Friday, April 23, 2010

Represent

E.D. Kain opposes DC Statehood on three grounds, against Andrew Sullivan's insistence on representation for the citizens of the District.  One, I think, is based on a misguided reading of the politics of statehood; the second is nothing more than a prejudice; and the third, based on principles, I think is wrong.  My main interest here is the third one, on representation, but I'll take them one by one.

First, he thinks that it would be an unfair advantage:
DC is at the very heart of the country’s power structure. It is the part-time residence of every one of our federal elected officials. While voters may indeed lack proper representation, giving DC the added clout of two Senators and a number of representatives, plus all the other perks that come from statehood, would vastly tip the scales in DC’s favor.
The problem with this theory is that the interests of Members of Congress as part-time and temporary residents of Congress often clash with the interests of the people who actually live in the District.   So if anything, permanent District residents are bound to be in worse shape, not better shape, than residents of Alaska or North Dakota if they want to govern themselves without Federal government influence.  This is easy to see, since the District is not currently (nor has it as far as I know ever been) a paradise overflowing with government spending or any other clout-derived benefits. 

Second, Kain doesn't like the idea of a city-state:
[I]f DC can be its own state based solely off of the size of its population, why shouldn’t other cities also become states? New York City has far more people than DC. Perhaps each of the Burroughs could become a state. 
Well -- why not?  Makes as much sense as having large mostly empty states, to me.   Obviously, for various historical reasons, the fifty states are what they are -- but there's no underlying logic or sense to them.   After all, prior to 1960 there were no states remotely like Alaska or Hawaii, but those have worked out just fine.    There's little question in my mind that current residents of the District think of themselves as citizens of a politically separate jurisdiction, certainly more so than people in "North Dakota" presumably thought prior to their statehood.   Thinking that a city can't be a state is just prejudice, not argument.

Third, Kain believes that there's a principle at stake here:
Then again, the representative system in this country was never meant to be entirely based on population. As with every other aspect of our government, our electoral system acts as a set of checks and balances. That may be frustrating, but it is what it is...This is why we have two bodies in Congress – the House and the Senate. Each state gets equal representation in the Senate, but not in the House. Granting DC statehood makes sense if we’re going to base our representative structure on population alone, but that’s not how this country works, and that isn’t likely to change any time soon.
Here's the thing about representation, something that is I think fairly little known: political representation is a really, really new idea, historically speaking.  For example, you won't find it in Shakespeare, because it hadn't really been invented yet.  By 1776 it was an established and recognized fact in England, but there was very little systematic thought about it yet (Burke's famous speech to the Electors of Bristol was in November, 1774)..  So in large part, the Framers were making it up as they went along; Madison's insights into democracy and representation were really very new, really original.  It wouldn't be surprising at all if their understanding of representation was not fully mature.  Folks back then thought that women didn't need to vote, and they had ideas about representation to support that notion, but they got that wrong -- and they got representation of arbitrary pieces of land wrong, too, to the extent they believed in it.  Anyway, as we know, the House/Senate distinction wasn't made on principle; it was a compromise forced on everyone by political necessity.  So while we're stuck with it, we don't have to embrace it as a virtue or a founding principle. 

The truth is that the American political system has rejected representation of places, not people, at every other stage of the political process, ever since the "one person, one vote" Court decisions of the early 1960s.  And as far as I can tell, everyone is pretty much OK with that in virtually every context.  No one is arguing that states would be better off -- more democratic -- if they had upper chambers apportioned by counties, not population.  The Senate is an unfortunate anachronism, one that we're stuck with, but not one that can be justified with any recognizably contemporary democratic theory.

(And don't even think about trying the old Reagan saw about the states creating the Federal government and not the other way around.  Perhaps 13 states could make that argument (against 37 the other way), but even there a map a 1770 Virginia isn't going to remind anyone too much of 2010 Virginia...and the Constitution is authored by We the People, not We the States).

