Shadow of a Doubt D.C. statehood activists have failed for decades. Why do they think $1 million in public funds will help?

Michael D. Brown
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

As civil rights activists returned to the Lincoln Memorial on a Saturday in late August to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, a smaller event for statehood for the District of Columbia took place not far from the Reflecting Pool.

At that rally, held at the District’s World War I Memorial, elderly activists from the city’s Statehood Green Party mixed with 20-somethings trying to make statehood sexy. “Want a date?” one young woman’s sign read. “Make D.C. a state.”

Speakers around the memorial played go-go by the genre’s godfather, Chuck Brown. The rally’s theme song, though, was “Stand Up 4 DC,” which mashes up statehood rhetoric and elevator music to surprising success. “Home Rule was cool, but man I ain’t no fool,” the song goes. “I need control of my own destiny.”

The event drew a few hundred people, including Mayor Vince Gray and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who gave a speech that included asking for her own vote in Congress. One D.C. Council staffer nearby remarked that Norton must be familiar with the speech. “She’s been giving it for 40 years,” he says.

The District’s shadow delegation also took the podium. The elected shadow senators and shadow representative are treated like congressmen by the District’s government, at least officially. In Congress, however, they get treatment just a little better than every other volunteer lobbyists.


Shadow Sens. Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown were able to address the crowd for about 10 minutes, but when shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-Fleming reached the podium, the delegation’s time was up. The organizers, who were apparently more committed to respecting their schedule than the shadow delegation, played Bennett-Fleming off like an Oscar winner in a technical category.

There was one notable absence from the rally: the out-of-town March on Washington visitors the District wanted to win over. Organizers tried to lure marchgoers with tourist maps of D.C. peppered with paragraphs about statehood, but at the fork in the security cordon between the local rally and the official March on Washington, most opted for the latter.

In the end, the rally may have been most memorable for Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry seizing the microphone and insisting on his own time for a speech. After weathering organizers’ attempts to cut his mic, the mayor-for-life delivered a call-and-response list of issues that statehood would solve.

“I say jobs, say statehood,” Barry told the thinning crowd.


“Black people, stop killing each other!” Barry said.


“Mothers on welfare!” Barry said.


“Statehood, statehood, statehood,” Barry finished.

After decades of failed attempts, statehood has become—to paraphrase Homer Simpson’s description of beer—the cause of and the solution to all of the District’s problems. No money-suck program can be cut off if its existence makes the District look more like a state, and no politician can go wrong supporting it. At the same time, any theoretical budget shortfall can be solved, somehow, by the commuter tax statehood would allow the District to impose.

Despite statehood’s rhetorical prominence, though, the District invests little in lobbying, in part because of federal budget riders that forbade it until 2008. That could change this fall, with At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange’s District of Columbia Statehood Advocacy Act of 2013. Orange’s legislation would spend more than $1.1 million on statehood, including giving the delegation their first salaries—$35,000 for each member. That doesn’t compare to Norton’s salary ($174,000), Gray’s ($200,000), or the average councilmember’s ($128,202), but it’s enough to make the shadow delegation more than a pricey hobby for its members. With the District about to put money behind the delegation, it’s time to look at how the statehood fight got to this point—and whether D.C. should spend more than a million dollars on a cause that’s spent a long time going nowhere.

District residents voted for their first shadow delegation in 1990, the culmination of an idea supported by statehood activists and the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. (Jackson would be one of the first two shadow senators elected.) The vote took place over the objections of several members of the D.C. Council. “We need shadow reps like we need potholes,” then-Councilmember Carol Schwartz wrote in a Washington Post op-ed.

Paul Strauss
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

The plan was inspired by Tennessee, which had elected its own shadow delegation in 1796 to push for statehood. The so-called Tennessee Plan had already been used successfully by Alaska and Hawaii earlier in the 20th century. Its application in the District is murkier, though, since none of the future states that successfully used it had their lack of statehood detailed in the Constitution. Still, if all went according to plan, the delegation would make itself obsolete in a few years.

Three years after the creation of the shadow delegation, though, another statehood bill died in the Senate. And starting in 1995, Newt Gingrich’s Republican-controlled House meant a total halt on statehood progress. Gingrich declared D.C. a “laboratory” for GOP ideas, appointed a Republican task force on the District, and set to work pushing tax cuts and school vouchers. John Capozzi, the shadow representative from 1995 to 1997, recalls that the most exciting time of his term came when he tried—and failed—to crash a congressional orientation to get a free laptop.

The lack of progress on statehood inspired a more incremental approach focused on gaining voting rights for Norton. The most active outfit was DC Vote, a lobbying group that some statehood activists felt was overly favored by the city government. Years of negotiating meant to convince Republicans to accept a House vote for the District in exchange for another one for conservative Utah came to nothing in 2010, even though a bill to do that passed the House. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allowed Republican senators—and some Democrats worried about their legislative grades from the National Rifle Association—to attach an amendment to the bill that would have taken away the District’s control over its own gun laws. Norton, pushed along by a D.C. Council resolution trashing the compromise, refused to take the deal, and it died in the Senate.

