Walter’s Corner: A Good Week for D.C. Democracy

This has been a good week for D.C. democracy and for DC Appleseed. Our longstanding efforts to help achieve local budget autonomy and protect D.C. voters’ right to elect a strong, independent Attorney General both saw important developments.


President Obama Heightens the Referendum’s Importance


First, on Wednesday, President Obama followed up on his recent pledge to fight for the District by taking the unprecedented step of proposing full local budget autonomy. The President’s proposal in previous years would have protected the District only from a federal government shutdown. But his latest proposal would allow the local budget to take effect upon enactment by the District, without congressional review.


As the Washington Post said in an editorial this morning, the combination of the President’s new proposal along with the pendency of the upcoming local April 23 referendum means that “momentum [is] now building for budget autonomy.” We think that the two-track strategy of pursuing congressional legislation while also pursuing the referendum is giving rise to this momentum. We also think that the President’s proposal both increases the chances that congressional legislation will proceed and also makes it more likely the President would not support any overturning of the referendum. All of this means that D.C. voters have a real chance to help advance democracy in the city on April 23.


Electing a Strong, Independent Attorney General


In other good news, the Washington Post editorial page on Wednesday agreed with us that the D.C. Council must respect the voters’ overwhelming determination to make the Attorney General a strong, independent, elected position. As the Post editorial points out, a legislative proposal currently before the D.C. Council would significantly reduce the Attorney General’s authority when the office becomes elected in 2014. The editorial calls on the Council to carefully consider the proposal and specifically commends DC Appleseed for its work on the issue.


The rationale for the proposal before the Council is the possibility that an elected Attorney General may disagree with the Mayor. The proposal therefore transfers considerable authority over legal issues from the Attorney General to the Mayor.


We strongly disagree with the proposal. The whole point of having an elected Attorney General was to make sure he or she would be able to disagree with the Mayor. In fact, the Council committee report that accompanied the elected Attorney General legislation said that the officer “must be able, and, in fact, is required, to say ‘no’ to the Executive when the law or ethics so require.”


On a final note, if you’re interested in what’s happening on these two fronts, we hope you’ll consider joining us on June 13 for our “Advancing DC Democracy” reception at the Whittemore House in DuPont Circle. We’ll be honoring our pro bono partners for their D.C. democracy work, and we’ll have a panel presentation on the subject with Mayor Anthony Williams and Congressmen Tom Davis (R-VA) and José Serrano (D-NY), emceed by Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post. I hope to see you there.

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