[from August 2001 issue]


That's right--George Bush just shot us the bird, as they say down his way. We haven't heard a peep from Mayor Williams or members of the city council about how outrageous it is that the Attorney General has tapped a law professor from the University of Kansas to be the new U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

We have no doubt that Professor Roscoe C. Howard, Jr. is a fine legal scholar and a lawyer of genuine competence. And, he did spend a substantial portion of his previous professional career working in (but not living in, as far as we know) and around DC at prestigious law firms, for the Federal Trade Commission, and in the U.S. Attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia. He even worked for the U.S. Attorney for the District in the mid-1980s handling repeat offender cases in Superior Court. No question about his competence. Nothing personal, as they say.

The question is about the regressive symbolism of the Republican administration completely ignoring the wishes of our tireless Congressional Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, to be given the same courtesy as is accorded the states when it comes to the picking of U.S. Attorneys. This, despite the establishment eight years ago by President Clinton of what was hoped would be an enduring tradition to treat DC like a state for this purpose. And it worked beautifully.

Mrs. Norton established a consultative procedure involving the local bar and others having responsibility for law enforcement and out of that came first-rate short lists which resulted in the ultimate appointment of Eric H. Holder, Jr. and, following his later move to the Department of Justice, Wilma A. Lewis--both who had served with great distinction and were among the finest of this country's 94 U.S. Attorneys.

It's just politics, we are told. But it's the wrong kind of politics. It's the politics of small-minded meanness directed once again by federal overlords at over a half-million U.S. citizens who have no voting representation in Congress (only Mrs. Norton's persuasive, albeit non-voting, voice to stem the tides against us), and yet we have a population greater than 6 states and remit to the federal treasury an amount of tax dollars equivalent to the third-highest federal income tax, per capita. Nevertheless, we are given the shaft by the very same politicians whose salaries we help subsidize!

Mrs. Norton, along with the mayor and the council's chair, Linda Cropp, did make a strong pitch to President Bush that the system put into by the prior administration be retained. But they--and us half-million plus taxpaying citizens were ignored. So much for our local Republican party stalwarts bragging about how they have lines to the national Republican leadership. We are no better off than in the bad old days.

What these people--meaning the White House crowd and their cronies on the Hill--continue to perpetuate is intolerable and has got to be remedied. Statehood is not necessarily the answer, but at a very minimum federal legislation needs to be enacted to give us the right to participate in sensitive federal law enforcement appointments that directly affect the District of Columbia. This is even more important now that we have turned over to the feds the responsibility for operating our correctional system.

Nor do we believe the answer is to petition the United Nations, as some are doing. Yes, this lack of voting rights is a bizarre anomaly, but with substantial grass-roots pressure aimed at fellow citizens and their legislators in the state capitals, we might very well obtain the right result. Already, this summer's "blitz" aimed at tourists here in DC, inspired by the very feisty Mrs. Norton, seems to be making an impact well beyond the Beltway. We have heard that more than one state legislature is lining up behind us.

We need all of us who live here to be constantly spreading the word of our sorry status. It can have an impact. For example, back in June we had the pleasure of spending a few days in Southern Illinois and around the St Louis area. Many people with whom we spoke were clearly appalled about this lack of voting representation--and these were not your usual "bleeding heart/limousine liberal" types--these were just plain, fairly conservative (in the "good" sense) folk who had real jobs in "small town" America. They recognize the injustice of us not having the vote.

We truly believe that we have a vast silent majority of potential supporters out there in "middle America"--but we need to tap into their consciousness more effectively. But it can be done; a story that had appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch shortly before our visit had been read by a surprising number of people living well east of the Mississippi, people who clearly were genuinely troubled by what they read.