Still Waiting on Statehood

Statehood.

For many American citizens who don't live in the nation's capital, the word "statehood" may bring to mind images of 19th-century America, with political battles across the plains and prairies of the nation's heartland for representation back East.

Though it may be hard to believe, the 700,000 citizens of Washington, D.C., have no say on the floor of the U.S. Congress in deciding the matters that affect them. And no matter what they or their elected officials decide about their budgetary or financial affairs, District of Columbia decisions cannot become law until they are passed on to Congress for approval.

Since 1975, the district has been governed under the "Home Rule" provisions of the D.C. charter, ending 100 years of government by a president-appointed commission. For 13 years, District citizens have been electing their own mayor and 13-person city council, according to the Home Rule Act. But Congress, while retaining its jurisdiction over federal property and other matters related to the federal government, has kept what is in effect a veto power over the District's legislation and budget.

Since the beginning of the era of Home Rule, at least two measures to increase local autonomy over district affairs have been attempted. In 1978, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was proposed that would grant the District two senators and voting representation in the House of Representatives (one or two members of Congress). That amendment was approved by Congress, but it failed to be ratified by the necessary three-fourths of the states, and the term available for ratification expired in 1985.

Some in the District, however, characterized that approach as "full representation without full liberation." The measure did not address budgetary or fiscal autonomy; it only provided voting representation in the two houses.

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