None of this demands that representation of the citizens of the District can only be achieved through statehood, as opposed to the Maryland option. But Kain's arguments against statehood in principle strike me as wrong or misguided.   In reality, as with all statehood decisions, it comes down to political expediency, but in my view supporters have nothing to be embarrassed on the merits, certainly not the merits on democratic grounds, of DC statehood.

28 comments:

  1. To any readers interested in the newness of the concept of representation and the tangled history of attempts to understand and define it -- a history to which this post aptly alludes -- I highly recommend Edmund Morris's book "Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America." Just FYI.

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  2. Excellent call -- I'll second that recommendation.

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  3. If the federal government doesn't need the entire District for its office, monuments and malls then the rest of it should be returned to Maryland. It came from Maryland and it should be retroceded.

    The constitution doesn't permit a state to be created out of land that came from another state. Having cities be part of states and vote for senators from those states and have their congressional districts be part of state delegations works very well throughout the nation.

    The part of Maryland that the government ended up not needing should go back to Maryland. Tomorrow would be a good day to do it.

    Virginia's D.C. land was retroceded back to Virginia and that worked out fine for the people who live there.

    Let's do the logical thing instead of proposing a silly thing that will never happen. Let's retrocede.

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  4. Anon,

    You might want to check with the citizens of Maine, Kentucky, and West Virginia about that (at least...I forget the history, but I think NC had claims to Tennessee, and didn't some state -- PA maybe? -- have claims to the entire Northwest Ordinance? And come to think of it, I think VA claimed that their state went all the way to, I don't know, the Pacific maybe).

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  5. "Virginia's D.C. land was retroceded back to Virginia and that worked out fine for the people who live there."

    Well, some of us are still UNhappy about that.
    I want that land back from those traitors into the federal enclave.

    Now. Onto the the whole voting thing.
    You knew the rules when you moved into the District so stop bitching.

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  6. Dave, "You knew the rules when you moved into the District so stop bitching."

    Absurd. What if I were born there? What if I realized the system is unfair and wanted to change it?

    Traitor is harsh language.

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  7. What exactly is wrong with the Maryland option? Other than giving Democrats 2 free Senators, I mean.

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  8. How [i]dare[/i] you disagree with E.D. Kain. First off, he's doing to be very disappointed with you. How can you not concede that he's so even-handed and obviously right? Second, why aren't you as reasonable as him? This man would have found the Manhatten transfer to be reasonable, for Christ's sake.

    Finally, I'd like to condemn you for not being as serious and reasonable as E.D. Kain. I feel sorry for you.

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  9. the problem with the maryland option is that maryland does not want the district back with all its disfunction.

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  10. "Now. Onto the the whole voting thing.
    You knew the rules when you moved into the District so stop bitching."

    By which logic we should cede the entire country back to England. If we wanted representation with our taxation, we shouldn't have come to America!

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  11. "No one is arguing that states would be better off -- more democratic -- if they had upper chambers apportioned by counties, not population."

    In the mid-20C, a couple state legislatures, fearful of the growth of urban areas full of the sorts of people they did not want to see represented, retrofitted their state senates to represent by counties in imitation of the U.S. Senate. Baker v. Carr in 1962 said they could no longer do this.

    "The constitution doesn't permit a state to be created out of land that came from another state." Without its consent. You forgot "without its consent." Also, this is irrelevant to D.C. Its land was already taken away from Maryland (with its consent) in 1790, Maryland's consent is not necessary for making D.C. a state now. Article 4 Section 3 (which is what you're thinking of) clearly doesn't apply to land that only used to be part of another state centuries ago.

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  12. "You might want to check with the citizens of Maine, Kentucky, and West Virginia . . . ."

    pre-statehood territorial claims aren't relevant. the constitution SPECIFICALLY says that no NEW state can be created out of land that belonged to an EXISTING state.

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  13. "Virginia's D.C. land was retroceded back to Virginia and that worked out fine for the people who live there."

