Norton and Gray Protest Loss of D.C. Vote

Posted January 4, 2011 at 2:04pm

They took one from the tea party. Led by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and recently sworn-in District Mayor Vincent Gray (D), the battle cry in House office building hallways Tuesday was, “Don’t tread on D.C.” 

Norton, Gray and about 50 activists met to protest proposed House rules that would eliminate Norton’s vote in the House Committee of the Whole, the only Congressional vote awarded the D.C. delegate.

“When they strip you of the only vote you ever had on the House floor, will you take it lying down?” yelled Norton, rallying the spattering of activists who met in the Rayburn House Office Building foyer. “When they strip you of a vote federal courts have allowed, will you go quiet into that night? … This is an insult to every taxpayer in D.C.” 

Citing the $3.6 billion Washingtonians paid in taxes in 2009, Gray called the new rules “outrageous” and appealed for action: “It’s time for people to stand up, lie down, march, whatever the case may be. … Should the voice of 600,000 people count for nothing?” 

Norton called the withdrawal of her vote a “full-scale war” on Washingtonians, and Gray urged those gathered to be forward, bold and direct when discussing the issue with aides.

“I moved here last year from San Francisco and said, ‘What the hell?’” said activist Medea Benjamin. “It never occurred to me that the people of our nation’s capital didn’t have voting rights. That’s why I joined DC Vote.” 

Throughout the day, activists, many of whom are members of event organizer DC Vote, dropped by House offices and requested meetings with legislative aids, urging Members to change the proposed House rules and retain Norton’s vote.

Leah Ramsay, communications manager of DC Vote, said activists have stopped by every House office, and most were able to speak with aides.

But for all the enthusiasm of D.C. leaders and activists — some wearing shirts reading “Taxation Without Representation,” “D.C. the 51st State” and “Demand the Vote” — the protest is unlikely to persuade Members to allow Norton to vote in the Committee of the Whole.

Norton’s request to meet with Speaker-designate John Boehner following the first circulation of proposed House rules was denied, and although activists, including DC Vote Executive Director Ilir Zherka, met with the Ohio Republican’s aides, the exchange will not necessarily change anything.

D.C. Shadow Sen. Michael Brown (D) visited 25 offices with his group of lobbyists and said most Members were “noncommittal” at best. He’s not holding his breath on a change to the proposed House rules.

“It’s so sad because it’s so partisan and petty and a slap in the face to the people of the District,” he said. 

The protest and lobbying efforts come a day before the House is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules, which detail that Norton’s vote will be retracted. A simple majority is needed to enact the rule.

Republicans have called Norton’s vote in the Committee of the Whole unconstitutional since only states are specifically awarded representation in the Constitution. And although a district court and appeals court have ruled the Delegate’s voting right constitutional, the GOP takeover of the House has all but assured that Republicans will take it away.

Norton said she has already requested time on the floor during Wednesday’s rules debate and told Roll Call that she expects to have the full backing of Democrats. She’ll be appealing to the House Democratic Caucus for support Tuesday evening. 

“This is the opening salvo with more to come,” she said.