Davis to Unveil D.C. Plan by Year’s End
House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said Tuesday his panel will hold hearings on the creation of a full-fledged Representative for the District of Columbia before the year ends, even if he does not introduce formal legislation before the House adjourns.
After several months of debate over various options for creating a new House seat for the District — currently represented by a nonvoting Delegate — Davis said he has made a decision but would not divulge any details.
Instead, he said his office will release an outline for the bill prior to the yet-to-be-scheduled hearing. A Davis spokesman said the bill will not be introduced until the 108th Congress begins its second session in January.
“We’re going to hold hearings on it this year,” Davis said, noting that constitutional scholars would likely be among the witnesses.
Under one of several variations that Davis had considered, both D.C. and Utah — which fell short of earning a fourth district during the post-2000 Census reapportionment — would gain new House seats. The House would temporarily grow to 437 seats, until the next reapportionment cycle following the 2010 Census.
“They’ve obviously given it a tremendous amount of thought, and the citizens of Washington are happy that they’ve approached it with depths of sincerity and thought,” said John Forster of the Committee for the Capital City. Forster’s group, which backs retrocession, or “reunion,” of the District to Maryland, favors the creation a 9th district in Maryland composed primarily of D.C. but including some Old Line State inhabitants. Such a plan could also give D.C. residents the right to vote for Maryland’s two Senate seats.
Another proposal put forth recommends Congress could treat the District as a state solely for voting rights.
In the meantime, voting-rights advocates have launched a new campaign to influence those House Members and Senators who control the committees charged with oversight of the District.
The advocacy campaign is led by D.C. Vote, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that promotes Congressional representation for the District.
Although voting-rights advocates typically focus their activities within Washington, organizers said the new campaign will seek to grow support throughout numerous Congressional districts.
“It hasn’t really been done by D.C. advocacy groups at all in the past,” explained Ilir Zherka, D.C. Vote’s executive director.
Rather than work with local or state political organizations, Zherka said the 501(c)(3) group will work with national organizations that support its cause, including the NAACP.
“As we go through this process we’re going to look to those organizations nationally to help,” he added.
In its initial phase, the advocacy campaign will focus on rallying voters in New Jersey’s 11th district, home to Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R), chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on the District of Columbia.
“Frelinghuysen controls the District’s budget, and of course the District doesn’t vote for him,” Zherka said.
Voting-rights advocates have voiced concerns that the Garden State lawmaker will block a provision in the Senate’s version of the D.C. spending bill to repeal a longtime prohibition on the use of locally raised funds to lobby for statehood or full Congressional representation. The House version would maintain the prohibition.
In discussing the bill, Frelinghuysen said: “There’s always some ability to take a look at all riders,” but added that many of his colleagues have indicated they want to maintain the prohibition.
A Tuesday e-mail issued by D.C. Vote invites its members to send prefabricated e-mails to Frelinghuysen and the House leadership, as well as letters to several New Jersey newspapers, deriding the prohibition.
The group also provided form letters to Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, and Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.), to praise their support for lifting the prohibition.
As of early Tuesday afternoon, Frelinghuysen said he had not heard from any constituents in his district on the issue.
“I think many of my constituents are unaware I’m chairman of the committee,” he quipped.
New Jersey Republican Party Executive Director Jeanette Issenman suggested that the “depth of support” among Garden State residents will likely impact the eventual impact of D.C. Vote’s program.
“His constituents would be more concerned with issues that hit home first than they would with something that was going on in the District of Columbia,” Issenman said. “It would be difficult to generate a lot of motivation at the grassroots level in an area that’s not being impacted by the policy.”
Even D.C. Vote officials acknowledge that the initial phase of the campaign may not be as successful as they would like.
“I think there’s a rush now to get the omnibus done and to get the D.C. bill done,” Zherka said. “In the rush to do that, it would not surprise me if the D.C. restriction rider reverts to current law.”