Partisan - partial to a particular party or person, often political in nature. One criticism of federal politics, especially regarding Congress, is that some politicians spend more time and effort trying to promote their party's platform than trying to develop laws and policies which serve the American people.
'You Never Find Quiet Except Under a Tyranny.' Congress Has Always Been Partisan and That's a Good Thing.
I n the throes of the worst crisis in American history, the Civil War, Democrats in Congress repeatedly attacked Abraham Lincoln as a &ldquotyrant&rdquo and even his fellow Republicans questioned his competence and investigated his generals. Beleaguered though he often felt, Lincoln never claimed that Congress lacked the authority to challenge his actions or declined to answer legislators&rsquo requests for information. Even in the midst of all-out war, Lincoln recognized Congress as the primary repository of the people&rsquos will, and he understood that the Founders never intended the president to be beyond the reach of its authority.
Our current president offers the starkest of contrasts. Donald Trump seems to believe that executive power fundamentally exists to serve the personal interest of the president and that any congressional challenge to that power is not just an insult but unconstitutional. If his attitude seems like that of a would-be monarch he may be more dangerously in tune with public sentiment than many Americans imagine. After three years and an unending stream of imperious behavior that has shown contempt for basic democratic norms and institutions support for the president has only grown. 43 percent of Americans express a &ldquogreat deal&rdquo or &ldquoquite a lot&rdquo of confidence in the man in the White House. To add statistical insult to injury, barely 25 percent feel comparable respect for Congress (some polls have put the figure in the single digits), and more than half feel virtually no respect for it at all. Even more disturbingly, recent polls show substantial disdain for republican government itself among younger Americans, some 30 percent of whom do not believe that it is important to live in a democracy.
Contempt for Congress flourishes alongside an increasingly common belief among both Republicans and Democrats that the presidency is the main engine of government, rather than an office whose power was deliberately circumscribed by the Constitution. Until comparatively recently, most Americans understood that it was Congress that was the nation&rsquos most important seat of power. Attitudes began to change during Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos presidency and gathered momentum after World War II.
The current disdain for Congress is often blamed on today&rsquos supposed excessive partisanship. There&rsquos something to that. But America has been here many times before. Savage partisanship also characterized the election of 1800, the run-up to the Civil War in the 1850s, the McCarthy era, and the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s.
The low esteem in which Congress is held today may well be more rooted in a widespread but false idea that government is supposed to be smooth, efficient, and collaborative, and that compromises are easy. None of that is true. The Founders knew from the beginning that republican politics would be messy and full of conflict. In fact, they were proud of it, because they recognized it as democracy in action. Whatever their party loyalties, Americans took immense pride in what Patrick Henry called the &ldquocrazy machine&rdquo of government. Congressional politics, they knew, was as James Madison vividly put it, an &ldquoimpetuous vortex.” After all, Americans had just fought a revolution not to tame politics but to put it, with all its often frustrating turbulence, into government.
Congress has only occasionally functioned like a well-oiled machine. One of those instances was the First Congress, which between 1789 and 1791 produced a prodigious raft of legislation that put institutional flesh on the bare bones of government as outlined in the Constitution, establishing the executive departments, the Supreme Court and the federal court system, enacting the first amendments to the Constitution, creating a revenue stream for the federal government, founding the first national bank, launching the first census, and much more. In another instance, the two Civil War congresses recruited the North&rsquos armies, raised the money to pay for them, freed and armed the slaves, reinvented the nation&rsquos financial system, and still found time to produce enabling legislation for the Transcontinental Railroad, western homesteading that turned the nation into an agricultural superpower, and land-grant colleges that democratized higher education. Later, Franklin Roosevelt&rsquos New Deal congresses enacted a flood of measures that addressed the ravages of the Great Depression including the Social Security system. Finally, the Great Society congresses of the 1960s churned out social and civil rights legislation like grist in a mill. All four of these examples had one thing in common, and it is extremely rare: huge, veto-proof majorities of one party that was rarely compelled to yield ground to the minority.
We tend to blame gridlock on feckless legislators. But when ideological disagreements are deep and significant and the parties are relatively balanced, as they are today, it is not easy to compromise. For many years before the Civil War, it was virtually impossible to craft any kind of lasting compromise on the leading issue of the day: slavery. And it took generations for a consensus to evolve in support of protecting civil rights for African-Americans. Fortunately, only once has such a political stand-off led to a civil war.
