By Katrina Schmidt.
Mayor Muriel Bowser’s March 30 State of the District Address sent a strong message to Congress and President Donald Trump — keep your hands off Washington, D.C.
Fiscal, political and social independence for D.C. were at the heart of her address, in line with the 86 percent majority who voted in favor of D.C. statehood in a November referendum. Bowser’s administration has consistently supported statehood for the District, including backing the Washington, D.C. Admission Act that was introduced March 2.
The push for independence, whether in the form of statehood or otherwise, has reached a fever pitch in recent months with the a Republican-controlled Congress and election of a Republican president.
The recent efforts of congressional Republicans to undermine primarily liberal Washington policies include bills that would prevent the city from using its own funds for abortion, diminish gun control laws and block implementation of a Death with Dignity bill.
“These are D.C. values,” Bowser said about the GOP-opposed policies. “These are the priorities we are fighting for.”
“We are the human rights capital,” she said.
Thanks to D.C.’s population that is over 75 percent Democratic, Republicans tend to oppose D.C. statehood for fear that it would skew Democratic representation in Congress and the electoral college.
Josh Burch, founder and organizer of Neighbors United for Statehood, a grassroots organization that lobbies for the statehood movement, sees D.C.’s lack of statehood as ironic.
“Republicans and Democrats go around the world and talk about democracy, but sit by and turn their backs on the people in the shadow of the capitol,” Burch said. “I think their main opposition at this point isn’t Constitutional, it’s about the Senate.”
In an April 2016 interview with the Washington Post editorial board, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio discussed his opposition to D.C. statehood.
“What it really gets down to if you want to be honest … that’s just more votes in the Democratic Party,” Kasich said.
An article in the Los Angeles Times opinion section written by a D.C. man who voted against statehood points out that the argument that it’s unfair to consider party advantage is hypocritical.
“If you don’t consider questions of partisan or racial advantage, what really is the argument for making D.C. a state?” he asked.
Statehood movements have a long history fraught with partisan controversy. The first push for D.C. statehood began in the 1960s, when D.C. won the rights to vote in presidential elections and elect its own school board.
Washington didn’t have the power to elect its own mayor until 1974, making Bowser the eighth mayor of the nation’s capital.
Bowser addressed President Donald Trump and Congress in her speech, asking for collaboration in a several efforts, many focused on infrastructure and social programs.
“They tell me President Trump likes to do things big,” she said. “So, let’s share some big ideas with him.”
Bowser specifically asked for the government to update federal bridges, create a final plan for RFK Stadium and turn federal parks over to local control. She also asked for support for D.C. education, affordable housing and programs to help prisoners reenter society.
However, these requests came with an implied caveat — if D.C. was a state, requests to honor its goals wouldn’t be necessary.
Bowser’s proposed 2018 Budget and Financial plan, titled “D.C. Values in Action: A roadmap to inclusive prosperity” released April 4, allocates $952,000 to a campaign for statehood as well as infrastructure improvements, a key goal for Bowser’s administrations.
The D.C. Capital Improvement Program proposed budget for 2018 to 2023 invests primarily in infrastructure, and in 2018 hefty chunks of the proposed funds will go to the Department of Transportation for improvements to roads and other transportation systems.
But, to Bowser, these updates are futile in the case of federal intervention in D.C. policies.
“If the Congress can’t help D.C. with our priorities, the best thing they can do is leave us alone,” she said.