Washington: journey to statehood

By Akina Nanayakkara

Image credit: Fodors

In June of 2020, a bill was passed by the House of Representatives to announce Washington DC as the 51st state. This was an unprecedented move by the House, and one that is still shrouded by controversy. The argument regarding Washington DC and its right to statehood is an ongoing debate. It is also a discussion that has garnered little public attention and interest due to the lack of knowledge among the general public regarding political intricacies. Many perspectives exist within the argument; DC residents themselves argue that although voting for presidencies, mayors and city council is fairly represented, no real representation is made for them in congress. There is controversy surrounding this as DC residents are required to pay full federal tax without gaining full voting rights. Nevertheless, many republicans maintain that Washington’s statehood would be an injustice to the founding principles of the country. This argument claims that DC being within a state could cause the politics of that state to have an influence over the capital. Nevertheless, for residents of DC the fight for statehood and representation is ongoing.

Washington DC is a city with over 700,000 residents. These residents are represented by delegate Elanor Holmes Norton. Despite being a Representative in the House, she does not have the right to vote. This is the same for US citizens residing in either the US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Northern Mariana island, Puerto Rico, Guam and Washington. These citizens are also represented by delegates who do not hold the power to vote. However, one crucial difference is evident that separates DC:the increased payment of federal taxes. Residents of Washington DC pay on average $10,375 per person in federal income tax. DC residents pay the highest per-capita in federal income taxes, but have no input in deciding where that money is spent. Many have been heavily outspoken in regard to the injustice coining the phrase “Taxation without representation”.

Furthermore, Washington DC is undoubtedly liberal in its views and ideology. This vast difference in principles causes conflicts with those of Republican backgrounds. DC voters voted Democrat by a landslide of 90% in the 2016 presidential election with only 4% of voters opting for Donald Trump. The conflicts in ideology pose a scenario where DC’s future is constructed around beliefs the city as a whole does not embody.

On the contrary, fierce and justified arguments are made by many Republicans opposing the statehood of Washington. As mentioned previously, republican senators insist that the Founding Fathers never intended Washington DC to gain statehood due to fear of political control from the ideals of that particular state. The underlying motive behind the blocking of statehood seems to be less to do with rights and are more related to political balance. If DC were to gain statehood it would ultimately result in the Democratic party gaining extra seats in the House of Representatives and Senate. Throughout history, states have generally gained statehood in pairs in hopes of retaining the balance in congress. Overall, due to Republican control over the senate and the presidency, the chances of the House’s bill being passed all the way to approval from the White House are slim.

The non-inclusion of Washington as a state evidently has severe implications as of recent. Due to the outbreak of Coronavirus each of the 50 states was allocated a minimum of $ 1.25 billion from the Coronavirus relief Fund. However, Washington DC as a district received less than half. This provoked outrage; DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson wrote about the injustice of this funding towards the district which pays the most in federal taxes per-capita. 

The granting of statehood for Washington DC is primarily centred around the resident’s right of fair representation and full voting rights considering the contribution by the state to federal taxation. It is clear to many residents that statehood would mean their values are represented on a larger scale and independence and autonomy are granted, as well as inclusion into a full democracy.

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