Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Song of the Disenfranchised

If you enjoy cheering for an underdog – for the sort of pathetic soul that doesn’t have a chance in hell of coming out on top – then join the Washington, D.C. Republican Party. I don’t think anyone from their headquarters would take offense at that – they pretty much admitted in their letters soliciting volunteers and financial contributions this fall that they had no real hope of victory, and therefore wouldn’t be making any promises.

Of the voting population of the 550,000 or so residents of the nation’s capital, about three-quarters are registered Democrats. This means that the outcome of yesterday’s Democratic primary elections actually decided all the races. (The Republicans held a primary yesterday as well, but as none of the candidates were in contested races, nor do they have any hope of winning, it received little attention and little press.)

What this means for me, a registered Republican and resident of Washington, is that I’ve never had a say in the election of my city’s leadership. All the races are decided before I ever get to vote.

Of course, I’m likely not getting much sympathy on this point from registered Republicans living in other heavily Democratic districts, but my situation is different for one very important reason: local government is all we’ve got. There’s no turning one’s hopes to the Senate or the Gubernatorial races, which even in the most solidly Democratic or Republican states can still be turned after a few years of electoral discontent. Remarkably, D.C. government has never been vulnerable. No matter how many times our schools fail, we top the charts in murder rates, or our leaders get arrested, this city is safe for the Democratic Party. It boggles the mind.

It should be evident, above all else, that the two party system with primaries and general elections has failed in DC. What we need instead is something more fluid, that allows all the candidates to run simultaneously and be judged on their merits, with no party monikers attached. A primary could narrow the field to a handful of candidates, then elected by plurality in a run-off election. This is the only way I can think of to get someone eminently qualified like Tony Williams, Republican candidate for Member of Council in Ward 6, his due consideration by the voters.

Running the local government doesn’t require a commitment to national party platforms: a stance on Iraq or musings on global warming. The solutions Washington needs actually don’t have much to do with the famous institutions we house – they’re much closer to home, and deal with things like getting kids to read, taking lead out of the water, and stopping the omnipresent violence. On security issues, we cooperate with the federal government anyway – it is, after all, their fault we’re such a hot target and their institutions that need protecting. What we don’t need is the two-party system restricting our voting, narrowing our choices, and preventing the (sadly vast) numbers of knee-jerk, party-line voters from thinking about what’s best for our city.

For the left, the solution to all of DC’s many and varied ailments is statehood. “Taxation without Representation” claim our license plates, co-opting the familiar revolutionary refrain for the cause to get two extra guaranteed Democratic seats in the Senate. I can’t imagine why else they would think statehood for an area so small – with portions of it necessarily the domain of the federal government – is a good idea. And speaking of taxes, I can’t even imagine what it would take to support a full “D.C. State” government, even in miniature. I already pay out to the district at almost the same rate as I do as the feds, and that’s just to support our cancerous city council.

In fact, statehood would solve none of our real problems and create plenty of new ones, but without that step, we are left with a conundrum: we in the district don’t have voting representation in Congress. And the rare District Republicans, well, we are likely among the most disenfranchised voters in this country. So little to vote for, and no choices to make.

What I’d like to propose in place of Statehood is the partial annexation of D.C. by the state of Maryland. Now, I couldn’t really blame them for not wanting to take us on, but ignoring that objection for a moment, consider how it might work. Historically, there’s a sound argument for such a move: the land that is D.C. now was carved out of Maryland. It was to be a perfect diamond-shape, but Arlington and Alexandria were never ceded (as they were promised to be) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So in terms of our neighbors, Maryland makes more sense geographically. Politically, Maryland also tends to go Democratic. Sticking D.C. into politically more conservative Northern Virginia could only lead to resentment, as our population tried to vote the state out of the government of its natural inclinations. But our votes backing up the Senate races in Maryland would only serve to widen the margins, not change the outcome.

My plan is not for us to simply re-join Maryland. Instead, I would propose that we share her Senators (and perhaps her Governor as well, though this is by no means necessary): we would vote for them, and they would act on our behalf. We would then be given our own, voting member of the House – we would be “the District district.” Our local government would then continue to run our schools, city government, police force, etc. This way, we get a say in national issues, but we are not turned into a mini “city-state” (heh), with all the questionable repercussions that could entail.

Republicans would still be in the minority, of course, but even in Democratic strong-holds, things can happen that change the balance and lead to the occasional Republican senator. Consider Norm Coleman, for example: a Republican senator from the only state in the Union to vote for Mondale.

I see real solutions here – compromises that could take away the overwhelming sense of disenfranchisement felt by many of the people of D.C., of either party. What’s more, these two systems combined would give us Washington Republicans something that we haven’t ever had before: hope.

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