Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
The phrase “taxation without representation” is most associated with the American Revolution, but if you live anywhere in the Washington, D.C., area, you’ll have undoubtedly seen it adorning the district license plates.
It’s been taken up as a motto for the district’s statehood supporters, for whom it applies quite literally. Washington, D.C., residents are taxed at the same rate as all other Americans — but unlike those living in the 50 states, they don’t send senators to Congress.
That simple truth is at the heart of the arguments in favor of making the district our 51st state, but up until recently, it was a relatively niche issue. It has now become a mainstream position of the Democratic party, as President Joe Biden and nearly every Democratic member of Congress support the measure. The Democratic trifecta makes this the perfect time to act on D.C. statehood.
D.C. statehood is long overdue. In fact, it is impossible to fully discuss issues such as voting rights and racial inequality without considering statehood as part of the conversation.
Congressional Democrats seem to be particularly focused on voting rights, as the House just passed a bill including a landmark expansion of voting rights protections. But the status of the district constitutes one of the most clear cases of voting obstructions in the nation. There are over half a million people of voting age who are deprived of the right to elect senators to Congress based solely on where they live. Washington, D.C., does get to send delegates to Congress, but they are non-voting members — a resident of College Park objectively has more voting power than someone living nine miles away in Washington, D.C.
Moreover, the district’s population is 47 percent Black — one of the highest proportions in the nation. The fight to keep D.C. a federal district and not a state is inherently racialized; it is impossible to reconcile support for civil rights with support for depriving one of the biggest Black population centers of equal representation in Congress.
And though it’s clear why statehood is so necessary, only Democratic control can make it possible. The Republican party will never support the district’s statehood because it would severely damage their political outlook. If Washington, D.C., becomes a state, it would receive two U.S. Senators and at least one member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Based on the region’s past voting history, these three seats would likely not be filled by Republicans, making it much harder for them to regain the majority in either the House or Senate.
Congressional Republicans will never engage in such political malpractice as to allow statehood to occur under their watch. This is why the Democratic majority needs to take action now, including abolishing the filibuster if necessary. It would be deeply irresponsible to wait another two or four years to act, giving the Republicans a chance to take back the majority and kill statehood in the next Congress.
This is no reasonable legal justification for this, and opponents of statehood have barely tried to mount one. Republicans have weakly referred to it as a “power grab” for the Democrats, but their political motivations are obvious.
It really is quite simple: Everyone deserves the same voting rights, regardless of where in the country you live. Washington, D.C., statehood is a measure which is long overdue, and the Democratic majority need to act as soon as possible.
Adam Cullen is a sophomore government and politics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.