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Ray of hope?
New ‘shadow’ representative says D.C. needs a better strategy to get message out
(Published January 22, 2001)
By KRISTEN FORBES
Inside his 10th floor office at One Judiciary Square, Ray Browne turns from his desk to look out on a huge window of opportunity for the District. Although the work area is sparse, with many things still "under construction," his ideas include a broad range of activities that he hopes will shed a national spotlight on efforts to gain D.C. statehood and voting rights.
"We are not getting our message out to the rest of the country as we should," the District’s recently elected U.S. representative said of past efforts to publicize D.C. residents’ lack of full citizenship rights.
The District’s new "shadow" representative, an unpaid elected lobbyist for statehood, contends that the message should be tailored so that citizens in the 50 states can identify with the District’s plight. Browne said he wants to start a nationwide campaign that will educate Americans so that "when they know we lack voting rights, they will overwhelmingly support it."
Browne said this new campaign needs to target specific cities and reach out to both elected officials and community leaders in those places who can then help spread the District’s message. Philadelphia, as the "cradle of liberty," is the planned first stop. There, Browne plans to create a series of messages to the community, nearby universities and local media to urge Philadelphians to tell their state’s congressional delegation that "D.C. deserves attention."
Browne said he considers his position as more than just a representative of the District.
"It’s like a sales job – similar to a marketing campaign," he said.
And the marketing campaign needs to appeal for support across the board, he said, not just to people whose political affiliations make their support likely. Despite some misconceptions about Republicans, Democrat Browne said he believes they will have to listen if their constituents support voting rights for D.C. residents.
Browne spoke of building support from key Republicans in Congress like Rep. Constance Morella of Montgomery County, who just took over chairmanship of the D.C. oversight subcommittee in the House, and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III of Fairfax County, the immediate past subcommittee chairman who is remaining as vice chairman.
"Their colleagues tend to give great weight to their ideas and issues," he noted.
Opposition to congressional voting rights for the District tends to fall chiefly into two categories: people who feel the Constitution never intended for the national seat of government to have voting representation and those partisans who fear that the District’s representatives would always add strength to the Democratic Party’s congressional numbers.
Browne said the focus needs to shift to a question of what American citizenship entails.
"Is it right for taxpaying Americans to be denied representation? Of course not," he said.
Browne is assembling what he calls "a grassroots effort with very skillful people not just interested in noise, but who want to present a message to the rest of the country." Included in his plans is a public appeal for financial support to spread the message. He said he hopes to continue "general strategy meetings" with the District’s other two elected "shadow" representatives – Senators Florence H. Pendleton and Paul Strauss – to discuss joint efforts. Pendleton and Strauss both expressed interest in forming what Browne described as "a united front."
Browne said the political reality is that "we need to seize the opportunity to get representation" now, followed by statehood later. He said he wants to create enough pressure on Congress so that they can determine among themselves that statehood eventually is needed.
"Our job is to take America our issue – for the whole country to energize Congress toward a remedy," Browne said.