Gridlock is frustrating, but it is far less dangerous to the republic than the disintegration of faith in American government that we are seeing in record numbers today. Disdain for Congress in particular is deeply and unforgivingly un-American. It betrays a gross lack of understanding of both our structure of government and how it was designed to operate. Americans&rsquo impatience for a president to act decisively by fiat or &ldquoexecutive order&rdquo &ndash a tactic espoused by members of both major parties &ndash ignores the constitutional role of Congress and fosters distorted expectations of government. Misunderstanding in turn breeds recurrent cycles of unrealistic hope and disappointment. Awash in cynicism, frustrated citizens perhaps not surprisingly look to a strongman to solve their problems &ndash or at least keep them entertained.
Donald Trump will pass from the scene sooner or later. Much if not all of the policy damage that he has wrought can eventually be remedied the nation&rsquos international reputation can be rebuilt. But it will take more than a new face in the West Wing to rebuild our faith in the antique but nonetheless remarkably resilient system that we have inherited.
The Founders prescribed a simple remedy for political paralysis: elections. But we all know that elections may prove less definitive than voters might wish. Deep political conflicts &ndash over climate change, health care, and war &ndash may take a lot longer to resolve than our impatient, technology-driven society and ideology-driven voters wish. Self-righteousness is not a substitute for the slow and painstaking crafting of legislation that is acceptable to enough members of Congress &ndash and to enough of the public &ndash to actually be effective.
During the Civil War, Senator William P. Fessenden, a crusty New Englander and one of the wisest members of Congress, remarked, &ldquoI would not have perfect quiet always, in a republic especially. You never find quiet except under a tyranny.&rdquo Fessenden, who suffered gladly neither fools not delaying tactics, nonetheless understood what Madison had 75 years earlier: that Congress was a tumultuous stew of self-interests seasoned with passions, and that to accomplish anything required creative skill but also immense patience and tolerance. The work of Congress may seem needlessly quarrelsome and glacial, but it is just the cacophony of our own American voices distilled to a cadre of 435 members of the House of Representatives and 100 senators. The Founders never spoke of efficiency or speed in government. If we are to survive as a democracy we must relearn the tolerance for conflict and the acceptance of political frustration that they bequeathed to us along with the majesty of the Constitution and our insatiable taste for freedom.
Partisan and Politics
A partisan is someone who supports one part or party. Sometimes the support takes the form of military action, as when guerrilla fighters take on government forces. But partisan is actually most often used as an adjective, usually referring to support of a political party. so if you're accused of being too partisan, or of practicing partisan politics, it means you're mainly interested in boosting your own party and attacking the other one.
Why are some elections non-partisan?
Some cities' elections in Michigan are partisan while others are nonpartisan.
Recently, I heard a county commissioner note that their board worked so well together because they were able to set aside partisan differences and focus on what needed to be done for their county. That commissioner added that they thought all county elections should be non-partisan, rather than partisan elections. Unfortunately, for that commissioner, Michigan counties do not have the authority to change the structure of their elections that would require a change in state law, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections. However, some elections in Michigan and across the country are non-partisan, for a variety of reasons.
In Michigan, cities have the authority to decide whether elections for offices such as city council or commission and mayor are partisan elections or non-partisan. In non-partisan elections, such as in the City of Lansing, a specified number of candidates advance from the primary and face off in the general election. In Lansing, the top two individuals who receive majority vote in the mayoral race advance from the primary to the general election with no party affiliation stated. Other cities, like Ann Arbor, have partisan elections similar to those for state and federal offices.
Proponents of non-partisan elections argue that at the local level, political parties are irrelevant to providing services. The famous saying for this situation is, &ldquoThere is no Democratic or Republican way to pick up the garbage.&rdquo They also suggest that cooperation between officials belonging to different parties is more likely. Politicians in non-partisan offices are in theory more likely to be focused on getting their job done than making the other party look bad, as we often see at the national level.
Non-partisan elections also are more likely to encourage moderate candidates because candidates are more likely to have to seek votes from across the political spectrum. This also leads to elections that are more competitive. For example, in Lansing&rsquos recent mayoral election both candidates in the general election were affiliated with the Democratic Party. However, it was a non-partisan election, which allowed the two to face off in the general election, and forced them to campaign to voters across the spectrum. Non-partisan elections also tend to be more competitive, and are less likely to have candidates running unopposed. Many elected offices in areas that lean heavily to Republican or heavily Democratic are essentially decided in the Primary, with no member of the other party running in the general election. Non-partisan elections allow for competitive campaigns in these seats, giving the voters more options to choose from.
