My mom is an amazing American. The only child of a Census Bureau statistician and a Jewish social scientist (who fled her native Germany because of the Nazis), she was born and raised in the nation’s capital. She had two children while attending medical school and another (me!) in Laos, where she practiced medicine as my father served in Vietnam. She worked in pediatrics and later in a drug clinic, then spent the last 15 years of her career caring for veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. She has lived an extraordinary life of service.

Flags fly at sunset with 51 instead of the usual 50 stars along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., in September 2019, part of a display in support of statehood for the District of Columbia. The people who live in the nation’s capital can vote for president, but in Congress they have only a non-voting delegate and a shadow U.S. senator, neither of whom has full voting rights.  Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

But she can’t vote.

My mom and over 700,000 American citizens – 32,000 of whom are veterans – have no voting representatives or senators in Congress because they happen to live in Washington, D.C. That’s right. The people who reside in the capital of the world’s foremost democracy do not actually get to participate fully in that democracy. They can vote for president, but in Congress all they have are a “Non-Voting Delegate” and a “Shadow Senator,” neither of whom has full voting rights.

When I explain this to people in Maine, most of them are appalled. “Really?” they gasp. “That’s ridiculous!” It is ridiculous, but we Mainers are part of the reason that my mom still can’t vote. Why? Because our senators have yet to support D.C. statehood.

Washingtonians originally had the right to vote in congressional elections, but it was stripped away in the Organic Act of 1801, a hastily crafted bill passed in the waning weeks of a lame-duck Federalist Congress. D.C. residents have been fighting for voting representation in Congress ever since.

The movement to make D.C. the 51st state has gained momentum in the months since protests shined a light on America’s enduring racial inequalities. Race historically has been a major reason why D.C., with its large Black population, still does not have full voting rights.

The power to create new states rests entirely with Congress. Last summer, with support from Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, the House of Representatives voted 232-180 to turn D.C. into a state, the first D.C. statehood bill ever to pass a house of Congress. The bill is scheduled to be introduced in the Senate on Friday, and we need both Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins to get on board as well.

Many objections to D.C. statehood are inaccurate and downright insulting. I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told, “No one is actually from D.C.,” as if people like my family don’t exist. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton opposes statehood because D.C. has too many “bureaucrats and white-collar professionals,” as if voting rights should depend on our jobs.

But there is some sincere skepticism about adding a new state for the first time in a half century. Some critics claim that we must amend the Constitution if we want to give Washingtonians the vote. That is simply not true. Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution specifies that the seat of the federal government must reside in an independent “District” not controlled by any state. This federal district cannot exceed 10 square miles, but the Constitution does not specify its minimum size.

To meet constitutional muster, the statehood bill shrinks the federal district down to the National Mall, the White House and the Capitol complex in downtown Washington. Everything else would become the 51st  state.

Other critics say that D.C. is “too small” to become a state. Though it would be the smallest state in terms of acreage, D.C. has a larger population than Wyoming or Vermont and likely will pass Alaska in the next decade. Washingtonians have the highest per capita tax rate in the country and pay more in federal taxes than 22 states.

But, skeptics may ask, isn’t D.C. just “an appendage of the federal government,” as Sen. Cotton claimed? Hardly. D.C. receives less than 30 percent of its budget from Congress, a lower percentage than five states and on a par with three others. The federal government owns about 30 percent of the land in D.C., compared to more than 50 percent of Oregon, Alaska, Idaho and Utah and almost 85 percent of Nevada. Should we strip those Westerners of representation?

Mainers can help bring democracy to our nation’s capital at long last. We must encourage Sens. King and Collins to sign on as co-sponsors of the D.C. statehood bill. After what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6, we need to reaffirm our nation’s commitment to full democracy for all.

My mom deserves the right to vote, not because she has spent decades serving our country, but simply because she is an American. In this country, our people vote. Let’s hope Maine’s senators agree.


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