Officials On Both Side Of D.C. Border Shun Retrocession

By TAYLOR LINCOLN
Capital News Service
Thursday, March 5, 1998

ANNAPOLIS - Amid the debate on Puerto Rican statehood, House Speaker Newt Gingrich revived an old idea to give Washington, D.C., representation in Congress -- give most of the district back to Maryland.

But neither Maryland nor district officials appear to have much interest in being part of such an arranged marriage.

"The people of D.C. don't want to live in Maryland and, frankly, the people of Maryland don't seem to want Washington, D.C., as part of their state," said Paul Strauss, the district's non-voting representative in the Senate.

Strauss' sentiments were shared by numerous officials in Maryland, which gave up the land for the federal district in 1791.

"No way," said state Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery. "We have the tremendous problems of one big city, Baltimore, and I think we need to tend to them before we bring in D.C."

Not everyone is sour on the idea. Lawrence Mirel belongs to the Committee for the Capital City, an organization that seeks to bring full congressional representation to the district.

"Maryland would become the home of the nation's capital," said Mirel. "It's got to be good for Maryland."

Rep. Robert Ehrlich, R-Lutherville, doesn't think so. He cited the district's financial problems in a letter to constituents last year that outlined his opposition to a congressional bill to cede the district to Maryland.

"Years of fiscal management and failed social policy have exacted a heavy toll on the district .... Pushing it onto the taxpayers of Maryland is short-sighted and unfair," Ehrlich wrote.

Versions of the retrocession bill, sponsored by Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, have languished in congressional committees for years.

That seems just fine with Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who says retrocession "doesn't make any sense at all."

"What they're really trying to do is try to pass off their financial obligations" for the district, he said. "If they wanted to solve the representation question they could very easily give the congresswoman from D.C. the right to vote."

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the city's non-voting representative in Congress, wants no part of a reunion with Maryland, either. She wants the district to have the chance to run itself, without its current federal stewardship.

"Congresswoman Norton does not support retrocession," said her spokeswoman, Donna Brazile. "She supports statehood."

While he also opposes retrocession, Rep. Benjamin Cardin, D- Baltimore, favors a constitutional amendment that would let district residents elect their own senators and congressional representatives without becoming a state.

Maryland was one of 16 states that backed a constitutional amendment that would have done that, but the amendment died in 1985 after it failed to win the support of the necessary three- fourths of the states.

To Sen. Richard Colburn, R-Dorchester, who introduced a bill this session for the Eastern Shore to secede from Maryland, the idea of the state taking back the district has no merit.

"It would further complicate things for the citizens of the Eastern Shore," he said. "All that it would do is lessen our representation in Annapolis, and there would be even greater tyranny because we would really be ruled in the legislature by (the Baltimore-Washington D.C. corridor)."

Strauss said he was hopeful that the Puerto Rican statehood resolution, which passed the House by one vote Wednesday, would revive the D.C. statehood dreams.

Because Puerto Rico is thought to be predominantly Republican, he reasoned, it might open the door for the mostly Democratic district to get admitted as a state.

"Hopefully when we get it over to the Senate, we could get D.C. included," he said. "It may be that for cultural and racial balance, states that come in have to come in pairs."

But Strauss said he was envious of the support given to the Puerto Rican question, which would allow the residents of the island to decide if they want to become a state.

"I think Newt Gingrich should do for D.C. what he seems willing to do for Puerto Rico, which is give the citizens of D.C. the right to choose," he said.

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