Opponents argue that the absence of party labels confuses voters and that in the absence of party affiliation, unprepared voters often turn to whatever cue is available, which often ends up being the ethnicity of a candidate&rsquos name. Without a doubt, name recognition becomes more important in non-partisan elections. For all else they may bring, party identification does usually give voters some idea of where a candidate stands on certain issues.
Non-partisan elections place more burden on voters to seek information about individual candidates, rather than party platform. While many would view this as a positive, if voters do not do their research, the result is an even less informed electorate, which can lead to lower voter participation.
Across the county, many municipalities use non-partisan voting. According to the National League of Cities, only seven of the 30 largest cities in the United States use partisan elections to elect their local officials. The Nebraska State Senate, the state&rsquos only legislative chamber, is technically non-partisan because there are no formal party groups within the Senate. However, almost all members are affiliated with the Democratic or Republican Party and both parties explicitly endorse candidates.
In Michigan, as mentioned, cities have the authority to implement non-partisan elections for local offices, but units of government, such as counties, do not. It would require changes to state law to allow counties to move to non-partisan elections or to consider non-partisan elections statewide. As a voter, what do you think? How would non-partisan elections affect elections where you live?
Those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on Government and Public Policy provide various training programs that are available to be presented in your county. Contact your
Racism is Not a Partisan Issue
During this election season, educators are navigating conversations with their students about politics, race, and racism in ways that seem without precedent, all while facing real pressures to remain nonpartisan . This tension notwithstanding, it’s necessary to understand race and racism as a political issue of membership and power, rather than a partisan one of liberal or conservative ideology. Doing so creates space to more truly confront injustice in policy and practice. As educators, this critical distinction can help us have the nuanced discussions we aim to have with our students around civic engagement, with a historical lens that contextualizes our moment.
In 1676 Virginia, Nathaniel Bacon, angered over the colonial government’s policy of non-aggression towards indigenous peoples, led a militia of white and Black indentured servants and enslaved Africans, and burned down Jamestown. After the rebellion was quelled, the local colonial lawmakers, realizing the threat of coalition-building across race and class, codified in policy a hard distinction between ‘Black’ and ‘white’ to divide and consolidate power for the wealthy elite.
This early moment represented another thread in a narrative first stitched at Point Comfort in 1619 and woven into the fabric of the country later founded through key political documents, policies, and practices. It was this narrative which divided people along racial lines for political and economic gain, and became a central paradox in a nation espousing life and liberty while condoning inequality and slavery.
The Constitution of the United States was itself a document of political compromises that reflected this paradox: institutionalizing racism, sanctioning slavery, establishing the three-fifths clause to bolster apportionment for Southern states in the House of Representatives, and preserving the trade of enslaved Black people until 1808. These compromises would build into the generations-long tension, percolating tenuously with the Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and Dred Scott v. Sandford, and ultimately erupting in the Civil War—a war predicated on the inextricability of politics and racism.
The Reconstruction Era that followed, with its promise for interracial democracy briefly realized, witnessed violent, racial backlash . The contested election of Rutherford B. Hayes as president in 1876—the result of a political deal struck by Northern Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress to allow the Republican candidate to win with the condition of pulling federal troops out of the South—effectively ended Reconstruction the following year. Tragically, over the next century life for Black people improved little as Jim Crow, poll taxes, black codes, and racial terror lynching flew in the face of the unenforced and narrowly interpreted 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The Lost Cause narrative, meanwhile, found new life across the South in films such as The Birth of a Nation, in the historiography of Columbia Professor William Archibald Dunning, and through memorials to Confederate leaders.
A century after the Civil War, the 1960s was a watershed moment in this interplay of politics and racism, and one worth slowing down for, as the paradox upon which the nation was founded could no longer be outwardly tolerated. This, however, marked not an end, but a beginning of something new. Political orientations had for years been shifting as the Republican Party of Lincoln slowly shifted away from the Radical Republicans of the North, and while the Democratic Party widened to encompass ethnic minorities from across Europe. Both phenomena were impacted by world wars, the economic upheaval of the Depression, and the demographic shifts of the Great Migration. In the 1960s, the Democratic Party, despite having held a coalition between Northern Democrats and Southern Dixiecrats, fractured because of its civil rights platform, and with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, President Johnson told an aide that the Democrats “have lost the South for a generation.” Two months later, Senator Strom Thurmond, a Dixiecrat leader, formally split with the Democrats to join the Republicans.