    Well, some of us are still UNhappy about that.
    I want that land back from those traitors into the federal enclave.
    ___________________

    well, some people are unhappy about everything.

    Virginia already got its land back so what are you complaining about?

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  14. "the problem with the maryland option is that maryland does not want the district back with all its disfunction."

    that's not a problem. lots of cities are dysfunctional yet are part of states--in fact every one in the country other than DC. Maryland would get used to it soon enough. Virginia adjusted nicely to its retrocede. plus, Maryland has no power to veto a congressional retrocede. and the leaders of Maryland have never said they are opposed to this anyway.

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  15. Article 4 Section 3 (which is what you're thinking of) clearly doesn't apply to land that only used to be part of another state centuries ago.
    __________________

    that isn't clear at all. the federal government was only entitled to take land from Maryland to use it as a federal district. if some part of that land is no longer needed for a federal district then it must revert to Maryland. No one else can do anything else with it.

    the federal government has closed down military bases in states all over the country and none of them became their own states--the lands went back under the jurisdictions of the states that they were originally taken from.

    there is no point in trying to create city-states out of land that came from established states. that will go absolutely nowhere and the taxation without representation problem will never be solved. if we want it to be solved, then let's procede with the logical, doable, practical solution: retrocession. then DC residents will have the exact same rights as everyone else in the country. why is equality not good enough?

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  16. Twenty-second amendment that expressly grant 3 electoral votes to DC would have to be changed, and there's the issues of the new state's authority over the federal government and vice versa that would have to be resolved. Those are the main issues that surround DC statehood.
    What should the new state be named? Columbia?

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  17. West Virginia was clearly a part of Virginia, not just some territorial claim. Obviously the Civil War created unusual circumstances, but the Supreme Court upheld it after the war, so I think the constitutional issues are not quite as clear cut as you suggest (that's not to say that the court would uphold a similar action today- I'm just saying that it is an open question).

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  18. Would it be possible for a law to be passed that simply mandates that DC's 3 electoral votes granted by the 22nd amendment are pledged to the winner of the popular vote, without needing a constitutional amendment? (And of course the State of New Columbia, or whatever it's called, would get its own electoral votes like any other state).

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  19. If DC leaves its status as a federal enclave, it should be retroceded to Maryland, where it originated -- the same way that what is now Arlington and Alexandria VA retroceded to Virginia in the 19th century.

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  20. "...since the District is not currently (nor has it as far as I know ever been) a paradise overflowing with government spending..."

    Unfortunately, this is the opposite of the truth. According to the Tax Foundation, DC receives $5.55 in spending for every dollar in federal taxes it receives. Compare that to California's meager $0.78. Giving DC two Senators would exacerbate this problem.

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  21. "Maryland has no power to veto a congressional retrocede. and the leaders of Maryland have never said they are opposed to this anyway."

    Point one is an open question. The little issue of Consent of the Governed raises its head again. Point two, some of Maryland's leaders have been quite clear that they ARE opposed.

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  22. Germany, also a federal republic, has 3 city states: Berlin, Bremen, and Hamburg. One of them, Berlin, is also the capital. As you say, it's certainly possible.

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  23. This is pretty simple. The people who live in the District pay taxes and yet are not represented in the government that taxes them. If not statehood, then some other compromised must be reached. Having them represented with Maryland is one option. What are the others? I don't think statehood is a realistic option since I can't imagine getting that through with the GOP knowing that it would add two Democratic senators.

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  24. They don't live in any of the fifty United States, so let them vote absentee, like expatriate Americans who live elsewhere outside the United States. Just have them each pick a state in which to vote absentee on their census forms.

    The signs on the road coming into DC should say, "Welcome to DC...Now leaving the United States".

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  25. As a DC resident, I'd say its fairly unlikely that the city would accept joining Maryland. There's a rich history here, and a far different political rule - higher taxes, more services, etc., not to mention its essentially rule via Democratic primaries for the city council and mayor.

    The fact is, the current situation of unfair/unequal representation is stupid. Maryland is not really an option. But neither is outright statehood, for political reasons.

