Norton: Include D.C. in Statuary Hall

Posted September 23, 2005 at 6:10pm

As the House installed the 100th and final submission to Statuary Hall last week, a 7-foot-tall likeness of New Mexico’s Pueblo warrior Po’pay, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) was busy urging lawmakers to expand by two the collection of statues lining the famous Capitol corridor.

The District of Columbia is getting slighted, she argued in a speech on the House floor last Wednesday, by the absence of a Statuary Hall presence immortalizing its finest historical figures.

Washington “has more than two centuries of its very own rich and uniquely American history,” Norton said. “The District boasts distinguished figures in history for whom selections for statues could readily be made. It should go without saying that the almost 600,000 American citizens who live in the nation’s capital deserve the honor of having two of their history makers represented in the Capitol.”

Norton first sponsored legislation in October 2003 to install two statues in Statuary Hall representing the District. But having gathered only two co-sponsors, Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the bill had no widespread support and languished in the House Administration Committee. With the recent unveiling of Po’pay shining a spotlight on the representation issue of Statuary Hall, Norton plans to reintroduce the legislation in the near future.

Because she is wary of appearing to take unilateral control over the process by which District representatives in Statuary Hall would be chosen, Norton has not come forward with any suggestions of her own. She said her bill “would allow the mayor and the City Council to devise the method for determining the identity of the honorees.”

If Norton’s bill comes before the House again, it would appear to have the backing of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who wrote a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) requesting his support when the expansion of the Statuary Hall collection was first proposed.

“The residents of the District of Columbia have been faithful participants in American life,” Pelosi wrote. “District residents have proudly served in our armed forces, fighting and dying in war. They continue to pay taxes without voting representation in Congress. By any measure, District residents deserve to have the symbols of their history displayed in their Capitol.”

Norton’s office believes that Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Administration Committee, also would be on board should her legislation be reintroduced. Millender-McDonald’s office could not be reached for confirmation.

Whether Norton’s request for two additional statues is honored will ultimately be decided by the political process and not space considerations, according to the Architect of the Capitol’s office. Because their combined weight would overwhelm Statuary Hall, many of the pieces already are displayed outside the corridor itself, indicating that extra submissions from the District of Columbia could be accommodated.

Norton stressed that her announcement wasn’t meant to detract from Thursday’s ceremony honoring New Mexico’s Po’pay, only to continue her ongoing campaign to give the District of Columbia a fair shake in Statuary Hall.

“New Mexico and its citizens deserve this honor and get it simply because they are American citizens,” Norton said. “As we pass this resolution for New Mexico and its citizens, I ask the House to remember that we are all equal in this country, and that it is time that our legislature and the hall where these statues stand reflected that equality.”