Advocates Plan Tea Party for D.C. Representation

Posted December 4, 2007 at 6:28pm

It’s not 1773, but a slew of District of Columbia residents say the issue is still the same: taxation without representation.

And on Dec. 16, D.C. vote advocates plan to re-enact the Boston Tea Party on the Georgetown waterfront, a way to remind Americans that 234 years later the 550,000-plus residents who live in the District pay federal taxes but do not have full Congressional representation.

“Activists will re-enact the tea party in the only jurisdiction where that could still occur,” said D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). “The District is keeping the matter visible.”

The need to continue tactics such as these is especially noteworthy in a year when supporters came closer than ever to winning Congressional representation for the District.

The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act would have given Democratic-leaning D.C. a full House vote while also giving one to largely Republican Utah, which nearly missed getting an additional House seat following the 2000 Census.

Introduced by Norton and Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the measure passed the House in April but stalled in September when the Senate voted against cloture on the bill (60 votes are needed; supporters managed 57).

Despite the setback, advocates say they remain determined and hope to convince Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the bill back to the floor for another cloture vote this Congressional session.

“We think we have a very good chance on convincing Senators to switch their votes,” said Ilir Zherka, executive director of the advocacy group DC Vote. “That’s our goal. To engage them, to talk to them, to be active in their states.”

Whether Reid will do so is unclear, as a slew of appropriations bills and a number of other timely measures remain to be brought to the floor this month. A Reid spokesman on Tuesday said whether the bill eventually returns depends on a number of factors, including whether enough Republicans agree to vote for cloture.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.), who sponsored the legislation in the Senate along with Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch (R), echoed those thoughts.

“That’s something that’s been talked about since the day the vote was taken,” said spokeswoman Leslie Phillips. “I think we’re still in the talking stages.”

Advocates hope that if they can convince Reid they have the votes, he’ll bring it back to the floor. With that in mind, they are targeting eight Senators who are seen as potentially willing to vote for cloture should the bill come up a second time.

Their efforts ramped up on Tuesday, when a campaign was launched in Montana targeting Sen. Max Baucus — the only Democrat to vote against cloture the first time around.

“I think we’re optimistic that we have a good chance,” Zherka said. “I think more than anything, we’re determined. I think that’s what’s different about this round, about the fight now, is that we have organization.”

Others being targeted include Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.), Gordon Smith (Ore.), John Warner (Va.), Thad Cochran (Miss.), Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and John Sununu (N.H.), Zherka said.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who did not attend the cloture vote, also is being targeted, Zherka added.

Some Republicans might have voted against cloture out of ignorance, thinking the measure could give D.C. two Senate seats and eventual statehood, both Norton and Zherka said.

“I regret to say that it’s an old and unexamined habit,” Norton said of Congressional treatment of matters affecting the District. “Unless they took the time to understand that the Senate was not implicated, [they] are open to all kinds of fears.”

Supporters are not rushing the effort to bring the bill back to the floor, Norton said. But should the bill fail to pass in the 110th Congress, “we’ll have to go it again,” she said.

Lieberman’s support for the measure remains strong, and he would likely be willing to reintroduce it, Phillips said.

“He remains an ardent supporter of it, and a strong ally of Del. Norton,” she said.

If predictions for the 2008 elections hold up, supporters might have an easier time getting the bill passed come 2009 anyway, because Democrats could pick up Senate seats in the next election. A Democrat in the White House also could be beneficial, because advisers to President Bush have said they’d recommend a veto on the measure.

Whether Utah stays on board remains an issue — after all, the state is likely to pick up more seats following the 2010 Census anyway. But even if Utah is no longer involved, supporters say the way to get D.C. representation would be through a similar compromise approach, Zherka said.

Still, 2008 remains the focus.

On Thursday, the City Council will hold a hearing on a bill that would approve the installation of a digital billboard at the soon-to-open Washington Nationals baseball stadium displaying the amount of money D.C. residents have paid in federal taxes.

The idea is the brainchild of area journalist Mark Seagraves and is sponsored by Councilmembers Kwame Brown (D-At Large), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), according to a Brown spokesman. A billboard also would be installed at City Hall.

“The councilmember sees this as a way to keep the momentum going,” spokesman Mike Price said. “Not letting it die out.”