Howard University professor Michael Fauntroy, The Honorable Sterling Tucker, and former House Committee Staffer Nelson Rimensnyder discussed the nearly 30 percent of Americans who believe District residents are not required to pay taxes.
To recognize the 40th anniversary of the first election process held under the Home Rule Charter, D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections, in partnership with the Historical Society of Washington, recently convened a public program to discuss the legislative process of gaining Home Rule. WAMU radio moderator Martin Austermuhle facilitated that panel discussion, which included The Honorable Sterling Tucker, the first elected City Council chairman in 1974, Howard University political science professor Michael Fauntroy and former House Committee on the District of Columbia staffer, Nelson Rimensnyder.
After decades of hard-fought political battle, social engagement and civic outrage, the District was granted Home Rule—the ability to directly elect its own mayor and City Council—in 1974. Prior to 1974, the District was governed by either three presidentially appointed commissioners (1874-1967) or a presidentially appointed mayor-commissioner and nine-member council (1967-1974). Forty years later, with the push for statehood stalled by a lack of passionate engagement by residents, members of the panel acknowledged that a similar level of ennui existed while attempting to gain Home Rule.
Tucker said that a misconception exists that the people Washington just decided they wanted Home Rule, rose up and achieved it. “A major problem we had with Home Rule was apathy. A lot of people who grew up without Home Rule had no sense about what that really meant. We had to create in Washington itself, among the people who lived in the city a desire for it and a hunger for it. We don’t have that for people wanting statehood, frankly. There is not that hunger and that thirst and that fight for it,” Tucker said.
Fauntroy, whose work, Home Rule or House Rule: Congress and the Erosion of Local Governance in the District of Columbia, leads the discourse in documenting the city’s fight for legislative autonomy, said that while he believes statehood is theoretically still possible, achieving it would require a committed effort by proponents of statehood to inform the nation about how the city currently operates. He also believes that there must be an impassioned desire among residents to seize it.
Newspaper publisher Denise Rolark Barnes, whose father Calvin Rolark fought tirelessly for Home Rule, gauged questions from panel attendees on the continued fight for statehood.
“I think it’s theoretically possible , though I don’t think there is enough energy in the streets to make it happen. Ultimately you have to scare the members of Congress by un-electing some of them as we saw in 1972 and there is not enough energy to un-elect people in any significant way,” Fauntroy said. “I am probably a little less hopeful now than I was at the time that I wrote Home Rule and this was over a decade ago, in part because I think that the kind of street mobilization that you need is not on the radar of many of the people who need to be in the streets and organizing not just here in the District but around the country to try to get this done. I’m frustrated, very frustrated by that generally.”
Citing the 1994 adoption by the D.C. Council of Act 10-222 that states: “No D.C. resident shall be required to make federal income tax payments until such time as the District is granted full representation in both houses of Congress.” Rimensnyder labeled District residents as third-class citizens.
“Some leaders like to go around saying that we are second-class citizens, but in fact, we are third-class citizens because we are behind Puerto Rico and other territories. We are the only Americans taxed without our consent and I think that is the message we have to take to the country and the Congress we are tired of being taxed without our consent. That is what this country was founded—it is in our Declaration of Independence,” Rimensnyder said.