GOP Vets Have Long Supported D.C. Voting Rights

Posted September 14, 2007 at 12:59pm

When the Senate debates S. 1257, a bill to give the District of Columbia a vote in the House and another seat to Utah (a similar bill has passed the House), Republican military veterans should be on the floor advocating for passage. To do less would ignore the long-standing history of Republican Party support for D.C. voting rights in Congress. The record is abundant with examples of Republican Senators — veterans of all the major wars of the 20th century — who have taken to the floor over the years to advocate for the disenfranchised residents of the nation’s capital.

Today, there are 15 Republican veterans serving in the Senate (one is Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who intends to resign at the end of the month). They need a leader to rally Republicans to support S. 1257. Hopefully, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) will step forward to lead fellow Republican vets: Sens. Bob Bennett of Utah (who could ask McCain to lead), Thad Cochran, (Miss.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.), James Inhofe (Okla.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Pat Roberts (Kan.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Arlen Specter (Pa.), Ted Stevens (Alaska) and John Warner (Va.).

McCain, when he takes the floor, can cite the many Republican Senate veterans who have eloquently advocated D.C. voting rights. He can begin by quoting former Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose seat McCain now holds. In 1978, Goldwater, speaking on the Senate floor, said:

“I believe the Founding Fathers considered it basic to the scheme of government that they created for all U.S. citizens to enjoy a representative form of government, with national officers who will be responsive as possible directly to the people.

“We have a situation in America where citizens do not possess the most cherished of political rights — voting representation in Congress. We know that District residents have born the same responsibility as other U.S. citizens when their country called on them to serve in time of war. We know that during the Vietnam War, for example, District of Columbia casualties ranked fourth, on a proportionate basis, out of the 50 states.

“The District residents died and bled for their country. Now they are seeking their chance to vote and be represented in it.”

At that time, several Republican World War II comrades in arms joined Goldwater in his remarks. Sen. Bob Dole (Kan.) reminded Senators that the Republican Party had always supported D.C. voting representation in Congress because it is “fair.” Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) said: “History tells us that the failure to provide the District of Columbia with voting representation in Congress was an oversight, and not because of any specific intent of the Founding Fathers.” Sen. Edward Brooke (Mass.) noted that if he had remained in D.C., where he was born and raised, he would not have been able to serve and vote in Congress. Brooke recently issued a statement, through the D.C. Republican Party, supporting the local party’s efforts to achieve passage of S. 1257.

During his administration, Republican President Dwight Eisenhower sent numerous messages to Congress characterizing as “unconscionable” the lack of D.C. voting rights in Congress. President Richard Nixon, another WWII vet, also urged Congress to act on D.C. voting rights in several messages to Congress.

Eisenhower and Nixon carried forward the convictions of the previous generation of World War I Republican veterans who led efforts for D.C. voting rights. Among these were Sens. Everett Dirksen (Ill.), Prescott Bush (of Connecticut and grandfather of President Bush) and Francis Case (S.D.).

Case represented South Dakota in the House and Senate from 1937 until his death in 1962. The Francis Case Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River’s Washington Channel is named in recognition of Case’s long advocacy of D.C. voting rights. Historically, Republican Senators from South Dakota have consistently supported D.C. voting rights in Congress. Sen. John Thune should take note and follow their example.

The District of Columbia has lost five of its finest in Iraq, where U.S. soldiers have ensured the adoption of a Constitution that provides for representation of citizens of the capital city, Baghdad, in the national legislature. Many District residents have served in Iraq, including my son, Lt. James Rimensnyder, who returned from there in February following 14 months of duty as an intelligence officer in the north, near the Syrian border, and then in Ramadi as the commander of a tank platoon.

In a 2002 letter to President Bush while he was still a Cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, my son asked the president to uphold the long-standing tradition of “our party” to advocate D.C. voting representation in Congress. He wrote that when he reached his 18th birthday in 2000, he registered in D.C. as a Republican and voted in the 2000 presidential election, and he reminded the president that D.C. residents are “the only citizens of the United States, excluding felons, who pay federal taxes and serve in the armed forces but are denied representation in Congress.” Lt. Rimensnyder has yet to receive a response from the president addressing his grievance.

It is Lt. Rimensnyder’s hope, as well as that of his family and the D.C. Republican Party, that Republican Senators will join their Democratic colleagues in a successful bipartisan vote to send S. 1257 to the president for his signature.

Nelson Rimensnyder is a member of the D.C. Republican Committee and a U.S. Army veteran (1963-69).