Statehood regained its position as the favored goal for the District that same year, with the failure of the voting rights bill. “That’s when statehood became part of the movement again,” says Bennett-Fleming. But the antipathy between statehood and voting rights activists is still fresh. Incoming DC Vote executive director Kimberly Perry ran afoul of statehood activists when, in a July Washington Post interview, she wouldn’t rule out retroceding the District to Maryland. Activist Anise Jenkins, a member of statehood group Free DC, calls DC Vote’s voting-rights approach “the Kibbles and Bits of democracy.”

At a Council hearing on Orange’s shadow delegation bill the same month, Charles Moreland, the first shadow representative, demanded that the Council strike language in the bill that would require the shadow delegation to list voting rights as an issue on their websites.

“For statehood supporters to be yoked with voting rights proponents would be like teaming a thoroughbred horse with a long-headed Mississippi mule,” Moreland says.

In the basement of the John A. Wilson Building, there’s a door that’s locked most of the time, even during business hours. Only one of the building’s elevators goes there. Show up at the right time, though, and you’ll find yourself in the shadow delegation’s shared office suite.

Shadow Sen. Michael D. Brown decorates his portion of the office with mementos from his time working as a political consultant for the national Democratic Party: a picture of a much-younger Brown shaking hands with Jimmy Carter on the president’s doomed 1980 campaign; a signed Doonesbury cartoon.

The rest of Brown’s office is devoted to the detritus of the statehood campaigns he’s dreamed up. There’s mock-ups of statehood billboards at the 2012 Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., funded by his share of voluntary donations from D.C. residents. (A piece of paper pasted under the pictures of the signs boasts that they “received a lot of press coverage.”) Brown pulls out a guide he produced for teachers who want to teach statehood in their social studies curricula. One high school class in Missouri, Brown claims, ended up haranguing their state legislators over D.C. statehood after taking the course Brown designed.

Brown is keeping busy, despite his slim budget. His office sponsors the DC Breeze, one of the District’s two professional ultimate Frisbee teams. The sponsorship cost $500, an expense which won Brown the right to hang a statehood banner at their games and to throw out the first disc of the season. And he’s on to new ideas, including statehood-branded beer and hot dogs, which he’s planning to call “Freedom Franks.” He’s working on special recipes for the most ardent opponents of statehood. Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican who regularly introduces bills to cede the District back to Maryland, will certainly earn his own dog, according to Brown. A volunteer designer is working on a costume for “Freedom Frank,” the wieners’ mascot.

“It’s a fine line I walk, trying to engage people without being a buffoon about it,” Brown says.

Brown estimates that he’s spent $40,000 of his own money on statehood. But until recently, the shadow delegation has also drawn on the statehood tax check-off, a box on D.C. income forms that allows filers to donate money to the cause. Last year, the tax contribution earned $12,000, which was split among the three members of the delegation. Brown expects that the donation option will be cut from the tax forms entirely next year due to lack of interest.

The plan was always problematic, with the Office of Tax and Revenue forgetting in 2006 to print the box on tax forms at all. Instead, would-be residents of New Columbia had to write “STATEHOOD” at the bottom of their filing. Brown blames the decline on e-filing methods like TurboTax not featuring the contribution options. In fact, the tax form contribution is available on all forms of electronic filing, according to a spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer.

Nate Bennett-FlemIng
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

That may not entirely be a bad thing—in 2008, the tax money was spent on things like hosting a statehood luncheon with Hayden Panettiere. Yes, that Hayden Panettiere—the star of NBC’s Heroes-turned-whale conservation activist-turned-D.C. statehood supporter. Panettiere became interested in statehood when she met Strauss at a 2008 campaign event for Barack Obama and asked him to use his position in the Senate to protect whales. Strauss explained that he couldn’t, because he wasn’t really a senator. “If you’re out there fighting for the rights of vote-less mammals, well, I’ve got 600,000 of ’em right here in the city,” Strauss told Roll Call.

Brown’s tenure hasn’t been without some accomplishments. The shadow senators have wrested some perks from the Senate, including Senate license plates and ID badges that allow them to access the Senate dining room. (Bennett-Fleming claims that he’s been too busy fighting for statehood to investigate whether he gets any representative-like privileges on the House side. Probably not; a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, when asked whether Bennett-Fleming enjoyed any perks, says there’s no such thing as District shadow representative.)

Brown worries, though, that a Republican-controlled Senate could take away all the privileges, however minor. Without statehood, Brown says, he’s stuck relying on the kindness of strangers.

“I often call myself the Blanche DuBois of American politics,” he says.

Even Brown’s privileges as a quasi-senator don’t afford him much access to actual senators. Instead, he says he’s typically only able to make 20-minute appointments with staffers. His best lobbying moments have come out of happenstance—buttonholing Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin at a University of Maryland basketball game, or ending up on a love seat with then-Sen. Hillary Clinton when she was courting Democratic super-delegates like Brown and Strauss in 2008.

The stunt-based approach to statehood that Brown favors doesn’t always go so well. In 2008, Brown, along with then-Mayor Adrian Fenty and eight members of the D.C. Council, flew to New Hampshire to convince their state legislature to back a resolution scolding the Granite State’s senators for not supporting District voting rights. The bill died in the legislature, but that didn’t stop District politicians from going back to New Hampshire to support another bill last year. That failed, too.

