Salena Zito

Shadow senators are nothing new. The practice dates back to 1796 when Tennessee, then a territory, sent elected “shadow senators” to lobby for statehood.

The push for D.C. statehood is both passionate and gimmicky. Right now, a city measure is underway to ceremonially rename the country’s most celebrated street, Pennsylvania Avenue, to bring attention to it.

“We are thinking something like, “Give DC Statehood Avenue,” to be used as a ceremonial street sign that could be placed under existing signs for Pennsylvania Avenue,” Strauss said.

The idea underscores the mixed message: Are they serious or chasing windmills?

Experts disagree on whether the district should achieve statehood. U.S. Senate historian Donald Ritchie said, “You’d think a democracy would be embarrassed to have a half-million of its citizens disenfranchised.”

Ritchie’s argument is that, by setting aside a capital district, the authors of the Constitution clearly expected the area to have a population.

Historian Jeff Brauer disagrees: “From the Framers’ viewpoint, the idea was the capital city would be a federal district … (not) part of any state, and a district that would not be a state itself.”

The Framers, he says, feared that if the capital city was within a state, or if its citizens had full representation as a state, it and they would have too much access to federal power.

“They saw it as more of a place of transition, not of permanence … especially since the ideal was a citizen government with a high turnover rate,” Brauer says.

The federal government also was expected to play a relatively small role back then. Therefore, a huge bureaucracy with lots of public workers living in the district was not anticipated.

So the district’s original purpose was to be the federal government’s seat – and not much more.

As for Strauss, he said his job is not without its advantages: “I do get to walk in parades.”


Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.