Visitors to our nation’s capital might be surprised to see that most cars registered in the District of Columbia carry a license plate containing the ringing protest “Taxation Without Representation.” Advocates of full statehood for the District have arranged for this to be the standard plate, and even have a nominal fee ($10.00) trade-in policy, for holders of older plates not so emblazoned. (Non-protest plates are available, by special arrangement.)
Technically, the District does have federal representation, albeit of non-voting status, in the person of multi-term delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC at-large), and a DC Congressional Shadow Delegation, consisting of Shadow Senator Paul Strauss, Shadow Senator Florence Pendleton, and Shadow Representative Ray Browne. The current status of Washington, DC government is that is has certain components of a standard municipal jurisdiction, but is under ultimate control of the US Congress.
Thus, the residents of DC can make the argument that they are disfranchised, beyond their vote for president.
However, don’t be in a big hurry to shed any tears for Washingtonians—at least regarding representation. Any objective observer will note that as progress toward so-called home rule has played out since the structure was liberalized under President Nixon in 1973, there is little to celebrate. Crime is an ongoing problem; the DC school district simultaneously boasts one of the highest per capita costs in the country, while it is rated as one of the worst; a former mayor and current councilman was caught up in several scandals, that seemed to improve his popularity; municipal financial irregularities are reported nearly every day, along with peccadilloes of this or that city official; and the historic have/have-not divide of Washington, supposedly a thing of the past, surely played into the outrageous situation whereby there is no Metro station anywhere near Georgetown.
As to the slogan “Taxation Without Representation,” this is taken from a declaration issued by the First Continental Congress in 1774, produced in response to various “intolerable” acts of the British government, that make the complaints of Washingtonians pale by comparison. It is more than a bit unseemly that this colonial era rallying cry should be hijacked by an effete group of overpaid, underworked municipal bureaucrats, who would be better occupied trying to improve the quality of life for their many downtrodden citizens.
One good reason for the lack of autonomy of the District is that its status is quite unique, and more so these days, given our concerns for national security. What goes on in the District’s Federal facilities affects all Americans, and many people who work in town for the Feds are not residents of Washington. Additionally, many who are employed by the Feds and do live in town are hardly long-termers. Why shouldn’t Congress have the final say? Or, to put it differently, how close could DC approach full statehood without either undermining the operations of the Federal government, or being unfair to the rest of the country?
Besides, whom are they trying to fool? Do Washingtonians believe that their Federal taxes are too high? Would they vote to lower them? When you consider that any elected representative would be Democrat, and no doubt a liberal Democrat at that, this whole process looks suspiciously like a fool’s errand, or simply a way to get more Democrats into Congress.
But, what need is there for all this analysis, anyway? Frankly, at first blush, the entire thing is off-putting. This is civic pride? To issue the only license plate with a negative sentiment to be found anywhere in the known world? Berserkely in the 1960’s could hardly have topped this.
Thus, we have a prima facie argument to keep DC under adult supervision.