Scholars argue that while the Civil Rights Movement may have formally ended Jim Crow, it also gave way to a new form of oppression, just as Reconstruction gave way to backlash and Jim Crow. Politically, what emerged was a transformation of strategy that masked an old game. In a 1970 interview with the New York Times, Kevin Phillips, a political strategist for then-President Richard Nixon, citing the response to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, explained , “The more Negroes who register as Democrats in the South, the sooner the Negrophobe whites will quit the Democrats and become Republicans. That’s where the votes are.”
Originally “Operation Dixie” under Barry Goldwater’s anti-civil rights platform, this new approach became known as the Southern Strategy, the political plan built on courting the votes of seemingly disaffected whites into the folds of the Republican Party. “Without that prodding from the blacks,” Phillips deduced, “the whites will backslide into their old comfortable arrangement with the local Democrats.”
In the 1950s, overt racism was still readily accepted political rhetoric, according to Lee Atwater, a Republican strategist for the Reagan Administration. Atwater went on to infamously reveal in a 1981 interview how these blunt racist tactics underlying the original strategy had since morphed: “By 1968 you can't say ‘[N-word]’—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff, and you're getting so abstract. Now you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, Blacks get hurt worse than whites.” Racism had hardly been scoured from politics different rhetorical means were employed to achieve similar racist ends. Atwater concluded: “‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘[N-word]’.’”
While more nuanced than pandering simply to racial angst, the strategy was an evolution of that old way into a new code that would be revived again and again on both sides of the political aisle, continuing to today. We hear it in rhetoric from welfare queens to superpredators, from law and order to voter fraud. We also see it reflected in policies from redlining to the War on Drugs, voter integrity initiatives and beyond. The common thread in these examples are racially coded, “colorblind” politics, resulting in disproportionate, negative impacts for Black and brown communities in housing, healthcare, education, criminal justice and more.
Reflecting on the almost natural evolution of the Southern Strategy from its historical origins, Phillips — the Nixon strategist — noted, “This is not a strategy or a blueprint, just the deciphering of an inexorable trend that will run its course and then be displaced by a new cycle whose origins are already with us, somewhere.”
Now, as the right to vote is more directly under threat for so many, as the very mattering of Black life is questioned, educators are called to confront the fundamental relationship between politics, race, and racism. James Baldwin wrote , “We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Human dignity is not a partisan issue, and for us as educators to stand up is urgent and necessary.
There is no denying the difficulties educators face when navigating this election season, undoubtedly extending beyond November. But we can ask ourselves: How do politics show up in my classroom, and do I interrogate this? How can disagreement be rooted in love? And when it’s not, where and how do I stand up against what is bigoted and exclusionary?
It takes courage to stand up, to engage fully and unapologetically, with love and critical consciousness. But do so we must.
Facing History and Ourselves invites readers to use our resource collection, The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy.
DOJ Pick Susan Hennessey’s Long, Sordid History of Partisan Conspiracy-Mongering
Susan Hennessey, Senior Counsel for the National Security Division at the Justice Department (PBSNewsHour/YouTube)
Susan Hennessey, the Biden administration’s pick to serve as senior counsel for the National Security Division at the Justice Department, made a name for herself during the Trump years by pushing the infamous Russian-collusion narrative and flaunting her partisan credentials on Twitter and live television.
Hennessey, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, executive editor at its Lawfare blog, and a CNN legal analyst, rivals Neera Tanden — who was forced to withdraw from consideration as director of the Office of Management and Budget just a few months ago — for her partisan output. Like Tanden, the arguments, statements, and tweets …
also partizan , 1550s, "one who takes part with another, zealous supporter," especially one whose judgment is clouded by prejudiced adherence to a party, from French partisan (15c.), from dialectal upper Italian partezan (Tuscan partigiano ) "member of a faction, partner," from parte "part, party," from Latin partem (nominative pars ) "a part, piece, a share, a division a party or faction a part of the body a fraction a function, office" (from PIE root *pere- (2) "to grant, allot").
