It’s 4:38 Friday afternoon leading into the Fourth of July weekend, Washingtonians are fleeing for higher ground or sea level spots on the sand — and Kevin Kiger is glued to the phone in his downtown office, plotting ways to make the District of Columbia the setting for the new Democratic caucus that would take place before the New Hampshire primary.
"We have a good shot," Kiger tells me. The Democratic National Committee has asked for formal applications from states. "We’re up against 10 others."
Let’s be honest: It’s a long shot. D.C. usually gets no respect. But Kiger and the team at DC Vote are used to facing long odds.
Since the organization started in 1998, it has been leading the uphill struggle to gain voting rights in Congress for the 550,000 disenfranchised residents of the nation’s capital.
So today, as we commemorate our nation’s independence, how can we celebrate when the capital city is still not free? If you reside in Maryland or Virginia, you have two senators and at least one congressman. We have one nonvoting delegate.
Perhaps you will trek down to the mall to take in the fireworks. Look back at the majestic white dome atop the two halls of Congress. For D.C. residents, it symbolizes our lack of power.
Many of our suburban brethren scoff at the notion that District residents deserve a vote in Congress, as if we were undeserving squatters in the federal enclave. Do we not pay taxes? Send our young to fight wars? Work in the government?
Today members of DC Vote will march in the Fourth of July parades in Palisades and Capitol Hill. But the group’s substantive work this month will be in the halls of Congress, where the DC Voting Rights Act, H.R. 5388, is up for a crucial vote in the Judiciary Committee.
"We are looking for support from the majority of Republicans on the committee," says Kiger, DC Vote’s communications director. And sponsors for companion legislation in the Senate.
The bill, which would expand the House of Representatives to 437 members and give a full vote to D.C., is supported by 40 groups here and around the country. Kiger says a half dozen faith-based groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals, back the bill.
"They say ‘Hey, this is just plain wrong: If we are going to be the democracy we claim to be, we should try living up to that,’ " Kiger says.
Kiger and the group’s six-member staff have three weeks to convince a DNC panel to recommend the District to hold the key presidential caucus between the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary. Why go to the trouble, especially when the DNC rebuked D.C. for holding a non-binding primary before the 2004 election?
"Because it meant hundreds of media stories about our vote," Kiger says, "and every story mentioned that D.C. has no voting representation in Congress."
Actually, D.C. might win this caucus. Guess who won the non-binding vote on 2004? Howard Dean. Guess who’s running the DNC now?
Howard Dean.Harry Jaffe has been covering the Washington area since 1985. E-mail him at email@example.com.