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Statehood Simmers for District of Columbia

WHY don't residents of the District of Columbia have a vote in Congress?

When the district was formed 200 years ago to become the seat of government, only about 5,000 people lived in the 69-square-mile territory, and Congress never got around to addressing the matter. The lack of consensus on the issue also kept it low on the agenda.

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Now the population is 650,000 - more than that of Alaska, Delaware, Vermont, or Wyoming. But D.C. residents have fewer voting rights. In 1961, residents gained the right to vote for president. In 1973, the district gained limited "home rule," with an elected mayor and council.

The D.C. statehood bill pending in Congress would create the state of New Columbia out of D.C.'s residential areas, and create a new, smaller District of Columbia, consisting mainly of the Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the White House.

Statehood opponents say that cannot be done without a constitutional amendment. Supporters say the provision for the new federal enclave would satisfy the Constitution.

Rep. Dana T. Rohrabacher (R) of California, a member of the House Committee on the District of Columbia, says the best way to enfranchise district residents is to make the district part of Maryland - as it was 200 years ago.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the district's nonvoting representative, says that is "an impossible solution. Maryland doesn't want it; the district doesn't want it. And you can't do what the people don't want."

"It's 200 years too late for the district, which has its own personality and sees itself as its own jurisdiction," Ms. Norton says. And who would want a city with the nation's highest murder and infant mortatity rates, she adds.

Still, neighbors Maryland and Virginia aren't wild about the prospect of New Columbia. For now, Congress prevents the district from instituting a tax on commuters who work in D.C. but live in neighboring states. New Columbia would likely consider such a tax.

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But the real reason Republicans oppose statehood, advocates say, it that the overwhelmingly Democratic district would likely send all Democrats to the House and Senate.

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