News & Politics

At Very Anti-DC Republican Convention, DC Statehood Activists Claim Mike Pence as One of Their Own

Photograph via iStock.

The District has had a rough week at the Republican National Convention, and not just because of the generic, freeform Washington-bashing coming from the podium. The party platform adopted by delegates in Cleveland is aggressively against DC’s attempts to claim more autonomy for itself, railing against local officials’ efforts to control the potential impacts of Supreme Court decisions relaxing the city’s gun laws, calling it beset by “chronic corruption,” and suggesting that an effort to assert autonomy over the local budget “mirrors the unacceptable spike in violent crime and murders currently afflicting the city.”

And on Tuesday, during the roll-call vote, the 19 members of DC’s delegation—all of whom were pledged to Ohio Governor John Kasich or Florida Senator Marco Rubio—saw their votes awarded to Donald Trump because of hitches in party rules.

But amid a crowd mostly disposed toward their disenfranchisement, supporters of DC statehood and voting rights in the Quicken Loans Arena attempted Wednesday night to remind their fellow convention-goers they had an ally in the man giving the second-most important speech of the evening: Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the party’s nominee for vice president.

District delegates and volunteers brought in by Paul Strauss, a member of the District’s “shadow” delegation to Congress, distributed fliers on the convention floor featuring a statement Pence made in support of 2007 while he was a member of the House. Pence was one of the few Republicans to come out in vocal support of the DC Voting Rights bill introduced that year. The flier includes passages of his floor speech in favor of the bill:

I do rise in support of H.R. 1905, the District of Columbia Voting Rights Act of 2007. The fact that more than half a million Americans living in the District of Columbia are denied a single voting representative in Congress is clearly a historic wrong. The single overarching principle of the American founding was that laws should be based upon the consent of the governed. The first generation of Americans threw tea in Boston Harbor because they were denied a voting representative in the national legislature in England. Given their commitment to representative democracy, it is inconceivable to me that our Founders would have been willing to accept the denial of representation to so great a throng of Americans in perpetuity. Judge Kenneth Starr, the former Independent Counsel and U.S. Solicitor General observed: ‘‘There is nothing in our Constitution’s history or its fundamental principles suggesting that the Framers intended to deny the precious right to vote to those who live in the capital of the great democracy that they founded.’’ It is my privilege to stand today, albeit in opposition to some of my most cherished colleagues, and stand in support of the D.C. Voting Rights bill.

Pence has not commented on statehood or voting rights in the nine years since the bill—which passed the House but fizzled in the Senate—came up. His new boss, Trump, suggested last fall he might be open to DC statehood, but then told the Washington Post in May he opposes the notion.

But Strauss and other statehood advocates plan to milk Pence’s past statements as much as they can. “When we heard Pence was the vice-presidential pick, that was the impetus that made us expand our outreach here,” he tells Washingtonian by phone from Cleveland.

Strauss and the Creative Coalition hosted a lunch on Tuesday attended by Mayor Muriel Bowser and members of the DC delegation. (He says a Post report that only a single District delegate attended was “total bullshit.”) He also says he has reason to believe Trump may flip his position on statehood gain.

I was just at a breakfast with Omarosa”—referring to Omarosa Manigault, a contestant on the first season of The Apprentice—”who said she supports DC statehood and thinks he will too,” Strauss says.

In the mean time, Strauss believes the Pence fliers—which will be distributed again tonight—will be news to most Republican delegates. “I don’t think they knew before,” Strauss says.

Scannable Document on Jul 20, 2016, 10-47-46 PM by Benjamin Freed on Scribd

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.