It’s spring and a lot of things are blooming in Washington — except democracy.
Three DC Vote activists were arrested last Thursday after they unfurled a D.C. flag in the balcony of the House of Representatives and shouted “D.C. Vote!”
The three were protesting the House vote to rescind local legislation that would extend protections to workers whose employers might discriminate against them for using birth control or other reproductive health care.
Never mind that the Senate was unlikely to (and didn’t) pass it before a deadline on Monday; it was an intrusion into local home rule because D.C. is denied full voting rights in Congress.
The demonstrators — Rosalind Conn Cohen, Michael S. Bolton and James L. Jones — were charged with disruption of Congress. DC Vote issued a statement saying city residents “will not sit quietly by and allow Congress to overturn laws by our locally elected legislature. … We are outraged by the action, but have no way to register our ‘no’ vote in Congress but through protest.”
Late last week, the White House released a statement condemning the House vote. Even if the measure passed the Senate, officials said, President Barack Obama would be advised to veto it. In addition to concerns about discrimination against employees, the White House said the measure “also would have the unacceptable effect of undermining the will of the people of the District of Columbia citizens.”
■ Blooming economy. The breathless pace of development and growth in the District has slowed somewhat, but the city’s economic engines keep churning.
A new report from Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt says there were 15,900 more jobs in the District in February compared to February a year ago, a growth of 2.1 percent. About 1,300 of those jobs were in the leisure and hospitality sectors. Even the federal government here gained 1,000 jobs compared to a year ago.
This February, there were 297 condos sold, a 3 percent decline from a year ago. But median prices for condos rose 12.6 percent. (The median for single-family homes rose 6.3 percent.)
And jobless claims fell 6 percent compared to a year ago, a sign of better employment.
■ $$$ and the national parks. America’s national parks may be hurting for budget money themselves, but they do a lot for the economies where they are located.
Across the capital region, the National Park Service accounted for 38 million visitors in 2014 and helped contribute $1.4 billion to the region’s economy. An agency report said it generated 14,957 jobs.
In a news release, regional director Bob Vogel said the Park Service returns $10 to the economy for every $1 it invests in the area. The study was a peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, along with economist Lynne Koontz of the Park Service.
■ $$$ and Metro. A key House committee has sliced $75 million from the annual appropriation to help fund the Metro system in the region. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., told Roll Call and other media that his transportation subcommittee was getting a lot of heat for the cut. He emphasized that it’s early in the budget process and the cuts might change.
The entire Washington area delegation — including new Republican member Barbara Comstock of Virginia — issued a joint statement condemning the cut.
“More than half of Metro’s rush hour passengers are federal workers, and the federal government cannot operate without Metro,” D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton noted.
Under a long-standing regional agreement reached in 2009, the federal government has contributed $150 million a year to Metro, and Maryland, Virginia and the District each contribute $50 million a year. “Providing anything less than the federal commitment of $150 million would jeopardize rider safety,” the regional members of Congress said in their statement.
■ A final word. Sad news came this week with the death from pneumonia of Skip Coburn, whose life exemplified my frequent saying that “local Washington is only as good as the people active in it.” Coburn was 70. A requiem Mass was held this past Saturday.
For the past 12 years, Dick Edward “Skip” Coburn was executive director of the D.C. Nightlife Association, explaining to reporters and countless citizen groups the ins and outs of that business. He did it with passion, good humor and informed advocacy. He came to D.C. advocacy after a 24-year Air Force career, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
Coburn formerly worked for Ward 6 D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose. “Those who knew Skip,” Ambrose wrote in the Hill Rag, “know he was something of a character. Often his enthusiasm for an idea or a project was so intense it led to hours of research and investigation and reams of paper spilling out of printers and copiers to be shared with whomever he could buttonhole.”
Tom Sherwood, a Southwest resident, is a political reporter for News 4.