Dressed head to toe in colonial garb, a handful of District of Columbia activists went to Rep. Jason Chaffetz's office Tuesday afternoon to ask the Utah Republican to respect D.C. laws.
"We pay taxes but we don’t have any representation in this Congress," Nikolas Schiller of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign told Chaffetz's staff. "We have a delegate, and she’s awesome, but we think she should be a representative just like Jason.” The activists came dressed to Capitol Hill as part of "Ye Olde Colonial Constituents Day," which was organized by the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, a group that orchestrated the initiative legalizing marijuana possession and cultivation in the District, and DC Vote, a group that advocates for statehood, legislative and budget autonomy. The activists decided to approach Chaffetz's office since he leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over D.C.
But the activists were also drawn to the Rayburn office because of a recent confrontation between Chaffetz and the District government over the marijuana initiative. Chaffetz warned D.C. not to move ahead with the initiative and said doing so could result in jail time for Mayor Muriel Bowser.
"We think that we got off on the wrong foot with the congressman and he got off on the wrong foot with our mayor,” Adam Eidinger, D.C. Cannabis Campaign chairman, told Chaffetz's staff. He offered Chaffetz's legislative director, Amber Talley, a "peace pipe," which was a long blue glass marijuana pipe, and assured Talley it had not been used.
"It’s symbolic. It’s a gesture. We want to be respected," Eidinger said. "And we think that the Republican party respects home rule and that this committee needs to show it and convince people that the Republican party is not obtuse to local democracy.”
Along with respecting local laws, the activists also made their case for D.C. statehood and full representation in Congress, and the need to improve D.C. services.
“If the congressman is interested in the local affairs of D.C., which he appears to be, he may have to take on some issues that he wasn’t expecting," said James Jones, spokesman for DC Vote. "We’ve talked about potholes, we’re trying to build a sewer system, we’re talking about regular services. And if he wants to run the city I would invite him to run for city council or run for mayor.”
Talley thanked the activists for coming and assured them they had heard from D.C. residents who were angry about Chaffetz's warning about the marijuana initiative.
“You’ve certainly made a scene and I appreciate your interest and your vigor here," Talley said. "Let’s have a discussion that can maybe be a little bit more productive moving forward." But they did not actually accept the marijuana pipe. After staffers questioned whether the Ethics Committee would allow them to accept the pipe, Eidinger took it back.
After leaving Chaffetz's office, the activists decided to sit in on an Oversight and Government Reform hearing so Chaffetz could see them for himself. After the hearing, Chaffetz did not interact with them, but when asked by a reporter about his reaction to their presence, he told the activists, "Welcome to Congress!"
Though the "Colonial Constituents Day" was cordial and respectful — the activists were not disruptive and Capitol Police did not have to interfere — Eidinger said this was a signal to Chaffetz that things had to change.
"If the next month is a lot of back and forth with threats against the city, then this is a warning to the congressman that protests are coming. Big, big, big protests," Eidinger said. "Or we can start over. We can have a new relationship with this Congress and Republicans can actually get some credits for working with the local leaders of D.C., for being bipartisan.”
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