In military use, "member of a detachment of troops sent on a special mission," from 1690s. As these commonly were irregular troops, it took on the sense of "guerrilla fighter" in the Peninsular campaign of the Napoleonic wars and again in reference to resistance to Nazi occupation in the Balkans and Eastern Europe in World War II.
1708 in a military sense, "engaged on a special enterprise" 1842 in politics, "of or pertaining to a party or faction" from partisan (n.).
The French term "partisan", derived from the Latin, was first used in the 17th century to describe the leader of a war-party. Techniques of partisan warfare were described in detail in Johann von Ewald's Abhandlung über den kleinen Krieg (1789). Ώ]
The initial concept of partisan warfare involved the use of troops raised from the local population in a war zone (or in some cases regular forces) who would operate behind enemy lines to disrupt communications, seize posts or villages as forward-operating bases, ambush convoys, impose war taxes or contributions, raid logistical stockpiles, and compel enemy forces to disperse and protect their base of operations. This concept of partisan warfare would later form the basis of the "Partisan Rangers" of the American Civil War. In that war, Confederate States Army Partisan leaders, such as John S. Mosby, operated along the lines described by von Ewald (and later by both Jomini and Clausewitz). In essence, 19th-century American partisans were closer to commando or ranger forces raised during World War II than to the "partisan" forces operating in occupied Europe. Such fighters would have been legally considered uniformed members of their state's armed forces.
One of the first manuals of partisans' tactics in the 18th century was The Partisan, or the Art of Making War in Detachment. ΐ] by de Jeney, a Hungarian military officer who served in the Prussian Army as captain of military engineers during the Seven Years' War – published in London in 1760. Partisans in the mid-19th century were substantially different from raiding cavalry, or from unorganized/semi-organized guerrilla forces. Russian partisans played a crucial part in the downfall of Napoleon. Their fierce resistance and persistent inroads helped compel the French emperor to flee Russia in 1812.
During World War II the current definition of "partisan" became the dominant one [ citation needed ] — focusing on irregular forces in opposition to an attacking or occupying power. Soviet partisans, especially those active in Belarus, effectively harassed German troops and significantly hampered their operations in the region. As a result, Soviet authority was re-established deep inside the German-held territories. There were even partisan kolkhozes that raised crops and livestock to produce food for the partisans. The communist Yugoslav partisans were a leading force in the liberation of their country during the People's Liberation War of Yugoslavia.
By the middle of 1943 partisan resistance to the Germans and their allies had grown from the dimensions of a mere nuisance to those of a major factor in the general situation. In many parts of occupied Europe the enemy was suffering losses at the hands of partisans that he could ill afford. Nowhere were these losses heavier than in Jugoslavia. Α]
Soviet partisans attacked villages and indiscriminately massacred everyone, including children and babies. Since they would be no match for effective anti-partisan military patrols, the victims were targeted because they were easy targets in remote villages, rather than being militarily significant. The murders were reported to higher command as attacks on enemy military. For instance, the Seitajärvi massacre where 15 civilians were brutally murdered, was falsely reported as a raid on a German officers' sanatorium, and the 33 civilians murdered in Malahvia were reported as 93 enemy soldiers. The murderers have never been prosecuted. Furthermore, disclosure has been hampered by wartime and post-war censorship on part of the victims' government, and suppression on part of the Soviets. Β]
1 thought on &ldquo Partisan Politics: A History of Polarization &rdquo
I would say a lot of this stems from the extreme polarization of the media. No one in real life (or okay, the majority of people) is completely Democrat or Republican, but news channels – and I am looking at you MSNBC and FOX – take it to a whole other level. They tear apart the other side like they are as bad as the Nazis and completely trash talk politicians who are on the other side and even those in their own party who stray from the “popular” and “expected” vote. It makes it seem like a Republican who supports a woman’s right to an abortion is going against the people’s wishes and might as well go become best friends with Obama and crawl into a hole. In reality, the public isn’t nearly as divided on issues like that so evenly across party lines. It’s getting ridiculous. Since when was it bad to be a “flip-flopper” like Mitt Romney was accused of being why does he HAVE to vote as his party supposedly wants. People said it was BAD that he knew how to work with the ones across the aisle. I totally agree with you. It’s becoming a problem and will get us into big trouble if it keeps up.
