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Saturday, May 21, 2016

New Columbia: The 51st State?

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, it was easy for me to understand what city and state I lived in.  For my kids, who are being raised in Washington, D.C., it's not so simple.  The question of D.C. statehood is not new, but is on the front burner once again.  Mayor Muriel Bowser, who plans to place the D.C. statehood question on the November ballot, recently unveiled a draft constitution for the 51st state.  The Statehood Commission is holding multiple townhall meetings in May and June, and soliciting comments about the proposal online.  A Constitutional Convention is scheduled for June 17-18.

The population of the new state would be 645,000, making it the third smallest state in the nation (edging out Wyoming and Vermont).  The boundaries of the new state would be drawn to maintain certain areas as federal land, including the White House, U.S. Capitol, National Mall, Navy Yard, Union Station, and Kennedy Center.  The draft constitution creates a 13-member legislature (called the House of Delegates), provides that the mayor would become the governor of the new state, empowers the governor (not the President) to appoint judges, and allows residents to elect voting members of Congress for the first time.  It is this last point, of course, that makes the proposal so controversial.  An overwhelming percentage of D.C. residents are Democrats, which means two additional seats in the Senate could tip the balance of power in Congress.  Not surprisingly, the question of D.C. statehood has become a presidential campaign issue.  While Hillary Clinton recently vowed to be a "champion" for D.C. statehood and Bernie Sanders has expressed strong support for the cause, Donald Trump has been non-committal. 

Assuming for the sake of argument that D.C. becomes a state, what should it be called?  The draft constitution refers to it as "New Columbia," but Bowser says she's open to discussion about the name.  Some oppose New Columbia because they're reluctant to honor Christopher Columbus, and others simply prefer a different name.  Current suggestions include naming the new state after a river--the Potomac or Anacostia--or after an historic figure like Frederick Douglass or Sojourner Truth.  Any other suggestions?

Posted by Megan La Belle on May 21, 2016 at 11:27 AM | Permalink


Maybe we can work out a deal where upstate NY separates from downstate (NYC + Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and maybe Orange & Putnam) at the same time as DC statehood. That would maintain the partisan status quo in the Senate. The new state of Upstate would have about the same population as Oregon (~ 4 million) and would be 26th or 27th in terms of population.

The whole paired entry thing worked in the past, at least for a while.

Posted by: brad | May 23, 2016 11:15:08 AM

Anon E. Anon makes a good point. It seems more city than state. There are "city-states," but not in this country. But, the basic reason is that I don't like the mal-apportioned Senate as is & don't want to expand what I see as a problem by adding another small population state to the Senate.

Posted by: Joe | May 22, 2016 10:36:31 PM

Sam, thanks and sorry for being persistent.

My posts were simply predictions about the politics of the issue. As a DC native, I've been debating DC statehood for about 40 years now and every time it pops up the debate seems to repeat itself.

Posted by: nother anon | May 22, 2016 9:59:37 PM

Sam, thanks for the response. Are any of the options actually on the table, though? As far as I can tell, DC is no more likely to become a state than my suburban neighborhood is likely to become a state.

Megan, I think the problem is that every city of DC's size -- or for that matter, every rural region inside a state -- would probably like to be its own state. Being a state comes with a massive amount of political power; who wouldn't want that? Take New York City: If each borough wanted to be its own state, would we allow that? Four of the five boroughs have populations larger than DC, so if population is all that matters, each borough should get to be states, too.

Posted by: Anon E. Anon | May 22, 2016 9:51:28 PM

Is this a damn deposition? No. Would hold out for true fairness rather than settling for half a loaf. To others this may be partisanship. To people in DC it is real life.

Posted by: Sam | May 22, 2016 9:38:08 PM

Thanks for all the great comments. I'm curious why Joe and perhaps others are uncomfortable with such a small region becoming a state. Isn't it the population that matters? As mentioned, DC already has a bigger population than Vermont and Wyoming. More importantly, the population of the district is on the rise and is projected to reach close to 1 million by 2045, which would make it bigger than Alaska, North and South Dakota, and Delaware.

Posted by: Megan La Belle | May 22, 2016 9:37:37 PM

Sam, if it appears that full statehood would not currently pass, or if it's tried and fails, would you support or oppose a constitutional amendment that simply converted the District's current representative to a full representative?

Posted by: nother anon | May 22, 2016 9:24:13 PM

If that option were actually on the table it would be fine with me. But that option does not seem to be on the table: Maryland will not consent. So I seek the option that may actually occur within my lifetime: statehood.

Posted by: Sam | May 22, 2016 9:16:25 PM

Sam says: "I am such a person and here's what I say. No, I do not support that option, because it still unjustifiably leaves me in a much worse position than others who happen to live elsewhere. It leaves me with no vote in the Senate (whereas other people have two Senators) and it leaves the federal government with plenary authority to control my local laws."

Do you support making DC part of Maryland again? That would leave you in exactly the position of others who live elsewhere, with two senators, etc.

Posted by: Anon E. Anon | May 22, 2016 9:11:39 PM

I appreciate the answer but "easy to obtain" and "amendment" ... questionable. I haven't heard that option very seriously proposed but don't know -- still, feel that is a sort of health insurance option thing that when it actually has a chance of passing, the Republicans will find a reason not to do it.

The plenary power thing is a concern which is why I rather just give them over to Maryland (noted it doesn't want that) but maybe there is a way to have a home rule aspect to the proposed amendment. I realize a few other low density areas have two senators, but am not in favor of extending the problem there. The whole "taxation without representation" thing can be addressed w/o doing that.

