As Justin Robinson was scrolling through Facebook comments on a certain Maryland Republican's page in December, he had an idea.
"This is great," he thought as he saw the scores of District of Columbia residents commenting in opposition to Rep. Andy Harris' push to block marijuana legalization in D.C. "But some staffer is reading this. [Harris is] not going to see it, or care."
So the local DJ and restaurant server left his own comment, saying D.C. residents should start a super PAC and target Harris' re-election. Then he said he realized that was actually a good idea. “What’s the one thing that politicians actually care about?" Robinson asked in a phone interview Thursday. "It’s re-election and it’s money. That’s the one thing that actually makes them tick.”
So Robinson, a fifth generation Washingtonian and self-described "political junkie," started researching what it would take to start a political action committee to target members of Congress who interfere with D.C. affairs. And on Dec. 30, the Not Your District PAC announced its presence on Facebook.
After gathering volunteers, supporters and formulating strategy, the PAC is ramping up its presence this week, sending an email blast to potential supporters Thursday morning urging them to make a donation and "tell members of Congress to worry about their own districts, not ours."
Though Robinson was born in the District and his roots in D.C. date back generations, he grew up in Prince George's County, Maryland. Six years ago, after graduating from the University of Maryland with a computer science degree, he moved back to D.C.
He said he has always been interested in politics, but the congressional attempt to block the District's marijuana legalization initiative , which was approved by 70 percent of D.C. voters, moved him to take action. When he started looking into filing with the Federal Election Commission to put his idea into action, he also reached out to the chairman of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, Adam Eidinger, who connected Robinson with potential supporters.
Eidinger also invited Robinson to an April meeting with congressional staffers with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has jurisdiction over D.C.
But Robinson's focus extends beyond Capitol Hill, and he plans to take the frustration with congressional interference directly to constituents, launching radio, print, and television ads during campaign season, informing constituents that their representatives are spending their limited time in Congress focusing on D.C. policies.
“It can be a little tough," Robinson said, when asked about explaining the District's complex political status in a 30-second ad. "I think that once people sort of get a grasp of the fundamental unfairness of what’s happening, they'll be a little more receptive.” And he said the message is also straightforward: Your congressman is focusing on D.C. when he or she should be focusing on you.
Robinson did not say which members are potential targets for the PAC, but he said they are in the process of developing a list of members and determining where their ads can have the most impact. He said the PAC plans to make some announcements about its targets in the next few weeks, and they will likely zero in on one or two members.
The Not Your District PAC is not the only group who will be taking the fight for District autonomy to other congressional districts. A coalition of D.C. officials, including Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. autonomy, abortion rights, LGBT and marijuana activists gathered Thursday in the Cannon House Office Building to warn members of Congress against using the appropriations process to wield their power over the District.
Appropriations riders are a common congressional tactic for altering D.C. policy, and in the past have been aimed at abortion, needle exchange programs, gun laws and marijuana.
"The coalition’s message to congressional appropriators and other members of Congress is clear," said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. "Should attempts be made to attach anti-democratic riders to the District’s appropriations consisting of local funds raised by District taxpayers, the coalition will alert the constituents of House and Senate members that their member of Congress is undemocratically interfering in the local affairs of the District instead of concentrating on the business of their own constituents.”
Robinson said the Not Your District PAC is not directly affiliated with any of the other groups seeking to take D.C.'s message to congressional districts. But, he said, "We recognize that we’re all on the same team."
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