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Clinton Support for D.C. Statehood Encourages Officials

Clinton told Norton she supports DC statehood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Clinton told Norton she supports DC statehood. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House and Senate Democrats pitched their national priorities  to Hillary Rodham Clinton during her Capitol Hill visit, but one Democrat was able to shore up Clinton’s support on an issue close to home: District of Columbia statehood.  

But according to Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., the former secretary of State and New York senator told her she’s all in on a more local issue. “I have always been with you, Eleanor.  Of course I support D.C. statehood,” Clinton told Norton, according to a statement from the District’s congressional representative. Norton said Wednesday she hoped Clinton’s support for statehood “will encourage the far greater activism on statehood we are seeking in the city.”  

“I am glad for this early endorsement from our likely Democratic presidential nominee even before she has the nomination,” Norton said. “After all, we do not know Secretary Clinton’s views on many issues, but she was unhesitant on D.C. statehood when I spoke with her.”  

Clinton’s support might help Norton and Sen. Thomas R. Carper, D-Del., gather more Democratic co-sponsors for the House and Senate statehood bills, though Carper cautioned that bipartisan support would be more beneficial. The statehood bills do not have any Republican co-sponsors.  

“It’s positive,” Carper said of Clinton’s statement. “It’s not as positive as having some Republican friends stop and say they’re for it too, but I’m pleased.”  

But one statehood activist said such support from Clinton needed to be followed by action.  

“I think it’s great,” Josh Burch of Neighbors United for D.C. Statehood said of Clinton’s support. “But now let’s show it. … We need leadership on this issue. We need presidential leadership.”  

Burch said other candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, including Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, also support statehood, which increases the chances it could be part of the Democratic Party platform. The Democratic Party last included D.C statehood in its platform in 2000.  

At-large D.C. Councilmember Vincent Orange agreed incorporating the cause into a national party’s stance would be a step in the right direction. “To me the greatest action would be to make it part of the Democratic platform,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview.  

The same day Clinton was making the rounds around the Capitol, Orange introduced a sense of the council resolution at the D.C. Council meeting called, “Statehood Or Else,” which calls for a multimedia campaign to garner 1 million signatures on a petition supporting D.C. statehood. The petition would then be delivered to the White House, Congress and the Republican and Democratic national conventions.  

Orange said the petition would provide “adequate pressure” for the parties to incorporate D.C. statehood into their platforms. The resolution had strong initial support in the council, with eight other members signing on. Orange said the number of co-sponsors means a hearing on the resolution after the council’s summer recess is highly likely.  

And it is through these hearings Orange expects to determine the “or else,” or what actions might be taken if the District does not get statehood. “I think the ‘or else’ is to be determined,” Orange said. “We’ll have hearings on this and we’ll get people tell us what the ‘or else’ is.”  

But for Burch, the lack of a plan of action, such as refusing to pay federal taxes in the absence of statehood, does a disservice to the movement.  

“I have no clue what ‘or else’ means,” Burch said. “I think that’s a veiled and empty threat. If there’s some plan, if there’s some threat that we want to fulfill, let’s know it and let’s be real about it.”  

Burch was also critical of Orange’s plan for a million-signature petition. “I think it could be a powerful tool,” Burch said. “But petition drives take a lot of time and a lot of money and a lot of effort. … I think it’s going to be a whole lot more work than people think it’s going to be.”  

Burch pointed to the fact that the resolution does not speak to funding for the petition drive, but Orange said a large amount of funds may not be necessary. He said the drive could utilize volunteers, existing advocacy networks and the Internet to gather signatures.  

“I don’t see it as you need a big financial windfall in order to pull this off,” Orange said. “And if there is a cost we’ll just raise the cost and get it done.”  

Despite some of the questions and hurdles surrounding the drive for a million signatures in support of statehood, Norton applauded the resolution in a statement Wednesday.  

“Councilmember Orange’s work for a million signatures is an example of the kind of action that is desperately needed to raise the profile of D.C. statehood,” Norton said.

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