Reacting to the latest proposal to grant statehood to the District of Columbia, the sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Dakota recently introduced legislation to merge most of D.C. with Maryland instead.
Rep. Dusty Johnson, a Republican, suggested his District of Columbia-Maryland Reunion Act was something of a nonpartisan idea, too. After all, if the beef of D.C. residents is that they don’t have representation in Congress, why not share it with the residents of Maryland, a state that ceded ground to create the federal district in the first place? The congressman observed that Maryland remained a natural fit, since the two communities continue to be so similar, and regarded his fix was “not necessarily the all-Republican way.”
The idea was immediately rejected by elected officials in D.C. and Maryland, of course. They are pressing for D.C. statehood. But the concept raised an interesting idea: If like communities should be merged to share representation in Congress, what other such opportunities exist? Eureka, as they say in gold mining country.
Rep. Johnson has found a nugget: Why not merge the nation’s least populous states or territories when they are contiguous? It wouldn’t involve Maryland, the nation’s 19th biggest state when ranked by population. Even the District has more residents than two states and four territories. No, the natural merger would involve Wyoming, the 50th of the 50 states when ranked by population. Its partner: neighboring South Dakota which has fewer than 900,000 residents and a ranking of 45th.
Call it South Dakoming or, better yet, Wyokota, the resulting state would have fewer than 1.5 million residents (still just one-quarter of Maryland’s current population), keeping it in the bottom 10 of population rankings. The states of South Dakota and Wyoming certainly have much in common. They are big in mining, farming and electing Republicans to Congress. Even with the merger, residents of Wyokota would be overrepresented in the U.S. Senate with one senator for every 750,000 people compared to states like California, which has one senator for every 19.5 million. Give D.C. statehood on top of that and you would still have an even 50 states and 100 senators. Wyokota would be geographically large at about 174,000 square miles, which is close to California (163,000) but still well below Texas (268,000) and Alaska (665,000).
But wait, you say, what did Wyokotans do to deserve this demotion? The better question is, what did they do in the past to deserve their ridiculous overrepresentation in Congress? They still would be in a far better position in terms of a voice in Congress than any resident of D.C. today, which not only has no senators but its sole delegate in the House does not have a vote. ... There is no sense in D.C. lacking statehood. And please spare us the history lesson about how the federal district was created by the founders. There’s a lot of post-Civil War racism and paternalism in D.C.’s past, too, given how the majority African American city wasn’t even granted home rule until the 1970s. The only serious objection to D.C. statehood is that it would benefit Democrats, since it’s assumed that the District would elect three of them, including two senators.
We don’t doubt that Wyokotans will see this through that same prism, their merger a power grab by Democrats. That’s fair. But they would be paying a far lower price than that D.C. residents have paid for more than two centuries — literally paid: They’ve shoveled tax dollars to a government that has denied them a vote. The average D.C. household pays nearly 50% more in federal taxes than the average American household. Wyokotans can certainly claim to have more land, but so what? Land doesn’t have a vote. Land isn’t guaranteed rights by the Constitution. It’s people who ought to be afforded rights and the District has about 700,000 of them, about 120,000 more than Wyoming.
Rep. Johnson is correct that members of his party won’t back D.C. statehood, particularly in these hyperpartisan times — even with the new argument that securing D.C. from a repeat of the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol might be better avoided if, as a state, locally elected officials had the right to call out the D.C. National Guard (such authority is currently in the hands of the sitting president).
But that doesn’t mean Republicans are right to continue to ignore this gross injustice.
Better for Democrats who now control both chambers, albeit by a small margin, to press the issue. One thing for sure: If the Mitch McConnell who rams through Supreme Court nominees still controlled the Senate and Wyoming and South Dakota were populated by Democrats, Wyokota would already be on the books.