Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress may establish a “district of government” that would not be part of any state. Under such authority, Congress took land from the states of Maryland and Virginia and established the District of Columbia, where our capital city of Washington was built. Congress later returned to Virginia the land that was ceded by that state, but even with its reduced size the District of Columbia’s permanent population grew more than anyone anticipated. There are currently around 563,000 residents of DC, and, while they have the right to vote for president, they are subject to laws passed by a Congress in which they do not have voting representation; in fact, Congress has plenary powers to legislate over DC, and thus does not need to comply with the exigencies of the Commerce Clause or any of the other enumerated powers described in the first 16 clauses of Article I, section 8 of the Constitution.
I believe that it is wrong to deny U.S. citizens living under the U.S. flag the right to vote for Senators and Representatives or the other benefits of statehood. However, that does not mean that the best solution is to grant statehood to a “city-state” with a tiny (and dropping) population and even tinier landmass. Besides, DC Statehood would be political suicide for the Republican Party. Unlike Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory since 1898), which has both the area (3,515 square miles) and population (around 3.9 million) to become a state, and whose socially conservative, economically liberal electorate is more similar to that of Louisiana (which voted twice for George W. Bush and has voted for the winner in every presidential election since 1972) than to that of any other state, DC voters would in all certainty elect 2 liberal Democrats to the Senate and 1 liberal Democrat to the House and continue to cast their 3 electoral votes for the Democrats. So the only three certain things in life are death, taxes, and the GOP opposing any attempts at granting statehood to the District of Columbia. Since it would require a Constitutional amendment for DC to become a state (for one thing, the 23rd Amendment, which granted the presidential vote to DC residents, would need to be repealed), the GOP can effectively block DC Statehood even if its numbers in Congress are down to just 1/3 of the members in one of the two houses.
So how then can we do justice for the residents of the District of Columbia? For years, I was of the opinion that DC should return to the State of Maryland, from whence it came, and that the federal buildings that were carved out from the proposed “State of New Columbia” by DC Statehood proponents could become the “district of government” described in Article I, section 8, clause 17 of the Constitution (but that any residents of those parts of the city will be deemed to be residents of Maryland for all purposes; we would need a “clean-up” amendment to make clear that the reduced DC no longer gets 3 electoral votes). However, I was troubled by the fact that such a move would give the Democrats a lock on the Maryland governorship and on its (newly increased) 11 electoral votes, although since Maryland is never in play in a close election, and since the Democrats would no longer get 3 electoral votes from DC, it would be a net loss of 2 EVs for the Democrats in almost every case (since DC got the presidential vote in 1964, the only times the GOP managed to carry Maryland, but would not have carried the “new Maryland,” were in its electoral landslide elections of 1984 and 1988; in 1972, Nixon would have carried MD even had they thrown in the DC votes).
But given the fact that the State of Maryland would probably not accept sole responsibility over Washington, DC, and since such a solution may not be acceptable to proponents of DC statehood (who would want DC residents to have a greater say in Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections than they would in Baltimore-centered Maryland), I changed my mind a couple of years ago and now advocate that Washington, DC (minus the aforementioned federal buildings) be combined with its close-in suburban counties in Maryland and Virginia to become the State of New Columbia. The suburbs that I would append to DC are (i) Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties from Maryland and (ii) Fairfax and Arlington Counties and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax and Falls Church from Virginia.
This larger State of New Columbia, which would include most of the Washington suburban population, and thus provide a good tax base for the state (a major problem for DC is its inability to levy a “commuter tax” on residents of MD and VA that work in the District), would have 8 electoral votes (same as the smaller MD and 3 fewer than the smaller VA) and would be heavily Democrat (although there would probably be one GOP-leaning congressional district in southern Fairfax County). The smaller Virginia would be safely Republican, since Democrats can’t hope to carry the state without their usual margins in the DC suburbs, and the smaller Maryland would lean Republican, although it would not be a slam dunk if the Baltimore suburbs vote Democrat like they did in 2000.
The new Maryland would be very comparable to Pennsylvania in presidential elections, although usually a few points more Republican. In the presidential election of 2004, the smaller MD would have given George W. Bush 50.52% to John Kerry’s 48.29%, so it would be about 2% more Republican than PA. In 2000, Al Gore would have had a 50.45%-46.25% victory over George W. Bush, almost identical to the results in Pennsylvania). In 1996, Bill Clinton would have carried the state with only 49.00%, to Bob Dole’s 42.39% and Ross Perot’s 7.65%---slightly more Republican (and less Democrat) than Pennsylvania. And in 1992, Clinton would have won with only 45.41%, to 38.40% for George H.W. Bush and 15.82% for Perot---again, more Republican than Pennsylvania. So in presidential elections, the smaller MD would be a swing state so long as the Baltimore suburbs lean Democrat. This new MD would be a smaller version of PA if the state ended just east of the easternmost Pittsburgh suburbs, with Baltimore a smaller Philly, the Baltimore suburbs a smaller version of the Philly suburbs, and with the outstate areas (the Eastern Shore, the Panhandle and what’s left of the Southern MD) as Republican as the Pennsylvania “T.” But in gubernatorial elections, it would be much more Republican, since Republican Bob Ehrlich would have expanded his slim 3% victory to a 59.44%-39.75% drubbing of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend in 2002, and since Republican Ellen Sauerbrey would have narrowly defeated Parris Glendening in the 1998 race in which Glendening won reelection by 10% (of course, had Montco and PG County not been part of MD in 1994, Sauerbrey would have defeated Glendening in a landslide that year).
So we would go from a current scenario in which 13 EVs are around 70% likely to go to the GOP (Virginia, which gave Bush an 8.20% victory margin in 2004), 10 EVs are around 15% likely to go to the GOP (Maryland, which gave Kerry a 12.98% margin in 2004) and 3 EVs are 0% likely to go to the GOP (DC, which gave Kerry a whopping 79.84% margin in 2004), to one in which 11 EVs are around 90% likely to go to the GOP (the new VA, which would have given Bush a 13.90% margin in 2004), 8 EVs are around 55% likely to go to the GOP (the new MD, which would have given Bush 2.23% margin in 2004) and 8 EVs are 0% likely to go to the GOP (the State of New Columbia, which would have given Kerry a 38.31% margin in 2004). If my assumptions are correct, then the expected electoral votes for the MD-DC-VA region are currently 10.6 for the GOP and 15.4 for the Democrats; in 2004, it was 13 for Bush and 13 for Kerry, but Virginia has been trending Democrat over the past decade due to heavy growth in Democrat Northern Virginia, so it could swing to 26 for the Democrats and 0 to the GOP in 10 years or so. On the other hand, the Republican Party would have 14.3 expected EVs should the DC metro area become the State of New Columbia to only 12.7 for the Democrats, and in 2004 Bush would have won 19 EVs to Kerry’s 8.
Not only would the GOP be far better off in presidential elections, the GOP would be guaranteed to win the governorship of VA and would be strongly favored in MD, and would surely win both Senate seats from VA and at least one Senate seat from MD, with a strong likelihood of having 4 GOP Senators to 2 Democrat Senators in the region, as opposed to 2 basically safe Democrats (notwithstanding Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who’s got a good chance at pulling off an upset in the 2006 MD Senate election) and 2 potentially vulnerable Republicans today). I think it would be a good deal both for the Republican Party and the disenfranchised residents of the District of Columbia, and would be an acceptable amendment for 2/3 of the House and Senate and 3/4 of the states. The trick will be to convince the people of Virginia and Maryland that they can live without the taxes they collect in the DC suburbs.