Posted by: Joe | May 22, 2016 6:37:28 PM

Ellington had occurred to me too. It's sound has a nice relationship to "Washington" and the state song could be "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got that Swing)."

Posted by: nother anon | May 22, 2016 3:27:40 PM

And as for the name, maybe Ellington?

Posted by: Sam | May 22, 2016 2:06:18 PM

"If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who's pro-statehood, ask them if they support that option and see what they say."

I am such a person and here's what I say. No, I do not support that option, because it still unjustifiably leaves me in a much worse position than others who happen to live elsewhere. It leaves me with no vote in the Senate (whereas other people have two Senators) and it leaves the federal government with plenary authority to control my local laws.

Isn't this the answer that you would expect everyone to give?

Posted by: Sam | May 22, 2016 12:45:52 PM

When I say "could easily obtain" I mean could obtain consent from the Republicans in a counter-factual world. My larger point is that it can't actually happen.

That is, if Democrats pursued it, they could get a deal with Republicans for a constitutional amendment that (1) converts the District's currently watered-down representative into a full one, and (2) omits statehood and Senate seats. Over the years Republicans have raised that option because it would be fair to District residents (who are US citizens) and because it would presumably doom future pushes for full statehood. Of course, that's the very reason that Democrats have no interest in the proposal.

If you find yourself in a conversation with someone who's pro-statehood, ask them if they support that option and see what they say.

Posted by: nother anon | May 22, 2016 12:26:19 PM

"they could easily obtain a full voting member in the House"


Posted by: Joe | May 22, 2016 11:49:08 AM

Joe, that idea has been floated many times over the decades and Maryland has strongly opposed it. (The Constitution provides that no state can be expanded or shrunk without its consent.) The entire power structure of Maryland would be undermined and instead of Baltimore running the state, the power would be in Montgomery County and the new additions from DC -- not something Maryland particularly wants to see happen. In addition, the proponents pushing for DC statehood have no interest in the Maryland solution either. It would solve the democratic problem but would not solve the Democratic Party's problem. They want more Senate seats.

Most observers believe that they could easily obtain a full voting member in the House (without Senate seats) but, again, if the real motivation is for two more Democratic seats in the Senate then there will be little push from anyone on that.

Posted by: nother anon | May 22, 2016 11:33:33 AM

I like the retrocession idea but does Maryland want to take on the additional population with the costs it would entail? What do locals feel? Perhaps, a plebiscite would be a good idea.

It won't make it much "bluer" in the House -- figure about one representative given 1/435 of over 300 million people. So, Congress should be okay with that. But, adding 10% or so (current population: 6M) could be problematic.

Also, Congress would not have power over the people as much as they do now and it probably involves some complicated administrative moves. Inertia hurts there.

Posted by: Joe | May 22, 2016 10:22:15 AM

This level of anti-white, anti-Catholic cuckiness is why Teump will win!

Posted by: jeez | May 22, 2016 2:14:55 AM

I continue to be confused why a compromise cannot be reached whereby the residential areas of DC are retroceded back to Maryland, allowing them to obtain Congressional representation (and incidentally making Maryland a lot bluer, though it's already blue so that part isn't that relevant).

It's an obvious improvement on the status quo from a democratic standpoint, it has clear precedent in the retrocession of Arlington County, and, well, it doesn't create a hideous mini-state. It's a win for Democrats, but a more modest one than separate statehood.

Posted by: Paul Thomas | May 22, 2016 1:57:53 AM


50 is a nice round number. Can we just have a single Dakota?

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2016 3:07:03 PM


Posted by: Anon E. Anon | May 21, 2016 2:37:54 PM

The language of the amendment speaks of "seat of Government" which in the first decade resided in New York City and then Philadelphia. Not the "district of" Columbia as such.

The potential problem for me if the "shall" language means that some tiny portion of federal land that is the "seat of government" will obtain at least four electoral votes. The amendment has an unfortunate quality in that fashion including putting an artificial ceiling in place.

I don't like the idea of such a small region becoming a state myself (there are other ways to enfranchise the people), but such is not the question in question, huh?

I prefer the new name idea myself, in some fashion honoring the region's history. Usage of a black historical figure makes some sense, but perhaps one specifically tied to the region in question. "Anacostia" apparently has a Native American origin. That too would be a nice name.

Posted by: Joe | May 21, 2016 1:48:52 PM

I don't think a constitutional amendment would be necessary. The 23d Amendment says "[t]he District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint in such manner as the Congress may direct," so presumably a statute creating a 51st state would simply redefine the "District constituting the seat of Government of the United States" from the entire present District of Columbia to those areas that would be excluded from the new state. There is no reason Congress would not have the authority to define what constitutes the "District constituting the seat of Government" for the purposes of the 23d Amendment, especially considering that the 23d Amendment gives Congress the "power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation." For instance, Congress would have the authority under the 23d Amendment to move the seat of the federal government to a completely different area.

Article I s. 9 gives Congress the power "[t]o exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States." To deny Congress the power to redefine the seat of the federal government would require reading this clause to allow Congress to make this decision only once.

Posted by: LFS | May 21, 2016 12:31:13 PM

Beyond the usual process for statehood, there could be a constitutional issue here. Under the 23rd Amendment, Congress, not the D.C. legislature, has the power to direct how D.C.'s presidential electors are chosen. Technically, this would have to be repealed for D.C. to have the full scope of state power.

Posted by: Vinay Harpalani | May 21, 2016 11:57:47 AM

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