There's a Swingin' Town I Know called Capital City

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Matthew Yglesias lives in D.C. and wants to vote.

[E]ssentially everyone agrees that the reason we Districters don't have congressional representation is just that too many black people live here so Republicans wouldn't be competitive. This is not, if you think about, a very compelling justification for denying us equal political rights.

Michael Steele and J.C. Watts, who, unlike Yglesias are black and Republican, tacitly make the same argument in a larger piece about the legality of giving voting rights to citizens of the capital. Steele and Watts know something about this—they were key players in the GOP's perennial show of nominating high-profile black candidates for office without engaging the reasons black voters hate the GOP. The party nominated a fine candidate, Tony Williams, for a city council seat in southeast D.C. last year, and the electorate of poor blacks and liberal whites never gave him a chance.

But let's assume D.C.'s voting rights problem is entirely political and Congress would want to make the district more competitive before letting it elect anyone. This would be tough. Of the three big counties bordering D.C. only Prince George's County, MD is mostly black. Montgomery County, MD and Arlington County, VA are mostly white, as is the city of Alexandria, VA. But all of those areas are liberal and getting more so. Arlington County is only around 10 percent black but it gave two-thirds of its votes to Kerry over Bush.

Aha—there's the solution. If you re-merge Arlington County (pop. 199,776; it was part of the district between 1801 and 1846) with the district (pop. 581,530) you get a sprawling, urbanized state with the population of Delaware and a majority-minority population, about 45 percent black and 40 percent white. It would be a landslide Democratic state, would vote around 80 percent for the next Democratic nominee, but Republicans would let that slide. Why? It would take a chunk out of the growing northern Virginia megalopolis that's ending GOP rule of the commonwealth. If only the GOP had thought of this in 2005 then Sen. George Allen would be on his way to the presidency and former Rep. Jim Moran would be pacing around the Capitol, sour-faced, shaking his fist and cursing. And it would have honored the spirit of Tom DeLay's extra-Constitutional, mid-year grudge-screwings of voters he didn't like. Winners all around!

Lost opportunity, though—the GOP's unlikely to have big House/Senate majorities for a while now, and when the next Democrat signs a D.C. voting rights bill (s)he'll probably give 'em ten senators, just out of spite.

UPDATE: Comments suggest merging D.C. with Maryland, which prompts a solution I forgot to propose: Give D.C. to West Virginia. You get a state of around 2.4 million people and, uh, no tax base, but it'd be 16.2 percent black and 79 percent white and pretty competitive between the parties. And Robert Byrd could spend even more of his time naming buildings after himself, rendering him harmless. There's a problem with contiguity, but I seem to remember Westberlin and the BRD* working that out okay.

*thanks, I fixed this

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  1. Giving DC back to Maryland is the most fair and simple solution. But the Dems won’t go for it.

    Perhaps we could cut a deal with them, and allow for Statehood for Puerto Rico. But then again, that won’t work, cause the lone Delegate (Congressman) from PR Luis Fortuno right now is a Republican.

  2. DONDERROOOOOOOOOO!

  3. …that won’t work, cause the lone Delegate (Congressman) from PR Luis Fortuno right now is a Republican.

    I actually think Democrats would go for that–Puerto Rico would be a lot more political competitive than D.C. Plus it’d give the chance for some lucky member of Democratic consultant class to spend half the year in paradise. They’d probably draw straws.

  4. No way the state legislature lets Arlington or Alexandria go to DC. Too much lost tax revenue.

  5. Oh, and not to mention Arlington schools are a hell of a lot better than DC schools.

  6. Majority-minority districts have done more to reduce minority interests in congress than anything short of repealing the 14th amendment could. Incumbents in and adjoining them love ’em.

  7. Giving DC back to Maryland is the most fair and simple solution.

    Not for Maryland it’s not.

    We’ve got smaller states that have two Senators.

  8. joe-

    In fact the only reason we have two Dakotas was because Republicans controlled Congress in the late 1800s and wanted more Senators.

  9. Why not just let the voters of DC pick either Virginia or Maryland and register to vote there?

  10. Why not just let the voters of North Dakota pick either South Dakota or Montana and register to vote there?

    Because it would stack the Senate against them, while diluting the votes of people in North Dakota and Montana.

