the blog of DC Drinking Liberally

January 26, 2007

Tom Davis on the Fake Vote for Delegates


The House voted Wednesday to change its rules to give the five nonvoting delegates (actually the one from Puerto Rico is called a resident commissioner) something they had for a few years in the 1990s but lost when the Republicans took over:

The measure allows [Eleanor Holmes] Norton and representatives from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands to vote in the Committee of the Whole, where amendments to legislation are considered.

But it comes with an important caveat: If the delegates’ votes provide the margin of victory, their votes are thrown out and representatives revote without them.

The vote was almost entirely along party lines, but strangely Dan Burton (R-IN) and Gene Taylor (D-MS) both voted in opposition to their parties.

My feelings on the matter remain unchanged: this purely symbolic vote that doesn’t really count is a meaningless distraction from the real goal. The main advantage of having it restored is that Norton can stop complaining about having lost it.

Tom Davis (R-VA), sponsor of a bill to give DC a real vote, explained why he was voting against the fake vote, and I mostly agree with him:

Madam Speaker, I rise today in opposition to House Resolution 78. This is an uncomfortable decision for me since for many years I have tried to convince the Republican-controlled Rules Committee to grant my friend, the Representative from the District of Columbia, a vote in the Committee of the Whole.

In the beginning I did so because the right to vote in the Committee of the Whole, which has little meaning in practice, carried important symbolic meaning to people who had no representation at all.

Over the past 4 years, I have embarked on a journey to give D.C. a real vote in the House of Representatives. Working with Congresswoman Norton and numerous legal scholars and many colleagues on my side from across the ideological spectrum, we have crafted a bill that was politically neutral, gave real rights to the District of Columbia, and solved Utah’s special problem created in the last census to boot.

The Speaker of the House has been a cosponsor of my legislation. The majority whip says he expects the bill to be brought up quickly this session. It is clear that if our bill, the D.C. FAIR Act, were brought to the floor today, it would pass with solid support from both parties.

Today’s resolution muddies the waters. It fails to recognize the fundamental difference between the District of Columbia and the territories. It ignores the carefully constructed bipartisan compromise we reached in the D.C. FAIR Act. It amounts, as The Washington Post opined today, to little more than “dithering.”

I hope this vote, which grants illusory voting rights to Delegates, is designed to expose the strong support that exists for full D.C. voting rights. But pardon me if I appear cynical.

To the cynic in me, this resolution smacks of obfuscation. What the majority is doing today threatens to delay action on the real injustice that has plagued the District for more than two centuries. I am looking for assurances that this is not the case.

Admittedly, we could have avoided this awkward grouping of governmental apples and oranges if the Republican leadership had brought the bill to the floor at the end of last year. The bill was ready. It is ready now, too. It is time for the new majority to not just talk the talk.

What is proposed today in H. Res. 78 is not a politically neutral solution. It adds four Democrat votes and one Republican. Traditionally, when we have added votes in the House, we have done so in a politically neutral manner. Worse, this resolution mixes the interests of the District of Columbia, the Federal district, the capital of the free world, whose residents pay Federal income taxes, with those of the territories.

This mushy thinking is what has led to nearly 200 years of no representation for District residents. H. Res. 78 distracts attention and saps energy from the movement we have created behind D.C. voting rights. It is confusing and allows Members to check a box that in reality is not being checked.

Still it is tempting to support this, if only to get more Members of Congress acclimated to voting to expand representation for District residents. But this is a sham, and I am not going to be part of it. I can’t condone grandstanding and symbolism when real reform is so easily within our grasp.

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DCDL is a blog by Washington, DC-area members of Drinking Liberally. Opinions expressed are the writers’, not those of Drinking Liberally, which provides no funding or other support for this blog.

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