Why D.C. Should Become a State

Matthew Koehler

Long have the people of D.C., American citizens, fought for equal representation in Congress, and now their fight picks up steam.


Photo by Jose Luis Magana | via Getty Images

The House voted in favor of D.C. statehood on June 26, 2020, for the first time in history. It was, and is, a historic vote. A historic vote that ultimately died in the senate, but is part of a movement that has gained momentum in the last decade, ramping up during Trump's presidency, and is now a major democratic plank.

The last time Congress tried to pass statehood for the small federal district, it failed 277 to 193 in the House.

On March 22, at 11 a.m., the Committee on Oversight and Reform (COR) is set to have a hearing on H.R.51, a bill similar to the one passed in the House last summer. Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's non-voting member of the House has garnered 214 cosponsors in the House and 40 senators, including majority leader Chuck Schumer.

Nationwide support for statehood has slowly grown over the last several years, and Rep. Norton claimed in a release that it's around 50%. Furthermore, both president Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris support D.C. statehood, as well.


And the Vice President...


Even with democrats controlling the House, Senate, and White House, statehood still has an uphill battle due to the filibuster, and you can expect unified opposition from republicans.

Regardless of who you are and where you live, though, you can expect the call for statehood to get much louder in the near future, and there are good reasons for that.

Let me tell you why.

Taxed without representation…

More than 700,000 American citizens, who live in the District of Columbia, are taxed without representation, despite paying some of the highest federal taxes in the nation. District residents have no vote in Congress, except when democrats grant the right to the figurehead representative of the District.

According to the Brookings Institution, becoming a state would further "grant voting representation to the residents of D.C., adding one member to the House and two Senators. The House would grow by one member to 436, then after the next census return to 435 apportioned among the now 51 states."

It would essentially give American citizens living in the District the full rights every American citizen already has.

Ask yourself, would you live in a city or state without representation?

Being taxed without representation is not the only problem with D.C.’s pseudo state status, though. Another is home rule. Often in the past, Congress used its authority over the District to intervene in how the city governs its own affairs. In the past few decades, it's been republican-lead congresses that consistently use "their power [in deeply partisan ways] to interfere in D.C.’s funding, taxes, and laws. D.C. is basically controlled by outsiders — “the Swamp” as people call it."

Ask yourself another question, would you live in a state or city that was controlled by senators from other states? Would you allow senators, who don’t have your best interests at heart when making decisions but rather use you as a board piece in a capricious game of politics, make the decisions in your state or city?

No state would put up with that sort of relationship with elected leaders and, in fact, no state currently does so.

Self-governance, but not for you..

One of the perpetual debates in America, especially with the Tea Party, the Freedom Caucus, and a campaign promise of former President Trump, is a state’s ability to self-govern — to not have another state or the federal government come in and dictate how things should be run.

D.C., however, does not have the power to self-govern.

A state's power to self-govern, though, is deeply rooted in our idea of what it is to be American — especially as a traditional conservative and libertarian value. You can often hear repeated in various social circles that state's are the laboratories of democracy, not the federal government, and that states and local municipalities should decide what is best for their residents (within the limits of the Constitution, which is a statement that could bear its own unpacking). After a few hundred years of existing as a nation, our system of federalism has slowly and painfully born this reality out, and is how we continue to exist as a nation today.

Well, the above is true except for citizens in D.C., who number more than the populations of Wyoming and Vermont (separately). Far from just being an important American policy, the concept of self-governance is quintessential to the American pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Without it, these ideals and rights come under direct threat.

COVID-19 has literally changed the social, economic, and political landscape in 2020. The country was hurt badly at the outset of the pandemic and is still socially, politically, and economically reeling from its effects. The social and economic hardships are still difficult to put into full view and are ongoing.

In its initial response to the unprecedented economic downturn, Congress passed rare bipartisan legislation by way of the CARES Act, which dolled out billions to states. The District, however, was treated like a territory and given half of what other states got (about $750 million).

As Steny Hoyer pointed out, “If D.C. were a state, it could not be shortchanged as it was under the CARES Act and its residents would be protected from the kind of civil rights violations we saw in Lafayette Square."

In the seat of power, the Constitution is null and void..

Equitable state recognition and self-governance is not just about democrats and republicans playing a political game, though. The stakes are much higher. Because D.C. has no governor it cannot deny threats from an executive branch that, for example, could flood city streets with federal troops and federalize the city-state's police force.

In the summer of 2020, former president Trump used the District as a test city for his “overwhelming dominance” theory of crowd control—crowd control for peaceful protestors. The country watched in horror as President Trump used both local and federal authorities to assault peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square for a photo op.

General Milley later admitted it was a mistake to clear peaceful protesters in such a manner. CBS News reported that he said the optics of the military occupying a US city looked very bad, “We must hold dear the principles of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic."

Ask yourself another question, would you live in a state or city that was controlled by senators from other states?

Not to mention the anonymous federal forces that also flooded the streets — streets owned by the District — and abused American citizens. For two weeks, military helicopters constantly flew dangerously low over city streets, putting hundreds of people at risk. The so-called occupation of D.C. was finally ended when the mayor decided to kick the National Guard out of local hotels.

(During the Jan. 6, riot and insurrection at the US Capitol, both local and federal authorities had to stand by for nearly three hours before they were allowed to intervene. However, the mayor does not have authority to order federal authorities or local ones on federal property, only the president has that power.)

It's not about liberal power, it's about citizens having a vote

Some say that Maryland should just take back the land it gave to D.C. On its face, this seems like an easy solution but it’s not. Maryland doesn’t want a new city with over 712,000+ (and growing) people. It would inevitably change their state politics.

Virginia doesn’t want D.C. for the same reason. Besides, things have changed since the Constitution was written, and the District has is no longer what it once was. 

Furthermore, making a new state is not the constitutional crisis many republicans claim it is: “the Constitution grants Congress broad control over the district and authority to accept new states into the union through simple legislation.” Congress has made other territories into states in recent history. New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii were all made states in the 20 century — Hawaii as late as 1959.

And really, republican qualms about making D.C. a state boil down to fear of democrats getting a state and more power. Last I checked, fear of the opposing party gaining power is not codified in the Constitution. D.C. is also 47% black and has been routinely disregarded and mistreated by republican congresses over the last several decades (here is a pretty extensive list of what Congress has done, and continues to do, to interfere in the operation of D.C.). No one is calling anyone specific racist, but to overlook the implications, or dismiss them, is to not see reality.

Self-governance is not only important to our concept of American freedom, but also essential to our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

Please educate yourself on D.C. statehood and why it matters. Understand why people are calling for it. It is literally a constitutional crisis that you wouldn’t allow to happen in your own state, and if it did, you would fight it too.

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Essays and reporting. Most of this is true. Bylines around the Web. Editor of a local newspaper in the District. Got a tip? Contact me here: https://twitter.com/MattJKoe.

Washington, DC

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