Five years after the first trip to New Hampshire, Brown’s still stewing over the Post’s coverage, which included a description of At-Large Councilmember David Catania reading horoscopes. “They made us sound like the glee club from George Washington University that went to a party to sing,” Brown says.

Strauss, an attorney whom Brown describes as the lobbyist in their trio, has had a flashier tenure. On the glitzier side of pseudo-senatehood, he’s palled around with Panettiere, escorted a D.C. beauty queen through the halls of Congress, and staged a mock tea party at the 2004 Democratic convention in Boston by pouring tea into the harbor. Strauss is a frequent sight at District parades, walking next to a blown-up cover of the 1930’s pulp drama The Shadow.

His 16 years in office haven’t always gone so smoothly. Strauss was arrested in 2005 for arguing with police at a Georgetown dock and in 2008 for driving under the influence. (He received probation.) He prominently displayed his Senate ID badge during his DUI arrest, according to police documents—a bold move for an actual senator, even more so for someone whose Senate office is actually in the Wilson Building.

Then there are the interns. Because the shadow delegation can’t afford professional staffers, interns play an outsized role in their office. (When I meet him, Bennett-Fleming is accompanied by a two interns who double as his statehood encyclopedias.) Strauss has a reputation among statehood activists for employing foreign interns who don’t realize when they apply that he’s not a real senator. Strauss’ opponent in next year’s election, furniture magnate Pete Ross, pointedly mentions that he won’t have interns from Paris.

Strauss’ interns are as numerous as they are foreign. Strauss arrived at the 2008 Democratic convention in Denver with seven interns in tow, compared to one person in Brown’s entourage. Stranger, Strauss had them outfitted with Secret Service-style earpieces, according to convention coverage in DCist and the Post. All the coordination didn’t pay off for the District—that year’s Democratic platform, like the platforms in 2004 and 2012, didn’t mention D.C. statehood.

Strauss didn’t respond to requests for comment placed through one of those interns.

License plates and ID badges and tony lunches aside, both Strauss and Brown have tried to ditch the job. Seven years ago, Strauss ran unsuccessfully for the Ward 3 D.C. Council spot. The Washington Times, at least, wasn’t impressed with the shadow delegation’s name recognition. “As the city’s shadow senator for the press 10 years [sic], Paul Strauss is coming out of what amounts to the Witness Protection Program,” one reporter wrote.

Brown’s political career may ultimately be more damaging for the delegation’s future. In 2010, he ran against then-At-Large Councilmember Phil Mendelson in what he says was an attempt to raise more publicity for statehood. Brown says he was hoping to come in second, bringing up his pet issue in every debate.

More cynical observers figured that the white Brown—quickly nicknamed White Mike—was trying to capitalize on his name similarity with the better-known, African-American then-At-Large Councilmember Michael A. Brown. Brown’s version of the story goes like a penny-ante Macbeth, with his modest ambitions to run as a publicity stunt replaced by a hunger to win when he saw a Post poll two weeks before the Democratic primary that showed him ahead of Mendelson. It’s hard to believe this was because of residents’ love of the shadow delegation or heavy campaigning on Brown’s part: A month before the primary, Brown had raised no money. Once the poll came out, he started publishing confusing flyers without his face or mention of his shadow senator work. In return, people scrawled “White Man” on his signs in Ward 8.

“In the end, I did a lot of harm to myself,” says Brown. That includes potentially earning the enmity of Mendelson, who, as Council chairman now, has a lot of say about the future of the delegation funding bill.

At least Brown’s trying to make nice—city gift disclosures show that he treated Mendelson to lunch at McCormick & Schmick’s in July. Before the shadow delegation can lobby Congress, apparently, it has to lobby its own government.

At just 28 years old, Shadow Rep. Nate Bennett-Fleming doesn’t bring the same political baggage as his Senate counterparts. But that doesn’t stop him from possessing the defining characteristic of statehood activists, namely, distaste for other statehood activists. He rattles off the problems with the statehood movement before he joined: “disjointed,” “ad hoc,” not “strategically sound.”

“Our movement is laughable almost,” says Bennett-Fleming. Why Bennett-Fleming, a Berkeley Law School graduate and an adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia, would sign on with such a joke of a movement is one of the curiosities of the statehood delegation. For his part, Bennett-Fleming says that he doesn’t have ambitions for any higher office of the sort that people outside the District actually recognize.

While Brown thinks of promotional schemes and Strauss hosts parties, Bennett-Fleming and a crew of D.C. university students who work as his interns focus on meetings with congressional staffers. They point to a statehood bill introduced by then-Sen. Joe Lieberman late last year, just before he retired. (It didn’t pass.) In June, at a ceremony adding a statue of Frederick Douglass as the District’s addition to the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, Senate Majority Leader Reid reiterated his support for statehood. That support, though, seems mostly symbolic: So far, it hasn’t convinced Reid to make D.C. statehood a legislative priority or advance a bill for it through the Senate.