The Partisan History of Reform in DC: 60 Years of Party Platforms and Promises
It is often said that DC Statehood is simply a partisan issue. While it is absolutely NOT a partisan issue for the people who call Washington, DC home, reforms like statehood do not happen in a vacuum. Much of the partisan controversy over statehood swirls around the Senate, where a narrowly divided body is sensitive to the idea of adding more members. Relatively few Americans remember the history surrounding the change from 48 to 50 states, let alone 46 to 48, but they make for illuminating episodes in our political (and partisan) history. From 1861 to 1896, no less than a dozen states (#34 through #45) were admitted to the Union -- or blocked from admission and only admitted later. Alaska spent nearly 50 years on its own campaign during the 20th century.
The history of the many campaigns for DC statehood (and other, lesser reforms) are equally illuminating -- and frustrating. We think it is useful to look at the history of partisan attitudes towards representation, home rule and statehood for the people of DC. Our focus here is on the two parties which have vied for control of Congress and the Presidency for over 150 years. In looking at how the party platforms changed over the years, we especially want to draw your attention to the contrast between historical Republican support for DC between 1956 and 1976 versus the hostility toward DC which emerged starting in the 1990s and intensified in the 2010s.
It might be argued that modern DC political history began with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment (1961), granting DC residents their first ever vote for President in 1964. This was followed by reforms allowing for an elected DC School Board (1966) and elected DC Council and Mayor (1973) after a full century without ANY right to vote in DC. For simplicity's sake, then, we begin in 1960, just prior to the adoption of the 23rd Amendment.
1960-1976: Broad Support for Congressional Representation and Local Self-Government
Starting in 1956, both the Republican and Democratic Party platforms expressed support for the full range of voting rights for the residents of the District of Columbia, including a local Mayor and Council, President (23rd Amendment) and a Representative and Senators in Congress. Elected local government was reestablished (after a full century without any locally elected officials) starting with an elected School Board in 1966 and an elected Mayor and Council starting in 1974.
The 1960 Republican Party Platform voiced support for voting rights for all offices, local and national:
"Republicans will continued to work for Congressional representation and self-government for the District of Columbia and also support the constitutional amendment [(the 23rd Amendment of 1961)] granting suffrage in national elections."
The 1964 Republican Party Platform made no mention of the District of Columbia, while the Democratic Party Platform stated support for home rule and "a constitutional amendment giving the District voting representation in Congress" (the future 1978 DC Voting Rights Amendment).
The 1968 Republican and Democratic Party platforms both voiced support for self-government and for representation in Congress in much the same language as 1960 and 1964, Republicans explaining, "we specifically favor representation in Congress for the District of Columbia" and the Democrats calling for a "Constitutional Amendment to grant [full] citizenship through voting representation in Congress."
The 1972 and 1976 Republican and Democratic Party platforms essentially repeated their 1968 Platforms, though the Democratic Platform deleted further mention of a Constitutional amendment.
Republican: "We support voting representation for the District of Columbia in the United States Congress and will work for a system of self-government for the city which takes fair account of the needs and interests of both the Federal Government and the citizens of the District of Columbia." (The DC Home Rule Act, the federal law which serves as the District of Columbia's de facto state constitution, was passed and signed by President Nixon in 1973.)
Democratic: "Full home rule for the District of Columbia, including an elected mayor-city council government, broad legislative power, control over appointments, automatic federal payment and voting representation in both Houses of Congress"
Republican: "We again. support giving the District of Columbia voting representation in the United States Senate and House of Representatives and full home rule over those matters that are purely local."
Democratic: "We support. full home rule for the District of Columbia, including authority over its budget and local revenues, elimination of federal restrictions in matters which are purely local and voting representation in the Congress"
1978: The DC Voting Rights Amendment
DC's first non-voting Delegate, Walter Fauntroy, pursued a strategy to win DC residents representation in the House and Senate by means of a Constitutional amendment. This strategy came to fruition in 1978, when the House (in March) and the Senate (in August) each passed the Joint Resolution (H.J.Res. 554, introduced by Rep. Don Edwards of CA) by a required two-thirds majority. The Resolution was then sent to the states for ratification.
In the House, a majority of support came from Democrats, who voted 226 (77%) in favor to 48 (16%) against. Among Republicans, the vote was 63 (44%) in favor to 79 (55%) opposed.
