Thursday, December 04, 2008

Selling Votes

Matt Yglesias presses for DC statehood -- even going so far to demarcate the borders of a new "federal" district which would have the important governmental buildings but no residents (aside from the President himself). The Debatable Land (my blog had the initials longer!), noting that Republicans would never acquiesce to the basic democratic right of enfranchisement if it will lead to more Democrats, offers an alternative: exempting DC entirely from federal income taxes.

It may have some practical benefits, but check me off under the box that says voting rights can't be bought. No deal.

Via Andrew Sullivan, who says that under the latter proposal, DC could become "Hong Kong on the Potomac". I never realized Andrew was such a fan of China's model of governance.

Update: Some folks are really more excited about alternatives to DC statehood, namely, retrocession to Maryland or (worse yet) ceding the territory to Virginia, than is warranted. The retrocession proposal at least makes some sense -- DC was originally carved out of territory belonging to Maryland (and Virginia, but the latter already took its territory back). The Virginia proposal, by contrast, appears solely motivated by the desire to solidify VA as a "blue state" for the foreseeable future. In other words, it's nakedly partisan.

I don't think these folks get it. DC deserves representation in Congress because it has a right to democratic participation. Enhancing the political prospects of the Democratic Party has literally nothing to do with it, and is not a legitimate consideration. Now, as it happens, DC statehood would be very good for Democrats. That's fortunate for them, just as the ultimate borders of Wyoming have been a boon for Republicans. Since in neither case were the borders drawn with an eye towards partisan political advantage, the advantages that accrued are morally neutral.

But it would be an entirely different thing to deliberately redraw the boundaries of a political unit for such an advantage. It's bad enough in Congressional gerrymandering, and I'd like to keep the dragon in its cage, such as it is. How badly do we want to open the door to Texas Tots type thinking? At least the retrocession to Maryland can plausibly claim to be flowing from neutral principles (it helps that the partisan boon for Democrats would be minimal -- though not non-existent -- in that case). The Virginia plan has literally nothing going for it other than partisan considerations.

There's another consideration at work here, that's being nearly entirely ignored: the will of DC voters. Has anyone bothered to ask if they want to be ceded to another political unit? If it became a state, DC would become the only majority-Black state in the nation. Needless to say, shifting it to either Virginia or Maryland would eliminate that distinction. I think DC voters should be in charge of their own destiny, and just as their democratic rights shouldn't be held hostage to economic advantage, neither should they be made pawns of Democratic Party political strategy.


Jill Rodde said...

Must've been a popular story of late Kos also had some...thoughts.

Chris Meyer said...

I feel like Yglesias is probably wrong that it's constitutional. Wouldn't you have to amend the previous amendment that defined DC's electoral role? (They get as many electoral votes as however many the smallest state gets.)

Right now that would make no difference, but if it gained population it would be. DC would forever be a state with extra conditions attached.

Retrocession to Maryland would basically gain us 1 representative, lose us 2 presidential electors, and further liberalize Maryland's statewide electoral offices. Far as partisan politics goes that seems roughly equal to me.

But kos suggested the idea that we do retrocession to Virginia instead. Short of a constitutional amendment (assuming one would be needed) that's my favorite idea right now.

PG said...

Thanks for the links to the Texas Tots paper -- I'd not seen it before. I was aware that Texas's admission to the Union included Texas's retaining the right to subdivide into five states (yay 7th grade Texas history!) but I hadn't realized that anyone had tried to go somewhere with that, except for the crazy West Texas separatists.

Superdestroyer said...

At a time when upper middle class whites are moving back into the district, is it really wise to create a state that will dominated by blacks and which will return to being openly hostile to whites. It will also create the problem of the commuter tax when federal employees who work in the District would be taxed by both the District and either Virginia or Maryland? If you want the economy in DC to collapse, then put militant blacks in charge of a state where most of the white workers live outside the state and are seen by the blacks as potential tax slaves.

Chris Meyer said...

Personally I think you're just dissing our Virginia plan 'cause you're a Maryland supremacist scheming for territorial dominance.

You're correct that it is nakedly partisan, but I don't feel bad taking a partisan perspective on this. Partisan outcomes have real consequences on real people and should not be dismissed.

It's not like it would be an outrageous power grab; the current state boundaries heavily benefit the Republicans. It would only lessen our disadvantage.

Pandora's box was already opened long ago on this--they split Massachusetts into two states to counter Missouri's entrance as a slave state.

There's a good reason the Republicans are not going to let Texas get split five ways: it would benefit the Democrats. It would be very difficult to split the state five ways that didn't leave two of the sections Democratic-leaning. (Well, at least as long as the split is equitable--either in terms of population or land mass). The Republicans would still net a couple senators, but we'd take away a ton of presidential electors.

I've asked just about every D.C. person I've met about their opinions about congressional representation. The majority were apathetic, two supported statehood, two supported the plan to just give them a representative but not senators.

You probably know a lot more of them. What have they told you?

Jack said...

David, one thing to consider is the retrocession to Maryland would probably make the state Democratic Party majority black... and since statewide offices are determined by the Democratic Primary African-Americans would be a very influential group in state politics, much more so than they would be in any other state.