(L-R) Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Rep. Franklin Garcia Shadow Senators Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown (Roy Lewis - The Washington Informer)
(L-R) Council Chair Phil Mendelson, Rep. Franklin Garcia Shadow Senators Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown (Roy Lewis - The Washington Informer)

Since its inception in 1991, the District’s shadow delegation to Congress has been charged with the singular goal of lobbying for full voting privileges for the District of Columbia.
Comprised of three members, Rep. Franklin Garcia and Senators Paul Strauss and Michael D. Brown, the delegation has toiled for statehood without the typical privileges of members of Congress: voting power, an office on the Hill and pay.
The New Columbia Statehood Commission voted Thursday, July 20, to allocate $40,000 in funds from previous years to support two full-employees for the three separate offices housed in the city’s John A. Wilson building in Northwest.
“I get $75,000 to pay salaries, travel expenses and everything else. It’s time to take this delegation seriously,” said Brown, who urged for increased funding comparing his office funding to the Council’s.
Statehood initiatives operate through two programs: the Office of the Statehood Delegation comprised of the delegation and the New Columbia Statehood Commission, a five-person panel including the delegation, and co-chairs Mayor Muriel Bowser and City Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, charged with advocating for statehood and soliciting donations.
The 2014 measure that established the commission also established a New Columbia Statehood Fund to collect public and private contributions to the cause that included annual income tax check-offs that used to be given to the delegation.
Appropriations for the fund are a part of the city’s annual budget process controlled by the mayor and the city council.
After the delegation’s office director gets paid, other funds go back into the statehood account.
Statehood initiatives received almost $234,000 in the proposed 2018 budget, just a slight decrease in the $234,300 enacted.
The central offices of members of council were allocated $775,000 in the upcoming year’s budget, an increase from the $599,000 currently given to most offices.
“Puerto Rico is sending in its delegation: three former governors, a former president of the Senate and a member of the Baseball Hall of fame. This is going to be some completion for us,” Brown said.
“I was good in little league [baseball], but I can’t compete with the Hall of Famer,” he joked.
Puerto Rico held a referendum June 11 where citizens voted overwhelmingly to become a state, with 97 percent of the vote, over maintaining its current territorial status, becoming independent, or developing a free association.
He called the Puerto Rican delegation “heavy duty” and said in order for the District’s delegation to vie for statehood to be competitive, more money and authority remain necessary.
“It doesn’t matter what we pass here because when it goes before the council, [they] can and will change it,” Brown referred to a 3-2 vote held by the commission that kept the delegation in the Tennessee Plan, but the council moved against it in a later vote.”
Garcia echoed Brown’s sentiments.
“There is some legitimacy to what [Brown] said,” Garcia said. “It’s incredibly vital to increase funding for the delegation.”
He called the limited funding and lack of salary “challenging,” saying he often has to leave his full-time job in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia, to meet with other members of Congress to discuss statehood.
He also expressed concerns about the council’s tendency to “undo” action items passed by the commission that often makes him feel “accountable” to the mayor and council rather than independent.
When discussion came up about changing the commission’s name, it lacked the statutory authority to do it.
“I would note that in the history of Home Rule, until this commission was established, the public never saw the [delegation], the mayor, and the chairman of the council sitting together,” Mendelson said.
Strauss said the commission must help create unity between the delegation and executive and legislative branches.
“Here we all sit equally and all have an equal right to participate and vote,” he said. “Every office wants more money. I think the underlying consensus is we have a job to do.”

Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *