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Maryland's best bet for growth and prosperity: Douglass County (now known as Washington, D.C.)

What's Maryland's best move for economic development and growth? Retrocession of all but the monumental core of Washington, D.C. Call it "Douglass County."
What's Maryland's best move for economic development and growth? Retrocession of all but the monumental core of Washington, D.C. Call it "Douglass County." (Courtesy Douglass County Maryland)

Imagine you were a state politician flying high above Maryland and you were to ask yourself: What would be good for my state below? What would come to mind? Answers might include: an increasing population that has a high per capita income; a growing state economy; a well-educated and ethnically diverse population.

Is this an argument for making an even more generous pitch to an online goods provider with a $775 billion market cap? Well maybe, but how can all this occur without Amazon’s second headquarters — “HQ2” — here? How can Maryland make this happen, when other states cannot? How can we have all of these things and physically expand our state too?

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The answer to these questions is to create a new Maryland county from the lands of the District of Columbia, with the exception of the monumental core. Those lands can remain the nation’s capital under federal control. I propose the name Douglass County, after the famous abolitionist and political leader Frederick Douglass, who escaped from slavery in the state of Maryland but who died a second class citizen by nature of his residency in the District. D.C. offers Maryland more than Amazon ever will. And D.C. needs Maryland; Amazon doesn’t.

While Congress is dusting off the notion of statehood for the District of Columbia for the first time in 21 years, that doesn't mean residents of the nation's capital are any closer to gaining representation on Capitol Hill.

Since it was created by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1800, as an artificial box carved out of Virginia and Maryland, its residents have lacked power to influence Congress and are less than equal participants in our democracy. At present D.C. only has had limited home rule and a congressional delegate who may not vote, except in committee. Most importantly, 102 senators — that is, a Senate, with the addition of two senators from D.C. — has been and will continue to be a political impossibility. D.C. will never have its own senators. The creation of a single additional congressional district in Maryland is much more politically viable than 51st statehood for D.C. Indeed, in 2017, a leading Utah congressman, conservative Republican Jason Chaffetz, reintroduced a bill that would accomplish retrocession.

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I am aware that many supporters of statehood for the District oppose retrocession. After all, the creation of Douglass County, Md., would mean a net loss of two Electoral College votes, which Democrats have been able to count on in advance. Yet enfranchisement, at its core, cannot be about partisanship. I stand with my fellow Washingtonians in having an emotional attachment to the ideal of 51st statehood. We all want to feel special. However, we are not, and that’s the point.

Others in Maryland, namely committed Republicans, undoubtedly would oppose adding “Douglass County” to Maryland since it would be an overwhelmingly Democratic county, making it even more difficult for a Republican to be elected governor. However, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is now showing substantial popularity with Democrats and independents, including among African Americans. So, he and other moderate Republicans could certainly win the statehouse with Douglass County as a part of the state.

A D.C. voter says no to statehood

The creation of Douglass County from D.C. as a new Maryland county offers substantial advantages to the residents of D.C. and Maryland beyond enfranchisement and Maryland economic growth. Reciprocal access to in-state education is one example. Certainly, students and parents in Maryland and in D.C. would benefit from being able to access the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and the University of Maryland as residents of the same state. Indeed, we would not need to have two state departments of education, motor vehicles, departments of health, etc. Retrocession, would be a win/win.

For too many generations we have ignored, or, more to the point, avoided the obvious. The citizens of Arlington County, Va., get their cake and eat it too. Let’s do the same on the northern side of the Potomac River. Let’s remove the stain on our Democracy that D.C.’s disenfranchisement represents. The bicentennial of Frederick Douglass’ birth just passed in February, and Mr. Douglass is all the rage. What better time to name a county in Maryland after him, where he lived and prospered? The initials will be D.C. for short. It’s even better than HQ2.

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David Krucoff is executive director and founder of Douglass County, Maryland (www.douglasscountymd.org). His email is dkrucoff@douglasscountymd.org; Twitter: @Douglass_County.

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