Two School of Public Affairs freshmen are working to raise awareness about D.C. statehood on campus.
Josh Matfess and Anthony Szewczyk, both SPA freshmen, co-founded a D.C. Statehood chapter last semester at AU to raise awareness about the District’s non-state status.
The process of achieving statehood is outlined in Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. The District has to petition Congress and draft a democratic constitution to achieve statehood, according to dc.gov. Congress must then approve statehood by a simple majority, and the president must sign the bill.
The federal government gives D.C. a “second-class citizenship,” Matfess said, because:
• D.C. doesn’t have voting representation in Congress
• Congress can overturn D.C. legislation.
• The D.C. budget has to be approved by Congress every year.
• D.C.’s number of electors in the Electoral College is not based on D.C.’s population.
Matfess and Szewczyk said they were inspired to start the group after meeting D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and shadow senator Paul Strauss last semester for their “Politics in the U.S.” course with Professor Karen O’Connor.
Every two years, D.C. residents elect two shadow senators who advocate for statehood but are not officially sworn in or formally recognized by the Senate, according to dc.gov.
Both Gray and Strauss, an AU alumnus, spoke to the students about the movement to establish D.C. as a state during a meeting at Gray’s office.
“They [Gray and Strauss] talked about how they wanted to get college kids involved and more young people involved in the cause,” Szewczyk said.
Matfess and Szewczyk have brought Strauss and Pete Ross, a candidate for shadow senator, to campus to speak about how college students can be more active in this issue.
“[Strauss] gave them a good background and talked a little bit about how he might want to address the issue and how we should be moving forward,” Matfess said.
Matfess and Szewczyk have also been working to engage the campus in their cause. Their Facebook group, Students for DC Statehood (AU), has 38 members.
They have coordinated with the Community Service Coalition and the AU and George Washington University chapters of student advocacy group DC Students Speak. Matfess has worked with D.C. Vote and the GW-based D.C. Statehood Students Association. D.C. Vote is trying to build a District-wide student effort for D.C. statehood.
Matfess and Szewczyk have discovered support for D.C. statehood is not universal across the AU campus.
On March 4, four Student Government senators voted against a proposal advocating for D.C. voting rights, The Eagle previously reported.
Matfess brought the proposal to Student Government Senator-At-Large Joe Wisniewski and urged him to propose a resolution backing the movement.
The Undergraduate Senate passed the resolution 16-4.
Opponents of the resolution argued that such an addition to Congress could upset the current political balance.
“If you’re going to create two whole new senators, that is a massive deal at the federal level,” Class of 2012 Sen. Roger Deming said at the SG Senate hearing. “The amount of power a single senator has over control of not just policy in different areas, but also national policy, is immense. So I’m always kind of hesitant that we want to go down this route because the influence they have over other national policies by virulent fact that the capital resides within their borders.”
Szewcyzk said partisanship was the main reason behind opposition to D.C. statehood. Because the District is mostly Democratic, Republicans would not want to see two D.C. senators and one representative join Congress, Szewcyzk said.
But he called this argument “unfounded.”
“When Alaska and Hawaii came into the Union, it was assumed that Alaska would always be overwhelmingly Democratic and Hawaii was overwhelmingly Republican at the time,” Szewcyzk said. “But now, obviously, just 50 years later, it’s the opposite.”