Taxation Without Representation

The title of this piece is the same as the motto that for years can be found on the license plates of vehicles registered in Washington D.C.  Most tourists, when they recognize it, are startled to see it and often ask about it, thus the reason for it being there in the first place.  The answer, however, while simple in response — “the District has no voting representatives in the Congress” — is far less simple in the context of the current political world.

To many D.C. residents, last Tuesday’s Democrat presidential primary in the District was symbolic of their plight in the modern United States.  While afforded the opportunity to vote for one of the nominees (Hillary Clinton won, while Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) won the Republican primary held in March), their votes were the last in the nation and of no significance since the nomination had already been decided.

It may be useful to put things in a quick historical context.  As we all learned in elementary school, Washington became the new capital city for the newly created United States.  Created by Congress through passage of the Residence Act in July 1790, the city’s location was the result of a compromise hammered out between Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  The Constitution (Article I, Section 8) already provided for a federal district that was not a part of any state and that would be governed by the Congress.  Maryland and Virginia each donated land along the Potomac River that created a square-shaped jurisdiction and included the existing cities of Georgetown on the Maryland side, and Alexandria on the Virginia side.  In 1846 Congress returned Virginia’s donated land to the state (a complicated story in itself but it has to do with slaves as well as the city of Alexandria, and the fact that all federal buildings were constructed on the Maryland side) creating the current District’s size and shape.

For most of their history, D.C. residents had no say over how their city was governed.  The first significant change came in the early 1960’s with the ratification of the Twenty-third Amendment to the Constitution which gave the District three electoral college votes for president.  The votes are allocated according to population, but regardless, cannot exceed the number of votes allotted to the least populous state.

In 1973, Congress passed the District of Columbia Home Rule Act that allowed for the citizens of the city to elect a mayor and 13 Council members.  The first mayor was elected in 1975.

What is the significance of this brief history lesson?  Well, because of these cases and others, some legal scholars argue that, starting with the return of Virginia’s portion of the District, the Congress undid many elements of the original Constitution, thus setting a precedent that the District should be allowed home rule.

Here’s the real rub.  The District’s citizens resent that Congress over rides many of the laws that they pass within the Council or via referendum among the citizens.  Often, they are undone by conservative members of Congress that, according to many of the District’s citizens, use D.C. as a personal lab to push conservative causes that they cannot get done in their home state or in the Congress.  Additionally, when Congress is gridlocked, the District suffers because their budget, just like the Defense Department or the State Department is held hostage during the negotiations, making it difficult to run the city because even though they have the money (their own money, they argue) unless Congress authorizes them to spend it, they are not able to do so.

This is relevant today, as another major battle is brewing between the District’s government and Congress.  While D.C. supposedly has home rule, they must have their budget approved by Congress . This year the city government says that while they will submit it to Congress for review, they will not wait for approval and will spend the $13 billion dollars as they see fit. That budget breaks down to $4 billion in federal taxes and $7 billion in local property, sales, and other taxes.  (In the past, Congress would block spending on items or issues of which they did not approve. They also control all of the funds, including those through local taxes.) It is, as the Washington Post observed, essentially a Declaration of Independence by the city.  The Congress is not amused.  It may be a fight that D.C. cannot win, with threats of contempt of Congress and possible jail time for the mayor and Council.  Such activity directly in spite of Congress is deemed un-Constitutional.  In a vote in late May, the House voted to nullify the District’s voter approved measure to give themselves autonomy over their own city’s spending.

The real issue of course is whether or not Washington D.C. should become the fifty-first state.

Primarily, the desire of an increasing number of the city’s citizens is for autonomy in creating budgets and taking legislative actions, and gaining voting representation in Congress, just like the “other” states — 67% of voters in D.C. want statehood according to a poll last fall. (Currently the District has one representative or “delegate” in the House but that person cannot vote on legislation.)

The behind the scenes issue is that Washington D.C. voters are primarily Democrats and that giving the District two Senators and a member of Congress would add to the numbers of Democrats in those two legislative bodies.

As argued by the proponents of statehood, and delineated in the Post, Washington D.C. is not an economically backward city dependent on the federal government for its income.  For example:

  • The D.C. economy is bigger per capita than 16 states.
  • The D.C. budget is less reliant on federal funds than are those of 30 states.
  • D.C is actually a “donor state” along with states such as New York, Massachusetts, and California that pay more in federal taxes each year than the receive in services from the federal government.
  • D.C. has a larger population than Vermont and Wyoming.
  • Large portions of the city pay no local taxes as they are federally owned (Capital, White House, monuments, etc.) or are owned by tax-exempt entities.
  • D.C. has its own National Guard unit and its citizens serve in the Armed Forces of the United States without a say in how such forces are used.
  • Most federal workers live in Maryland or Virginia, paying no taxes in D.C., while the city has to bear the expenses of providing services (police, fire, sewer, etc.) to those workers.

