WASHINGTON - The issue of D.C. statehood creeps up every so often and sometimes it reaches a fevered pitch only to fade out after a short time. This topic doesn’t hit the national stage often, but it did on HBO's “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
He gave a 17-minute lesson on the issue, the history behind it and it seems to be hitting a nerve.
In the nation’s capital, when you say, “taxation without representation,” people know what you are talking about. Just look at D.C. license plates.
But now, the comedian is trying to educate the nation.
“Because think about it, they pay for their taxes and fight in wars and yet have no member of Congress who is able to vote on their behalf even though their population is larger than Vermont and Wyoming and their gross domestic product is higher than that of 16 states,” said Oliver.
Facts like that are catching some by surprise and we showed Oliver’s segment on the National Mall to get reaction from tourists visiting D.C.
“If you pay your taxes, you should have representation,” said one tourist. “You should have somebody there speaking for the people.”
“That's not fair and probably should be changed,” said another.
In fact, as Oliver pointed out, we are the only democracy in the world that does this.
“When the Dalai Lama came to visit, he wondered why a small pocket of people living in the world’s champion of democracy lacked full voting rights -- calling it ‘quite strange, quite strange,’” Oliver said.
He also described D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's power in Congress as "pretend power." Oliver even resurrected one of her finest moments in her fight for D.C. statehood back in 2009 when Norton said she would not yield in her speech on the House floor.
“If they got as far as having someone in Congress, what's the reason for limiting that?” one person asked us.
“These are really important questions that should be addressed,” said another person we spoke with on the National Mall.
The problem could be resolved by an act of Congress, but with the help of the clips from the FOX 5 archive, Oliver laid it all out this way:
“Last year, Congress held its first hearing on D.C. statehood in 21 years and the turnout was not encouraging,” he said.
He then showed a clip of FOX 5’s Matt Ackland telling us that only two senators showed up to listen to testimony.
“Only two turned up -- that’s not just a pathetic attendance for a hearing on Capitol Hill,” said Oliver. “That would be pathetic for a 1-year-old's birthday party.”
This past January, Del. Norton reintroduced the New Columbia Admission Act in the House of Representatives in a renewed effort to go after statehood. They got a record number of co-sponsors, but it will be some time before it goes before Congress.