Greater D.C. Democracy in the New Year

This year has been an historic one for D.C. democracy, with voters overwhelmingly ratifying a charter amendment giving the District control over its local budget, and city leaders keeping the District open during the federal shutdown. We’re hopeful that next year will be even better–starting with ensuring that the D.C. Attorney General election happens in 2014.

As you may have seen in our letter to the Washington Post over the weekend, Councilmember Mary Cheh has introduced a bill that is a reasonable way to get the first Attorney General election back on track after the Council’s 7-6 vote to delay it until 2018.

Under Councilmember Cheh’s proposal, the election would be held in November 2014, and attorneys employed by the D.C. government would be permitted to run for the office. Candidates would be nominated to the ballot by petition and could run as party members, similar to a special election.

Having the election in November will give candidates plenty of time to run, and as a practical matter is the best way to keep faith with District voters’ determination that the election should be in 2014. At this point, there’s simply not time for a full and fair primary election, since petitions for the primary are due January 2. And permitting D.C. government lawyers to run would expand the pool of qualified candidates for this important office. It also would be consistent with the laws of the majority of states.

We disagree with the Post‘s editorial last week suggesting that the Council should “take its time” carefully considering how and when the election should be conducted. This ignores the fact that the Council and the people already conclusively answered that question more than three years ago when they amended the Charter–essentially the District’s constitution–to require a 2014 election. And as the Council’s own General Counsel concluded, the Council has no authority to legislate contrary to that Charter Amendment.

So while Councilmember Cheh’s bill isn’t ideal, it is the best legislative solution available at this time. We hope the Council will make it a priority when it returns in January so that the people can be assured that the election they called for next year will actually take place.

In the meantime, we hope for you and your family a happy holiday season and all the best in the new year.

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