Senate Backs D.C. Voting Rights, But Some Local Activists Call for Statehood

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The District of Columbia has moved a step closer to getting a vote in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, the Senate voted 61-to-37 to expand the size of the House by two seats, giving Washington, D.C. a single seat and giving Utah a fourth seat. We host a debate between D.C. Vote’s Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, who calls the Senate’s vote as a historic victory, and Anise Jenkins of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC, who opposes the bill because it falls short of making Washington, D.C. the nation’s fifty-first state. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We move now to another debate, a debate that’s taking place right there in Washington, D.C. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, the District of Columbia has moved a step closer to getting a vote in the House of Representatives. On Thursday, the Senate voted 61-to-37 to pass the D.C. House Voting Rights Act. The bill will expand the size of the House by two seats, giving Washington, D.C. a single seat and giving Utah a fourth seat. The House is expected to soon pass the measure, and President Obama has said he will sign it into law.

The Senate approved the bill only after Republicans added an amendment to throw out Washington’s gun control laws, including its ban on semi-automatic weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests from Washington, D.C. Eugene Dewitt Kinlow is the public affairs director for DC Vote. On Thursday, the group hailed the Senate’s vote as a historic victory. We’re also joined by Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC. She opposes the bill before Congress. She says it falls far short of making Washington, D.C. the nation’s fifty-first state.

Let’s begin with Eugene Dewitt Kinlow. You are celebrating now with the Senate vote. Explain exactly what you get.

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: Well, you know, we’re celebrating with some mixed emotions. One, we are happy that there is a bill that has moved forward in the Senate and that actually passed a committee in the judiciary, the House, just two days in support of D.C. voting rights. We think that the residents of the District of Columbia, a city of nearly 600,000 residents, a city where people fight and die in wars, will finally have a vote and a voice in the people’s House. We are happy that a vote moves us in that direction. We are not as happy about the attachments of the amendments that was sponsored by the gun lobby to diminish our own laws in Washington.

JUAN GONZALEZ: How does removing the ban on guns have anything to do with the bill that was being voted on?

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: Well, you know, in the House, there’s probably a germaneness. You know, when you attach amendments, they must be germane to the major bill. That rule does not apply in the Senate. But this was directly an effort by the gun lobby and probably the NRA to relax our gun laws in Washington, D.C. You know, people want to use us as a test case, so to be able — for the gun lobby to say that, “Hey, there’s a city, Washington, D.C, people can walk around with guns, semi-automatic weapons.”

I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think that we have our own elected officials. We have a mayor and a city council that has written and has actually crafted very progressive legislation based on the will of the people. You know, for years in Washington, D.C., we’ve had a progressive gun law that says you could not have a gun. And that’s because that’s what the citizens of the District wanted. Now, for Congress to come in and say, “We will tell you what’s best for you,” when we have our own elected officials, is ludicrous.

AMY GOODMAN: Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate from D.C., is supportive of this legislation. Anise Jenkins, you’re not, with Stand Up! for Democracy. Why not?

ANISE JENKINS: The fact that the Senate attached the challenge to our handgun law is a perfect example. This bill for one vote, in exchange for an extra district for Utah, demonstrates what will happen if D.C. does not become a state. We will still be subject to congressional rule. Congress will still be able to overturn our laws. Our budget, our local budget, made of our local money, tax money, will have to go to Congress every year for review. If we don’t have the protection of statehood, full statehood, we will never have the equal rights that other American citizens have. That’s why we oppose the bill.

It hurts to oppose this bill. There’s been a lot of enthusiasm drummed up for this bill. There’s been a lot of money backing this bill to go through. But the bill is weak. The bill is a compromise. Statehood is the answer. Statehood is what will protect us and give us our rights.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the reasoning for why Utah was included with an extra congressional district in addition to D.C.?

