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Davis Weighs D.C.’s Options

Since voicing his support in June for a full-fledged House Member to represent the District of Columbia, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) has been bombarded with suggestions.

“We’ve received dozens of proposals on draft bills on how to secure voting rights for the District, and we welcome all of them,” a Davis spokesman said.

While Davis has yet to commit to any one plan — “We’re considering any and all options,” he stated Tuesday — he has said his support is strictly for a House seat only. With the Senate narrowly divided, Davis asserts that legislation creating any new Senate seats has “no prayer of passing.”

But one organization pitching its vision to Davis believes its proposal would alleviate those concerns, while giving the District full Congressional representation.

Earlier this year, the Committee for a Capital City, a group which favors eventual retrocession of the city to Maryland, presented a draft bill to Davis’ office that would give District residents representation by allowing them to vote in Maryland.

“It’s the way to appease all the statehood advocates who say, ‘If you just give us a House seat, you’re continuing [to treat] us as second-class citizens,’” said John Forster, the committee’s activities coordinator and a member of its board of directors. “The only thing that puts the voting-rights issue behind us is to include the Senate. The only easy way to get the Senate representation for the District is through Maryland.”

Under the plan, District voters would cast ballots for Maryland’s two Senate seats, and the House would expand by one seat, bringing that chamber to 436 Members until the next decennial census.

Additionally, Maryland would pick up one Electoral College vote, as District residents would be counted with Maryland residents in presidential elections. D.C. currently has three electoral votes.

“We are treated to a high level of representation in the Electoral College, and our proposal is that we give that up,” Forster said.

Although the House would contract to 435 Members following the next census, Forster explained, the bill would protect the city from being merged with Maryland’s multiple Congressional districts.

“Our bill envisions that Congress, as they take care of this voting-rights issue, would say, ‘Since the District residents are voiceless … Congress will speak for them,’” Forster said. The city would essentially become a permanent Congressional district, since Washingtonians would have no vote in the Maryland government, which is charged with redrawing the state’s Congressional boundaries after each census. Other than the process for federal elections, Washington would retain its own government.

If Congress were to approve legislation containing the group’s proposal, it could open the door to retrocession, but, Forster acknowledges, whether such a reunion is feasible still requires much research. In retrocession, the District would be ceded back to Maryland and would function as a city.

“The future course … is completely open to whatever. It could be status quo. It could be statehood. It could be reunion with Maryland,” Forster said. “This certainly is a step in that direction.”

In the meantime, the group is seeking out the support of Maryland Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D) and Paul Sarbanes (D).

Neither office returned calls seeking comment.

A spokesman for Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who opposes retrocession, said the former House Member is not inclined to support the proposal.

“We have not seen any real support for something along these lines,” said spokesman Henry Fawell, who later added: “I think it would be surprising if you saw a majority of Congress supporting this.”

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) has similarly opposed retrocession, but in a statement Tuesday said she is nonetheless pleased that the group has submitted its proposal.

“Congresswoman Norton thinks that the stimulation of more ideas from various sources can only help move us toward full Congressional voting representation,” a spokeswoman said. Norton has appointed a task force to examine the legal ramifications of various voting rights proposals.

Davis, chairman of the Government Reform Committee, which has oversight of the District, has said he will introduce the bill by year’s end.

Davis spokesman David Marin confirmed the bill could be introduced as early as September, but he added, “it’s not written in stone.”

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