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Statehood Continued

Utah is a ticking time bomb. Ever since the last congressional reapportionment in 2000, when Utah failed by a mere 856 residents to gain an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Beehive State has been abuzz with discontent. Utahans have griped that the 2000 census's statistical methods for computing state populations were based on "guesstimates" and thus flawed; they've complained that, had the census counted the 11,000 Mormon missionaries who were away from home at the time, Utah would have been awarded the additional seat; one Utah congressman even tried to freeze funding for a pet Census Bureau project until it came around to Utah's way of thinking--or, rather, counting. And, as each one of these arguments has fallen on deaf ears-- the courts rejected Utah's lawsuit for a fourth seat, and the Utah congressman's anti-census legislation went nowhere--the prospect of unrest in the hardscrabble streets of Salt Lake and Ogden has only grown greater.

But now it seems disaster may be averted. Last week, the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a bill giving Utah its extra seat. The measure now goes to the full Senate where, if it's passed, it will land on the president's desk, since the House passed identical legislation in April. At long last, Utahans are on the verge of achieving justice--not to mention a fourth representative.

It's not the prospect of justice for Utahans, however, that most excites us. Rather, it's the prospect of justice for the District of Columbia. Because, should Utah gain a fourth voting member, the District of Columbia will also gain one--which is one more than it has now. As part of an ingenious solution to overcome Republican objections to awarding the District a meaningful seat, GOP Representative Tom Davis of Virginia and his Democratic colleague Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District's nonvoting House delegate, hitched the predominately Democratic District's fortunes to the predominately Republican Utah's by proposing to expand the House from 435 to 437 members, with one of the new seats going to Utah and the other going to the District.

The case for D.C. voting rights is obvious and has been made in this space before. To make it, again, briefly: District citizens pay federal taxes; they're subject to federal laws; they fight--and die-- in America's wars. Moreover, it's problematic, to say the least, that at a time when the U.S. is trying to export democracy abroad, democracy is being denied to those who live in the nation's capital. Now that Davis and Norton have come up with a way--their vanilla state for chocolate city trade-off--to give the District voting representation in Congress without affecting the House's partisan balance, the case for D.C. voting rights would seem to be a slam dunk.

But, alas, there are still a few hurdles standing in its way--namely Mitch McConnell and George W. Bush. McConnell has threatened to filibuster the legislation; and, even if it overcomes a filibuster and passes the Senate, the White House has indicated it will veto the measure. McConnell and Bush base their opposition on ostensibly constitutional grounds, arguing that the Constitution grants congressional representation only to states, which, of course, the District of Columbia is not. But the legislation, as it's crafted, addresses these concerns--since it provides for expedited judicial review of the bill if it's challenged after becoming law. As Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said in voting for the bill in committee last week, "I have concluded that the constitutionality of this legislation is a close call and is best resolved by the courts and not by this committee."

Which means that something else may be behind Bush's and McConnell's continued opposition to the legislation. For years, Republicans blanched at the notion of voting rights for the District of Columbia--not just for partisan reasons but for racial ones as well. Simply put, the prospect of Representative Marion Barry was too much for them to bear. But the District--which is now governed by the reform-minded Mayor Adrian Fenty--has come a long way from the dark days of the Barry regime. It's past time for the few remaining holdouts in the GOP to leave behind their dark days, too, by granting District residents the rights they deserve. And if, in doing so, they keep peace on the mean streets of Provo, that's all the better.

By The Editors