As a non-voting delegate, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton has represented the District of Columbia for 30 years. In that time, Norton has been steadfast in her fight for D.C.’s statehood.
Speaking before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform during Monday’s hearing on “H.R. 51: Making D.C. the 51st State,” Norton set out some facts about what D.C. statehood actually means.
A longtime civil rights activist and former SNCC organizer, Norton says that congress continues to deny D.C. residents full participation in the democratic process. Norton also used her opening remarks to share her personal story.
Norton said her great-grandfather was a slave on a plantation in Virginia and once walked to D.C. “Today it is my great honor to serve in a city where my father’s family has lived without equal representation for almost two centuries,” she said.
Introduced in late January, House Resolution 51, the Washington, D.C. State Admission Act, would grant the district admission as the 51st state. The name would be changed to Washington, Douglass Commonwealth after Frederick Douglass. The proposed legislation would also use 66 of the 68 square miles of the federal district according to Norton.
Proponents of the legislation argue that making D.C. a state would give residents equal say in matters impacting the federal government through the election of two U.S. Senators and voting members of the House of Representatives.
While D.C. has been heavily gentrified over the last 20 years, Black people still make up 46 percent of the population, giving a weighted meaning to the district’s mantra, “taxation without representation.”
Representing the fourth ward in D.C. councilperson Janeese Lewis Georgia called D.C. statehood a matter of full equality for people who are born and raised in D.C., and those who choose to remain.
Advocates pointed to D.C.’s population, noting it is larger than Wyoming and Vermont and has a larger percentage of Black residents. D.C. has over 700,000 residents compared to only 578,000 people in Wyoming. During the hearing, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser cited a loss of $755 million in COVID-19 funding that the city would have otherwise had access to if it were a state.
D.C. residents also pay a higher federal tax per capita than residents in the states, but operates on a larger budget than at least 12 states. Currently, without state representation, Congress votes on and makes a large number of decisions relating to how the city operates.
The Jan. 6 Capitol riots brought up an important topic regarding Mayor Bowser’s authority to call on the national guard. As it stands, only the president and-or the army chain of command can activate the national guard.
“Washington, D.C., has been a true partner to the federal government in every possible aspect, even though Congress and the presidents have been sporadic partners to us,” Bowser said during Monday’s testimony.
During the hearing Norton said HR 51 was introduced with 202 co-sponsors, and currently has 215 co-sponsors. A companion bill in the Senate, Resolution 51, was introduced with 38 original co-sponsors and is now up to 41 co-sponsors.
Speaking during the hearing, Rep. Danny Davis called out opposition talking points as being “intellectually dishonest.”
Norton says Congress can either continue to exert authority over American citizens, “Or it can live up to this nation’s promise and ideals, end taxation without representation and pass H.R. 51.”
“The enfranchisement of 712,000 D.C. residents is a top priority for the Oversight and Reform Committee,” Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a statement to CBS News. Maloney called the matter an issue of civil rights. “After years of stagnation, we are witnessing a real and sustained momentum behind D.C. Statehood.”