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


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