Bennett-Fleming and his entourage focused their lobbying on minority caucuses like the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, rounding up 50 co-sponsors for the House’s statehood legislation. Bennett-Fleming says this is a sign the statehood movement is back from past defeats, but that’s only a little more than a tenth of the body’s members. For all their work, statehood supporters are basically just winning over Democrats in a chamber controlled by Republicans.

And Republicans really, really don’t want to make D.C. a state. Putting aside constitutional issues, it’s hard to imagine the GOP welcoming two senators from a city where winning the Democratic primary practically guarantees electoral victory.

“We’re too black, we’re too urban,” says Brown, paraphrasing Ted Kennedy’s explanation of why D.C. will never receive a real congressional delegation. “We’re too Democratic, and we’re too liberal.”

Those doubts hint at a truth that goes unmentioned at rallies and Council hearings, a truth that $1 million or $10 million from the District’s budget won’t solve. Statehood isn’t foundering because the rest of the country doesn’t care (although that’s true). It’s been stalled for decades because Republicans don’t want to empower a guaranteed vote for Democrats.

The failure to get at that fundamental problem—and the hopeless situation it creates for the District—leaves activists jumping between whole-hog endeavors like statehood and more incremental demands like budget autonomy or voting rights. The logic behind pushing for statehood above all else makes perverse sense: If we’re not going to get anything, we might as well try for as big a portion of nothing as possible.

But the shadow delegation’s description of how it would use the proposed budget, which includes $75,000 for each of them to hire staffers and $75,000 each for promoting statehood, doesn’t inspire much confidence. Mendelson asked Strauss at the hearing on the bill why he hadn’t brought his own speculative budget, but Strauss demurred. Since the shadow senators and representative are elected just like councilmembers, according to Strauss’ logic, the delegation shouldn’t have to justify how it will spend money from the Council. “When money is given to other elected officials, there’s some deference to those agencies,” Strauss said.

Without the ability to change the make-up of Congress, the shadow delegation’s remaining goal—keeping the demands for statehood at a low hum—doesn’t require much money at all. Joshua Burch, a Brookland resident who’s mentioned by Capozzi as one of statehood’s best hopes, leads lobbying trips of District residents to the Hill. Burch’s success without District money demonstrates the one advantage the District’s statehood push does have: the people who want it live next to Congress.

Orange, who introduced the bill, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the bill through his staff. The bill, which includes another $550,000 for the Council to spend on statehood-related lobbying and advertising, stands a good chance of passing the legislature. It’s already been co-sponsored or co-introduced by five other members.

Bennett-Fleming bristles when it’s pointed out that, co-sponsors aside, the statehood bills will likely never become reality as long as Republicans control half of Congress. And that’s generous—even when Democrats controlled the presidency and both the House and the Senate, the District wasn’t even able to get a favorable voting rights bill passed.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the bill isn’t going to get passed,” says Bennett-Fleming. Instead, the repeated requests for co-sponsors every congressional session is meant to get members used to supporting statehood. No matter how well members of Congress are drilled to support statehood, though, that doesn’t translate into progress until votes are actually taken on the legislation.

One possibility popular with activists for getting around Republican opposition is teaming up with Puerto Rico as a two-state package. The party’s 2012 convention platform supported statehood for the island, this thinking goes, so why not throw D.C. in, too? Under this theory, Republicans would allow the deal in an attempt to win back Hispanic voters scared off by the party’s vacillation on immigration reform. “You would think that the national Republican Party would do everything it could to stop the fastest-growing minority in the United States from becoming a sure thing for the Democratic Party,” local TV analyst and statehood gadfly Mark Plotkin wrote in a 2012 op-ed in the Post.

There are several problems with teaming up with Puerto Rico, including whether the Republican leadership could corral its members to support the statehood package and whether two Democratic senators from the District for two Puerto Rican senators with party affiliations to be named later would really amount to an even trade. Supporters of the two-for-one statehood deal also ignore something else: Puerto Rico doesn’t want us.

Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi—essentially the territory’s equivalent of Norton—thinks the District should find another partner. “We’re talking about different quests,” he says.

While statehood may be decades away, the Council will consider the funding bill this fall. For Brown, at least, time is running out. With two children in college and another soon to follow, he says he needs to starting getting paid for his lobbying from Orange’s bill, or he’ll have to quit. Whether that would be a bad thing, of course, depends on your opinion about the efficacy of novelty hot dogs and brief meetings with Senate staffers.

Facing the end of his statehood career, Brown expresses a sentiment more common among failing artists than congressional lobbyists with Senate IDs: It sucks to have a job you love and not get paid for it.

For Bennett-Fleming, the potential funding boost offers another opportunity: rehabbing the shadow delegation’s reputation in the District. “Clearly, the shadow delegation isn’t held in the highest esteem of the voters,” he says. Will we love them more once they get six figures of taxpayer money to spend?

Our Readers Say

The last thing we need is to start using taxpayer money to pay shadow reps! Let them fund raise if they want to be paid. Further, DC will not become a state because nobody but people who live in DC care (and I would imagine that not even all of them care).
As a Democrat and a DC resident, I oppose statehood - at least for now.

