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Does Washington have ‘real people?’ Asking for some friends in Congress

Our first test: The folks behind DC Brau

A man walks by new murals depicting different interpretations of D.C. statehood in the H Street Corridor in Washington on July 7, 2020. The artwork is part of a new project conducted by MuralsDC that put up 51 new murals on the theme of D.C. statehood.
A man walks by new murals depicting different interpretations of D.C. statehood in the H Street Corridor in Washington on July 7, 2020. The artwork is part of a new project conducted by MuralsDC that put up 51 new murals on the theme of D.C. statehood. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

When the House voted in late June to make the District of Columbia the country’s 51st state, D.C. residents were thrilled. It was the first time a D.C. statehood bill passed either chamber of Congress. Even the normally reserved Mayor Muriel Bowser couldn’t contain herself. Watching the floor vote at a local restaurant, she waved her hands in the air like an ecstatic concertgoer when the measure passed, 232-180.

But not everyone welcomed the news, particularly Senate Republicans who have pretty much declared the bill dead on arrival. They argue that the proposal is nothing more than a Democratic power grab because the partisan tilt of the District would all but guarantee Democrats two Senate seats.

And besides, D.C. doesn’t even have “real people” — at least according to Sen. Steve Daines. The Montana Republican noted during a recent news conference that D.C. statehood doesn’t have support outside of the District, “where the real people are.”

One very real person found his comments offensive.

“It’s just hard to hear that,” said Marisela Rodela, one of the owners of longtime Washington-based DC Brau Brewing Company. “We pay taxes, federal and local, just like everybody else in this country. But then as business owners being told that we’re not real people, it’s almost a double whammy.”

Of course D.C. statehood opponents like Sen. Tom Cotton think businesses are great, just not the ones found in Washington. During a floor speech, the Arkansas Republican noted that Wyoming has a smaller population than D.C., “but it has three times as many workers in mining, logging and construction, and 10 times as many workers in manufacturing. In other words, Wyoming is a well-rounded, working-class state.”

Brewing and canning lagers apparently doesn’t count.

“There’re so many businesses in town that are local, that do represent the culture, the city, and are representative of the people who live here,” said Rodela. “We are normal people.”

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Rodela, who moonlights as the brewery’s chief community & culture officer, and until recently was the president of the D.C. Brewers Guild, takes pride in the region. She grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, her husband grew up in Maryland and a third business partner was raised in McLean, Virginia.

“We were just those young people who escaped into the city,” she said.

The Trinity University-Washington grad also said she understands the politics of statehood but thinks most people have a false perception of District residents as a bunch of lobbyists, journalists, government contractors and influence-peddlers. (Also known as a “fake” people who mostly live in Virginia anyway.)

But D.C. has a large working class who’ve called the place home for many years. (During an interview with D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, I once made the mistake of calling D.C. a transient city and was swiftly reprimanded.)

“They don’t understand that there are real people who live here, who have lived here for generations, who own homes, own property,” said Rodela. “We own businesses, we have neighborhoods, we have communities. And I think that a lot of people maybe just aren’t aware of who we are.”

That lack of awareness is one reason DC Brau started putting facts about statehood on its beer cans, which are currently distributed in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts.

If signed into law, the statehood bill would grant the District two senators and one House representative with full voting rights, and it would provide the new state with the same privileges and authority granted to other states.

It would include all territory that the current District comprises, minus the area primarily around the National Mall, White House, Capitol and Supreme Court, which would be under federal control and would be named the Capital.

Besides fighting to be recognized as a real person, Rodela, like other business owners, is also battling the economic headwinds brought by the coronavirus pandemic operation guidelines.

She said they are doing the best they can to keep all their employees, and business has picked up some.

“We’re really, you know, hoping to be able to have some momentum this summer,” she said. “Especially with our new Full Transparency seltzer at the beach. COVID has kind of put a dampener on a lot of things, but we are still getting some traction.”

Of course, that invites the question: Do real people drink seltzer?

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