DC Councilmember David Grosso (At-large) wants to start calling DC's mayor its governor, for the council to be the “legislative assembly,” and for councilmembers to be referred to as “representatives.” Would Grosso's idea of having DC refer to its own government as though it’s a state move the District anywhere closer to statehood?
On Tuesday, Grosso put forward legislation that, according to Washington Post reporter Fenit Nirappli, would “legally change those names as a way to make it easier for the nation to embrace the idea of the District as a state.” The law would also have the city say the “DC” in Washington, DC stood for “Douglas Commonweath” rather than “District of Columbia.”
Grosso says he knows this would only be be a symbolic move, but he thinks it’d be an important one in the push for statehood. Right now, DC has no vote in Congress, meaning its residents don’t get to weigh in on federal decisionmaking and that legislators from all over the country have disproportionate influence over the District’s own laws.
The push to change that is ongoing, and for now, Grosso says the District should go with the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach: if DC talks like it’s a state, maybe more people will see a reason to make it a state. This isn’t the first time that idea has surfaced.
I asked our contributors what they think of Grosso’s proposal, and here’s what they had to say:
“Why stop there?,” asked Michael Perkins. “Why not elevate ANCs to be a full house of representatives and have the former council be the senate?”
“'DC Superior Court' should become the 'DC Supreme Court,'” added Dan Henebery.
Sam Norton wonders whether a title change could get DC a seat at the table with other state governors:
Interesting that the DC mayor is not included in the National Governors Association, although the governors of US territories (Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands) are.
Would Grosso's bill make Bowser eligible to join NGA? That seems like it could be more substantial in terms of promoting the cause of DC statehood than the title change alone.
Stephen Hudson says Sam could be onto something, and that title changes like this could draw more attention to DC’s statehood problem:
As Sam stated, all of the US territories refer to the heads of their executive branches as “governor.” And they enjoy even less federal representation, so…
Nebraska, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands all have a unicameral legislature, like DC does, but it looks like they refer to their members as 'senators' rather than 'representatives.'
Personally, I could go either way on this. In a number of other federal systems, capital cities (ones with FULL federal representation) often use different nomenclature for the heads of their executive branches than those used by the states: Mexico City (Jefe de Gobierno instead of gobernador), Berlin (Regierender Bürgermeister), or Moscow (мейр). The Australian Capital Territory also does this, but it looks like they have a more unusual situation (they are a territory, but do have voting federal representatives; I'm pretty ignorant on Australian politics, so I could be off here). I think this emphasizes the diversity of entities within a federal system (i.e. other countries don't have a problem with a city composing an entire state), but I agree with everyone who said ignorance of the District's status is a big problem. Mexico City recently rebranded itself, and officially dropped its ubiquitous name, Distrito Federal, for this very reason.
Scott Kaiser says it’s unlikely much would change even if Grosso’s idea moved forward, but hey, what the heck?
It's obviously a purely symbolic move and does not change how our local government functions but if it helps get word out beyond DC and educate residents of other states about our status, I don't see a downside.
Scott also notes yet another grievance that comes with not having the same rights as states:
From an urbanism perspective, Rep. Harris' recent bill to overturn DC's requirements on hygiene wipes to add labeling to their products informing consumers not to flush them down the toilet really highlights our unique situation. We don't even have the ability to make decisions about our own infrastructure without the possibility of congressional interference. The wipe industry found it cheaper to buy a member of Congress to introduce legislation to overturn the law rather than go through the courts like in any other state.
David Cranor says he’s not sure the idea could work, but that officials could get creative if they want to have titles that align with states:
Anthony Williams had the same suggestion when he was mayor. But I don't think it will work. The titles are enshrined in the DC Home Rule Act, which is a federal act. We can't just undo that. If we could, we could just give ourselves statehood. That doesn't mean I think it's a bad idea, just that it could be overturned by the courts (which would be good publicity) and then we could push for it in Congress (but why waste the energy).
We COULD pass laws at the beginning of each mayoral term legally changing the new Mayor's first name to Governor and then have them refrain from using their office title.