D.C. looks to get House vote - with Utah's help

Legislation » Passage looks good for early next year.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah likely will play a key role in obtaining voting rights for the District of Columbia's 600,000 residents, even if some Utah officials are wary of the effort.

Legislation to give the heavily Democratic District of Columbia its first full-voting member is once again expected to be coupled with a fourth U.S. House seat for Republican Utah.

The legislation could quickly move through the next Congress and to incoming President Barack Obama's desk early next year. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a proponent, says it's a "foregone conclusion" that the state will be instrumental in the effort.

"There are going to be some voices in opposition, but the structure is set as far as the numbers and political will for this to happen," Huntsman said in an interview Friday.

The nation's capital now has only a non-voting delegate representing residents in Congress, which ultimately controls the city's budget. Washingtonians have long sought more representation and are hopeful that teaming up with Utah would make the effort politically neutral and more palatable.

With Democrats emboldened by stronger majorities in the House and Senate, and a supportive incoming administration, supporters may get their wish as soon as February.

Huntsman says he is committed to helping the district get a member and to make sure Utah gets full representation as well.

"From the beginning, we have weighed in with a very supportive voice," Huntsman said. "We'll continue to do whatever it is we can in support of it."

However, Rep.-elect Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who replaced Rep. Chris Cannon, opposes the move on constitutional grounds, and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop isn't on board, either. They join at least one skeptic in the state Legislature.

State Senate President-elect Mike Waddoups says he favors the idea to give back populated parts of the district to Maryland so residents could get representation that way.

"My understanding is that Congress represents the States, and D.C. is not a state," Waddoups said.

But those objections, in the end, may not matter much.

The House passed the bill overwhelmingly last year, 241-177, and the Senate fell only three votes shy of heading to final passage. Democrats, for the most part, backed the bill, while many Republicans fought it.

This time around, Democrats will have 30-plus more members in the House and at least six more Senate seats.

Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Vote, the main lobbying group pushing for congressional representation, says the plan now is to reintroduce the voting-rights bill in January and try to push it through -- perhaps as soon as Feb. 12, Abraham Lincoln's birthday.

"The most likely bill to be enacted into law is the bill that almost got through last year," Zherka says.

Incoming Utah House Speaker Dave Clark isn't a big fan of the effort, either, but he says that if the District of Columbia is getting a member of Congress, Utah might was well get more representation as well.

"Politically it appears right now that D.C. may be getting this seat anyway, and if that's the case, then I would say, absolutely, it's in Utah's best interest if it can get one anyway," Clark said.