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July 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

A New Game — The "Representation Shuffle!"

There’s a new card game in play on Washington’s Capitol Hill. It’s called the "Representation Shuffle." The rules are different from classic poker. A "royal flush" doesn’t beat all hands and four aces is always a loser. There are fifty-one players at the table and only two can win. It is not a zero-sum game because nobody loses — at least not now. The "kitty" has 437 chips but the winners can take only one apiece.

You say you don’t understand it? You say you’d rather stick to "five card stud?" If so, you don’t understand how the cards are dealt in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The players are each of the fifty states and Washington, D.C., "The District of Columbia" (The District). 229 of the chips in the pot have Republican elephants stamped on them, 205 bear the impression of the Democratic donkey, and two are blank. The dealer is a Member of the House from Virginia, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA). He also organized the game and brought the pretzels.

Rep. Davis is Chairman of the House Sub-Committee that oversees the District of Colombia for the federal government. As such, he is well aware of the long-held desire of the city’s politicians to gain full representation in Congress, which would be comprised of two Senators and membership in the House commensurate with its population, currently estimated at 572,000 residents. Washington, DC, like Puerto Rico, has a Resident Commissioner (referred to as "The D.C. Delegate") with membership and a vote in committees but no vote on final passage of legislation. The sitting D.C. Delegate is Eleanor Holmes Norton, an African American lawyer and political activist who is a leader of the city’s statehood movement.

To help the District obtain a vote in the House, Rep. Davis devised "The Representation Shuffle." Aware that the District is strongly Democratic, he knew that his Republican colleagues would balk at the minority party gaining any further strength within the closely balanced partisan mix currently in play in the House. His solution: balance the District’s new seat with an additional Republican seat in one of the fifty States. At that point, Utah joined the game.

That solidly Republican state narrowly lost one of its four seats in the Y-2000 census count, the constitutional basis for apportioning the fixed number of representatives, now set by law at 435, among fifty competing states. Every ten years the U.S. Census reports demographic shifts in and among the states as the nation’s population moves and grows. By this process, states gain, loose or maintain their number of seats in comparison with others. Currently, each Member of the House represents an average 670,000 people, although the five states with populations lesser than the average are entitled to one Representative by Constitutional fiat. Only one state, Wyoming, has a population smaller than the District of Colombia.

Not invited into the game were Puerto Rico and other territories where U.S. citizens also reside. By "Shuffle" rules, in order to bring Puerto Rico into the game, Mr. Davis would need to add five to six other safe Republican seats to balance what his party’s leadership is convinced would be a solidly Democratic Puerto Rican delegation. Such a move is inconceivable and it is even questionable if the proposal for the District of Columbia will ever find its way into law. It is also debatable if District statehood advocates favor the scheme. Some are skeptical that the Davis game is a Trojan horse intended to delay or derail the District Statehood movement. Delegate Norton, whose power would dramatically increase with a vote on the House floor, has not criticized the proposal but she has damned it by faint praise.

Since the city’s establishment in 1800 as a federal enclave, Congress has held sway over the District’s affairs and, throughout the intervening years, has governed it in a variety of ways. For most of its life, commissioners, appointed by the President and approved by Congress, have run Washington. Six years ago, when Congress and the President were dissatisfied with the fiscal behavior of the locally elected government, it imposed regulators over all expenditures of the District until it regained solvency. In spite of its ultimate authority over the city, Congress has encouraged a movement towards greater local autonomy and shared power.

In 1961, the 23rd Amendment to the Constitution gave District residents the right to vote for President and in 1973 Congress approved an act establishing an elected mayor and a 13-member city council. Five years later, it approved a constitutional amendment, which would have given District residents voting representation in the House and the Senate. The proposed amendment was not ratified by the necessary number of states (38) within the allotted seven years. Even after this setback, a strong movement for full statehood continues. The District’s auto license plates bear the inscription, "Taxation Without Representation."

This week, Herald readers can express an opinion as to whether or not Puerto Rico should ask to be dealt into the "Representation Shuffle" game. If the District’s delegate is granted full membership into the House of Representatives, it is a good bet that some on the island would be lobbying for its Resident Commissioner to be given the same consideration. Others might go further and ask for representation commensurate with the island’s population, requiring 5 to 6 seats in the House.

Puerto Ricans preferring statehood for the island might see such a move as a good thing, in that it would provide a sea change in the political dynamics of the island. "Populares" and "Independentistas" might oppose it for the same reasons. In any event, the Davis "Shuffle" is an innovative measure designed to overcome the basic problem facing political entities like the District and Puerto Rico who seek representation in Congress reflective of their populations. States are reluctant to chance a loss of power in the House by inviting new players to siphon off what could be seats from their delegations. Permanently adding to the total number of seats solves that problem. The Davis proposal, however, would see the 437 number revert back to 435 after the 2010 census. At that point, more players would compete for the traditional number of seats.

Do you think that Puerto Rico should request the same consideration for its Resident Commissioner as that proposed in the Davis proposal for the District of Columbia’s Delegate? Please vote above!

For more information, see:

Washington's Muted Majority…Take Two… This Gambit's Legit. D.C. Should Play

This Week's Question:
Do you think that Puerto Rico should request the same consideration for its Resident Commissioner as that proposed in the Davis proposal for the District of Columbia’s Delegate?

(US Mainland Residents, please vote on the left; PR Residents on right)

US . Residents
. PR
Not sure

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