Thursday, June 21, 2007

The State of Columbia

The current movement among some Republican lawmakers to create a voting Congressional seat for the District of Columbia's 550,000 residents is welcome, but it will be another step in a long road to justice and Constitutional citizenship for residents of the District, and indeed for all United States commonwealths and territories. As an eleven-year resident of Puerto Rico, I think it's striking that these issues of citizenship status for literally millions of people are scarcely in the consciousness of the larger public. But I wouldn't want to see this particular move celebrated as the end of the problem. The people of the District (and all other places where the people are American citizens under American rule) need proportional representation (in general they need exactly the same citizenship rights as all other American citizens). Would a state of 550,000 residents have more than one Representative? And what about Senators? The current plan would create an additional congressional seat for Utah to offset the political impact, thus sweetening the vote for Republicans, much as Republican Alaska was the balance for Democratic Hawaii in the 1950s. (I can imagine Dave Chappell going to town on this too-literal acknowledging of segregation.) But there isn't some unrepresented Republican place amongst the territories, I'd imagine, but maybe the Marshall Islands, maybe Guam's a surprise, the Virgins are strictly Democratic (like the District) but I think the Bushies might be right that the Republicans could build something in Puerto Rico. Of course the whole Puerto Rican discussion is different because of the independence movement, but that question also extends to all U.S. territories: do they have the right to vote their own independence, or not? From this point of view, it is presumptious for the Congress to simply decide that one and only one representative, without the apparatus of state government, and forget about the Senate and the Electoral College, is an adequate resolution of the issue.

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