The list goes on and on.  Washington D.C. has its share of arguments as to why it should become the fifty-first state.  And yet, there is that pesky little document called the Constitution.

Personally, I do not think that Washington D.C. should become a state.  However, clearly a compromise of some sort that gives the citizens of D.C. some say in their own, and their nation’s affairs should be reachable.  Past efforts at compromise have failed, mainly for political reasons that have little to do with city politics or policies and more to do with wielding power in the Congress.

Other proposals include giving the land back to Maryland and thus D.C. would have two Senators (Maryland’s) and gain representation in the House based on population.  Unfortunately, Maryland does not want to regain the city and the District does not want to join Maryland.

My thought is that D.C. is on the right track.  Allow the city to manage its own fiscal and legislative affairs, just like any other governmental entity in our country.  Make the “delegate” a voting member of the House and add (or subtract) Representatives based on population and the current census used to draw up representation in the House.  No representation in the Senate.

The original creation of Washington D.C. was a compromise.  It seems that a reasonable compromise is attainable in the twenty-first century so that all of our nations’ citizens have some form of representation in designating how their tax dollars will work.

Yet Another Sad Day For Our Country

“This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, in a house of worship, or in a movie theater or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that’s the kind of country we want to be. To actively do nothing is a decision as well.”

President Obama 12 June 2016 following the largest mass shooting in the history of the USA, this time in Orlando.

Only One Vote Away

As hard as one may try, it is nearly impossible to avoid the controversy surrounding the two standard bearers for the major parties in the race for the presidency.  They certainly do not need more discussion or analysis, especially here.  And yet.  And yet.  It is equally impossible to ignore the big old elephant in the middle of the room.  Even if one tries their best to ignore him, like a petulant two-year old, he will eventually get your attention.  Of course, I am speaking about Donald J. Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.

Before we journey too far down this road, let me say up front that I am not a particular fan of Hillary Clinton, the presumptive nominee of the Democrat Party.  This piece will not push you to vote for her if you are not inclined to do so.  But it will push hard to suggest that it should be impossible to vote for Mr. Trump.  Vote for the former Republican governor of New Mexico Gary Earl Johnson who is the Libertarian Party nominee.  Vote for your cousin.  Write in any name you may want to do — shoot put your own name as a write-in candidate so that you can say that you once ran for president.  But for the sake of our nation, please do not vote for Mr. Trump.

There are several things that are dangerous about him.  His well-documented racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, self-serving, thin-skinned, bloviating pronouncements are well-known.  They started with his “birther” attacks on President Obama in March, 2011 and continue to today.  (By the way, he promised that he had discovered “absolute proof” that President Obama was not born in Hawaii.  I still have not seen it, have you?)  Why would anyone think that the blow hard would change his tune and become presidential?  (More on that in a minute.)  He erased any remaining boundaries constraining political discourse in this country.  I could go on, but I think you know who and what we are dealing with when it comes to Donald J. Trump.  I give him the benefit of the doubt when people say he is not really racist. Perhaps. I cannot know what is in his heart or his mind.  Unfortunately for our country, it does not matter.  What he does say is racist and he plays to the basest instincts of mankind. Whether he has it in his heart or not, his actions say he is a racist.  Even Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) says his recent pronouncements are racist.

Equally troubling is that I presume Mr. Trump is a smart man.  However, after a year of running for president he has not taken the time or the interest to gain even the most shallow understanding of the important issues facing our nation, whether foreign or domestic.  One of his supporters, the Majority Leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said on CNN yesterday that Mr. Trump better pick a knowledgeable running mate for Vice President.  As he said, “He needs someone highly experienced and very knowledgeable because it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know a lot about the issues.” His total lack of intellectual curiosity further solidifies my belief that he is a loose cannon with no real interest in leading our country beyond the ego trip of the trappings of the office and the possible benefit to his personal business holdings.  (Many analysts speculate that Mr. Trump will not release his tax forms because it will reveal the Potemkin Village that his business “empire” really is — just a sham presented to make things look better than the reality.  Many reports in the media already show that his promises of his “huge” philanthropic efforts either do not exist, or are the result of his foundation giving away other people’s money — not his own.  As Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) correctly points out, he is a con man.)

