With the federal government shutdown dominating the local news, a pretty outrageous move by the DC Council has flown under the radar.
In Nov. 2010, roughly 76 percent of DC voters voted in favor of a charter amendment that called for the election of an attorney general in 2014. Currently, the attorney general is appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the DC Council. Supporters of the amendment argued that DC’s attorney general should be independent of the Mayor, and voters overwhelmingly agreed.
Fast forward to earlier this month. On Oct. 1, the DC Council voted 7-6 to approve legislation that delays the election of an attorney general until 2018, effectively thwarting the will of DC voters. The excuses given by supporters of the delay – a lack of candidates, not enough time to set up the office, etc. – were particularly weak. This Washington Post article provides a brief summary of the debate.
During ANC 6B’s October 8 meeting, I asked my commission colleagues to support sending the following letter to Mayor Gray urging him to veto the bill. I’m not optimistic about a veto, but I am hopeful that the commission’s action will at least draw needed attention to this outrageous bill. I’m grateful that an overwhelming majority of my colleagues agreed to send the letter.
If the Mayor doesn’t veto the bill, it could be thrown out in the courts. Former Council candidate Paul Zukerburg has filed suit against the Council and the DC Board of Elections arguing that delaying the AG election violates DC voter rights.
Here is how Councilmembers voted on the bill:
FOR the AG Delay: Marion Barry, (Ward 8), Anita Bonds (At-Large), Muriel Bowser (Ward 4), Mary Cheh (Ward 3), Jack Evans (Ward 2), Jim Graham (Ward 1), Vincent Orange (At-Large)
AGAINST the AG Delay: Phil Mendelson (Chairman), Yvette Alexander (Ward 7), David Catania (At-Large), David Grosso (At-Large), Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), Tommy Wells (Ward 6)
Text of ANC 6B’s letter below:
October 9, 2013
The Honorable Vincent C. Gray
District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Dear Mayor Gray,
Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B strongly urges you to veto Bill 20-134, the Elected Attorney General Implementation and Legal Service Establishment Act of 2013. ANC 6B voted 7-1 to send this letter at a properly noticed meeting with a quorum present on October 8, 2013.
During the November 2, 2010 General Election, DC voters overwhelmingly approved Proposed Charter Amendment IV, the Elected Attorney General Proposed Charter Amendment. More than 90,000 DC residents voted in favor of the proposed charter amendment (roughly 76 percent of voters), including more than 12,500 voters in Ward 6. At the time, voters were told that if the amendment was approved, they would begin voting for an attorney general in 2014.
On October 1, 2013, a narrow majority of the Council of the District of Columbia voted 7-6 to approve Bill 20-134, legislation that thwarts the intent of Proposed Charter Amendment IV by delaying the election of an attorney general to 2018. During the Council debate, supporters of the legislation claimed that the city is not yet ready for an elected attorney general and pointed to a lack of announced candidates.
ANC 6B notes that the city had four years to prepare for an elected attorney general, plenty of time to organize the office and outline its responsibilities. In addition, there are currently a number of DC Council seats up for election in 2014 without declared candidates. We believe that all elected positions in 2014 – including attorney general – will have qualified candidates if allowed on the ballot.
We are most outraged at the thought that seven of our elected Councilmembers, all of whom claim to support DC voting rights and statehood, would vote to overrule the wishes of DC residents using the same rhetoric and excuses given by DC voting rights opponents. The District of Columbia, like any other state, is more than ready for an elected attorney general.
Again, ANC 6B strongly urges you to respect the will of DC voters by vetoing Bill 20-134.
Chair, ANC 6B
Chairman Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Yvette Alexander
Councilmember Marion Barry
Councilmember Anita Bonds
Councilmember Muriel Bowser
Councilmember David Catania
Councilmember Mary Cheh
Councilmember Jack Evans
Councilmember Jim Graham
Councilmember David Grosso
Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie
Councilmember Vincent Orange
Councilmember Tommy Wells