Why Eleanor Holmes Norton Is Optimistic About D.C. Statehood

Thirty years after the congresswoman’s statehood bill failed, she’s seeing a light at the end of the tunnel

Max Ufberg
GEN
Published in
5 min readMar 23, 2021

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Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton at a hearing on the District of Columbia statehood bill. Photo: Carlos Barria/Pool/Getty Images

On Monday, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing to discuss H.R. 51, the bill to give the District of Columbia statehood. Under the legislation, the federal city would change its name to Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, keeping the same D.C. initials but now honoring famed resident and abolitionist Frederick Douglass, instead of invoking a personification of America whose name derives from Christopher Columbus’s. The town known as everything from “Chocolate City” to “this town” would finally get two U.S. senators and one representative in the House.

The bill, like so many touching on life in Washington, is the work of Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s longtime nonvoting delegate, to address the inequities suffered by residents. Among them: They pay the highest federal taxes per capita in the United States, yet lack representation at the highest levels of government. Norton has been lobbying for statehood for much of her 30-year career in Congress, and H.R. 51 was actually approved by the House last year but never reached the then-GOP-led Senate. Even now, given that the Democrats lack the 60-vote threshold to avoid a filibuster, D.C. statehood faces long odds. Republicans have decried H.R. 51 as an unconstitutional effort to tip the electoral scales in Democrats’ favor, as D.C. residents overwhelmingly favor Democrats.

Norton spoke with GEN about seeking statehood for the city, why an earlier version of a statehood bill failed to pass the House 30 years ago, and how her own family’s history in the District affects her work in Congress.

GEN: Why is statehood such an important issue for D.C.?
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton:
Well, with H.R. 51, the District would be treated like every other state. You would have two senators, and Congress could never intervene in the District’s business, as Republicans seek now to do virtually every session by trying to override some bills or legislation passed by the District of Columbia. You can’t do that in, for example, our neighboring states, Maryland and Virginia. They can pass whatever they want. With statehood, the…

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Max Ufberg
GEN
Writer for

Writer and editor. Previously at Medium, Pacific Standard, Wired