President Obama will deliver his final State of the Union Address in a few days and District leaders and residents don’t want him to forget about the District of Columbia.
Official portrait of President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, Dec. 6, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
Obama is set to speak before a joint session of the U.S. Congress on the country’s status and his programs and policies in his last year in office on Jan. 12. District political leaders and residents say they will tune into the event to see what the president says about the many issues facing the country, but want him to talk about statehood for the city.
“I am looking for the president to talk about executive action on stopping illegal guns and I would also like for him to talk about immigration reform,” D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said. “What we really need to hear from the president is a real urban agenda and I am always looking for him to talk about supporting statehood for the District of Columbia.”
Obama delivered his first State of the Union speech in 2009 but has never talked about statehood in a State of the Union speech. In 2014 he said, “I’m in D.C., so I’m for it,” while at a town hall meeting in the District. “Folks in D.C. pay taxes like everybody else,” he added. “They contribute to the overall well-being of the country like everybody else. They should be represented like everybody else. And it’s not as if Washington, D.C., is not big enough compared to other states. There has been a long movement to get D.C. statehood and I’ve been for it for quite some time. The politics of it end up being difficult to get it through Congress, but I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do.”
D.C. Statehood Rep. Franklin Garcia (D) wants Obama to make his actions match his words. “We have waited seven years for him to address the injustice of 600,000 U.S. citizens who live in the District of Columbia but don’t have a vote in the U.S. Congress,” Garcia said. “When he was running for president, he promised he would work on D.C. statehood if elected president and we want him to deliver.”
The District is the only political jurisdiction where citizens pay federal taxes but have no vote in either the U.S. House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. District residents can be drafted to fight the country’s wars and it has more people within its boundaries than states such as Wyoming and Vermont.
In addition, the District’s laws and its budget, largely generated by local funds, must be approved by the U.S. Congress, the only jurisdiction that is required to do that. The city is represented by a delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives who possesses every privilege and obligation of being a member except voting on legislation on the floor.
Eleanor Holmes Norton has represented the District as its delegate since 1991. Norton (D) tried to pass a D.C. statehood bill in 1994 and delegate vote in the House legislation in 2010 but her efforts failed.
Anise Jenkins, executive director for Stand Up! for Democracy and Free D.C., said she too is frustrated and disappointed in Obama’s inaction on statehood. “President Obama has received over 90 percent of the vote in D.C. for election and re-election and while I cannot statistically verify this, almost 100 percent of the African-American vote,” Jenkins said.
In the Nov. 6, 2008 general election, Obama won the District with 94.92 percent of the vote, the highest percentage of any Electoral College jurisdiction. In the District’s Wards 7 and 8, with the highest percentages of African Americans, Obama got 98.72 percent and 99.02 percent of the vote respectively. He was re-elected on Nov. 4, 2012 with 90.91 percent of the District’s vote and 98.52 percent in Ward 7 and 98.82 percent in Ward 8.
While statehood is at the top of most District dwellers agenda, D.C. Council member Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4) wants the president to also focus on other areas. “I am looking for him to set the tone for the next president, especially if that person is a Democratic as I expect it to be,” Todd said. “I also want to hear his plans in his final months in office on rebuilding the country’s middle class.”
DC Vote, an advocacy organization that is lobbying the U.S. Congress to support a vote for the District’s delegate, has in the past initiated a media campaign where residents contact the White House to urge the president to mention the political plight of District residents. This has been done with the support of Norton and Garcia.
“We want his support for statehood now,” Jenkins said. “He should do right by us. We will be watching him.”