  11. KY is also non-contiguous. Ive never heard of it causing any problems.

  12. Would granting Congressional representation (with votes) require an Constitutional Amendment?

  13. As a proud resident of Arlington, I think we Arlingtonians would resist such a move. One of the reasons I like living there is that you get the best of both worlds as a D.C. “resident” by day at work and VA resident by night. By day, I enjoy DC’s vibrant culture and city life. By night, I enjoy constitutional representation, (generally) lower taxes, MUCH better gun laws etc.

  14. I seem to remember Ostberlin and the GDR working that out okay

    You mean West-Berlin and the FRG.

  15. Giving DC state status, or allowing it to merge with another state seems just bad since that will give the incentive for the new state of DC of the State+DC to argue,
    “I’m the nation’s capital damnit! I deserve more federal dollars to create respect for world leaders…blahblahbsbsbsbsbsblah.”

    But then again, “No taxation without representation!”

    Maybe the best solution would be to nuke DC post-haste, it would at least get rid of that pesky problem of that pit of vipers known as our federal government…
    Just kidding! Just kidding! Please, Mr. Fed-Man, don’t put me in jail 🙁

  16. In fairness, I worked the election where Berry was voted back in after doing time in jail. I’m not sure we want people who re-elected Berry and chose Elanor Holmes Norton to represent them deserve to have a vote.

  17. I’m not sure we want people who re-elected Berry and chose Elanor Holmes Norton to represent them deserve to have a vote.

    Doesn’t this double as an argument for disenfranchising Louisiana? And New Jersey?

  18. Why is it the “most fair solution” to artificially merge what has become a distinct jurisdiction into a separate distinct jurisdiction? Why should I, a resident of DC who has chosen to be a resident of DC for reasons relating to DC, be required to become a Virginian or a Marylander before I get the privilege of voting? Why do a smaller number of people in Wyoming get all the deference due a state, and nobody struggles over the “fairest” way to divide them up into being Montanans or Coloradans?

    Continuing to deny Congressional representation to DC itself, without trying to hedge and make it something it’s not, is partly racist, but it’s mostly just stupid.

  19. Sorry, but placing qualifications or suggesting some sort of dilution of my vote through a merger with Virginia or Maryland really makes me see red. Why aren’t we haven’t the same debate about the quid pro quo that involved adding a rep in Utah? Shouldn’t we be talking about somehow diluting the white Mormon vote there before folks there get their own district added?

    Really, the expectation that DC residents should compromise in order to get their own vote in their own district as it is currently demographically constructed is not a reasonable one. Shame on anyone for suggesting otherwise…especially the so-called friends of liberty haunt this joint.

    What a bunch of fucking charlatans!

  20. In fairness, I worked the election where Berry was voted back in after doing time in jail. I’m not sure we want people who re-elected Berry and chose Elanor Holmes Norton to represent them deserve to have a vote.

    Yet the citizens of Massachusetts get to vote. Ditto with the citizens of Kansas. I’m amenable to amending the constitution on this.

  21. Would it be too non-PC to point out that what you’re discussing here
    is nigger-rigging the electorate?

  22. Hmmh? Is not having a rep because you can’t vote any different than not having a rep because you voted for the loser in the race?
    It is not like DC is missing out on its share of the goodies or anything.

  23. If all those lily-white rocky mountain western states with small populations get to have two Senators, then so should DC damnit.

  24. As everyone knows there’s a huge Constitutional hurdle to overcome in giving DC representation.

    Question: Can’t Congress just return DC back to Maryland? Even if the politicians of both DC and MD hate the idea, do they have any power to stop it?

  25. Dave,

    If Louisiana were a fraternity, it would be on double secret ultra probation. Texas is hoping they get banned from campus so it can get the house.

  26. Man, these DC’ers are gettin uppity. I better go get the lynchin’ gang before they start claiming they gots rights too.

  27. former Rep. Jim Moran ?

  28. “Can’t Congress just return DC back to Maryland?”

