Fishing out the truth behind 10 arguments against D.C. statehood

July 11, 2020 9:00 am
American flag flying with U.S. Capitol in the background.

A flag flies near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in file photo from Dec. 18. 2019. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

A red herring has two definitions:

  • A dried smoked herring, which is turned red by the smoke.
  • Something, especially a clue, that is, or is intended, to mislead or distract.

There have been a lot of red herrings used to argue against D.C. statehood. It is way past time they are called out with some honesty and facts.

The residents’ desire to become a state, with the full rights and representation, is not about party. It is about equality and having a voice. It is about not feeling less than their fellow Americans. It is about self-determination and identity. For our D.C. veterans, and for the families of our fallen heroes, it is about a star on the flag they cherish and for which they gave so much. It is about truly being a part of the United States of America.

Let’s fish the truth out of some popular red herrings:

1. D.C. statehood is not a power grab by Democrats. This argument is the biggest red herring of all. Yes, D.C. would get two voting senators and one voting representative, and they would be Democrats at this time. However, in the past 10 years only six legislative votes in the Senate were decided by three or less. There have been only two occasions in which adding two votes to either Yea or Nay would have changed the outcome: Senate Resolution 21 on Sept. 25, 2019 and Senate Bill 627 on July 31, 2011. Senate confirmations for Supreme Court justices also would not have been greatly affected. Since 1986, the confirmation of Bret Kavanaugh is the only one that may have changed if both additional senators did not vote to confirm.

2. Giving two senators to D.C. would not dilute or take away power of another state. Statehood for D.C. is about equality and expanding democracy. The balance of power only changes because the will of the people who elect officials to represent them changes. The total number of senators would go up to 102, just as it went up so many times since our country was founded with the original 13 states, 26 senators and 59 representatives. Growth as a country is a good thing.

I’m glad our ancestors did not feel 13 was a good number and stop there. The flag has been updated many times and if you are worried about what a 51-star flag would look like, check it out!

3. The founders set up D.C. the way they did for a reason, but things have changed. It wasn’t until the year 1801 people living D.C. were no longer considered citizens of either Maryland or Virginia and lost their representation. In 1788, Alexander Hamilton was concerned about the disenfranchisement of the people and proposed an amendment that would give voting rights and representation back to D.C. when the district reached a certain size, but it was defeated. In 1800, there were only 8,144 people living in Washington, D.C., and today there are over 700,000. As our country has grown, we have made changes to be inclusive, so why are we excluding the people who live in our nation’s capital?

4. Our founders did not want any state having undue influence or control over our nation’s capital. No one is trying to change this. H.R. 51, passed in the U.S. House on June 26, 2020, maintains the district as required by the Constitution, it just reduces the area. It is not the first time it has been reduced. In 1846, land was receded back to Virginia, reducing the district’s size. The Constitution does not call for a minimum size for the federal district, but sets a maximum “not exceeding ten miles square.” As to influence and control, can’t the same arguments be made now about Maryland and Virginia that border the nation’s capital? I do not recall either state taking over our country.

The logistics of joining the residential and commercial area of D.C. with another state would be challenging to say the least. The combining of infrastructure, government, and laws, not to mention the cost, bureaucracy and red tape involved would take years to accomplish. Besides, D.C. has its own identity, history and spirit that should not be lost by merging with another.

5. A 2019 Gallup poll showed a majority of Americans are against D.C. statehood, but … the poorly worded question asked was “Would you favor or oppose making Washington, D.C., a separate state?”  Not surprisingly, with so little information and a lack of understanding of the issues and solutions surrounding this topic by the average American, two-thirds of respondents opposed D.C. statehood. My personal experience when I worked a week-long event across Iowa, with tens of thousands of people from all over the country, was that an amazing number of people were uninformed.

A few could not get past the party divisiveness but many did. There were a lot of people we talked with who did either already support or decided to support D.C. Statehood and signed our national and/or state petitions.  In all, 34 states were represented in the signatures we received over that week, including Democrats, independents and Republicans. What was clear is a nationwide educational campaign will have a tremendous impact in making giving statehood to the residential and commercial areas of D.C.

6. D.C. is not too full of “crime, corruption and dysfunction” to be allowed to be a state. If that were the litmus test for statehood, there are several states in danger of being demoted to territories. The federal government is in charge, so Congress should either clean it up or get out of they way and  let D.C. run itself as a true state.

7. It is not unconstitutional to make D.C. a state and it can be done without a constitutional amendment. Every state added to the Union after the original 13 has been done the same way D.C. would. Article IV, Section 3 of the United States Constitution allows for the admission of new states by an act of Congress. There would still be a federally controlled district as required by the Constitution.

8. D.C. is not too small to be a state. It will be the smallest geographically. However, it has a greater population than Wyoming or Vermont, and almost as many people as North Dakota or Alaska. Should those small states give up their status and representation? Nope.

9. District residents should not have to move or rejoin Maryland. It’s their home. Should the colonists have just said, “Well, we don’t like being taxed without representation so we all better move?”  If so, we would be living in a much different country today. This argument is also out of touch with reality. Putting aside the emotional cost, there is a financial barrier to moving.

10. Are you thinking “it doesn’t affect me, why should I care?”  This IS important.  It is worth noting here that because D.C. is not considered a state, it received a fraction of what states did in COVID-19 assistance, including states with less population. It has been said, “Show me your budget and I’ll show you what you care about.” Do we care so little for the people of D.C. and our nation’s capital that we would allow this blatant discrimination?

United we stand, divided we fall.  It is a mantra of our great nation, but we are not living up to it.  For many around the world, the United States is a beacon of hope and democracy, yet we are the only democratic nation that denies both voting rights in the legislature and the right to self-governance to the people of our nation’s capital. We are stronger together and our passion for spreading democracy around the world should surely apply to our own country and fellow Americans.

More than 700,000 Americans are excluded from our democracy.  And why? Is it because they are less than other Americans; because they vote for the wrong party; because they live in the wrong place; because they don’t have the right industry or agriculture; because they’re too small; because of the color of their skin; because 50 is a nice round number; because we can’t be bothered to care; because the founders would want us to continue to exclude such a large portion of our population from the democracy they fought and died to give us; because we are incapable of fixing it; or maybe because it’s just not a priority?  Do you believe any of those?

Together we can fix it, and it is time!

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Tamyra Harrison
Tamyra Harrison

Tamyra Harrison is the founder and director of the non-profit Iowans For D.C. Statehood. She has been an Iowa resident fighting for statehood since 2015.