By Emnete Abraham '19
As the holidays are fast approaching, it’s time to get into the spirit of giving; all that D.C. residents want this year is for the nation’s capital to become an official state. It’s been a long-standing debate between the District’s inhabitants and virtually everyone else. If the bumper stickers “No taxation without representation” that many D.C. residents proudly feature are any indication, the issue of statehood is an upset among the District’s people.
Because D.C. is not an official state of the U.S., it’s been denied several of the “perks” that come with the title. Washington, D.C. has a population bigger than both Vermont and Wyoming — both states more than 100 times its geographical size — but doesn’t have a voice in Congress. In 2016, D.C.’s GDP per capita was the highest in the country, yet it has to rely on the federal government to manage its budget. Furthermore, the District’s residents pay more sales taxes than 22 states, Wyoming included, along with the second-highest federal income taxes in the country.
Ever since 1801, when Congress took a chunk of Virginia and a chunk of Maryland to make a new, politically-neutral capital (the District of Columbia Organic Act), the fight for legitimacy in the eyes of the federal government has been a persistent one. Because D.C. isn’t a state, residents weren’t allowed to vote for president, something that didn’t change until 1961 with the 23rd Amendment — created specifically for the District, allowing it to have representation in the Electoral College, as if it was a state. Still, the District’s inhabitants didn’t have their own local government, having to rely on the federal one for the smallest of issues. The quick fix to this was the District of Columbia Home Rule, allowing them to (you guessed it) create their own local government, with a mayor and city council members. With all these laws and amendments and acts in place of the real issue, one might ask what all the fuss is about. Why won’t the federal government just make Washington D.C. a state?
Past arguments have centered around the unconstitutionality of the change, the Capital’s neutrality, and even maintaining the even number of states. Neutrality, in particular, has been a persistent argument opposing statehood. After all, D.C. only exists because eighteenth-century America wanted a capital where the federal government wouldn’t be swayed by the surrounding area’s opinions. However, those supporting the District becoming a state were quick to strike back. Numerous federal organizations, like the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Pentagon are housed in the neighboring state of Virginia. Since those opposing statehood have yet to speak out against this lack of neutrality, many supporters consider this a void argument.
Another argument on neutrality focuses more on a particular part of federal government: Congress. Opponents argue that securing Washington, D.C. as a state would upset the balance between Republican and Democratic representation in Congress. Because D.C. is a staunchly blue district, many fear that giving it voting rights in Congress would simply be “more votes in the Democratic Party,” as John Kasich, a former candidate for president, put it. However, this calls into question whether the opposition for D.C.’s statehood is more about the rivalry between the Democratic and Republican parties, rather than about allowing the people in the nation’s capital to have a voice in federal government.
Finally, some of the arguments against statehood take a more lighthearted approach. Opponents argue that they want to keep the number of states even, to which a Stuckindc.com writer responded “we know of a few stray Dakotas that could be merged without anyone really noticing” (Brio, May 31st, 2016). Others don’t want the burden of redesigning the flag, recalling textbooks, and fixing statues to match the District’s new title. In conclusion, the debate as to whether D.C. should stake its claim as the 51st state of the U.S. is still an issue, and one that won’t be ignored.