DC voters endorse statehood; GOP gains make it less likely

WASHINGTON (AP) — The long-shot effort to make the District of Columbia the nation's 51st state marked a milestone and suffered a major setback, Mayor Muriel Bowser acknowledged Wednesday as she discussed her mixed feelings about the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress.

Nearly four of every five voters in the nation's capital gave their support to a statehood referendum on Tuesday. The District also voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton, who won its three electoral votes with just over 90 percent of the vote.

Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 12-to-1 in the nation's capital, and most Republicans oppose statehood for both Constitutional and practical reasons: Making the District a state would dramatically shift the balance of power by all but guaranteeing two new Senate seats for Democrats. Still, city leaders hoped that a Democratic president and gains by Democrats in Congress would make the climate more favorable for statehood.

"Part of our strategy was to be ready when we had like-minded people elected in the White House and in the Congress," Bowser said. "We are prepared for that day when it comes."

Bowser said Trump would have to work to mend relationships in a city where 93 percent of voters wanted someone else to be president. Hillary Clinton also won Maryland and Virginia, and the immediate suburbs of Washington in both states are Democratic strongholds.

"Many of our residents are anxious, are angry, and are hurting," Bowser said.

Bowser, too, has been vocal about her dislike of Trump. She called his comments about immigrants "idiotic," and while she attended the groundbreaking of his Washington hotel, she skipped its grand-opening festivities. However, she said she would welcome him to his new home and attend his inaugural festivities.

Michael D. Brown, one of the city's elected "shadow senators" — who are essentially unpaid lobbyists for statehood — said advocates should alter their approach after the Republican triumphs.

"We need a nationwide PR plan, because we need to take our fight to the people," Brown said, urging the city to make a major funding commitment to its advocacy efforts. Bowser said the city needs to debate how much money should be poured into that effort.

The other shadow senator, Paul Strauss, pointed out that Vice President-elect Mike Pence was one of a few Republicans who supported a 2009 bill to give the District's delegate to Congress a vote on the House floor. Trump, too, has said that while he doesn't support statehood, a vote in the House for the District "would be OK."

With the statehood referendum, voters endorsed a draft constitution that would have the city's 670,000 residents electing a governor, not a mayor, and a 21-seat state legislature instead of a city council. The constitution includes borders for the proposed state, with the White House, the Capitol and the National Mall carved out as a separate federal enclave.

Congress could admit the District into the union simply by voting to approve the document. Despite its bleak prospects, Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said they would respect the will of the voters and submit it to Congress for consideration.

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Follow Ben Nuckols on Twitter at https://twitter.com/APBenNuckols.

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