Photo by dbking on Flickr.
Today, the day Americans exercise their most fundamental right to participate in government, it’s worth remembering what some of this nation’s leaders said forty years ago about District of Columbia residents’ right to participate in government. Here are a few quotations from the legislative history of the 1973 Home Rule Act.
The condition of our Capital city is a sign of the condition of our nation — and is certainly taken as such by visitors, form all the States of the Union, and from around the globe. ... Besides the official Washington of monuments and offices, there is the Washington of 850,000 citizens with all the hopes and expectations of the people of any major city, striving and sacrificing for a better life — the eighth largest among the cities of our country.
Full citizenship through local self-government must be given to the people of this city: the District Government cannot be truly responsible until it is made responsible to those who live under its rule. The District’s citizens should not be expected to pay taxes for a government which they have no part in choosing — or to bear the full burdens of citizenship without the full rights of citizenship. — President Richard M. Nixon, April 28, 1969 (p. 1685-1686)Not only did President Nixon support Home Rule, but so did many (but not all) Republicans in Congress.
Dear Republican Colleague: Monday, in his second State of the Union address, the President reiterated his endorsement of self-government for the District of Columbia. [In] regard to the President’s desire to see “true and effective self-government” in the District before the American Bicentennial, passage of Home Rule this session would enable the residents of the District of Columbia to see their first elected mayor and city council in over one hundred years take office in 1975. This issue has been before the Congress for the past twenty-five years, and we hope that you will agree that it is time to take positive action by passing H.R. 9682 on September 24th. Sincerely, Gilbert Gude (R-MD, 1923-2007, US Rep. 1967-1977), Stewart B. McKinney (R-CT, 1931-1987, US Rep. 1971-1987) Henry P. Smith III (R-NY, 1911-1995, US Rep. 1965-1975) September 12, 1973 (1687)One of the primary sponsors of the Home Rule Act spoke about how the bill was supposed to be only the first step toward even fuller representation for District residents.
In 1969 I first proposed a series of actions intended to bring about an orderly transfer of political power to the people of the District of Columbia. I called for a Constitutional Amendment giving the District at least one representative in the House and such other additional representation as the Congress may approve. I proposed, and Congress enacted, legislation providing for an interim non-voting Congressional delegate and for the creation of a Commission on the Organization of the Government of the District of Columbia, the so-called Nelsen Commission [whose findings formed the basis of the Home Rule Act].One of the most moving speeches in the Home Rule Act debate came from Hawaii Rep. Spark Matsunaga, who had spent years pushing for voting rights for his own people.— Donald Fraser (D-MN, b. 1924, US Rep. 1963-1979, Mayor of Minneapolis 1980-1993) (1686)
I believe we can all agree without any reservations whatsoever that nowhere in America should the principles of democracy be more firmly established than the Nation’s Capital. However, democracy is at its weakest in the District of Columbia, for it stands noticeably as a bastion of taxation without representation. By a cruel irony, a nation founded as a haven from tyranny and oppression denies to the citizens of its Capital City the very blessings for which it stands. Incredible but true, it is still accurate to describe the District of Columbia as “America’s last colony.” Fresh in my memory is Hawaii’s own struggle for self-determination. For far too many years, the Congress decided the destiny of Hawaii while its citizens had little or no voice in their own affairs. Many years of my life were devoted to Hawaii’s struggle for statehood, and as I walked the Halls of Congress trying to develop support for Hawaii’s cause, I encountered many of the same arguments I now hear advanced against home rule for the District of Columbia. I am no more impressed now than I was then by these same arguments. ... Tte citizens of Washington deserve to share in the right of self-government, the birthright of every American citizen. Today, the citizens of Washington are virtually disenfranchised. They are allowed the “privilege” of paying taxes, but not the right of selecting their own government, or determining how those tax revenues will be spent. They do choose a Delegate to Congress, but he is a nonvoting Delegate. Their right to help shape their own governmental structures is limited to selecting a School Board. ... Home rule is not a partisan issue, nor should it be. It is a goal which has borne the endorsements of Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. In discussing the principle of self-determination in 1960, the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: "Human beings everywhere, simply as an inalienable right of birth, should have freedom to choose their guiding philosophy, their form of government, their methods of progress.” How appropriate his remarks are for this issue before us here today. Home rule for the District of Columbia is one of the final chapters in America’s long struggle to secure freedom for all of its people. ... Let us wipe out the last vestige of colonialism in America.All numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in Home Rule for the District of Columbia, 1973-1974, Background and Legislative History of H.R. 9056, H.R. 9682, and Related Bills Culminating in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Approved December 24, 1973 (Public Law 93-198), Serial No, S-4, US Government Printing Office, December 31, 1974.— Spark Matsunaga (D-HI, 1916-1990, US Rep. 1963-1977, Senator 1977-1990) (2190)