To be a state or not to be? The issue has been debated for decades and made national headlines again after the historic House of Representatives vote last month to grant Washington, D.C., statehood.
The bill would turn most of the current District — except for the area around the National Mall — into the 51st state, represented in Congress by two senators and one House member. We spoke to five area residents in their 20s on whether they support statehood.
They say Yes!
Ezra Einhorn, 20, feels disenfranchised by the current status of the District. He’s lived in Washington since he was in high school and is studying computer science at UCLA. Since March, he’s been back home due to the pandemic.
Einhorn said he participates in local elections, but at the end of the day feels his vote doesn’t matter due to Congress having final say over D.C.’s budget.
“Congress has the authority to essentially block anything that D.C. wants to do. And that’s just a really ugly concept to me. It feels oppressive,” Einhorn said. “It feels like undue, unjust rule of Americans who should have autonomy.”
Steph Black, 23, has lived in the capital since 2015 and works as a communications associate. Being a pro-choice advocate, access to abortion is a major concern of hers. She wants D.C. to become a state, in part, to bypass restrictions Congress has placed on Washington’s budget like The Dornan Amendment, also known as the DC Medicaid Ban. The law prevents Congress from appropriating funds to pay for abortions within the District. Black argues such a law wouldn’t exist in the capital if it were a state.
“I think statehood and the ability to set our own budget not only affects reproductive justice, but all of the social issues that people are affected by in the District that we don’t currently have the ability to control,” Black said. “I think the alternative is that we have people in Congress who are voting to set our budget who do so in a fair way, but they don’t. We know this because we have things like the Dornan Amendment.”
Mike Rosenberg, 29, also wants Washington to have full control over its budget and sees statehood as the best means to achieve that goal. Rosenberg grew up in Silver Spring and lives in Washington where he works as a social worker. He said D.C. statehood and civil rights are intertwined, due to the high number of African Americans living in Washington.
“It’s disgusting when people that don’t live in D.C., the Congresspeople from around the country, come here and try to tell us what to do in our own city, but won’t listen to the residents here,” Rosenberg said. “D.C. needs the same rights as every other state. We can’t be this anomaly anymore. We need to have the same exact rights as all the 50 other states.”
They say no!
Marc Geller, 23, is from Florida and moved to the capital less than a month ago to work as an investment sales analyst. He says that as an outsider, his views on
statehood more closely align with the general population.
A Gallup poll released in June 2019 showed the majority in the country, 64 percent, oppose D.C. statehood. But within Washington, a statehood referendum was passed in 2016 with 86 percent of residents in favor.
Geller said he is opposed to statehood because it would violate the Constitution. He said the plan that was passed by the House is “pretty crafty” in how it preserves a much smaller federal enclave and argues it would violate the spirit of what the capital was meant to be.
“I candidly think that this is entirely the wrong move, because our Founding Fathers were very explicit about not wanting there to be an isolated island of government completely surrounded by the auspices of another state,” Geller said. “And I think that even the House plan would very much do that. So that’s why I’m opposed to D.C. statehood.”
“I think, historically, treating D.C. as a separate entity kind of worked,” Rosenberg said. “D.C. was never intended to have nearly a million people living here, but a lot of things weren’t designed the way they were supposed to be 200 years ago. But our country rises above and fixes its problems, so we need to fix this problem now, too.”
Geller said he believes the driving force for statehood is for people living in
Washington to have more control over how they’re taxed. Capital residents pay the highest per capita federal income taxes in the country. So Geller’s counter argument is to give The District more control over its own taxation instead of granting statehood.
“It’s a very persuasive argument, the end of taxation without representation,” Geller said. “This country was partially founded on ending taxation without representation. But my response to that is we could also just not be taxed. And that way is a constitutionally legal way of ending taxation without representation. Just get rid of the taxation part.”
Back to Maryland!
Joel Taubman, 29, is neither in the Yes or No camp. He grew up in Fairfax and is in the process of moving back to Northern Virginia from Arizona.
Taubman said he believes Washington as a state would have too much influence over the federal government. So he argues for most of Washington to become part of Maryland, called retrocession, while carving out a small enclave for the federal government, similar to the House-approved plan.
When the District was conceived, Virginia and Maryland each contributed territory to create the national capital. In 1847, the Virginia portion was retroceded back to the state. Today, the area makes up the city of Alexandria and Arlington County. Taubman believes Maryland absorbing the bulk of the capital would be a more practical solution to D.C.’s problems than statehood.
The House plan is “politically contentious enough that the more straightforward solution, to me, is to combine it back with Maryland, which just in terms of affiliation political party-wise, there’s a lot of affinity between the populations in both areas,” Taubman said. “We have politically contentious options in every direction. And really the most straightforward way that doesn’t do something that could be challenged in court and go to the Supreme Court and likely get denied as something that doesn’t follow the constitution is to essentially do what Virginia did with Arlington.”
Einhorn, of the pro-statehood camp, doesn’t see either Maryland or D.C. going for such a proposal.
“Maryland would essentially have to be the one to initiate that process. And I feel like there just isn’t
support,” Einhorn said. “I feel like it makes political sense for a lot of Republicans. I don’t see how it makes sense for the citizens of either state.”
Rosenberg was blunter.
“I’m from Maryland. If I want to live in Maryland, I’d move back home.”