By Khalid Pitts, USAction Board President
In the last few weeks, members of Congress from states like Kentucky and Maryland have been replaying the old ’50’s sitcom “Father Knows Best” and decreeing they know what’s best for the residents of the District of Columbia, wielding their own agendas on D.C. through the Fiscal Year 2015 District of Columbia Appropriations bill because, unfortunately, they can. If D.C. was considered a state like say, Maryland or Kentucky, this would not be a problem. But alas, more than 600,000 DC residents are not represented by two Senators and a voting member of the House of Representatives. So, 535 members of Congress, for which not one D.C. resident voted for, get to try and dictate local policy. Just this week, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve an amendment by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would “block virtually all of the District’s gun restrictions,” according to the Washington Post. This was an almost-identical bill to one introduced last week by Tea Party leader and fellow Kentuckian Republican Senator Rand Paul. Duly elected local officials have already established D.C.’s gun laws. It really begs the question – where is the democracy in our democracy?
Senator Paul’s amendment proposed to loosen many of Washington D.C.’s strong and important gun laws. The amendment would have, according to the Washington Post, repealed strong gun registration requirements, “end[ed] the ban on semi-automatic rifles and high-capacity magazines, expand[ed] the right to carry guns outside the home and protect[ed] the right to carry guns on federal land in D.C. and elsewhere in the country.” Aside from the clear safety concerns these amendments present – especially in the nation’s capital where federal land ownership is vast – they are the starkest examples yet of why D.C. must achieve self determination. Republicans have had bees in their bonnets over D.C.’s gun laws since they were first enacted. But now they have found a new issue du jour, marijuana policy. Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) decided he would take a hiatus from serving his constituents to try and reverse D.C.’s new marijuana decriminalization policies, which were recently approved in his own state of Maryland, with bi-partisan sponsorship. D.C.’s lawmakers passed decriminalization of possession of small amounts of marijuana because it had wide support from residents, particularly in helping to reduce racial disparities in marijuana possession laws and to help keep more hard-working D.C. residents contributing to society and out of jail. (Let’s face it, it wasn’t the college kids and 20-something politico recreational users who were getting locked up). Rep. Harris – if you feel so passionate about the law, why not focus on your own state?
For years, conservative politicians have used Congress’s unique federal jurisdiction over the District to wield their extreme social agendas, many of whom ironically support “limited” government regulation for all other matters. Adding insult to injury, a few weeks ago along with supporting Harris’ bill, House Republicans approved their annual riders to decide what types of health care D.C. women can receive through Medicaid, regardless of how their democratically elected officials have voted in the best interests of their constituents. Just like every other jurisdiction in the 50 states, D.C. residents seek to have equal representation in the government and the opportunity to elect representatives who will make decisions on behalf of their needs – the very bedrock of our democracy. Washington D.C. was not established to be an example territory upon which lawmakers can impose their agendas to win praise from top interest groups and donors. D.C. deserves autonomy now more than ever. Fortunately, Senator Paul’s amendment died but people of his state – which is ranked 15th in the country for firearm deaths – have not been so lucky.
The influx of congressional “meddling” with DC laws even caused the President to publish a Statement of Administration Policy, denouncing many of the riders, including the marijuana decriminalization measure, promising a veto if they ever hit his desk and going so far as to say it was an issue of “state’s rights and District home rule.” USAction has a long history of amassing its grassroots base across the country to stop extreme politicians. Last fall, when the government shut down in the midst of partisan wrangling and congressional dysfunction, USAction called on GOP members of Congress to “cease and desist” with their extreme politics. While it’s not about a government shutdown this time, the analogy could not be more fitting for Rand Paul’s new prerogative to legislate in the District of Columbia. Please Rep. Harris, Rep. Massie, and Senator Paul and the rest of you: keep your extremism in your own states and if you want to legislate in D.C. run for office there.