Ho hum: the proposed State of New Columbia Constitution doesn't change very much
I suppose when I first moved to DC almost 30 years ago, I believed in "statehood" for the city. Back then, the DC Statehood Party still had a couple representatives on City Council.
Over the years--despite the unfairness imposed by lack of voting representation in Congress and the authority of Congress to overturn initiatives by the city--I've become less committed to it because "it's not efficient" in that the US needs fewer states, not more (e.g., the "Connectography argument" or the similar but 35 year old "Nine Nations of North America" argument, written in a book by Joel Garreau), and how "state's rights" arguments are more often used to deny people rights and privileges rather than to extend them. Plus I think we are Americans first and citizens of states "second."
Map showing the seven main economic geographic regions of the US, from Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. From the Post article: These seven colorful patches are the natural topography and economic geography of the United States. It separates the U.S. into areas that focus on farming, automobile manufacturing, technology, finance, tourism, national parks, etc. Each of those regions has an urban anchor that serves as a financial and business center, a population center and a transportation hub. That’s what those white patches are. Then we need the black lines, which are the high-speed rail networks and freight railways connecting these regions to each other.
The other point I make is that nothing is in the way of DC acting like a state, being exemplary at policy, governance, and practice like in the days of the Great Society when DC was used as a site to demonstrate best or better practice to the rest of the nation, so that the city would demonstrate that it has "earned" the right to statehood, as all other states have had to do heretofore. (DC's role as an example was discussed in the book Between Justice and Beauty by Howard Gillette.)
In many policy areas, already DC has the advantage of being North America's only functioning city-state, although without the full legal powers of state, unlike Mexico City (Distrito Federal) or the city-states of Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin in Germany.
But as a city, in terms of being at the leading edge of policy, governance, and innovative practice, for the most part DC is pretty average, with a handful of practices that stand out as national best practice (maybe bike share, better in the US, although not in terms of global practice; the Combi electricity and waste reduction generators at the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant; the original program supporting the development of community-based clinics and the health insurance coverage program that predated Obamacare).
Rather than focus on being great, instead the focus is on "our right to representation." I get that. But it doesn't make me particularly motivated to expend much energy on advocating for DC's statehood.
I joke that seeking statehood for DC amongst DC's progressive electorate is the equivalent of trying to stoke vote in conservative states by putting anti-immigrant or anti-gay rights referenda on the ballot.
I have to wonder, "why now?"
Looking at the proposals of the draft "Constitution" ("Draft constitution for 51st American state would let almost anyone be governor of D.C.," Washington Post) in terms of the governance structure, I have to say I am incredibly disappointed. It renames the Mayor the Governor and renames the City Council the House of Representatives. But otherwise there aren't significant changes.
Changing DC's system of governance by adding democracy. I have written quite a bit over the years about how DC should consider expanding the number of elected representatives, by having two Councilmembers per ward instead of only one, and perhaps by expanding the number of wards. In "Continued musing on restructuring DC's City Council (mostly)" I make the following recommendations:
1. Increase the number of wards.
2. Increase the number of councilmembers
3. Move the legislature to part-time service and reduced pay
4. Reduce the size of councilmember staff
5. Increase the research capacity of local government
6. Institute term limits for elected officials.
7. Change the date of the primary election to extend the electioneering period.
8. Institute ranked choice voting for local elected officials.
9. Institute additional campaign finance limits for local elections.
10. Create an elected public advocate/ombudsperson.
11. Reconstitute a school board with oversight over pre-K to 12 public education, traditional and charter schools.
12. Build civic capacity and infrastructure.
(Other posts have covered capital budgeting and participatory budgeting as processes that the city should adopt to generate better and fairer results and to reduce political meddling.)
There are at least four advantages to such a plan: (1) greater representation; (2) elected positions could shift to part-time, although that could create conflicts of interest; (3) there would be intra-ward competition rather than the default of ward-based monarchies headed by the single Councilmember; and (4) it would be harder to pass legislation--now bills can be passed by as few as seven Councilmembers.
Renaming the city a state and not much more. By contrast, the proposed Constitution comes with no serious rethinking--we have about 40 years of experience with Home Rule now (the Act was passed in 1973), and it is time for an assessment of "how we've done"--of the city's system of representation and to see if we can do better.
Which again causes me to ask, "Why now" and "What for?" beyond adding representation in Congress, which is a serious longshot, and the system for representation in Congress needs many other changes to be fairer--for example, states like California and New York have less per capita representation than smaller states, the way that the Senate is organized to favor small states, etc.
Labels: elections and campaigns, electoral politics, governance, law and the legal process, participatory democracy and empowered participation, provision of public services, US Constitution, voting and referendums