Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Mayor Franks

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) recently introduced a bill to severely limit abortion in DC. DC voters -- already perturbed at the fact that people-not-them were getting to pass DC-specific legislation -- got another slap in the face when Rep. Franks wouldn't let DC's non-voting Delegate (Eleanor Holmes Norton) testify at his hearing. To be fair, from a Republican standpoint this makes sense -- Rep. Franks wants to make sure that only relevant voices enter into the debate, and Delegate Norton, as a Black woman from DC, is a veritable trifecta of irrelevant. Letting localities govern their own affairs is for White people.

In any event, though they never voted for him (and aren't allowed to vote for anyone with a vote that counts), DC voters are willing to accept a new sheriff in town. Which is why they've begun enundating "Mayor Franks" with requests to resolve all their local travails -- from parking tickets to potholes. Since he's taken such an interest in governing the city, you know.

Rep. Franks, of course, is baffled. DC residents "are missing the point", if they think a law proposed in a body they're not allowed to vote in, by a legislator who won't even allow their non-voting delegate to testify, that solely governs their lives, is about them. "It's the pain of the child." You know, one of those real people I've heard so much about.


PG said...

A less moronic comment than Franks's came from the National Right to Life Committee as quoted by HuffPo:

Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), fired back at the D.C. protesters in an email to HuffPost later Wednesday.
"The local demonstrators say, in effect, that the federal capital city belongs to them and that the rest of America should just shut up," he said. "But the U.S. Constitution makes it crystal clear that the District of Columbia belongs to all of the American people, and is to be governed by the Congress and the president."

This is a pretty standard point to make regarding DC. Art. I, Sec. 8: "The Congress shall have Power ... To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings."

In other words, while Franks is being a jerk, he's legally in the right to do so. It is not somehow declaring himself mayor of DC to propose legislation for the District.

David Schraub said...

Well, no and yes. First, I think the constitutional structure set up over DC is immoral and anti-democratic, and the DC residents in question seem to agree. Simply noting it's in the Constitution doesn't answer the core of the objection,

Second, that the Constitution gives someone like Rep. Franks formal power to legislate over DC does not make the DCers rejoinder illegitimate. If anything, it is simply taking the point seriously -- if you want to exercise your full formal legal authority over us, then we're going to treat you as if you want to possess full, formal legal authority over us. Either take responsibility (like you have the formal power to do) or let us govern our own affairs (which is the ethical choice, but which we can't force directly because the formal structure prevents us from voting).

PG said...

I agree that the undemocratic nature of the Constitution regarding DC is a problem (I had an oped on the subject published about 11 years ago). But I don't think it's somehow particularly Franks's fault.

He isn't declaring himself DC's "representative" by exercising his Constitutional power to introduce legislation over the District, anymore than he's Fort Hood's representative if he introduces legislation dealing specifically with that federal military installation.

if you want to exercise your full formal legal authority over us, then we're going to treat you as if you want to possess full, formal legal authority over us

I don't understand this. Franks is exercising the full formal legal authority that he is granted by the Constitution as a Congressman. That authority is not the totality of all governance of the District of Columbia -- is not all of the full, formal legal authority over DC that exists -- because not all governance comes in the form of legislation.

For example, if I think a parking ticket was unfairly given because I had the excuse of emergency, then the way to resolve my problem is not through legislation, but probably through a judicial or administrative hearing where I can bring that affirmative defense. Calling Franks "Mayor" is cute but incoherent, because he is exercising the duly-granted power of a legislator, not of an executive (nor of a judge).

Basically, any problem brought to Franks that someone doesn't want redressed legislatively -- parking tickets, potholes -- is not actually "taking the point seriously." I do think it would be internally logical to take anything for which you'd like a legislative response to Franks (or any other Congressmember) instead of to the DC Council or Holmes.