    Sorry Tobycat, but DC is no longer that place, not racially, culturally, or politically. The only real issue is whether district voters should be enfranchised without any qualifications or Republican riders being attached to their right to vote or not? Are libertarians interested in stepping up and backing their right to representation or not?

    This part is quite simple and clear. The legalistic wrangling this enfranchisement would involve can be addressed later.

  29. Why should I, a resident of DC who has chosen to be a resident of DC for reasons relating to DC, be required to become a Virginian or a Marylander before I get the privilege of voting?

    And you didn’t know before you chose to live their that you wouldn’t be able to vote?

  30. Great headline.

  31. I seem to remember that D.C. was made a district for reasons of the separation of powers.

    However, since we collectively don’t seem to give a flying fuck about separation of powers any more, why not just make ’em a state.

    We can call it BushClintonvania.

  32. Matthew Franck deals with the constitutional issues here:

    http://bench.nationalreview.com/

    (top post)

  33. Dave Weigel- I’m OK with that.

  34. “Man, these DC’ers are gettin uppity.”

    Yeah that disenfranchisement thing is a bitch. It’s not on par with topics such as smoking bans, gun registration, or taxes, mind you, but some people seem to have this crazy idea that upholding everyone’s right to vote is important too.

  35. Tobycat: good catch. That JOO-hating everything-prohibiting embarrassment is still my representative. Good times!

    Taktix: You’re right. There was a historical reason for its separation, much like there was a historical reason for the electoral college. Not that I’m defending either institution. Just pointing out that there are reasons that they are the way they are and they weren’t done JUST to fuck with people.

  36. I know DC has a non-voting Representative, but do they have shadow Senators as well? Anyone know?

  37. The racial issue cuts both ways. No one seemed to care about this back when D.C. was a Vanilla City, did they? The only (practical) reason why most of the statehood folks seemed to care was either because they were Democratic Party hacks or because they wanted a Chocolate State.

    And the demographics are changing yet again. DC is only marginally majority black now according to what I’ve read, and I suspect that may be understating things, due an influx of white yuppies and Central Americans, and the flight of the black middle class to Prince George’s County. Perhaps the statehood argument will recede with the demographics. And yes, it would take a constitutional amendment to make D.C. a state.

  38. Let me amend that: Their Congresswoman cannot vote on the floor, though she can still vote in committee.

  39. ***ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM ALERT***

    The only reason we’re having this debate is because the federal government far exceeds its constitutionally-mandated and morally-permissible scope.

    There’s no reason D.C. should be any larger than a few blocks.

    Let’s get back to first principles people.

  40. This will all be moot once WWIII destroys the city.

  41. It’s discussions like this that led me to post this on a different thread today.

  42. Here’s another thing, the people of American Samoa don’t get a vote, but no one’s proposing we start giving them representatives

  43. One of the original reasons for denying DC congresspersons and senators was that the very fact of living in the capitol made its residents and their problems well known to the actual voting members — many of whom, of course, live there.

    To some extent, that remains the case: I cannot think of another city that was put under congressional oversight when it went bust. However, I suspect that it matters less and less every passing day.

    Here are a couple of options:

    1) give every resident in DC the right to vote in Utah. They won’t take it over, but they will have an impact.

    2) Make DC a state and split Utah into 2 states (Utah and Desseret (the name the Mormons originally wanted I am told))

    3) Make DC a city of Maryland and move the Capitol somewhere else (Guam would be nice)

  44. Here’s another thing, the people of American Samoa don’t get a vote, but no one’s proposing we start giving them representatives

    I’ve been proposing to make them part of Hawaii for years. BTW, American Samoa is a beautiful, fascinating place. I’ve been recommending it for honeymoons for a long time.

  45. Hmmph. Just like DC residents/politicos to have a license plate that says “No Taxation without Representation” and primarily complain they don’t have representation.

    The easy solution to this debate is to strip away the votes in the presidential election, home rule, and any prospect for Congressional respresentation. Demote the place to a proper federally administered territory and have them not pay the federal income tax.

    Wikipedia says residents of Guam and Puerto Rice don’t pay income tax, and they don’t get to vote in national elections. No taxation no representation indeed!

  46. “And you didn’t know before you chose to live their that you wouldn’t be able to vote?”

