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Committee Hears District Voting Rights Proposals

While D.C. voting rights advocates praised a recent spike in legislation focused on their cause at a House Government Reform Committee hearing Wednesday, witnesses largely panned two proposals that would closely tie the city’s Congressional representation to Maryland.

House lawmakers reviewed four proposals, each of which would create at least partial Congressional voting representation for the District of Columbia.

“Will moving forward with any of the measures before us today be easy? Not at all,” Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) remarked at the start of the hearing. “We need to forge consensus among Members with disparate views.”

The proposals range from full Congressional representation for the District — which is currently represented by a nonvoting Delegate in the House and has no representation in the Senate — to retrocession to Maryland. Witnesses, including D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and D.C. City Council Chairman Linda Cropp (D), praised the proposals — noting the bipartisan support the concept has received — but questioned proposals introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) and Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio) that would link the District’s voters to Maryland.

“I would be very reluctant to support any initiative that has the potential to fragment the District’s political identity,” Williams said. “The District is a unique political and social unit that cannot be commingled with the interests of Maryland or any state.”

Under the bill Rohrabacher introduced earlier this year, the city would essentially become Maryland’s 9th district for the purpose of Congressional representation. The legislation would also make District residents eligible to vote for Maryland’s two Senate seats. Regula’s proposal would cede the majority of the District’s land back to Maryland, and the city’s residents would become citizens of that state.

While proposals offered by Davis and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) received warmer receptions from the voting rights advocates, Norton acknowledged that “none of the bills has anything close to the necessary support in Congress” at this point.

Norton is the sponsor of the “No Taxation Without Representation Act,” which would provide full representation to the District with two Senate seats and one House seat. While Williams and Cropp acknowledged a preference for Norton’s bill, both suggested that Davis’ more limited legislation could serve as a weigh-station on the path to full representation.

Davis introduced legislation Tuesday that would temporarily expand the House to 437 seats, creating a fourth Congressional district in Utah, which is a Republican stronghold, and one seat for the District, a Democratic bastion. The House would contract to 435 seats following the 2010 Census and reapportionment, but would preserve the D.C. district.