PIERRE, S.D. — While the U.S. Senate met in Washington, D.C., on Monday, a committee of the South Dakota State Senate nearly 1,500 miles away in Pierre had a message for the other capital city's residents: no statehood.
Eight members of the state affairs committee voted Jan. 25 to adopt a resolution calling on South Dakota's federal delegation to oppose efforts in the Democratically-controlled Congress to achieve state-status for the District of Columbia and the capital's nearly 700,000 residents.
Senate Majority Whip Jim Bolin, a Republican representing Union County, introduced his measure with testimony that since the "early days of our Republic" the District was "designed to be a separate land area" housing the nation's seat of government.
"No area that small should be considered to become a state," said Bolin, noting that Rhode Island — currently the nation's smallest state geographically — is "eighteen times larger than" D.C.
Senate Minority Leader Troy Heinert, the lone opposing voice, observed that South Dakota's own population — 884,659 according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau — was "not that far off" from the population of that city along the Potomac River (692,683). Heinert also said he felt like the bill smacked of partisan politics.
"I think if the people of District of Columbia can make the case to Congress as to why they should be a state, then let them make it," said Heinert, a Democrat from Mission, S.D. "And our senators and representatives can vote on that after hearing that testimony."
Republican Sen. Michael Diedrich, of Rapid City, said that while D.C.'s population was "extremely small" in its early days, he thinks "the intent from that time was to create a zone that was not a political unit."
Ultimately, the resolution passed by an 8-1 margin on party lines and now proceeds to the senate floor.
Senate Concurrent Resolution 601 arrives amid increasing calls from Democrats for D.C. to be the 51st state. Statehood would grant D.C. two members of the U.S. Senate and a full member of the House of Representatives, with all three likely to caucus with Democrats.
Bolin's measure alludes to a strong preference among District voters for the Democratic presidential ticket. In taking questions, the senator said South Dakota's own George McGovern received the softest support of the District's voters at just over 78% in the 1972 presidential election.
With or without a resolution, South Dakota's all-Republican delegation may not need convincing to oppose a D.C. statehood measure. A spokeswoman for Rep. Dusty Johnson said in an email that the congressman is "leading efforts" against D.C. statehood.
In October, Johnson proposed merging D.C. with adjacent Maryland suburbs for voting purposes ensuring the city's residents have representation in Congress, saying "Congress should consider alternatives that not only make sense for the residents of D.C. but also for the nation as a whole."
Earlier this month, D.C.'s non-voting-delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, reintroduced a bill with over 200 co-sponsors that would see D.C. become the nation's 51st state. A similar bill passed the U.S. House last summer but never received a vote in the U.S. Senate.
Norton's bill proposes shrinking the federal district called for in the U.S. Constitution down to property comprising the U.S. Capitol west across the National Mall and up to the White House, leaving the city's eight wards as the new state. The state would be called Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, in honor of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who made his home in the city.
Norton and other supporters of statehood for the city that emblazons license plates with "Taxation without Representation" have cast efforts as a civil rights effort, calling for "full and equal citizenship" for a city that grew in population with freed-slaves following the Civil War.
On Monday, a spokesperson for Norton, a Democrat, told Forum News Service that D.C.'s population is larger than both Vermont and Wyoming and that the city's residents "pay more per capita in federal taxes than residents of any other jurisdiction."
D.C. does have three electoral college votes. Over 92% of D.C. voters cast ballots for Democrat Joe Biden in November's presidential election.