Insider: Groups press Peters to pass D.C. statehood bill out of his committee

Nine Michigan groups are among over 100 that wrote to Sen. Gary Peters last week, urging him to hold a markup of a District of Columbia statehood bill and pass it out of his committee, despite its dim prospects in the full Senate. 

Peters chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which held a hearing on S51 in June — the first Senate hearing on statehood for the District of Columbia since 2014.

“This lack of representation (in Congress) for the residents of the city that serves as a beacon of freedom and democracy around the world is a stunning contradiction," Peters said at the hearing.

In this March 22, 2021, file photo advocates for statehood for the District of Columbia rally near the Supreme Court and Capitol prior to a House of Representatives hearing on creating a fifty-first state, in Washington.

But Peters' committee has not publicly returned to the legislation, which passed the House in the spring and has 46 sponsors in the Senate, including Peters. There's never been a markup of D.C. statehood legislation in the Senate.

"Senator Peters does have the opportunity to make history by bringing the D.C. statehood bill out of committee and making that path a reality, and it's important for Michiganders to know the fate of our democracy in D.C. statehood sits in his hands," said Jamal Holtz, a D.C. resident and lead organizer of the advocacy group 51 for 51.

Holtz's group led the letter to Peters on Thursday, calling the June hearing that Peters convened a "landmark" moment for the possibility of statehood and the potential for a vote in Congress for the nearly 700,000 people living in the capital, many of them Black and brown. 

"In order for our democracy to be fully representative, we must work together to make statehood a reality for the District’s 700,000 residents," the letter says. "As such, we now ask you to continue fulfilling your responsibilities as chairman of the HSGAC committee and hold a markup on this critical legislation."

The Michigan groups who signed include the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Detroit Action, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, the statewide Indivisible Michigan group, and the Women's March Ann Arbor. 

A committee aide said Friday that Peters is looking into holding additional hearings to hear from affected residents, veterans and other groups to continue building support for the legislation.

The bill calls for making D.C. the 51st state in the union, granting it a single representative and two senators. An area of the District covering the White House, the U.S. Capitol, Supreme Court, the National Mall and federal monuments would be retained as a federal district.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., chairs a Senate Homeland Security & Government Affairs Committee hearing at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021.

Proponents argue that the District has a bigger population than 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. 

The letter also highlights the delayed response by the D.C. National Guard to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building, saying the city's lack of autonomy contributed to the delay in deployment of troops to support police in crisis on Capitol Hill.

Statehood still faces long odds in the full Senate, with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, coming out against it earlier this year, saying a constitutional amendment is needed for it to happen.

And Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Arizona, who serves on Peters' committee, also hasn't indicated how she would vote on the legislation. Her office did not respond to a request for comment, but advocates for statehood noted that she has voted in support of other voting rights bills this session. 

Republicans largely argue against D.C. statehood, framing it as a Democratic attempt to add two Democratic senators and gain a stronger foothold in the 50-50 Senate. Republican Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin called the effort a “naked power grab" during the June hearing. 

GOP lawmakers have also argued that the city is unfit to be a state and that statehood for D.C. would be unconstitutional, noting the 23rd Amendment that allowed the district three electoral votes for president in the 1960s. 

Advocates of statehood say the issue is a matter of racial justice and voting rights.

"We're seeing an all out attack on voter rights. Republicans have proposed over 400 voter suppression bills across the country," Holtz said. 

"DC statehood is an essential part of protecting and expanding voting rights for Americans all across the country. We cannot continue to deny that for several 100,000 mostly Black and Brown residents in the District of Columbia."

Bishop considers House run

Former U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop told reporters last week that he's weighing another run for Congress, but that he's waiting to see how redistricting lines end up before deciding. 

Bishop, R-Rochester, lost his seat in Congress in 2018 to Democrat Elissa Slotkin, who is now in her second term. 

“I feel very optimistic about the direction the commission is going,” Bishop told The Hill, referring to the state's redistricting commission. “Realistically, I have to wait for them to conclude, and that’s just a function of time.”

Bishop indicated he'd likely look at the draft congressional district covering parts of Oakland and Macomb counties. That means his campaign wouldn't be a rematch with Slotkin of Holly, who has said she intends to move to the Lansing area to run in a district there.  

The commission's proposed maps have a 45-day public comment period before the panel holds a vote in late December.

U.S. Congressman Mike Bishop speaks to the crowd.

Bay City gets gas coupons from Enbridge

Enbridge Energy gave away more than $9,000 in $25 gas gift cards in Bay City Wednesday in an event that the company holds "from time to time all over the country."

"These are events we host on occasion across the country in places where we operate," said Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for the company. "Primarily, we want to educate the public about our role in providing energy to the community."

"With energy prices on the rise in the U.S., this year the gas cards are even more timely," the company added.

The company gave away $25 in gas at pumps in Escanaba in September and allowed the public to fill up 10-pound propane tanks in St. Ignace and Cheboygan in May. 

Environmental activists have questioned the motives behind Enbridge's giveaways, noting the company is raking in plenty of money by continuing to operate Line 5 against an order from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The legality of the order is being weighed in federal court.

"This is a cheap way for Enbridge to buy goodwill in the community while they violate state law and continue to operate unsafe pipelines," said Sean McBrearty, state legislative and policy director for Clean Water Action. 

The Wednesday giveaway came as the national spotlight on the company is becoming increasingly hotter as the U.S. tiptoes around its stance on the line following Canada's invocation of a 1977 treaty to stop Line 5's closure in the Straits of Mackinac. 

About a year ago, Whitmer revoked Line 5's easement through the straits and ordered the company to shutter the line by May 12. 

Both parties filed suit, allowing Enbridge to sail past the May 12 deadline while the complicated legal battle with international implications is sorted in court. 

Damoose escapes crash

State Rep. John Damoose and his family escaped unscathed this past week from a fiery crash in Northern Michigan. 

The Harbor Springs Republican was driving along U.S. 131 near Manton Sunday when he hit a deer and his car burst into flames, Damoose wrote on Facebook. 

Damoose, his wife and son ran from the car and waited for first responders with a family that had pulled off the roadway to help. 

Rep. Michele Hoitenga, a Manton Republican, picked up the family and took them home after the crash. 

"What we will never forget is the kindness shown by complete strangers and the firefighters and police who took control and brought the situation under control," he wrote.