats in Congress is whether
      they want to risk a constitutional challenge to the
      D.C. representative while Utah's new representative
      keeps voting. "The irony here," said Turley, "is that
      Utah could get an extra seat in Congress only to have
      the district seat struck down as unconstitutional."

      But Davis thinks Congress is eager to pass the bill.
      "We're going to make a run for it in the lame duck,"
      he said, predicting the bill would become law in the
      next two years. "Republicans have been slower to the
      table, but once it is explained [as a civil rights
      issue], they understand it is the right thing to do.

      "This is an anomaly of history, and it needs to be
      corrected," he said.

      johanna.neuman@...
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