The Constitution set up DC as a non-state. Also, we are a city of 600,000. Why should we get 2 voting senators? It would give us disproportional power. It would be wrong and unfair.

Now, the good news is that Statehood won't come in years, if ever. The Statehood movement is part of the reason.

Look at the clowns who spoke on behalf of statehood.

Marion Barry is not exactly the guy you want as your poster-child, but the clowns in the statehood movement didn't have the guts to keep him of the podium.

Michael D. Brown is a white guy who ran for Council while pretending to be the black Councilmember Michael A Brown. Why would the Statehood people let that fraud on the podium?

Mayor Vince Gray spoke but Gray might get indicted. That's why he has not announced if he's running for re-election yet. Why would let someone about to be indicted speak on behalf of our cause?

Delegate Norton spoke. This is the same Delegate whose claim to fame is that she and her husband somehow forgot to pay federal taxes for three years. The woman has no credibility, but the boneheads in Vote DC let her on the podium.

With geniuses like these in charge, Statehood doesn't have a chance.
@ DC Democrat: We should get statehood because we have a larger population than Wyoming per the 2010 census. We should get statehood because we paid more (numbers are from 2007 which is the most recent year available in a quick Google search) in Federal Income Tax than Wyoming, Montana, and both Dakotas *combined.*

Now, I think we should approach statehood through the Supreme Court rather than through attempting to bargain with Congress, but that's just me.
Couldn't have said it better than the two folks above.

The definition of insanity applies here: keep doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

What the District needs is some fresh, credible leadership.
The bottom line is that the 632,000 citizens of the District of Columbia lack equal status with the rest of the United States of America. We do not have the power to change our status, and powerlessness often leads to fractured and divisive action, like we have been seeing. The statehood bill would shrink the size of the federal district to the National Capitol Service Area, already defined by Congress, and allow the residential and commercial parts of DC to join the Union on an equal status. Historically, there have been as many at 850,000 people living in DC, on par with some nine states. This is about fairness and civil rights. I'm for statehood because it fixes our lack of status for good--no more being a "laboratory" for anyone's ideas, except our own.
Statehood, and possibly even full voting rights in the House, won't stand a chance until some years after Mayor-for-Life Barry has departed and become the Mayor-for-Eternal-Life.

That said, I've long thought that ads run in key states with DC-resident military veterans might get some traction -- along the lines of "I fought to bring voting rights to Iraq (or Afghanistan), but back home in Washington, I don't even get a vote for Congress." And try to fine diverse military veterans (white, Asian, Latino, not just African-American), to confound the stereotypes that the rest of America has about DC politics.
Adding to Anne's point, we have fought two wars in the Middle East in the past 10 years to give others what residents of the District don't have: self-determination. One could credibly package the sorry political state of the DC resident (of which I'm one), and label it Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc. - and many Americans, if not the majority, would shout "this cannot stand!" But ask these same Americans about DC Statehood, and they don't care, and don't want "to give Washington any more power." (I kid you not, this is a verbatim quote from an otherwise very sane friend outside this area.)

Another response I've heard when I complain about taxation w/o representation is that I should simply move - VA and MD are mere minutes away, and there I would receive full citizenship. Really? So apparently it is OK to be an American citizen, living in America, and not have the rights and privileges that all other Americans do - we can just move, as though it were as easy as changing where you buy your groceries if you stop liking Safeway's policies.

If DC is to be treated like Puerto Rico, let's get the same deal they have - income produced within the District is not subject to federal income tax. (PR residents do not pay personal tax on PR-generated income.) I'd be a lot happier with my lack of representation if I got a break from the taxation ...
"Supporters of the two-for-one statehood deal also ignore something else: Puerto Rico doesn’t want us."

Not entirely true anymore:
I find this article to be a bit cynical and oversimplistic in its analysis of the statehood issue and the "fund the delegation" bill. For example, LL says that the truth that goes unmentioned is that Republicans do not support our efforts. That can be the furthest from the truth, Republican opposition to our efforts are cited and acknowledge frequently by DC citizens and leaders.

Then LL makes it seem like the work that it took to get 50 cosponsors on the bill is insignificant because 50 is apparently a small number and only Democrats are on the bill. Plenty of bills pass with no cosponsors, and plenty of bills with many cosponsors stand no chance of passing. The idea is to use the co-sponsorship process to build support in Congress. Why would we focus on Republicans, when we don't even have full support in the Democratic caucus?

The long term strategy that I have employed is to focus on building Democratic support, so that when Democrats have control, we will have a strong chance for success. (explained to LL, but not mentioned in the article) So in fact, the strategy that I have employed takes into account the "unmentioned" Republican problem that LL cites. But then later in the article, LL lauds the efforts of my friend Josh Burch as a success, when Josh is doing the exact same thing that we are doing in my office (we work together, and I suppot his efforts). But of course LL mentions Burch's "success" as a reason not to invest into these efforts. I'm sure Josh would tell you he could do 100 times more with some basic resources.

Frankly, this is a long term fight (one that we have been fighting for over 200 years), and the reason why I decided to run for Shadow Representative is because I think that DC's status is something that should change, and I think that I can contribute to making that change. What is so curious about that?

