DC Vote Takes a Recess Road Trip

Posted August 11, 2009 at 2:51pm

Proponents of D.C. voting rights are trying to squeeze in their own agenda amid the recess racket over health care reform, initiating ad campaigns and targeting the districts of several Members.

Officials from the local nonprofit DC Vote traveled to Mississippi this week to meet with sympathetic groups in Rep. Travis Childers’ (D-Miss.) district. Later this month, they hope to also energize constituents in Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) home state through targeted ads.

Their goal: convince the Members to drop their efforts to insert a poison pill amendment into the D.C. House Voting Rights Act.

“We’re trying to make sure they know that their Representative in Congress is trying to act as a local legislator,— said Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote. “I think a lot of lawmakers come to D.C., and they make the assumption that people back home won’t know and there will be no reaction.—

The D.C. bill would give the city its first-ever voting Representative in the House, and supporters had high hopes that it would pass this year with the support of a Democratic Congress and president. But Childers’ amendment created an impasse in the House, and the bill has since moved nowhere.

His amendment would essentially wipe out the city’s gun laws, replacing them with some of the loosest regulations in the nation. It passed the House as a stand-alone bill in the 110th Congress, but never made it to the Senate floor.

It resurfaced this year when Ensign successfully attached a similar provision to the D.C. voting rights act. When Childers and others tried to insert it into the House version, the bill’s supporters opted to drop their efforts rather than risk the amendment’s inclusion.

Now the bill’s future is uncertain, and voting rights advocates are hoping the August recess will provide an opportunity to energize supporters outside D.C. and get enough votes for an amendment-free bill.

In Mississippi, DC Vote officials are targeting Childers’ African-American constituents, painting the city’s plight for a vote as a civil rights issue. It’s the continuation of their strategy in the House, where the Congressional Black Caucus whipped votes for the D.C. bill earlier this year.

“This is an important issue to the African-American community nationwide,— Zherka said. “And I think that that’s an appropriate community [to work with].—

This week, Zherka is meeting with groups such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League in Mississippi. DC Vote will also place ads in African-American publications.

Ultimately, Zherka hopes that the groups will put enough pressure on Childers that he will drop his amendment. But the group is also attempting to widen its influence, gathering allies for any future voting rights efforts.

DC Vote officials have said they are now looking at all options, while the D.C. Council has already formed a committee to explore the possibility of making the city a state.

The D.C. bill has a limited window of opportunity. It was only able to get the votes of some Republicans because it also creates an extra seat for heavily Republican-leaning Utah. The 2010 census, however, is expected to give Utah that seat.

Voting rights advocates also face an uphill battle in getting the bill considered. Members will be focused for months on a slew of wide-reaching legislation on health care, the economy and possibly immigration.

“We’re not too concerned about being eclipsed,— Zherka maintained. But he added that the group was “looking at all the options.—

“I think we’re taking a step at a time,— he said.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) was asked about the progress of the D.C. voting rights bill during an appearance Tuesday morning on MSNBC. She noted that she is working behind the scenes to kill the gun amendment.

“I’m making some progress in getting it off,— Norton said, adding that she has been working with party leaders in both houses on trying to get the bill done. “We’re getting there.—