I hope that the glare of the national spotlight shines brightly on Mr. Trump and that the American people end up with a huge case of buyer’s remorse before it is too late.  We are already beginning to see the real Donald J. Trump as he attacks an Indiana born federal judge as being biased against him because he is a “Mexican.”  (And later Mr. Trump added that a Muslim judge would also not give him a fair shake in court.)  Whenever Mr. Trump is under attack, or more regrettably when things do not go his way as is happening with the law suit against Trump (cough cough) University he lashes out. Those that should know better say that when he is president, he will act differently and be surrounded by advisers that will temper his tantrums.  Why do they think that?  There is nothing in his demeanor to indicate that he will change and indeed he makes a point of saying that he will not change, that his is the brightest mind in the room, that he hasn’t listened to the advisers thus far and look how far he has come and many many more such pronouncements that lead me to believe that he will act exactly the same way as president as he has in his reality show of a campaign.

That people like Mr. Trump exist in our country was not a surprise to me.  That so many people would vote for him, and thus by extension validate his ideas, divisiveness and lack of ability is deeply distressing to me.  I had no idea so many of our fellow Americans were of the same nature as he is. Among those that have profoundly and deeply disappointed me and my generally positive view of the world are the majority of the Republican political leadership that endorsed Mr. Trump and thereby endorsed his policies, ideas, and methods.  Look again at the above paragraphs.  The Republican leadership in the Congress, embodied by Speaker Ryan that calls Mr. Trump’s remarks “racist” and Majority Leader McConnell’s statement that it is pretty obvious Mr. Trump “doesn’t know a lot about the issues” a year into the process, and yet they fully endorse him.  It blows my mind.  Like it or not, one cannot slice the apple by saying that they support Mr. Trump but not his racism, misogyny, threat to the Constitution and general lack of the temperament to be Commander-in-Chief.  You support him, you support all of him — there is no separating the man from his policies, such as they are.

In my life I have disagreed strongly with particular policies of some presidents.  Most maybe.  But with the possible exception of Richard Nixon, I never felt that it was personal or that they would end up destroying the fabric of our society.  The thought of Donald J. Trump as president is the scariest thing I have ever faced in my political lifetime.

Nearly half of his avowed supporters say that they do not believe that he will actually do what he says he will do, such as deport 11 million undocumented immigrants or keep those of the Muslim faith from entering the country (I wonder what Muhammad Ali thought of that — talk about “the greatest.”)  They claim that his “policies” are more symbolic and not anything that he would actually do and besides, they really want someone to “blow up” the business as usual attitude in the nation’s capital.  Be careful what you wish for. He will certainly shake things up, but remember that all new ideas are not necessarily good ideas.  More to the point, what makes anyone think that he will not actually do what he says he is going to do?  Can we take that chance?

In trying to understand why the Republican leadership would endorse and work to elect someone like Mr. Trump, it occurs to me that they secretly want Secretary Clinton to win.  I do not mean that as a joke, and of course I do not know this for a fact because they will never say it, but here’s why I think that they do.  If Secretary Clinton wins, the world and our nation are saved from the irrational dictates of Mr. Trump.  While at the same time, they can continue to oppose everything that President Clinton puts forward, just as they have with President Obama, in order to maintain their political base, keep their jobs, and the Congress under Republican control.  Then they go for the White House in 2020 campaigning that twelve years of Democrats in the White House “ruined” the country.  If there is a President Trump, they will be forced to work with him and his nutty ideas, or oppose their own party’s president in office.  They will likely lose their jobs and Republican control of the Congress.  If not in 2016, then certainly in 2018 when the nation comes to understand just how dangerous Mr. Trump is, and the current leadership will not be able to say “don’t blame us” because they have all put party above country.  Forget about a Republican in the White House in 2020.  There may not even be a recognizable Republican Party in 2020 with Mr. Trump as the leader of the party of Lincoln.

I give great credit to some Republicans like former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Senator Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) and a few (too few in my view) others that have put country above party.  They clearly are not enamored of Secretary Clinton and claim they will not vote for her.  They are also just as clear that they will never vote for Mr. Trump.  They know him up front and personal.  All of us should pay attention.

Our nation is just one vote away from having a President Trump.  We should be worried, very worried. To me, Donald J. Trump fits the mold of strong men across the arc of history that were duly elected and then proceeded to ruin their countries and cost many their lives. Let’s keep that from happening here.