Thursday, January 27, 2005

D.C. Gripes
By Alexander Marriott

Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman is forwarding legislation to allow "full voting rights" to those living in the District of Columbia, in effect granting them the ability to elect representatives to the congress. Since the District would still not be a state it could not elect senators. As of yet he has been unable to get a Republican to co-sponsor his bill, but he is threatening to attach his bill to the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 coming up this year as a way to force the issue. On the surface this may seem a harmless bill, but it cuts to the very structure of the congress established in the Constitution after long and reasoned debate. To change this for those living in the District, all of whom have known full well the structure of the government and the law (but not the reasoning) preventing them from having representation in the congress. The fact that this wall of separation was compromised in the allowance of D.C. to have electoral college votes for the Presidency does not help in defending the organization of the government against this latest onslaught.

Now while it is quite obvious that Democrats have an incentive to get D.C. established for national representation because it would most assuredly send all Democrats to the congress, this is not the big problem with the plan. The capital was established on independent federal land to make sure that it would be independent of any particular state for land. The land now called the District of Columbia was secured in a compromise over Alexander Hamilton's fiscal stability plan during the presidential administration of George Washington.

The congress was established as the main repository of the legislative power (main because the President plays a limited though important role in the legislative process through the exercise of his veto) and was divided into two bodies for sound reasons. The lower house of representatives would be the direct representation of the people of the states and would be empowered by its exclusive ability to appropriate money. The upper house, or senate, would act as a body of ambassadors from the states to the federal government. As all the states were legal equals they were entitled to equal senate representation. Its members were, like the President, the indirect representatives of the people, as they were, until the passage of the 17th amendment, elected by the state legislatures. In other words, the congress was designed with the specific purpose to act as the representative of the people of the states and the states themselves. The District of Columbia is not a state and thus it can never, constitutionally, have any of representation guaranteed to the states.

The land set aside from Virginia and Maryland which forms the District of Columbia was meant for the specific purpose of housing the buildings of the federal government. The executive mansion, the supreme court, and the congress being the main buildings, but also accompanied by the office buildings for the departments of government. Those working for the federal government, whether it be the President or a clerk, were not meant to live their lives out in the capital. They were there as the representatives of states in the union or as the duly elected representatives of the country at large, or an aide to such a person. Anyone who would give up his residency in a state to live in the capital would be willingly giving up the right to vote in that state or any other, as only a resident of a state can vote for a state's representatives. This does not mean they become modern day Helots who have no recourse against any excesses of the federal government, but it does mean they are not in the same situation as their fellow citizens who live in the states. Living in the capital puts one under the authority of a municipal government with a mayor, but one which can be overruled by the congress. With this choice to live in the capital, as opposed to Maryland or Virginia, comes the known consequence of not having representation in the congress, because the congress is meant for the states which make up the federation which is the government of the United States of America.

Perhaps an understanding of the history of America and the reasoning that went into establishing the government will quell this push to make the District of Columbia something which it is not and cannot be, a state. Or perhaps the push for a fundamental change in the government in based almost solely on making partisan political gains which cannot be achieved in the states. Whatever the reason behind all the D.C. gripes, the fact remains that the movement is ill-informed and frankly dangerous to the already precarious balance upon which our government is organized.

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