Committee for the Capital City
PO Box 77443
Washington, DC 20013-8443
Testimony of Ralph Regula, 05/23/2002
Rep Ralph Regula (R-OH), Senate Committee on Government Affairs, 5/23/2002
CONGRESSMAN RALPH REGULA
TESTIMONY FOR THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS
MAY 23, 2002
Mr. Chairman, I would like to start by thanking the committee for inviting me to testify on the issue of voting rights for District of Columbia residents. I testified before this committee eight years ago on precisely this same issue and I hope we can work to make some progress in the future. It truly confounds me that the residents of our nation's capital continue to lack one of the fundamental rights of a democratic society- the right to have a voting Member of Congress representing their interests.
I have a lengthy background and interest in the affairs of our capital city. From 1987 to 1993 I served on the House District of Columbia appropriations subcommittee. Since leaving that panel, I have continued to take a strong interest in the issues facing this city.
I am here today because I care about the people who live in this city and I believe our system of government should embrace them in the same way it does every other U.S. citizen. More specifically, I am here to discuss my own proposal for restoring effective democratic representation and ending the current inequity that exists.
My proposal, one that I have pursued legislatively for over a decade, is retrocession. Under this proposal, all of the District of Columbia, minus a small federal enclave, would be returned to the state of Maryland. I believe this is the most practical method for providing the citizens of Washington D.C. with full voting representation.
Why? Past attempts to restore voting representation by other methods have failed and hold little hope for future success. In 1978 both the House and Senate approved a constitutional amendment to provide D.C. with two voting Senators and one voting Representative but it never managed to spark the interest of the state legislatures. Only 16 had ratified the amendment when time expired in 1985.
Then in 1994 the House considered a bill to grant D.C. statehood, which was overwhelmingly defeated (by a vote of 153 to 277). These results clearly show us that retrocession remains as our most viable option for restoring voting representation for D.C. residents.
There is a clear precedent for retrocession. Some may forget that D.C. once extended west of the Potomac River and included parts of Northern Virginia. In 1846 this portion of the old District was returned to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Retrocession would immediately end the voting rights issue for D.C. residents, as they would gain not only a voting representative in the House of Representatives, but also two U.S. Senators. Further, they would also gain new representation on the state level.
Beyond the voting rights issue, D.C. residents stand to gain much more from reunion with Maryland. Currently, the District of Columbia is a city but must act as a state because of its unique status. As a result, it has had to create a service and institutional infrastructure to fulfill its state-like functions, requiring a substantial number of employees on the public payroll.
If reunited with Maryland, the District would enjoy access to Maryland's own state infrastructure, institutions, and assistance programs and thus not need to duplicate many of these responsibilities. D.C. residents would also benefit from increased funding for these programs and services, especially for education and public works.
After retrocession, Washington, as a city in Maryland, would have a greater ability to improve funding for education. Maryland school boards can levy taxes specifically for education. In contrast, the D.C. board must go to the city's general fund in order to get more funding.
Under my proposal, Washington, D.C. would have the best of both worlds: removal of its state-like bureaucratic responsibility and the new ability to govern its own affairs without interference from Congress. In effect, it could finally act like a city.
Conversely, Maryland also stands to gain much from retrocession. By gaining the District's nearly 600,000 residents, Maryland would gain an additional seat in the House and extend its influence in Congress.
Contrary to what some may believe, there are clear economic benefits for Maryland as well. With the nation's 2nd highest per capita income, District residents would enhance Maryland's tax base and help create the 4th largest regional market in the country.
Canada offers a model of how this proposal could and does work. Ottawa, like Washington, D.C., is situated on the border of two larger political entities. The bulk of Ottawa lies in Ontario, however a sizeable population resides across the Ottawa River in Hull, Quebec. The solution Ottawa has come up with is sending representatives to the Provincial Parliament in Toronto and to the Federal Parliament as part of the Ontario delegation.
Let me conclude by saying that voting rights for the citizens of D.C. has been an issue ever since these rights were lost in 1800. Over two hundred years have passed and we are still trying to figure out how to extend constitutional rights to citizens who are living in the shadow of the Capitol.
Over the years I have seen this debate evolve from constitutional amendment, to statehood, to simple voting representation, to retrocession. Each cause is inspired by the desire to help the people of the District of Columbia. Yet we appear no closer to a solution. As an advocate of retrocession I believe this plan offers the best course of action. I implore my fellow colleagues to take action on restoring the rights and privileges to the people of the District of Columbia.