Monday, September 16, 2013

Q Day 5: 51st State?

Bart asks:
What will be the 51st state? DC? Puerto Rico? A handful of conservative counties in Colorado? A wildcard?
I continue to think that the failure of the Democrats to push DC statehood in 2009 (and, for that matter, 1993) was odd, at best, and inexplicably foolish, at worst. The District certainly has the best case for statehood (and, yes, there's also a legitimate case for just returning it to Maryland). But Democrats seem mostly uninterested in pushing something which most of them agree with on the merits, not to mention something which would get them two safe Senate seats.

As far as I can tell, nothing else is close. So I'll say that the most likely possibility is that Tea Party Republicans win Congress and the presidency and chop up a reliably Republican state to make two reliably Republican states. Utah, maybe? The Colorado plan doesn't work as well; it would presumably create two safe Republican Senate seats, but make the rest of the state, which is now a lean-Democratic state, into a safe one for Democrats. But maybe they would do that one, too.

Really -- I don't expect much of anything any time soon. But those are the two most likely, with anything else requiring significant changes in the parties or something more dramatic (I don't know...what if Florida becomes an island from the oceans rising; could island Florida want to split from mainland Florida? Or would it just be like Michigan and the UP, or New York and Long Island?).


  1. Why don't you see a case for Puerto Rico?

    1. They don't seem to want it, as far as I can see. The District does.

  2. Why do you think the District has a good case for statehood--apart from its lack of voting representation in Congress, which can be cured by retrocession to Maryland, an alternative of which you indicate you are aware? Yes, it has a few more people than Wyoming and maybe Vermont. But the fact that we are stuck with a few states that are vastly overrepresented in the Senate relative to their population doesn't seem to me a valid reason for adding another one.

    1. Well, there's an extremely strong case against the status quo. Statehood and Maryland would both solve the problem of disenfranchisement.

      I like statehood because it helps with the overall anti-urban bias in the structure of the Senate.

    2. Jonathan,

      You have several times said that you find it strange that the Democrats have not advanced this cause. As a resident of Maryland and an employee in the district, I think I can point to one very powerful reason, which is the veto position held by the Democratic Parties of Maryland and Virginia. This veto position is probably especially powerful on the MD side given the influence of Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen, John Sarbanes, and Nancy Pelosi (the last of course from CA but descended from a MD political dynasty).

      Democrats in Maryland and Virginia (particularly Northern VA) have a special interest in this issue. You say that Democrats agree on the merits of the issue, and by and large I suppose that is true, although a surprising number even in Maryland argue that there is reason to retain the capital in a federal district. However, the real issue is that rank and file Dems in those areas are simply not convinced statehood for the District is viable or practical, especially given that the financing schemes that are often mentioned (commuter taxes, non-refundable payroll taxes, etc). In effect, people who live in Democratic districts in MD and VA and work in the district feel like they are being asked to finance two different states, which they are not willing to do. I suspect that if statehood for the district is ever to get off the ground these veto points will have to be overcome -- that is, the Democrats in MD and VA will have to be convinced that DC can finance itself on its own tax base like a normal state, and Democrats in DC will have to explicitly renounce some of the schemes that MD and VA residents find especially noxious, such as the commuter tax.

      As for retrocession to MD, that is a dead letter. MD has more than enough trouble with Baltimore, and the voters of MD will never be willing to take on the problems of DC administration, DC public schools, etc.

  3. I'll go ahead and state the obvious: The status quo is probably going to remain in place (as it has for half a century now) for the simple reason that fifty is such a nice round number. Few would actually admit this, but I think for most people fifty states just seems more proper than 51.


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