D.C. Bill Delayed as Davis Seeks More Backing

Posted March 12, 2004 at 3:24pm

House Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis’ pending proposal to create Congressional voting representation for the District of Columbia appears to have stalled as the lawmaker seeks additional support for the measure.

Although the Virginia Republican initially indicated he would introduce the bill in fall 2003, it is now likely the legislation will be submitted sometime in May, when Davis said he expects to hold related hearings.

In a brief interview last week, Davis said only that he has needed extra time to continue “building support and making sure all of the research is done.”

A Davis spokesman confirmed that the office is seeking “constitutional scholars” to review the bill before it is submitted.

“Everything is for a reason,” Davis said.

The Old Dominion lawmaker is expected to introduce a bill that would temporarily expand the House to 437 seats. Utah, a Republican stronghold, would receive a fourth district and the District of Columbia, a Democratic bastion, would receive its sole House seat. (The District is currently represented by a nonvoting Delegate.) The House would contract to 435 seats following the 2010 Census and reapportionment.

The plan has earned praise for its bipartisan appeal from several voting-rights group that Davis has met with periodically since announcing his intentions in late June 2003.

“This bill will have bipartisan support because it won’t disrupt the balance of power in the House,” said Walter Smith, executive director of the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

But it appears that questions over whether the legislation could effectively create two Republican seats in Utah, rather than simply adding one seat for each of the major parties, could also be stalling the bill’s introduction, according to voting-rights activists and others sources familiar with the proposal.

“We do understand that they have some issues to work out with Democrats over redistricting in Utah,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote. “We’re disappointed that those issues have not been resolved yet, because we would like to see a bill be introduced and move through the Congress.”

Zherka added: “At this point we’re looking to Tom Davis and [Government Reform ranking member] Henry Waxman [D-Calif.] to try and work out differences over redistricting, and not just the two of them, but also the House [Republican] and Democratic leadership over what would happen.”

In a statement, the California lawmaker expressed support for Congressional representation for the District, but criticized the idea of linking the two new House seats.

“I fully support Congressional representation for the residents of the District of Columbia, but not Representative Davis’ approach,” Waxman said through a spokeswoman. “His bill would force redistricting in Utah and would almost certainly lead to the addition of two Republican seats, not just one.

“The residents of the District deserve voting representation. This should be accomplished on its own merits without providing the Republican Party with another opportunity to gerrymander,” he asserted.

Democrats are concerned that, if the Davis plan was approved, Utah’s Republican-dominated Legislature could create a new map turning Rep. Jim Matheson’s (D) already competitive 2nd district seat into a Republican stronghold.

It is also possible, however, that the Legislature would use an already-drawn four-seat map, created after the 2000 Census with the expectation the state would receive an additional seat in the reapportionment process. The new fourth district created under that map would have leaned Republican, and Matheson’s district would become more Democratic.

Donald Dunn, chairman of the Utah state Democratic Party, is supportive of the additional seat — “If Utah can get an extra Congressional seat that’s great for Utah” — but acknowledged there are concerns over redistricting.

“I would want to make sure that our districts are going to be fairly implemented,” he added.

In response to Waxman’s apprehension over the proposal, a Davis spokesman stated: “Chairman Davis wants to collaborate with Mr. Waxman, Mrs. Norton and other Democrats on this proposal every step of the way, and he looks forward to assuaging Mr. Waxman’s concerns regarding the Utah seat,” referring to D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

“We have no desire to gerrymander another Republican seat in Utah. The addition of two seats in the Davis proposal is meant to make this partisan neutral,” said David Marin, Davis’ spokesman.

A Matheson spokesman did not return a telephone call seeking comment, but D.C. Shadow Rep. Ray Browne (D) said the Utah lawmaker’s staff expressed support for the bill during a meeting in early February.

“The reality of the matter is what’s going to count is his [re-]election,” added Browne, who lobbies for statehood and voting rights for the District.

“This is just really an interim measure,” Browne said, noting that a temporary map would be unlikely to affect Utah for more than four years. “The point is they’re not getting any big bonus out of this for a long period of time, and I think that the Democratic concerns need to be with defeating [former Republican state Rep. John] Swallow this time around, not what’s going to happen with redistricting.”

Even if the bill is introduced in May, it remains unclear whether it could pass out of the chamber before the end of the 108th Congress.

While voting-rights advocates remain upbeat about the legislation’s potential, a few acknowledged that given the election-year legislative calendar, any efforts may be more focused on building momentum than passage.

“Even if it doesn’t pass this year, you’ll be further along,” Smith said.

Norton, sponsor of the No Taxation Without Representation Act, has previously said she welcomes additional proposals to create voting rights, although she remains committed to her own legislation, which would create both Senate and House seats for the District.