New Jersey Gov. John Corzine (D) has decreed that no special election will be held until November to fill the House seat vacated by the man he named his successor in the Senate, Bob Menendez (D). This will leave roughly 700,000 residents in the 13th district without representation for nine months. Anyone who is offended by this — as we are — should also remember that this is the plight of the 600,000 citizens of the District of Columbia. And Washington, D.C., has been living with its fate for a lot longer than nine months.
There may not be hope for a change of mind by Corzine, who says that $2.5 million to run a special election is too expensive and that state law doesn’t provide him the authority to call one. But there is at least a glimmer of hope for D.C. in a proposal by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to make Washington’s nonvoting Delegate a full Representative.
The political virtue of Davis’ D.C. Fairness in Representation Act is that it temporarily expands the House from 435 Members to 437, with lopsidedly Republican Utah getting a fourth House seat through this decade to balance off the vote of the lopsidedly Democratic District. (Conveniently, Utah was the state that, according to the 2000 Census, would have earned the 436th seat had there been one.) Following the post-2010 Census, the House would revert to 435 Members and D.C. would keep its full representation.
Because District voters are so overwhelmingly Democratic, Republicans have been hostile to representation for years, despite the fact that one of their number, former Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, delivered one of its most ringing endorsements ever. In 2004, he testified to Davis’ House Government Reform Committee that “a republican — that is, representative — form of government is a foundational cornerstone of the Constitution’s structure. ... Article IV guarantees that form to the people, regardless of whether they reside in a district or a state.”
In one of its first acts in 1995, the new GOP majority stripped Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) of even the mediocre right, granted by a Democratic House two years before, to vote when the House sat as the Committee of the Whole and when her vote was not decisive. President Bush also has been opposed to representation. Davis’ sponsorship, however, could conceivably sway major figures in the party. Davis said he broached the subject to Bush, who said he would take it under advisement. Davis argues that passage of his bill would help the GOP among African-Americans.
Right now, the bill has 23 co-sponsors, 17 Republicans and six Democrats. The latter group does not include Norton, who prefers a rival bill that would give D.C. two Senators as well as a Representative. Whatever its merits, that bill has zero chance of passage, and Davis aides have hopes that Norton will eventually support his bill as the only feasible alternative.
Utah, too, would benefit because it came fewer than 500 residents short of winning its fourth seat. Some Democrats are worried that passage of the Davis bill would give Utah an excuse to revisit its House map and gerrymander out the state’s one Democrat, Rep. Jim Matheson. However, that result could be avoided if Congress uses its constitutional authority to decree that Utah’s new Representative be elected at-large.