ANISE JENKINS: It was presented to the D.C. residents, who, by the way, voted for statehood in 1982, which has been the only referendum about what form of government we should have — 1982 we voted for statehood. It was explained to us that Utah was being included, because Utah was the complete cultural, political opposite of D.C., and it would be easier for D.C. to get a vote if Utah got an extra congressional district, which also, by the way, gives it another electoral vote. In Stand Up! for Democracy’s opinion, this is too much of a compromise.

This was done when the Republicans controlled the Congress. This was done when Bush was president, and he said he would not even sign this bill. We need to switch tracks on this train. This train is out of control. We need to switch tracks and go to statehood. We don’t need Utah to balance us out. We don’t need Utah to cancel out our vote.

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: Let me just say that —- and this is -—

AMY GOODMAN: Eugene Dewitt Kinlow?

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: Let me just provide a little background. And Anise did indicate that this is a compromise. Yes, I agree. This is a compromise bill, and that’s what happens on Capitol Hill. Generally, for bills to pass, you need people who are Democratic and Republican to support the legislation. Let me be clear, this legislation that’s proposed is a bipartisan piece of legislation, which is great. We need more bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

The bill provides for a vote in Washington, D.C., a city that is a majority Democratic city, and also provides for a vote — it doesn’t specifically say Utah, but the assumption is that it will be Utah. Utah, at the last census in 2000, narrowly missed getting another congressional seat. Now, why is this? It’s because in Utah, they have a tradition of, those who are of the Mormon faith go out into the states and do their missionary work. They were not in the states when the census was taken, and thus they were not counted. They went to court, and they lost. The compromise was to provide for a one-way, in one fell swoop — it’s not a perfect match, but it is one way of, one, enfranchising the citizens of the District of Columbia, who need this opportunity to participate in the political process fully, and one, for Utah to be made whole for their — for not having that seat at the last census.

AMY GOODMAN: You also don’t get senators here without statehood.

ANISE JENKINS: That’s absolutely true.

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: No, right. And the bill, clearly, in front of us is not about statehood. I think that if we talk about the statehood debate, that — there was an effort about in 1983 that failed. And it failed when there was a — you know, despite having a city that is majority Democratic and that supported President Barack Obama by about 93 percent, it failed in the House and the Senate, by two-to-one.


EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: And a lot of those conditions still exist. Back in ’93, when you had a Democratic House, Senate and White House, those same conditions exist right now. And I would say if we had to put it up for statehood, that the votes do not exist for statehood.

ANISE JENKINS: I would add to the -—

JUAN GONZALEZ: Anise Jenkins, I’d like to let you respond, but just to throw in a question, as well, to respond to, as well — the argument can be made that at least Congress, by voting now to grant a member of Congress, has recognized the right of political representation for D.C. and that presumably a greater Democratic majority in the future might be able then to pass, as well, the — adding two senators, as well, to the District.

ANISE JENKINS: If they vote for this bill and the bill says, specifically — there’s efforts to make amendments to this bill to say specifically, and it already implies, that this bill will not let us have senators. The Congress could see this as voting for “Case closed. You have your representative. You have your delegate. Your delegate is now a representative in the House. You will not have any senators.”

The bill even says that if we have a larger population — against the Constitution, which says if your population increases proportionately, your representatives will increase — this bill even cuts that out for D.C. So, if we go from 600,000 to a million, we still do not get two representatives. We’re still limited to two representatives and perhaps no senators. So what would the Congress be saying? We have to be very careful about what we’re putting before Congress. Is it constitutional? Is it what the residents of D.C. want? Is it what the residents of D.C. deserve?


ANISE JENKINS: This bill — let me say one more thing. There has been no effort by DC Vote to go out, after they’ve raised over several million dollars, to go out into the community, hold town hall meetings, to go out and talk to the D.C. residents. This is coming from the top. We want what D.C. residents voted for.

EUGENE DEWITT KINLOW: OK, OK, let me be clear —-

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there -— I hate to say it — but we will continue this debate. Anise Jenkins, president of Stand Up! for Democracy in DC, and Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, public affairs director for DC Vote Coalition. Just in terms of populations, to let you know the states all have under 700,000, equivalent populations to D.C., Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska; under a million, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana.

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