If Queen Elizabeth’s recent visit left some Tory descendants wondering what life on this side of the pond would have been like if things went the other way on that bridge between Lexington and Concord, look no further than the legislative theme park that is the D.C. lawmaking process. Jamestown has nothing on this throwback to colonial times.
Not only do the citizens of the District of Columbia have no voting representative in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body — the United States Senate (nor in the House of Representatives, where D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton does an admirable job but has no vote) — even worse, members of that august parliament can block legislation duly considered and passed by the elected local members of the D.C. Council and signed by the elected mayor. This is all a result of the ironically-named Home Rule Charter, enacted in 1973 to give D.C. residents some control over their own local laws. But the Home Rule Charter still grants Congress nanny powers over local D.C. legislation — no matter how urgent, no matter how local, no matter how much support a measure may have, Congress gets to review and approve, or veto, all local legislation.
This paternalistic echo of colonial days surfaced again during the last two weeks in the cruelest way. D.C. legislation intended to address the dismal educational situation for children in the city was held-up by three senators for these reasons: a desire to relocate a juvenile detention facility, an alleged end-run by a local politician playing Hill politics, and — the winner of “best reason to interfere in local democracy” — the desire of a senator to require local taxicabs to use meters instead of the zone system.
Now, many of us might have different points of view about the merits of the school reform legislation, or the relocation of the Oak Hill facility, or the sense of the School Board president that more time is needed to think about restructuring the schools, or, for goodness sakes, the merits of meters over zones (let there be no debate on that, meters win every time!). But for federal lawmakers from Michigan (Senator Carl Levin who is concerned about taxi meters) or Louisiana (Senator Mary Landrieu whose intervention was at least related to the school reform measure) or even Maryland (Senator Ben Cardin who wants Oak Hill relocated) to hold up approval of D.C. legislation on points of personal privilege is a grave distortion of democracy.
The senators eventually released the school reform bill and Congress passed the legislation yesterday, but President Bush still must sign it, and the whole episode is a painful reminder of the disenfranchisement of the citizens of the District.
Taxation without representation turned the Boston Harbor into a giant teapot two centuries ago. Perhaps it’s time to toss some barrels of Earl Grey into the reflecting pool in front of the U.S. Capitol. All of the colonies were liberated, save one: the city that is the home of the capital of the Free World remains trapped in the museum of colonial politics. It’s time to liberate the District of Columbia’s legislative process from the micromanagement of Congressional interference with truly local affairs. Even more, two centuries into this constitutional democracy, it’s time to grant full enfranchisement to the citizens of the District of Columbia through voting representation in Congress.
And, somebody, please give Senator Levin a zone map so he knows where he is!