The problem is that DC has suffered from a poor quality of elected leadership for so long, that when a leader with some potential comes around, we can't even appreciate it. On one hand, we castigate elected officials for their high salaries, their perks, etc...then when someone runs for an office that doesn't come with the perks, but comes with the headaches of trying to bring some comptency to a movement that has been neglected, you get castigated because the office doesn't come with perks/salaries, etc. I thought you were supposed to run for office because you cared about public service, not because you care about perks etc.

The current state of our fight is as such because of a lack of attention, resources, and because of political forces that are largely outside of our control. Due to these factors, the environment may not be ripe for DC statehood/equality today or tomorrow. But, this is not a logical reason to not invest in the fight. We must begin to invest now, if want to reap the benefits later. If we do not, we will continue to have the state of affairs that we have today, brought about by years of inattention, misplaced strategy, and lack of investment by the DC government.

Nathan Bennett Fleming
Shadow U.S. Representative - District of Columbia

Arlington and Alexandria, part of the original District of Columbia, were returned to Virginia, so why not just give all but a minimal Federal core back to Maryland? Hey, someone needs to ask current governor and possible presidential candidate Martin O'Malley about his view on the idea.
@Fabrisse: Asked and answered, unfortunately.
Has anyone discussed the possibility of civil disobedience or direct action? A few people willing to get arrested for disrupting activity at the Capitol South metro might do more to raise awareness and make this issue impossible to ignore than a few more cosponsors.
What an idiotic column. And the responses here indicate a real lack of knowledge about what the Constitution says regarding the District of Columbia. NOTHING short of an amendment to the Constitution will change DC's status.

And this nonsense of DC being a "state"? Please. The best thing to do is keep a small central core and give the rest of DC back to Maryland. Let it sink down the same shithole of liberal idiocy that Maryland is heading.

Whatever. Once Cuccinelli becomes Governor, Arlington will be beating down our doors to be re-retroceded back to the District. Then all the defense contractors in Crystal City will bribe their favorite Congressional representatives to give us Reps of our own so THEY can then be bribed.

Boom, Statehood.
"It’s been stalled for decades because Republicans don’t want to empower a guaranteed vote for Democrats."

This is patently false. It's been stalled because neither party has supported DC statehood. Look at the vote in the 90's, a majority of BOTH parties voted against it. The Dems controlled both houses and the White House in 2009 and nothing happened.

This is why NBF's plan is the best one possible. He's building support with Dems, so that if they find themselves in the same situation they were in in 2009, they won't squander it. And the selling point to the Dems is the same thing R's hate about it - it will give the Democrats two more Senators.

Yes, DC deserves full voting rights for all the reasons of democracy and freedom and service, etc.. that others mention. But what will get it for us, (and Chuck is wrong about an Amendment being needed) is raw politics.

If R's had the chance to add a 100% reliable Republican state, with two Senators and a House seat, would they pass it up? Absolutely not. So we need to convince Dem's that this is in their own best interest, which should not be too hard, since it is. Then we need to hope they can get full control again - which is hard, but will eventually happen.

Have spent 6 years in the "shadows" there is so much to comment on here, but I'll keep it short.

First, getting co-sponsors for the statehood bill is a great thing to be doing now (and just about the only game on the Hill right now) as it gets people on record and lets us shore up support from those who should be supporting this cause now so when things may actually move someday we have some momentum and a history of making that ask. I've been on several of those Capitol Hill days and the work of Joshua Burch, Nate Bennett-Fleming, other activists has been very productive....more productive than people who actually get paid to do this in my opinion.

Second, it's fair game to rip on Strauss for his intern sourcing and propensity for having an entourage...but I will that those interns do work hard for DC and over the years have played a key supportive role to a lot of statehood efforts. So be kind to them if you see one in the Wilson Building.

Lastly, if we get locked into arguments over the facts regrading statehood, we'll never get anywhere. Facts are cheap these days, it's the people with the best stories that win....and we have the better story than the opponents. Let's not loose sight of that.

Mike Panetta
U.S. "Shadow" Representative (D-DC)
Chuck has it right.

All the rest is superfluous, feel-good bs.
Unfortunately, the reporter either had an anti-DC Statehood agenda of his own or was told by the powers-that-be at this rag that absolutely nothing positive could be said in this article. Several of the people (including me) spoke with this reporter for some time and only the most negative interpretations of those conversations were published. It is a shame that a rag called the "Washington City Paper" is so obviously opposed to the most basic of equal political rights for DC residents. Of course, common sense will tell you that elected officials charged with such a serious task as Statehood must be paid. Federal tax-free Puerto Rico has spent 20 million dollars in the last year to lobby for statehood, even before its residents have fully embraced the idea. The reporter spent so much time demeaning the DC Statehood movement (with the paper's approval), he failed to report that DC residents voted to end their political apartheid years ago. Nothing the City Paper can do will change the fact that such a Movement needs to be funded and the people's vote needs to be honored. My question is why is the City Paper so viciously opposed to democracy? What stake does it have in maintaining the status quo?
I'm astounded that the article did not mention the fundamentally unfair basis of the request for statehood.

