PIERRE, S.D. — South Dakota's Rep. Dusty Johnson reintroduced a bill this week to cobble together Washington, D.C.'s 700,000-some residents with the state of Maryland, touting what he says is a compromised position allowing for the nation's capital residents to achieve suffrage in Congress but eschewing the statehood sought by the new Democratic Congress and President Joe Biden.
Although the Republican congressman in a news conference acknowledged he's yet to speak to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan about his proposal, Johnson says his "District of Columbia-Maryland Reunion Act" would return the portions of D.C. given over to create the federal district as a "most likely political way" to bring Congressional representation for the city's many residents.
"You know, I'm always looking to compromise, I'm looking to solve problems in what is not necessarily the all-Republican way," said Johnson. "But if we're concerned about giving them (residents of D.C.) the opportunity to vote for U.S. senators, we can do what the residential areas of D.C. did 100 years ago when we gave the residential areas of D.C. on the Virginia side back to Virginia allowing those residents to vote for United States senators."
Johnson admitted his measure is not popular in D.C., but he noted that in many neighborhoods of the city, such as Friendship Heights and Chevy Chase, D.C. residents and Marylanders are already living in community.
"It's the same neighborhood. It's the same community. They're shopping at the same grocery stores," Johnson said.
The call for Washington, D.C.'s upgrade to a full state — with three voting members of Congress, including two U.S. senators — has grown since Democrats took control of the House after the 2018 elections. Even within the last month when D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser pointedly suggested statehood was increasingly a security need, saying as mayor, she was unable to efficiently receive National Guard deployment during the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building.
But while the campaign achieved a small victory last summer when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a statehood bill, the efforts have run into the same political stalemate as previous cycles: Republicans are leery of handing over three additional seats in Congress to likely, new Democratic members.
Such political ramifications were clear this week even in Pierre, S.D., where the state's Republican-majority Senate voted in favor of a resolution to call on the state's congressional delegation to oppose any statehood measure. One of the reasons cited, according to the resolution's prime sponsor, Sen. Jim Bolin, a Canton Republican, concerned D.C.'s penchant for voting Democratic.
But on Thursday's call, Johnson — who said he was "opposed to D.C. statehood by my colleagues on the left" — positioned his proposal for statehood less as a partisan motivation and more as a pragmatic navigation of a politically explosive issue.
"Once you start to tell folks within D.C. that this is the most likely political way to give them suffrage for United States senators, I think you'll see much quicker embrace of that than I think people will realize," said the South Dakota congressman.
It remains to be seen whether Johnson's bill will receive a hearing in the Democrat-controlled House.
Earlier this month, D.C.'s longtime nonvoting delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, reintroduced her bill to squeeze the federal district called for in the nation's founding to a small jurisdiction running along federal buildings, including the U.S. Capitol and White House while exporting the rest as the 51st state, State of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, named for the abolitionist Frederick Douglass.