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`Last Colony' Pushes for Statehood

Jesse Jackson and some conservatives say voters should have full representation in Congress. FROM D.C. TO NEW COLUMBIA?

By John DillinStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 29, 1990


WILL ``New Columbia'' become America's 51st state? Jesse Jackson says the time has come for the nation's capital, which would be renamed New Columbia, to gain statehood, including full representation on Capitol Hill. If Congress and President Bush won't agree, the Rev. Mr. Jackson threatens an appeal to the United Nations to end ``tyranny'' over the federal city.

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It might surprise people from other nations to learn that here at the heart of Western democracy, the 604,000 residents of Washington, D.C., cannot vote for either the House of Representatives or the Senate. It was only 29 years ago that this mostly black city won the right to vote in presidential elections.

With democracy movements sweeping Eastern Europe and even the Soviet Union, the political consciousness of Washington citizens is being stirred. They call their city ``the last colony.'' If citizens of Budapest, Warsaw, and Moscow are winning the right to vote, they ask, why not Washington, which has more people than three states?

Jackson, who can always draw a crowd of TV cameras, has adopted statehood for the District of Columbia as his newest cause c'el`ebre. Calling it ``a question of simple democracy,'' the preacher-politician says it is time for D.C. voters to have two senators and at least one representative in the House, just like any state.

Even some conservatives who have strongly criticized D.C.'s city government, such as Rep. Stan Parris (R) of Virginia, now agree that the district should have a voice on Capitol Hill. Mr. Parris says it is unfair that district residents must pay federal taxes and serve in the military without full representation in Congress.

However, that is where the agreement ends.

President Bush declares flatly: ``This is a federal city and in my view should remain that.''

Parris would solve the problem by allowing D.C. residents to vote for Congress as if they were residents of neighboring Maryland. No new state. No new senators. District residents would share Maryland's two US senators, and be given representatives in the House in proportion to their population.

Jackson, who many suspect would like to be a US senator from New Columbia, denounces as ``half remedies'' anything that falls short of statehood. Merging Washington with Maryland for voting purposes would deny the capital an opportunity to ``solve our own problems,'' Jackson says.

Even in this pro-democracy age, statehood for the capital city will be a difficult goal, predicts R. Kent Weaver, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Furthermore, Mr. Weaver suggests that Jackson's threatened appeal to the UN could backfire.

``You don't make much progress by bashing Congress,'' he says. ``You just get them mad.''

Even so, Weaver says that D.C. residents are clearly being ill-served. ``They are being denied the right to vote, which is a basic American right,'' he observes.

In 1978, Congress tried to remedy the situation with a constitutional amendment that would have given the district two senators and a representative as if it were a state. However, only 17 states ratified the amendment out of the necessary 38, and the amendment died.