Earlier this year, the Committee on House Administration approved a bill introduced by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton that would give D.C. two statues in the Capitol, as each of the 50 states gets. In a comically petty act, Republicans balked -- but said they were fine with the District getting just one statue.
Norton, who is used to this sort of thing, decided to go along.
“Its federal taxpaying status entitles the District to two statues, like other jurisdictions that pay the full freight to support our government,” she said. “However, we need to seize whatever rights we can, when we can, and pick up the rest when we can.”
The one-statue version to be voted on today requires a two-thirds vote for passage, since it is coming to the floor under suspension of the rules, which prohibits amendments but requires the higher threshold. That means that even if every Democrat supports the measure, as many as 35 Republican votes may be needed. Norton is hopeful, noting that Republicans said in committee that they back the single statue for D.C.
It’s just a symbolic fight, but it’s an indicator of things to come.
As DCist’s Aaron Morrissey put it, if the District “can't fight the powers that be to get the same number of statues, what chance to we have at something which actually matters, like voting rights?”
D.C. for Democracy’s Keith Ivey is more blunt: “D.C. residents can't even get something as minor as a pair of statues in Statuary Hall without Republican bullies reminding us of our second-class status.”
They’re right. Rep. Dan Lungren, the top Republican on the committee, argued that by putting the District on a par with the states, even in sculptural representation, a precedent would be set on representation and other matters. What should have been an uncontroversial matter turned into yet another skirmish over whether the District, with the nation’s highest per capital federal income tax rate and more people than the state of Wyoming, deserves anything approaching equality with the states.
The District has already purchased statues of Frederick Douglass and Pierre L’Enfant, which have been waiting at One Judiciary Square since 2006. If the bill passes, D.C. will face the hard choice of which to place inside the Capitol.
As a crusader for freedom and equality, Douglass seems the better pick. But there’s something to be said for going with L’Enfant. After all, he spent a large part of his life fighting with Congress over what he thought he was owed -- only to be given a pittance and sent packing.
Follow P.J. Orvetti on Twitter at @PJOinDC