Thursday, April 22, 2010

Statehood, Again

Matt Yglesias makes the partisan argument for DC statehood (but appears to be as puzzled as I am about why liberals didn't push for it in 2009); Andrew Sullivan makes the enfranchisement argument.  James Joyner, and some commenters to my previous post, argue for giving the district back to Maryland, which solves the enfranchisement problem. 

Yglesias refers to the principled argument...I'm not sure which argument he's referring to, but I'll toss one in.  As regular readers know, I'm not a supporter of majoritarianism, so Madisonian elements of the American system such as separated institutions sharing powers, bicameralism, and various Senate rules don't bother me in principle (and indeed I think many of those features are excellent in theory and practice).  However, there is simply no good democratic argument for the composition of the Senate, and unfortunately the two-per-state rule is also just about the hardest thing to reform.  Constitutionally, it's as set in stone as anything.  If everyone within the system agreed to work around it, one could devise a solution; for example, it's theoretically possible to move state borders around to make the states equal, or at least less egregiously unequal, in population.  However, in practical political terms, that solution is probably even more implausible than a Constitutional fix.

Fortunately, the practical effects of Senate malapportionment have never been very important to partisan outcomes (although, alas, I don't have citations for studies of it).  There are (and again, my apologies for not having the citations) however some policy biases in favor of rural areas.  In other words, neither Democrats nor Republicans are helped, but rural interests are helped and urban interests hurt.  And thus the case for DC statehood: it's a work-around to redress the overall undemocratic Constitutional bias in favor of rural areas. 

Beyond that, I think the case against statehood is weak.  Yes, the District has a tiny population, but it's not tiny compared to Wyoming or North Dakota.  Sullivan links to questions about fiscal viability, but I do suspect those concerns could be dealt with (given a Congressional majority large enough to support statehood in the first place).  Two commenters brought up the 23rd Amendment as an issue, but I really don't think it's a serious problem: if and when Congress approved statehood, I suspect everyone concerned could rapidly pass a new amendment repealing the District's Electoral College votes.  Who would (at that point) oppose it? 

None of which, however, answers my original question, which is why liberals and partisan Democrats didn't push statehood.  For that, I need to hear from liberals and/or partisan Democrats (not Sullivan, then) who didn't support it (not Yglesias, who I think has posted quite a few times about it).  Anyone?


  1. The last time it was tried was in 1993, the last time the Dems controlled everything in DC. The bill went down hard, with 277 Members of Congress voting against.

    The District has ratified a constitution twice already (and even picked a state name: New Columbia)

    Why it hasn't been tried again, I have no idea...I'm guessing there would be plenty of resistance in Congress from Dems, even if they have no good reason for objecting.

  2. With all of the other policies that liberals have been holding their breath on since 1995, health care reform, immigration reform, finance, labor, climate and energy, I just don't think there was enough oxygen left to push DC statehood as well. I think everyone realizes that it's blatantly unjust, but can you really argue that it's more important than any of the above priorites -- most of which aren't even going to get passed in this Congress? You can't push everything.

    Plus, it honestly couldn't pass this session. No Republican in the Senate has the slightest incentive to vote for it, and it's easy to paint as a power grab, while Senate Democrats are terrified of nothing more than looking like power-grabbers. If they won't take any concrete action against filibusters, they're not going to admit another state on a party-line vote.

  3. not an answer to your question, but Mark Plotkin has pushed a way around statehood for years:

  4. I do not remember details, but I recall a claim that the constitutional requirement could be met by a scheme where each state has one senator and the remaining 50 senators are national at-large candidates.

  5. This seems so easy to me. The Dems never pushed for statehood because they never had the votes in the Senate. For Nelson, Lieberman, or Lincoln, there is no incentive for adding two new left wing senators and thus diluting their clout as swing votes. You also seem to neglect the possibility of troubling racial tensions coming to a boil over D.C. statehood. An unreliable Senator and numerous Blue Dogs might be tempted to defect as angry white men gripe at Obama's black Senators.
    When you think about it, that would be the single biggest political argument against the idea. It seems like Obama would have a huge amount of influence on these two senators, and the Democratic machine in general. The D.C Democratic primary would turn into a pretty insane high stake affair, and this is from the city of Marion Barry.

  6. There's a good democratic argument; the state's are sovereign entities, albeit one's who have contractually sacrificed certain aspects of sovereignty for the sake of mutual defense, free trade, and resource sharing. As equal partners in that contract, the Union, they should each have an equal say, as sovereign entities, in how it operates. Giving each state two senators allows for disagreements within a state to be expressed at the national level.

    It was more explicit when senators were elected directly by state legislators, but the whole point of the Senate was to give each state a direct voice in national affairs the same way the HOR gives one to the people through popular election. Of course, now that senators are popularly elected, that aspect of the Senate, and the anti-majoritarianism that it fostered, has been significantly reduced.

  7. I don't think the Dems really have the ability to do anything "big" like that. They don't have the votes, for one thing. Sure, Health Insurance Reform was a really "big fucking deal" but it consisted of pretty modest reforms, not like creating a whole federal system like MediCare or Social Security, for example. I don't think the Dems could ever get the rural state Senators on board for that. Sullivan is right when he says the Dems reek of cowardice. Even now.

    On the other hand, the Republicans had relatively little trouble recruiting Democrats to authorize spying on American citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment, to authorize the President to torture prisoners at will, to suspend the right to habeas corpus, to create a whole new prescription drug subsidy for older Americans, to attack a sovereign country preemptively, and all manner of other unAmerican outrages. Republicans just play that game better.


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