Thirty-three Democratic state senators and House members are calling on the state’s congressional delegation to support Washington, D.C., statehood, in advance of a June 22 U.S. Senate hearing on the topic.
Washington D.C. statehood is a politically divisive issue – Democrats see giving the federal district’s almost 700,000 residents, a majority of whom are non-white, full representation in their national government as a civil rights question, while Republicans see it as an unconstitutional power grab that will all but guarantee the addition of two more Democrats to the Senate.
The D.C. statehood bill that passed the U.S. House in April split the state’s congressional delegation on the expected partisan lines, with all the Democrats voting for it and all the Republicans voting against it. And when a resolution opposing D.C. statehood came up in the Arizona House earlier this year, it passed 31-29 along the expected party lines.
However, what remains in question is how Arizona’s two Democratic U.S. senators, both of whom have sought to cultivate reputations as moderates who sometimes buck their party, would vote on a D.C. statehood bill. When asked this week, both indicated they haven’t decided whether to vote “yes” or “no.”
In a letter to the state’s federal delegation this week, the Arizona state lawmakers wrote: “No other democratic nation denies the right of self-government, including participation in its national legislature, to the residents of its capital. The residents of the District of Columbia lack full democracy, equality, and citizenship enjoyed by the residents of Arizona and all other states.”
The letter says the United Nations Human Rights Committee has called on the U.S. to address D.C.’s “lack of political equality” and that the Organization of American States has declared the city’s disenfranchisement a violation of its charter agreement. Twenty-three state House Democrats and 10 senators signed the letter, including the House and Senate minority leaders.
“Congress has repeatedly interfered with the District of Columbia’s limited self-government by enacting laws that impact expenditure of its locally raised tax revenue, including barring the use of locally raised revenue, which violates the fundamental principle that states and local governments are best suited to enact legislation that represents the will of their citizens,” they wrote. “Although the District of Columbia has passed consecutive balanced budgets since 1997, it still faces the possibility of being shut down yearly because of Congressional deliberations over the federal budget.”
Next week’s hearing before the U.S. Senate’s Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will start at 10 a.m. Eastern time and will feature testimony from several statehood supporters, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and former Connecticut senator and vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman. The bill is being sponsored by Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., and has 45 co-sponsors, all Democrats. Arizona’s senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly are among the few members of their caucus who have not signed onto the bill, and neither Kelly nor Sinema, who is on the committee, has publicly committed to voting for or against D.C. statehood.
“While no legislation on Washington, D.C. statehood is currently scheduled for a Senate vote, Kyrsten has said that the admission of new states to the union is one of the most important responsibilities granted to Congress — and that having all Americans’ voices heard in our federal government through elected representatives is fundamentally important to Arizonans, and to all American citizens,” Sinema spokeswoman Hannah Hurley said June 16. “Kyrsten believes that any change to the District’s status should be fairly considered by Congress, and she will continue to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to honor and protect our nation’s capital. If legislation is brought to a vote, Kyrsten will — as always — vote based on what’s right for Arizona.”
Kelly spokesman Jacob Peters pointed the Arizona Capitol Times to comments Kelly made to Politico in late April, when he indicated he hadn’t made a decision on the issue.
“Like a lot of things like this, I want to see the details,” Kelly said. “This is pretty straightforward, but in general I feel that every American has a right to representation in the United States Congress. And there are a lot of folks that live here in D.C. There are a lot of options to do that … I think our democracy is best served when folks have representation in the United States Congress.”
A poll conducted in April by McLaughlin and Associates and commissioned by the conservative United States Justice Foundation showed 50% of Arizonans opposed to D.C. statehood and 42% in favor. Former Arizona Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is chairman of the Justice Foundation’s Advisory Committee, predicted in a newspaper column in May that supporting D.C. statehood could hurt Kelly politically and called on him to join Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., in opposing the elimination of the filibuster, which would likely need to be done to get a vote on D.C. statehood anyway.
“If so, Mark Kelly could claim the mantle of John McCain, describing himself as a ‘principled pragmatist’ and making a midcourse correction common in spaceflight, and not unheard of in public office,” Hayworth wrote. “If not, the third astronaut-turned-senator could see his political mission grounded early.”
The Arizona House weighed in on the issue in March, voting along party lines to approve a resolution opposing D.C. statehood. Democrats said the current situation “disenfranchises many minority Americans, and that is fundamentally wrong, un-American and un-Arizonan,” as Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, put it.
“D.C. statehood is a civil rights issue,” said House Minority Leader Reginald Bolding, D-Laveen. “There are 700,000 mostly black and brown citizens in D.C. right now who do not have the ability to have their issues heard.”
Republicans said making D.C. a state would be unconstitutional, and that the federal district was intended to be a place where the government could meet with no undue influence from any particular state. Some said that if D.C. residents want elected representation in the federal government, they can move, or suggested ceding parts of it back to Virginia or Maryland.
“To say that people have been deprived of statehood, well yeah, that was the original intention of the federal city,” said Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley.
The state Senate never took up the resolution.