There are a couple dozen other U.S. cities with populations larger than DC ... and I'm sure they'd all love to be their own little city-states with two Senators.

The idea is absurd. Grossly unfair to the rest of the country.

And only adds to a general perception that DC considers itself above all the others.

Retrocession for everything except the non-residential buildings, monuments and parks to Maryland, same as it was to Virginia. The politics of it be damned.
What a shame that "Lips" missed the point. The only thing I can add to what my colleagues have already stated is what Frederick Douglass said " Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will." What's the alternative Lips; to do nothing ? Win or loose we must always make the demand for equality and that demand is STATEHOOD.
David Grant....the difference between DC and every other similarly sized city is that DC has its own independent political identity, developed over 200 years. Retrocession means that our political identity is severed, something that many do not want to do. Finally, your Senate argument doesn't hold, because population has nothing to do with your Senate allocation. The entire purpose of the Senate is to have a legislative body where representation is not determined by the size of your population. As you know, DC has more population than 2 states, and has similar population than about 8 other states. So the fact that we are currently classified as a "city" semantically, is not a strong basis to be against statehood. In fact, that argument is fundamentally flawed.
The shadow representative and senator "feel good" positions are a complete waste of money, effort and by definition delusional. Who will pay attention to these fake representative positions? How can anyone take these positions seriously?
Shadow reps, fight for statehood until your hearts are content. Organize all the social media campaigns, civil disobedience and private fund raising events you want. But, there should be no public funds used. Certainly not $1 million.
Let's give Strauss a break for having interns. He works hard for DC and he does it for free.

What's the problem with having interns? The knock is that they're good looking. So what.

DC will not get its rights (representation in Congress; statehood is not a requirement) until its citizens care enough
to adopt civil rights-era tactics: sit-ins in Congress, constant demonstrations even with
civil disobedience, etc.
D.C. Statehood: It's all political, stupid! NOT!

As a relative neophyte to the District, I find it incredulous, that after decades of "talking" about statehood, we are, as of this moment, still "talking" about it. Why is that the case? There are many and varied resaons, some of which have been enumerated in this article, but my take on the issue is very simplistic.

If the citizens of the District are truly enamored with the idea of statehood, then They must Demand such, and as an iconic District resident of the past, Frederick Douglas, stated, they must agitate, agitate, agatate! I have personally attended a few rallies for statehood over the past years, and have been truly flabergasted by the turnout, or more to the point, lack thereof.

A perfect example of which is last spring, when Mayor Gray and approximately 40 others were arrested for exercising their rights as citizens to participate in an act of civil disobedience. Less than half of the councilmembers were in attendance at this event. However, of more of a concern is the fact that less than 200 individuals actually showed up for the rally itself. Contribute it complacency, apathy or whatever, but it speaks volumes about the seriousness to which the citizens of the District presently view this issue.

Here's a few suggestions for the proponents of statehood:

1. Have statehood as a lithmus test for everyone seeking city-wide office.
2. Get every councilmember on record as either for or against, immediately.
3. Quit "begging" for sponsors; start with a presentation before the United Nations and continue disseminating the fact that in a democratic country, a significant portion of its population is disenfranchised.
4. Take direct action -- It is a known fact that a vast majority of the daily workers in the Distrct originate from outside of the its borders. That said, instead of "talking" about staging a peaceful protest to prevent these workers from entering the city, just do it! This is extremely important, becuase like the Montgomery Boycott, this will not entail a one-day event. It has to be done daily, Monday - Friday, for however long it takes. It also means quite a few individuals will be arrested, which is a small price to pay for democracy.
5. If all else fails, quit paying taxes to the federal government, which would surely get the attention of more than a few persons in very high places.

For the purest who often, stridently cling to the Constitution as their basis for denying statehood, I remind them that the Constitution, like the Magna Carta and unlike the Bible is a living document, which means, it is subject to change (see Amendment).

Absent any of the aforementioned, those favoring statehood will be still "talking" about it, if and or until the District's demographics change drastically. Hold up!, wait a minute! That is happening as I write. As the sultry balladeer Sam Cooke once crooned, "A Change Is Gonna Come." How soon?, my prognostication is it will be determine by the demographics, as opposed to the politics.
Thank you all for taking the time to write a very well thought out responses and suggested strategies to achieve DC Statehood. For those who are new to the history of fight for Statehood most or all of the tactics you suggest have been used: the arguments before the Human Rights Commission of the UN, lawsuits, civil disobedience ( Stand Up for Democracy in DC (Free DC) members used to rally, demand, protest and be arrested every Thursday (I have been arrested 9 times and went to court 4 times - jury nullification found me not guilty each time) -- but after 16 years of dedicating my life...and I knew many people who have given far more than I have of their lives to this effort ...I am convinced that nothing will change until the tactics and strategies are continuous and sustained. And these actions can never be sustained and continuous without consistent and serious funding. Whether that money comes from the DC Government and/or from the people, there must be money committed to this movement. It's not often said but never forget that Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not just great speakers and organizers...they were also great fundraisers for their cause.

