Joseph Carter: House action ensures 4 million U.S. citizens have no vote
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The fifth resolution before the U.S. House of Representatives in its first meeting in January was overwhelmingly defeated along a pure party-line vote of 238 Republicans saying “no” and 160 Democrats nodding “yes.”

The issue affected the five “nonvoting” members of Congress representing four Trust Territories and the District of Columbia. House Resolution 5 would have amended the rules and extended the right to vote on final passage of bills. This right remains only with the 435 members of Congress who represent the 50 states.

In defeating the measure, more than four million persons living under federal law remain without a vote in either the U.S. Senate or U.S. House of Representatives on matters that affect them the same as all other taxpaying American citizens.

Extending democracy to these areas under total control of federal law long has been championed by Democrats and, in recent years, fought by partisan Republicans. Unbiased observers over the years said the status was both a cause and an effect.

Currently, four of the five “nonvoting delegates” are Democrats. Nonvoting Rep. Luis Fortuno of Puerto Rico is a Republican. His partisanship is not unlike the majority controlling the 113th U.S. Congress.

Like his four counterparts, he simply cannot cast a final vote on matters governing his constituents. These five are little more than lobbyists with committee votes and privileges of the floor until House votes are cast.

The “nonvoting” delegate concept started in 1794 to allow a limited status for members from western areas that expected to become states. The question of allowing votes by the five House members from the Territories and District of Columbia remains a modern partisan issue these 220 years later.

Republicans long have led the denial, observers claim. That stance undoubtedly has fed a view by voters in the territories and the District of Columbia that Democrats care about the injustice dumped on their heads. That breeds the cause-effect status.

Extending the right to vote was once described by current Republican House Speaker John Boehner as “an outrageous grab of power by the majority.” That was back when Democrats were in control of the House. At the same time, in contrast, Missouri Republican Roy Blunt said denying the vote amounted to “representation without taxation.” Blunt was correct. Boehner defended Republican interests.

Beyond Republican Fortuno, the four Democratic delegates are as American as apple pie.

Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa is a U.S. Army veteran who has been a delegate for a quarter of a century, rising to chair of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific in Foreign Affairs. However, the chairman is not allowed to vote on bills that his subcommittee passed when the measure reaches the House floor for a vote to enact into law.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate for the District of Columbia, is a Yale-educated lawyer who champions statehood for the nation’s capital, adding two U.S. senators along with a proportionate number of voting House members. In varying degrees, Congress repeatedly has vetoed decisions reached by locally elected D.C. officials and tightly control the purse strings of the nation’s capital. Statehood is an old issue long denied to people residing in Washington D.C., a city with a large population of African Americans.

Madeleine Bordallo of Guam is a Minnesota native who married the former governor of Guam. She is a 12-year House member who can cast votes as a member of the Armed Services Committee but cannot vote when the same bills reach the floor of the House.

Donna Marie Christian-Christenson (nee Donna Christian-Green) has served 18 years as a delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands. Born in New Jersey, she is a medical doctor and former health commissioner of the islands who also was a television journalist.

During the 1970s, when I served as research assistant to the appropriations subcommittee chair funding the trust territories, the delegates would whisper their views on pending money bills or lobby outright. However, they lacked the vote. They finally got nonvoting delegate status and committee membership.

Today, with five nonvoting delegates, “taxation without representation” remains a legitimate complaint by more than four million taxpaying citizens who live under laws of the United States of America that their representatives are not allowed to approve or oppose through voting.

Within the House, at stake is a miniscule five new votes added to 435.

Beyond the partisan make-up remains questions of justice, equity and a glaring problem in the democracy of the United States of America. The fifth resolution defeated in the current Congress simply reiterated the injustice for four million fellow countrymen.

Joseph H. Carter Sr. is a former wire service correspondent and a Washington speech writer, including speechwriting for President Lyndon B. Johnson. He lives in Delray Beach. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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