No Law Can Make D.C. A Fit State


Washington. -- A familiar patch of legislative crabgrass cropped up the other day on Capitol Hill. This is, of course, the D.C. statehood bill. It deserves the crabgrass treatment: Spray it! Stomp on it! Root it out before it grows!

This year's version is embodied in H.R. 4718, sponsored (naturally) by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia. With deference to the gentlewoman, the new bill does not improve with age.

As always, she ventures the same foolish proposal; I respond with the same sagacious comments. We shall grow old together, the statehood bill and I, fading together as the twilight nears.

For the record, it should be said that residents of the City of Washington have but one grievance that matters: They have no vote in Congress. That is the substance of their whole complaint.

They may vote (though not many of them do) for their own city council and mayor. They may vote for their own school board. But they have no voice in the halls of the House and Senate.

This is thought to be intolerable, though the longer one contemplates Congress the more one wonders why anyone would want to be there. In any event, this deprivation tramples upon the soul of democracy. Taxation without representation is tyranny.

The oppressed residents of Washington demand one seat in the House and two in the Senate, all of which shall be held in perpetuity by Democrats. One of whom shall be Jesse Jackson.

Let us back up. In the beginning, in 1788, the District of Columbia contained 100 square miles that were carved out of Virginia and Maryland. Thirty-one of these square miles were returned to Virginia in 1846, leaving the 69 that once had been part of Maryland.

Under the statehood proposal, a "National Capital Service Area" would be carved from the heart of the city. The area would reach from the Kennedy Center at one end to the Supreme Court at the other. It would include the White House and the principal monuments. This would remain as the seat of government. Everything else would become the State of New Columbia.

This synthetic state would have a population of roughly 600,000. It would have but two industries: government and tourism. No manufacturing. No agriculture. The viability of New Columbia would depend entirely upon the federal payment in lieu of local taxes.

The national government, deprived of authority over the District, would be dependent upon the governor and the state legislature. It was to avoid this very contretemps that the Founding Fathers created the District in the first place.

The House Committee on the District of Columbia has approved Mrs. Norton's bill. As soon as possible after the Easter recess, the sponsors will request a day on the House calendar for floor debate and probable passage. Meanwhile, Sen. Edward Kennedy will be nursing his identical bill in the Senate. Its chances there are so-so.

If the bill passes both houses, President Bush probably would veto it, though this would mean repudiation of a promise the Republicans have recklessly made in their national conventions time after time.

The principal complaint of D.C. residents has some merit, but not much. If a right to vote for members of Congress is a be-all and end-all, residents may move a few miles into Maryland or cross the Potomac into Virginia.

The two parent states might be talked into making some arrangement for absentee voting. Perhaps Maryland could be persuaded to take back most of its 69 miles. This would solve all or most of the problems, but you will see 10 feet of snow in Tallahassee before Maryland buys that proposition.

Mrs. Norton sees no constitutional impediments. I see quite a few. In Article I, the Constitution gives Congress the power of "exclusive legislation in all cases whatsoever" over the federal district. No statute can vitiate that constitutional power.

In the 23d Amendment, the Constitution awards three presidential electors to the district constituting the seat of government, to be appointed in such manner as the Congress may direct. These three electors cannot be made to disappear. A constitutional amendment would be required.

Ah, well. It's spring in Washington, and the city is as beautiful as it ever gets. Away with this crabgrass! Pass the hoe, Matilda, and let us be rid of a bad idea that gets no better as the passing years roll by.

James J. Kilpatrick is a syndicated columnist.

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