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The Commercial Appeal Memphis, TN

Whatever It Means, It's Bad

November 27, 2000
Copyright © 2000 The Commercial Appeal Memphis, TN. All Rights Reserved.

THE NATION'S capital hopes to shame the country into either giving it a vote in Congress or freeing its residents from federal taxes by putting a new slogan on its license plates: "Taxation Without Representation."

The slogan is curiously nonjudgmental. Far better, it would seem, to have the complete 1763 assertion by James Otis that became the watchword of the American Revolution: "Taxation without representation is tyranny." Maybe there wasn't enough space.

And Washington's notoriously sluggish and bureaucratic Department of Motor Vehicles might not be the ideal champion of the cause.

Washingtonians vote for president but have only a nonvoting representative in Congress, like Guam or Puerto Rico .

But unlike Guam and Puerto Rico , Washingtonians are not exempt from federal taxes. They kick in $2 billion a year with no say in how it's spent. Hence: Give us a member of Congress or give us a blanket tax exemption.

Like statehood , however, special voting representation is a fading dream.

When House seats are reapportioned next year according to the 2000 census, the average congressional district will have about 632,000 residents. Washington, D.C.'s population is 519,000 and falling.

Once Washington could argue that it had more people than half a dozen or more states. Now it is only more populous than Wyoming (479,000), which is a poor basis on which to claim special treatment.

Congress, to which the Constitution gives exclusive jurisdiction over the District, has not been insensitive to Washington's plight.

One proposal was to make the District, for voting purposes, a part of Maryland, which surrounds the city on three sides.

There is precedent because Congress gave Arlington, which lies across the Potomac River on the fourth side, back to Virginia in 1846.

Washingtonians would be able to vote for not only House members but two U.S. senators and a governor.

But the capital's local politicians will have none of the proposal, seeing it as a dilution of their own heady ambitions of being in Congress.

An opaque license plate slogan (which replaces the equally opaque "Celebrate and Discover") is likely to be as far as the drive for voting representation goes.

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