    I'd like a freaking Representative to start with, though. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is great, but she is sidelined to votes only on committee and ONLY when her vote is not the decisive vote - i.e., she cannot vote on any issue where her vote alone could determine the outcome.

    The problem is are the amendments to the DC representation bill (which I believe would also give Wyoming - a strong GOP state - another representative, though I haven't followed this exact legislation that will). Steny Hoyer was forced to pull the bill because of amendments tacked on that stripped the city's ability to determine its own gun control laws - and thanks to the political gain of being "pro-gun," those amendments passed.

    Well thank you Steny for not upending DC's ability to make its own gun laws, but we need something. And we won't have the votes for it after 2010 for awhile.

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  26. In this purported government "of the people, for the people, by the people, why does "We the people of the United States" mean that states and corporations can be represented, but over half a million real people cannot? There are two words for this: "Despotic Constitutionalism".

    The central premise of our form of participatory government is that "just power derives from the consent of the governed". Only in the case of DC, that premise has been abandoned, creating a caste of persons who are effectively political eunuchs, pariahs, who, though by both blood and place of birth (jus sanguinis and jus solis) are unrebuttably citizens of the nation, but are apparently not deemed to be "people of the United States". So, presumably, they must fit some other category, perhaps something like sub-humans or aliens (foreigners or extraterrestrials)?

    Residents of DC belong to the nation in the sense of full membership, not in the sense of chattel property. Of those Amendments to the Constitution mentioned, a goodly number were addressed at problems arising from a failure in the initial Constitution to allow voting for other than propertied white males over 21. In a piecemeal fashion, amendments have gradually corrected that original deficiency.

    My own suggestions would be twofold:

    First, considering that DC residents technically do not reside in the "United States", we should treat them as we currently do other expatriates who live outside the United States, and allow each DC resident to declare affiliation or affinity with a state, and allow them to vote absentee in that state, like other expatriates.

    After all, the Constitution says “the PEOPLE of the several states” not “the RESIDENTS of the several states. Look up the meaning of the word “of”.

    Residents of DC –ARE– the people of the several states. They are part and parcel, progeny and posterity of those same founders who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to preserve our Liberty. They belonged to the original thirteen colonies, which cannot be said of Guam, Samoa, or Puerto Rico. Nor, for that matter, of Hawaii, Alaska, …nor even Wyoming, which has a smaller population than DC.

    The people of DC are certainly not the people of the Asian steppes, nor of the Arctic tundra, nor of the Australian outback, nor of the Argentinian pampas; they, like other American expatriates, are the people of the several [American] states, regardless of where they currently reside.

    The second issue regarding DC is the degree of local autonomy. Currently, a simple majority is all that is necessary for Congress to rule with Absolute Power over DC “in all cases whatsoever.” And we all know that power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts Absolutely [case in point, here].

    If Congress DOES need to maintain the last word over DC, at least the exercise of such Absolute Power ought to require support from broad national consensus, as demonstrated by a requirement for a super-majority of both Houses to impose that Absolute Power. What happened to the central premise on which our country is otherwise based, that “just power derives from the consent of the governed”?

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  27. I wouldn't be so dismissive of the Senate. While "one-person, one-vote" has been accepted as the standard for individual voting rights, that was never a consideration for representation--if so how could you justify the House, where its more 500,000 people to a single vote? Both of the representation schemes for the House and the Senate seek to balance sovereign rights with the national interest. The House seeks to offer voice to the majority of the population, while the Senate is concerned with treating the states as equal sovereigns (hence why Senators were originally appointed by state governments). You can argue that the initial constitutional design of Congress is no longer applicable given subsequent history (and even then the spirit of confederation persists in various legal and constitutional doctrines, like state sovereign immunity and the full faith and credit clause), but I would not say its an anachronism. Would you prefer the UN dismissing its Senate-like General Assembly, where every country is represented equally, in favor of the population based EC?

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