Tom Cotton and the racist, absurd and partisan case against the state of DC.

Tom Cotton speaks during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing

Tom Cotton, borrowing his 1993 arguments.

Andrew Harnik / Pool / AFP via Getty Images

On Friday, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make the District of Columbia 51S t state. While the bill is unlikely to outlive the Republican-controlled Senate, or President Donald Trump’s veto pen, it remains a milestone in the long battle for full political representation of residents of the nation’s capital. .

DC residents have only had the right to vote for the president since the approval of the 23rd Amendment in 1961, and electing its own mayor and city council since 1973. Even today, DC has no voting representatives in Congress, laws passed by the district government can be repealed by Congress, and has no control over most local prosecutions or – as recent events painfully showed – his own National Guard.

And a dog-whistled speech on Thursday by Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton showed that some national attitudes toward Washington haven’t changed much since the civil rights era. DC’s statehood would likely result in two more Democratic senators, but the Republican Party tends to define its opposition to the idea as a matter of sticking to the Constitution, which created a federal district as the seat of government. However, not all Republican arguments have faked such a high mindset. In his speech, Cotton asked whether current Mayor Muriel Bowser or controversial former Mayor Marion Barry, both black, could trust the powers of a governor. And he compared DC to Wyoming, noting that while the western state has a smaller population, it is a “well-rounded working-class state.”

Shortly before the vote, I called veteran DC reporter Tom Sherwood to discuss the state. Sherwood has covered local politics in DC for various media since the mid-1970s and has co-authored the definitive story of the Barry years, Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, DC Today he is a columnist for Washington City Paper and co-host of the weekly. Policy time at WAMU. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Tom Sherwood: Hi, I’m just listening to Tom Cotton again to raise my blood pressure. Let me turn off the damn thing.

Joshua Keating: Thanks. So, listening to that debate, does it appear that the arguments against DC autonomy and voting rights have changed over the years, or are they still the same points of discussion?

No, for a long time there has been deliberate ignorance about the nation’s capital and intense discrimination and even racism in the way it is treated. Before the internal government in 1973, DC was largely governed by southern segregationist politicians who dominated Congress and appointed the commissioners who ran the city. They helped define the rule of origin as approved in ’73. There is a regrettable and sometimes deliberate ignorance on the part of some to deny recognition to the people who live here.

Across the country, the railroad office candidates against “those people in Washington.” They may be thinking specifically of Congress and the White House, but we group together.

It also still seems that there is an image of corruption and dysfunction associated with the city. The DC government certainly has its problems, and you write about them regularly, but it doesn’t seem that much worse than other places in this country.

Well, for the sake of discussion, suppose the district is a woefully corrupt place. If that were the basis of statehood, Illinois, with its four corrupt governors in a row, would have to give up statehood. Maryland would have had to give up statehood after its governor went to prison. Sir, let’s not even talk about Louisiana. It is not a legitimate basis to decide whether we should be a state or not. It is really superficial and shows voluntary ignorance or racism.

As someone who has covered Marion Barry for years, how about the fact that he remains such a polarizing figure all these years after he left office, and is still seen as a symbol of the city?

Barry is indelibly stamped in the District of Columbia as a place. He is famous for his drug abuse and his arrest, which was a terrible thing. He will never be known in the United States for repairing firefighters that had never been repaired before before becoming mayor. He will never be known for the summer jobs program that gave tens of thousands of poor people access to jobs in the city. You will never be known for making sure that older people’s homes receive quality food and services. He will never be known for those things because he is known for his outlandish comments and drug use and non-payment of income taxes for 13 years. Yes, he is a bad person in the grand scheme of things, but many people here, African-American but also white, know the good things he did as mayor. I always tell people, the only thing Marion Barry didn’t have was discipline. Too much time passed and her intelligence got out of trouble. She once said at a press conference that “she had suffered a thousand injuries.” And the council member sitting next to me leaned over and said, “Yes, all self-inflicted.”

Obviously, race is a big factor here, but the city’s demographics have also changed a lot in recent years, becoming much richer and whiter. Do you think that has changed DC’s national vision?

Well, you know, about 30 years ago, the District of Columbia was 71, 72 percent black. The latest statistics show that it is 46 percent black and 46 percent white. That is a historic change. But recently I heard a guy say to me, “Well, it’s all those liberal blacks and whites that make it such a terrible place.” So we all group together.

But that’s one of the things that most irritated me about Tom Cotton’s speech, when he said Wyoming was a full working class state. Wyoming is 93 percent white. It has practically no black people. That is not well rounded. That is a bubble, and he lives in that bubble. Tom Cotton does not know the local Washington. He flies, he flies. His call in the New York Times for federal troops to quell the uprising here was like the American cavalry attacking Native Americans in Wyoming in the 19th century. The idea of ​​using federal troops to attack American citizens is really unpleasant. I am a veteran of the Navy. I grew up in a military family. And it was just gross.

Do you think that the deployment of the National Guard and seeing armored vehicles on city streets is in itself a good argument for statehood?

“I like to say that the national capital of the United States is, in fact, the least American place because of the absence of rights.”

– Tom Sherwood

It is not so much an argument, but it is an example. The mayor who runs the city has no control over the National Guard. I like to say that the national capital of the United States is, in fact, the least American place due to the absence of basic rights.

To tell you a story, when I was a police journalist, I remember going to the mall and talking to this couple from somewhere like Kentucky. And I asked them, do you think that the residents of the District of Columbia should have the right to vote in Congress? And the boy looked at me with a mocking look and said: “But you work for us”. This gentleman thought that the entire population of the district were all employees of the federal government. No, we have citizens who have nothing to do with the government. They go to their churches, mosques or synagogues, they go to their supermarkets. They may not even know where Lafayette Park is.

I always say to DC Vote and other advocates, and today I will tell the mayor on the radio, why doesn’t the district have a multi-million dollar campaign to educate the people of the United States about who lives here? The people of America do not know us. Tom Cotton and President Trump certainly don’t know us.

So how optimistic are you that statehood is achieved?

Today’s vote is important because the House will actually approve it on the first vote since 1993. The Grim Reaper in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, says he won’t mention it, so that’s it. The real test for statehood will come in November if Democrats win the Senate, keep the House, and win the presidency. If that happens, it will be possible for Congress to vote for the district to become a state and for the president to sign it. There may be legal challenges, but that’s the way other states have entered.

It is not about how many people we have. If we only went by population, then California could be three states. New York City could be its own state. It is not the total number of people, it is if we are a sustained independent territory. Do we have the financial means to sustain ourselves? Yes. Do we have the population with the right to vote to qualify for representation in the House? Yes. Do we pay taxes, do we fight wars? Yes. Why are we not a state? There is no good argument for it. Maybe they are worried if we have control of the National Guard, we would put it in the White House.

Thanks for your time.

No problem, and if you happen to talk to Tom Cotton, tell him I’d love to show you around town.

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