Sen. Dick Durbin has introduced a bill to make the District of Columbia the 51st state.
Durbin joined Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., in sponsoring the New Columbia Admission Act, which would give the 600,000 residents of the nation’s capital a congressman and two senators. The bill would not abolish the District of Columbia, but would reduce it to an area containing only government buildings and monuments.
“It might surprise some students of American history to know that it wasn’t until the 1964 election that residents of the District of Columbia were finally able to cast a ballot for President and Vice President of the United States,” Durbin said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the disenfranchisement of these citizens is not yet a relic of history. More than a half century later, Washingtonians are still denied full voting representation in Congress. I first voted in favor of this legislation nearly two decades ago, and I will continue to stand with the people of the District until they are granted the voting rights that they deserve.”
The United States is the only democracy with a capital whose residents do not have a voice in the legislature that meets there. However, this bill is likely to founder on partisanship. Since getting the vote for president, Washingtonians have never voted for a Republican. This year, D.C. gave Obama 90.9% of its vote. The only counties where he did better were the Bronx and an Indian reservation in South Dakota. There’s no question that New Columbia would perpetually elect Democrats to represent it in Congress. The Republicans are not going to give themselves a permanent two-seat handicap in the Senate, so this bill will probably never come up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. (Although it might be fair, because the reason there are two Dakotas is that 19th Century Republicans wanted to guarantee themselves two extra senators.)
The last two states admitted to the union, Alaska and Hawaii, were paired as a Republican state and a democratic state. The 23rd Amendment, which gave DC the vote for president, would probably not pass in today’s partisan environment.