Peter Pan has a shadow that taunts him. Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow half scares him to death and also has the important role of determining the length of winter. But did you know that D.C. has a shadow of it’s own? In fact, this year the District may be getting a new shadow.
The District's shadow congressman is possibly one of the least-recognized political offices ever devised. He or she gets no salary and can’t actually vote in Congress. So what the heck does he or she do?
A shadow congressman has one job: make D.C. the 51st state. The District’s current shadow, Mike Panetta, said candidates are running to, “say who is going to be the best volunteer for the District” in lobbying for statehood.
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This year there are four candidates for the position including Panetta. All of them have different strategies to bring attention to the District’s struggle for representation.
Nate Bennett-Fleming, a 25-year-old law student, wants to hold a summer lobbying campaign and said he was put on Earth to win statehood.
"I was put on this planet to win statehood for the citizens of D.C., and if I don’t do it, it won’t by done,” Bennett-Fleming said during a candidate forum.
Panetta, the current shadow, wants to fly a 51-star flag over the city government building. It’s just one of his many humorous attempts to draw attention. In 2005, he created a campaign to rename RFK Stadium, “Taxation Without Representation Field.” And in 2006, he formed the D.C. Olympic curling team, which only competed three times but got a lot of press.
D.C., of course, already has a member of Congress -- Democrat Eleanor Holmes Norton. But Norton and previous delegates for the city aren’t allowed to vote on the House floor. That’s why voters opted to create the shadow congressman along with two “shadow senator” positions in the 1980s.
And the idea didn’t originate in D.C. Several U.S. territories had shadow representatives before they gained statehood. Then once their state was admitted, the shadows became the state’s first representatives.
The city has been close to gaining voting rights recently. In 2009, the Senate passed a bill that would have given the District statehood, but it stalled in the House.
Panetta and Bennett-Fleming will face off in the Democratic primary on September 14. The winner will face a Green Party candidate, Joyce Robinson-Paul, and a Republican candidate, Nelson Rimensnyder, in November, but with three-quarters of the city registered as Democrats, the other candidates are considered longshots.