By George Kevin Jordan, AFRO Staff Writer
It was the meeting that everybody and nobody saw coming all at the same time. In a wood paneled room last week at Rayburn House Office Building, in D.C., in a space designated for Committee on Oversight and Reform, D.C. representative to Congress, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), flanked by Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Council Chair Phil Mendelson, to announce her plan to introduce H.R. 51, her bill to make D.C. the 51st state of the United States of America.
“Yesterday as the 116th Congress began, I introduced my first bill of the session – H.R. 51,” Norton said to the audience that responded in applause. One hundred and fifty five representatives of the House already co-sponsored the bill, Norton added.
If the excitement about D.C. becoming the 51st state feels a little like deja vu, it’s because it has been a topic of District chatter for years, and Norton has been in a David and Goliath battle for full statehood since she first held office.
During the 2016 D.C. general election the Advisory Referendum B District of Columbia was introduced to “ask the electorate if the Council should petition Congress to enact a statehood admission act to provide to the state of New Columbia and to approve a Constitution.”
According to data from the D.C. Board of Elections 85.69 percent of voters (244,134) approved the referendum. Then in 2017 Norton introduced HR.1291 to the Senate.
The movement has gained traction since then and now the support coming from D.C. carries a big gavel.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi offered a statement regarding H.R. 51, the current Washington D.C. Admission Act: “The right to vote and to equal representation is the foundation of our freedom and a core pillar of our democracy. For too long, the residents of the District of Columbia have served our nation in uniform, paid taxes and contributed to the economic power and success of our country while being denied the full enfranchisement that is their right.
“Democrats are working to pass bold, ambitious legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act, finally grant full voting rights and statehood to the District of Columbia and bring back integrity to Washington to ensure our government works (for) everyone,” Pelosi added.
D.C. has a long history regarding state rights going back to the 1700s. But now with a Democratic House in place, the push for statehood could make it to the mountaintop.
An old and valid talking point for statehood is the fact that residents of the District don’t just pay federal taxes they pay more per capita than anywhere else in the nation, according to calculations done by the Associated Press in 2017.
“Twelve thousand dollars per capita is what you pay in federal taxes,” Norton said. “Higher than the taxes paid by or equal to any state in the union. Yet they pay those taxes without having any representation in the union whatsoever. And no final vote on the house floor.”
The pathway to statehood is still bumpy as Republicans run the Senate and the Oval office.
Norton laid out a two pronged plan to get the District there. The first thing is to seek a vote on H.R. 51 in the House of Representatives. Norton promised that a commitment was made by Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who will chair the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to hold a hearing and a mark up on the bill.
“At the same time we have to think strategically in this Congress,” Norton warned, mentioning the 60 votes needed in the Senate to move anything. “The second path will get D.C. closer to statehood by perfecting and improving the many outstanding sections of the Home Rule ACT that could easily pass in the Senate.”
The Home Rule Act of 1973 gave D.C. residents and legislators more autonomy to self govern and pass laws and budgets. But according to Norton, Home Rule is still limited in scope. By tweaking the law, it could provide the District with more power to make and pass budgets and make laws effective immediately.
Evanna Powell, a D.C. resident and ambassador for Statehood was on hand to show her support for a 51st state.
“I am a citizen of the United states that does not have all the rights, privileges and immunities that are enumerated in the Constitution of the United States,” Powell said. “I want what I am entitled to as a citizen of the U.S.”
Powell said she was enthusiastic about the bill’s chances to get passed, even with the current political affiliations of the Senate and President.
“Hope springs eternal,” Powell said. “I believe it’s possible now if residents of the District step forward and do what is needed to make us the 51st state.”
A representative from the Republican National Committee could not be reached for comment.