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100 groups press Sen. Gary Peters to hold hearing on D.C. statehood

More than 100 groups, including the Michigan American Civil Liberties Union, are urging U.S. Sen. Gary Peters to set a date for a hearing on D.C. statehood. 

In a letter led by the advocacy group 51 for 51, they note that the legislation in the Senate has more co-sponsors than ever at 44, including Peters. A companion bill passed the U.S. House last month along party lines, and the White House has said it supports the legislation. 

But to be considered in the Senate, the measure must first pass through the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, which Peters chairs. 

Chairman Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., speaks during a Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hybrid nominations hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, April 22, 2021, to consider the nominees for Postal Service Governors.

"D.C. statehood has seldom gotten the time of day deserves in the Senate, and Chairman Peters would make history by holding a hearing in his committee on S. 51," said Stasha Rhodes, campaign director for 51 for 51. 

"Washingtonians have waited for over 200 years for voting representation in Congress, and this moment can't be wasted," she added. "We decided to make it a public ask to Chairman Peters to have a hearing on D.C. statehood to ensure that it's not put on the back burner, but that it's a priority for this Congress."

In addition to the ACLU of Michigan, other Michigan groups that signed onto the letter include Neighbors Organizing for Power & Equality, Our Revolution Michigan, and Women's March Ann Arbor.

A committee aide said this week that Peters plans to hold a hearing "in the coming months to hear from stakeholders and review the legislation." 

Rhodes is confident that Peters is "going to stand up for this," she said, "but we have not yet had a hearing date confirmed yet, and so this is our attempt to make a public plea to make sure it happens."

Stasha Rhodes is campaign director of 51 for 51, which is urging U.S. Sen. Gary Peters to set a date for a hearing on D.C. statehood.

The bill calls for making the District of Columbia the 51st state in the union, bestowing it a single representative and two senators. A small area of the city — the White House, the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, the National Mall and federal monuments — would be retained as a federal district.

The new state would be called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, after the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

Proponents note that the District has larger population that two states (Wyoming and Vermont), that residents pay federal taxes and serve in the military, yet have no vote in Congress — a body which can effectively veto or amend locally passed laws. 

But statehood for the District will take a fight in the Senate. The letter to Peters comes days after Sen. Joe Manchin III, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia and a swing vote in the Senate, dealt a setback to statehood advocates in saying he opposes the bill that would make the District a state, arguing that a constitutional amendment is needed instead.

And it's unclear whether even all the Democrats on Peters' panel support statehood, with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona not signaling how she'll vote. Sinema is one of the few Democratic senators who has not co-sponsored the bill.

Republicans have largely opposed D.C. statehood, with the expectation that the new state would be mostly Democratic. They have argued that the city is unfit to be a state, and that the Founders didn't intend it to be one. 

Advocates like Rhodes talk about statehood as a racial justice and voting rights issue for the District, which has seen explosive growth of 15% in the last decade to nearly 690,000 people, according to the 2020 census. 

"Yes, this is, in fact, an effort to add two more seats in the Senate that will represent over 700,000 people who pay federal taxes, and who deserve access to the democracy that surrounds them, right?" said Rhodes, who has been a D.C. resident since 2016.

"From our perspective at 51 for 51, this is the most urgent civil rights fight of our time. If DC becomes a state, it would be the nation's only plurality Black state, and to deny so many residents of color access to voting rights and democracy is an incredible stain on our democracy."

Rana Elmir, acting executive director of the ACLU Michigan, said every state, including Michigan, should do its part in the cause, "and Chairman Peters sits in a key position to help right this historic wrong by holding a hearing for S.51." 

"The only way to ensure the full and equal rights for the people of D.C. is through statehood," she said. 

Daunt to join redistricting group

Republican state canvasser Tony Daunt is leaving the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund to lead a watchdog group that will monitor Michigan's new independent redistricting process. 

Daunt will become executive director for Fair and Independent Redistricting Maps, a group working to ensure the state's new commission "reflects the diversity of Michigan's population" and "serves the interests of all Michigan residents."

“Voters backed this redistricting process because they want to get the politics out of redistricting," Daunt said. "To their credit, we’ve seen the commission wisely reject most Republican and Democratic job candidates, but that commitment to independence cannot waver for even a moment.” 

Tony Daunt is leaving the Michigan Freedom Fund to head up a new group called Fair and Independent Redistricting Maps.

Daunt was appointed as one of two Republican members to the bipartisan Board of State Canvassers earlier this year by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. 

Established through a voter initiative in 2018, the Michigan Independent Redistricting Commission has already started meeting and will begin this week holding its first public hearings. 

The 13-member group — made up of four Republicans, four Democrats and five non-affiliated members — will redraw the voting boundaries this year for congressional and state House and Senate seats. The redistricting process previously was completed every 10 years by the party in power when new census figures are released.