The issue of statehood and voting representation for the District of Columbia seeped into the 2016 presidential race this week, when Republican candidate Donald Trump said he wouldn't mind allowing D.C. to have a vote in the House of Representatives.
"I think that’s something that would be okay," Trump told the Washington Post Editorial Board in an interview. "Having representation would be okay.
The business mogul stopped short of approving statehood for D.C., which would give the district two senators and control over its own laws and locally raised taxpayer funds.
"I think statehood is a tough thing for D.C.," Trump said. "It’s just something that I don’t think I’d be inclined to do."
As the D.C.'s signature "Taxation Without Representation" license plates bitterly complain, the nation's capitol has long had no real vote in Congress and very limited ability to govern itself. The District's sole voice in Congress, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), has only a ceremonial vote in the House of Representatives, and the U.S. Constitution grants Congress complete jurisdiction over D.C. This gives Congress the power to repeal D.C. laws and dictate how the District spends its own money, despite the fact that the Republican-controlled Congress does not share the values of D.C.'s 75-percent-Democratic population.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), despite being a strong advocate for local rights over federal rights, exercised his power over D.C. in 2015 when he tried to overturn two of the District's anti-discrimination laws. The Republican presidential hopeful introduced a bill to allow religious employers in D.C. to fire women due to reproductive health decisions, such as becoming pregnant outside of marriage. Cruz's bill passed the House, but never came to a vote in the Senate. Republicans in Congress have also introduced legislation to limit abortion rights in D.C. and to block legal marijuana.
James Jones, communications director for DC Vote -- a nonprofit organization that advocates for statehood -- said the idea of giving D.C. real home rule, budget autonomy and a pair of senators is not absurd, considering that two other U.S. states with full representation, Vermont and Wyoming, have smaller populations than the District.
"We're not asking for anything special," Jones told The Huffington Post. "We would have the same rights as other Americans."
Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton both publicly support full D.C. statehood. Sanders co-sponsored a D.C. statehood bill in the Senate last year, the New Columbia Admission Act, which has no chance of becoming law as long as Republicans control Congress.
While Cruz has not publicly addressed the issue of statehood in the current presidential election, his attempts in the Senate to upend D.C. laws strongly suggest that he opposes autonomy for the District. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) voted against granting D.C. statehood as a U.S. congressman in 1993. Neither campaign responded to a request for comment.
The GOP's reasons for opposing statehood and representation are fairly obvious: it would be politically detrimental to them. Allowing left-leaning D.C. to have a meaningful vote in the House and to send two new senators to Congress would mean adding three more Democrats to the nation's governing body. And the Constitution explicitly gives Congress power to veto D.C.'s laws and budget.
The American public has also not come around to the idea that D.C. should be its own state. A 2014 Rasmussen poll found that only one-quarter of voters support statehood for the District, while 58 percent of voters oppose it.
Jones hopes to be able to educate presidential candidates and the public about the issue, starting with Trump. He said the fact that Trump is even talking about D.C. representation issues in this election is a step in the right direction for the statehood movement.
"At the very least, he recognizes the injustice," Jones said. "That is a good starting point for a discussion."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that 91 percent of Washington D.C.'s population are Democrats, when in fact 75 percent are.