Thank you all for taking the time to write a very well thought out responses and suggested strategies to achieve DC Statehood. For those who are new to the history of fight for Statehood most or all of the tactics you suggest have been used: the arguments before the Human Rights Commission of the UN, lawsuits, civil disobedience ( Stand Up for Democracy in DC (Free DC) members used to rally, demand, protest and be arrested every Thursday (I have been arrested 9 times and went to court 4 times - jury nullification found me not guilty each time) -- but after 16 years of dedicating my life...and I knew many people who have given far more than I have of their lives to this effort ...I am convinced that nothing will change until the tactics and strategies are continuous and sustained. And these actions can never be sustained and continuous without consistent and serious funding. Whether that money comes from the DC Government and/or from the people, there must be money committed to this movement. It's not often said but never forget that Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr. were not just great speakers and organizers...they were also great fundraisers for their cause.

Here's a response to Marvin: Here's a few suggestions for the proponents of statehood:

1. Have statehood as a lithmus test for everyone seeking city-wide office.
Lithmus tests in politics are silly.

I'd like to find out how councilmembers would plan to fund a state (and if they have a better name than the lame "New Columbia").

2. Get every councilmember on record as either for or against, immediately.

Again, how do they propose to pay for statehood when we would lose federal funding, such as how they pay for DC's entire criminal justice system.

3. Quit "begging" for sponsors; start with a presentation before the United Nations and continue disseminating the fact that in a democratic country, a significant portion of its population is disenfranchised.

Ah, the United Nations. That's an effective body. Perhaps Putin will be supportive, and maybe we can get Assad to endorse DC statehood!

4. Take direct action -- It is a known fact that a vast majority of the daily workers in the Distrct originate from outside of the its borders. That said, instead of "talking" about staging a peaceful protest to prevent these workers from entering the city, just do it! This is extremely important, becuase like the Montgomery Boycott, this will not entail a one-day event. It has to be done daily, Monday - Friday, for however long it takes. It also means quite a few individuals will be arrested, which is a small price to pay for democracy.

Brilliant! This is guaranteed to garner lots of public support from voters in MD and VA who already face difficult commutes into DC. And it's sure to help with statehood support from the MD and VA congressional delegations. And in the long
term, it will just encourage more businesses to set up shop in the MD and VA suburbs. DC already has too much of a reputation as a tough place to do business.

5. If all else fails, quit paying taxes to the federal government, which would surely get the attention of more than a few persons in very high places.

E.H. Norton can offer helpful advice here, since she didn't pay DC taxes for years. Yet somehow she didn't lose her home in a tax foreclosure sale, the way our ever competent, responsive DC government allowed people to lose their entire home equity over $400 tax bills. I'm sure it will be better when DC is s state. Can anyone say "Governor for Life Barry"?!
Despite having the dubious pleasure of living in the district, I oppose DC "statehood" for a variety of reasons, but mostly because of the bozos who support it for completely self-serving reasons. Eleanor Holmes Norton is by all accounts one of the most worthless denizens of the Hill and does little or no constituent service (and gets away with it due to the one party banana republic nature of our fair district. Virtually all the council members have proven to be either crooks, idiots, or ideologues. What fun it would be to see one of them elevated to the Senate. I would so enjoy a Senate perp walk conducting by our very own Senator. But the bottom line is that the District government, like most one party states, has devolved into a predatory government. Read the letters in the Post about the great compassion and service to its citizens in the tax lien situation. Read about the recent decision to install even more traffic cameras to milk the drivers even more (due to the ridiculously low speed limits and overkill traffic lights and stop signs). I have no respect for the DC government or any of its elected officials. Why would I support elevating the likes of Marion Barry or Kwame Brown to the US Senate?
My response to Jack, who repsonded to me:


Thank you for your civil response. Sarcasm and negativity aside, it seems that we are two residents with obviously differing opinions, relative to statehood. Very succincntly, if DC were to be granted statehood, it would generate revenue just like any other state. As far as making the commute more difficult for our citizens coming from outside of the District "A Change Is Gonna Come," eventually, sooner or later. Can you say PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION?

You deem lithmus rests as "silly" which I, along with an inordinnate amount of others (see Tea Party denizens, et al) disagree. As for as Norton and Barry are concerned, should we at some point give up on beating a dead horse(s) to death! I am not sure if you are cognizant of this fact, but the District's demographics are changing as I write. It is just a matter of time before these new citizens realize that it imperative to elect the "best qualifed" irrespective of party affiliation, race or gender. At least that is my Hope for Change!
Ever Tried.
Ever Failed.
No Matter.
Try Again.
Fail Again.
Fail Better.

Samuel Beckett
Well, please explain why I had issues as "The write in"? Yall not right. Get to the polls though in November.


Madam US Attorney General Octavia Obama

How come yall didnt get rid of these contractors long ago? DC is already a State by the way. The 51st. I want Mexico the 52nd and Canada the 53rd. Yall cool? Hit me up. Donate to the Naacp-mesquite. Not counterfit either like the obama administration gave me please. Thanks,

Madam US Attorney General Octavia Obama
I do labor analysis, why are there so many mayors anyways?


Madam US Attorney General Octavia Obama
Erratificate The Lillie Ledbetter Act.

Equal pay for US Attorney General Octavia Obama.

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