    Why yes I did, John-David. Thanks for sort of asking.

    And I saw it as one of those clearcut local situations that I would try to change. It was something that seemed to have an identifiable impact. No representation…I thought that notion stuck in everyone’s craw.

    I also thought it might be an obvious issue in which I could count on the unqualified support of libertarians as co-belligerents. I guess I was wrong there.

    So let me get this straight…just avoid all those places within the U.S. borders that don’t seem to adhere to basic democratic principles. If you are born and raised there, get the fuck out. Close your eyes and ears and it all goes away, right? It doesn’t effect you, so no worries, right? Is that it?

  47. Make DC a city of Maryland and move the Capitol somewhere else (Guam would be nice)

    I say we move D.C. to a swamp in the middle of the everglades, and let the Seminoles take over the fertile Potomac River valley.

  48. “I know DC has a non-voting Representative, but do they have shadow Senators as well? Anyone know?”

    Yes, they do. And why any black person would want to be know as “Shadow Senator” is beyond me.

    Here is a list of the Shadow Delagation.

  49. I also thought it might be an obvious issue in which I could count on the unqualified support of libertarians as co-belligerents. I guess I was wrong there.

    Sadly you were.

  50. I agree with “some fed”

    Remove the income tax and treat it as a federally administered territory.

    Then watch as all the rich people set up residence there. 🙂

  51. There were good reasons why the founders carved out a federal district out of the states. The main reason is that you don’t want a particular state holding the federal government hostage by denying services. If you merge the District with Maryland or Virginia one of two things will happen; either the states will hold state services to the District hostage in return for greater federal funding, or the feds will hold state funding hostage in return for special treatment of the District. Either result is bad. Moreover, you can’t just merge the District in with a state without that state’s consent and no one wants the District. It can’t happen. That idea is just a non-starter.

    Also, someone might want to I don’t know read the Constitution. It states

    Section. 3.

    New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

    You can’t form a new state out of the territory of another without that state’s consent. No way does Virginia give up Arlington county. Again, that is a no go.

    Basically, for 200 years everyone has known that if you live in the District you can’t vote. No one is forced to live there. There are lots of areas just outside the District rich and poor where people can live and vote to their little hearts’ content. It really isn’t a civil rights issue. No one is forced to live in the District. My advice to Ygalsias is move the fuck somewhere else if voting is that important. Further, if the place were full of bible thumping rednecks, no fucking way would Yglasias or any of his ilk be interested in giving it statehood. This is just partisan politics on both sides. DC not having a vote is like problem number twenty million of the hundred million problems facing this country. Regardless, there is no way to fix it, which means Yglasias and Weigel have something to bitch and moan about and convince themselves of the evilness of Republicans. When you think about it, I am sure that is a lot more pleasurable and important to both of them than voting is anyway.

  52. “Really, the expectation that DC residents should compromise in order to get their own vote in their own district as it is currently demographically constructed is not a reasonable one.”

    Look, all you huffy DC people in this thread should note that Weigel’s post here doesn’t seem to be normative, but merely practical advice.

    It’s entirely possible to think that justice demands that DC residents get the vote – but also to acknowledge that it ain’t ever going to happen unless some sort of deal is worked out.

  53. “It’s entirely possible to think that justice demands that DC residents get the vote – but also to acknowledge that it ain’t ever going to happen unless some sort of deal is worked out.”

    No deal will ever be worked out because the District is the rest of the country has an interest against it. Why should the people of California or Texas agree to dillute their influence in Congress just so DC can have a vote? That is the kind of thing that gets Congressman of either party voted out of office. You cannot bring DC as anything other than it is. You can’t merge it with another state or rob Maryland or Virginia of population to make it a state, so it comes in as is. It will never be a state. Get over it and don’t live there if you don’t like it. DC residents remind me of people who build houses around an airport and then sue to stop the aircraft noise. No one makes you live there.

  54. John:
    YFI-The Federal District was created after the United States became a country and only after Congress finally decided that the Capital would not be in New York, Philadelphia or in the Carolinas. When the District was finally created, Washington was a small town and Georgetown was a separate town within the District. I doubt that the “founders” even remotely thought that any adjacent state could “withhold services.” But they did indeed want to be independent of any state’s legislature.

    See, for example, this book.

  55. Interesting book Tobycat. I will have read it sometime. I am not being very creative today, but I think it is safe to say state legislatures if they so chose could come up with ways to screw with the feds if the capital were part of a state.

  56. [E]ssentially everyone agrees that the reason we Districters don’t have congressional representation is just that too many black people live here so Republicans wouldn’t be competitive.

    You have to admire the prescience of those racist founding fathers who denied Congressional representation to the honkies in D.C. when they set the District up in 1801, knowing that 64 years later blacks would be given the vote and that 150 years later they’d be a majority of D.C.’s population.

  57. Are libertarians interested in stepping up and backing their right to representation or not?

    Considering that Freedom House consistently used to list Hong Kong as the freest place on earth, even back when it was a British Crown Colony without representative institutions, I’d say not necessarily.

    (The Brits only gave Hong Kong an elected legislature when they realized that they were going to have to hand it over to the Chincoms, and thought it would be a good idea to provide a measure of democracy as the baseline from which the Commies would have to start.)

  58. The obvious solution? DC north of the Potomac is merged with Maryland for purposes of Congressional representation only; DC south of the Potomac is merged with Virginia for purposes of Congressional representation only; for all other purposes DC remains the way it is now.

  59. Hmm. I may have misspoken earlier. I can’t find any indication that Freedom House used to rank all the countries in the world, much less than Hong Kong led that ranking. I may have been mistaking Freedom House with the Cato Institute and Heritage Foundation, which *do* consistently list Hong Kong at the top of the list, and IIRC did so even before Hong Kong had an elected legislature.

    The Cato and Heritage rankings are based on *economic* liberty, so people might find them less than totally persuasive. Still, I don’t know that a libertarian would necessarily dismiss them out of hand.

  60. Prolefeed,

    There is no DC South of the Potomac.

    In Weigel’s original post on which we are commenting he mentions rejoining Arlington County, VA with the DC as was originally intended. It would add lots of white people to DC’s ranks and dilute some of the Democratic votes from the state’s ranks.

  61. Fuck DC and all its residents. You’re not the center of the planet, despite your incessant attempts to rule every aspect of life in the rest of the country – i.e., the economically productive parts. The only residents DC should have is the president and his or her family.

  62. I should clarify that I include the president and his/her family, as well as Yglesias, when I say “Fuck DC and all its residents.”

  63. Split California – it’s completely unmanagable and let DC join any other state that will have them!

  64. Without speaking to the actual fairness or justice issues of DC representation or lack thereof I have to ask if anyone actually believes that the life of even one DC resident will improve in any way as a result of getting one representative out of four hundred and thirty five and two senators out of one hundred and two.

    Yes it’s likely that getting those Senators will improve the Democrats chances of controlling the Senate, but only slightly.

    And here’s another question. Have the residents of DC had better lives in all the years that the Democrats controlled the Senate than when the republicans did?

    Sorry, but the fact of the matter is that in most things this whole representation schtick is highly overated. Even if you live in a place that has a representative your individual vote is pretty much without value in terms of actually affecting any outcome that is meaningful to you.

  65. Split California

    Well, WWII pretty much put an end to the State of Jefferson movement.

    I for one think there are several states that could split up and work better.

  66. I never understood why California is one state. It would be like having every state on the eastern seaboard from Maryland to Florida as one big state. God, that would be a mess.

  67. There’s a problem with contiguity, but I seem to remember Westberlin and the BRD working that out okay.

    Funny you should mention that example. IIRC, West Berlin didn’t have voting representation in the Bundestag, due to the fact that it wasn’t sovereign BRD territory but remained under occupation by (3 of) the victorious Allies). It probably wasn’t an ideal state of affairs, but no one argued it was an egregious deprivation of human rights. (I don’t know whether West Berliners paid federal BRD taxes. IIRC, federal laws didn’t automatically apply to West Berlin, but had to be approved by the Allies. So maybe the German tax statutes were extended to West Berlin, by gracious permission of the occupying powers.)

  68. And I saw it as one of those clearcut local situations that I would try to change. It was something that seemed to have an identifiable impact. No representation…I thought that notion stuck in everyone’s craw.

    I also thought it might be an obvious issue in which I could count on the unqualified support of libertarians as co-belligerents. I guess I was wrong there.

    So let me get this straight…just avoid all those places within the U.S. borders that don’t seem to adhere to basic democratic principles. If you are born and raised there, get the fuck out. Close your eyes and ears and it all goes away, right? It doesn’t effect you, so no worries, right? Is that it?

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You somehow thought your magical powers would bring democracy to a place that has survived quite well for 200+ years without it, and you failed.

    Honestly, your attitude is more like the Big-L Libertarians who think that they have a chance in hell of abolishing the IRS, the Fed, and most cabinet departments.

  69. What is the population because if DC joined a state it could change the # of members of the house the state gets.

  70. 1. Anyone who moves to DC has no right to complain about this situation. They knew what they were getting into when they moved, so they can kindly STFU.

    2. People who were born and raised in DC are a different matter, but it’s not like DC is a huge territory that moving out of it would be a huge sacrifice.

    3. People who play the race card on this are fucking morons, for the reasons Seamus outlines. DC was without representation for 150 years before it attained its current racial makeup.

    4. Yeah, DC is slightly larger in population than Wyoming — but it’s also less than 2% of the population of CA. Sure, it wouldn’t be the least populous state, but it would be awfully close, in addition to being the smallest state by far in area.

    5. Someone suggested not taxing the incomes of DC residents. I think you can see the unintended consequences of that — it would be a lot easier for a state resident to move to DC than to move to PR or Guam.

    6. So what’s my plan? First off, we should pass a Constitutional amendment to allow the DC residents the number of House districts they would be entitled to if they were a state. I don’t see any principled objection to that. As far as the Senate goes, perhaps we could set up a system where they vote with Maryland in Senate elections, perhaps throwing in an extra House seat for Maryland to sweeten the deal. Again, that would require a Constitutional amendment as well.

  71. I guess no one who moves to Massachusetts gets to complain about state tax levels, then. I’m looking at you, Mitt.

    Several posters demonstrate the ignorance of DC common to people who only know it as the home of the federal government. The large majority of DC residents do not work for the federal government, nor do they “personally know” Congressmen and Cabinet members. The people bagging groceries shouldn’t be treated like second class citizens because of where they live. No one should.

  72. But statehood is right out. The federal government needs to have authority over the federal district.

    Voting rights, yes, but not statehood.

  73. There are way too many “if you don’t like it, leave” comments on this thread.

    And this is not to say I support D.C. residents getting Congresscritters.

    Again, D.C. is thousands of times bigger than it needs to be. Let’s worry about restoring the federal government to it’s constitutionally and morally permissible size and purpose. Then we can talk about voting rights for its residents.

  74. Let’s worry about providing the services a modern state is supposed to provide, like universal health care, to DC residents. Then we can talk about those residents’ gun ownership rights.

    Nope, doesn’t make any sense in reverse, either.

  75. I really don’t care what we do with DC. So long as we get Statehood for Puerto Rico and quick!

    110 years as a US Territory. 3.8 million residents. And they’re still not a State.

    There was a Libertarian Party in PR for a few years, headed up by a Talk Show Host in San Juan. The PR Young Republicans hosted the National YR Convention in 1996, and the Republican Liberty Caucus had a booth there.

    Legalized Prostition. Legalized Gambling. Low Taxes, and Low Regulations on Business.

    A Libertarian Paradise. And strangely Libertarians are completely silent on the issue.

  76. DONDEROOOOOOOOO!

    The problem, of course, is that the strong majority of Puerto Rican residents are uninterested in it becoming a US state.

  77. The problem, of course, is that the strong majority of Puerto Rican residents are uninterested in it becoming a US state.

    And not a few us us estadounidenses would prefer Puerto Rican independence to statehood. Either that or give it back to Spain. If France can have overseas departments like Martinique and Guadaloupe in the Caribbean, then Spain can have an overseas province there.

  78. I meant to say “not a few *of* us”

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