In the Senate, a majority of the support for the Amendment came from Democrats, who voted 48 (79%) in favor to 12 (20%) against. Among Republicans, the vote split 19 in favor to 19 against. Republican senators supporting the Amendment included:
Sen. Howard Baker (TN) (Republican Senate Minority Leader)
1980-1984: DC Voting Rights Amendment Era and Failure to Ratify
With the passage of the DC Voting Rights Amendment by the required two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate, the proposed amendment would require three-fourths of the states -- 38 -- to be ratified, but the rules set a deadline of 7 years in which to do so. Only 16 state legislatures succeeded in passing the Amendment before the deadline expired in 1985. Meanwhile, DC residents convened a state constitutional convention starting in 1980 to draft a constitution for the proposed State of New Columbia, which was approved by DC voters in 1982.
The 1980 Democratic Party Platform noted the recent passage of the DC Voting Rights Amendment in Congress, calling for ratification:
"Both the ERA and District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendments to the Constitution must be ratified. "
Neither the 1980 nor 1984 Republican Party platforms made any mention of the District of Columbia.
The 1984 Democratic Party Platform made no mention of the District of Columbia.
1988-2000: Support and Opposition for DC Statehood
In the wake of the failure of the DC Voting Rights Amendment, DC Statehood came to the fore. But by the early 1990s, Washington, DC was facing both a fiscal crisis and a widely publicized local Mayoral corruption scandal. Congress took away many of the powers of the Mayor and Council in the mid-1990s, placing the city under a federal Financial Control Board. DC finances returned to a stronger position by 2000.
The Republican Party Platform made no mention of the District of Columbia. The Democratic Party Platform stated,
"We believe that this country's democratic processes must be revitalized. by supporting statehood for the District of Columbia. "
The Democratic Party Platform made no mention of the District of Columbia. The Republican Party Platform stated,
"We call for closer and responsible Congressional scrutiny of the city. and tighter fiscal restraints over its expenditures. We oppose statehood as inconsistent with the original intent of the Framers of the Constitution. "
The Republican Party Platform echoed the language of 1992 in more critical language, stating,
"We reaffirm the constitutional status of the District of Columbia as the seat of government of the United States and reject calls for statehood for the District."
The Democratic Party Platform returned to language which echoed its 1988 platform:
"[W]e believe all Americans have a right to fair political representation -- including the citizens of the District of Columbia who deserve full self-governance, political representation, and statehood."
The 2000 Republican Party Platform was much the same as 1992 and 1996, focusing on maintaining the entire District as a federal zone:
"We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution that our nation's capital has a unique status and should remain independent of any individual state."
The 2000 Democratic Party Platform was much the same as 1996:
"The citizens of the District of Columbia are entitled to autonomy in the conduct of their civic affairs, full political representation as Americans who are fully taxed, and statehood."
2004-2012: The (Incremental) Voting Rights Era
DC Statehood exited the political stage by the late 1990s, replaced by legislation designed to expand local autonomy and provide limited Congressional representation, most notably the bipartisan DC House Voting Rights Act to provide a single voting Representative to the District. These bills stalled repeatedly due to the inclusion of non-germane amendments regarding local DC laws on politically sensitive issues such as abortion and gun control.
The Republican Party Platform repeated language from 2000 ("We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution. "), adding in regard to the District's strengthening financial position,
"[W]e support yielding more budgetary and legal autonomy to local elected officials."
The Democratic Party Platform stated,
"As we encourage democracy around the world, we must extend democracy here at home. We support equal rights to democratic self-government and Congressional representation for the citizens of our nation's capital."
The Republican Party Platform was largely unchanged, though it jettisoned its language from 2000 and 2004 ("We respect the design of the Framers of the Constitution. ") in favor of less explicit language which continued to emphasize the maintenance of federal control:
"The nation's capital is a special responsibility of the federal government. . Washington should be made a model city." The Democratic Party Platform repeated its language from 2004.
The Republican Party Platform made no mention of the District of Columbia beyond brief references to the District in regard to the issues of abortion and the Second Amendment. The Democratic Party Platform stated,
"The American citizens who live in Washington, D.C., like the citizens of the 50 states, should have full and equal congressional rights and the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without congressional interference."
2016-2020: The Return of DC Statehood
Both parties addressed statehood directly for the first time since 2000. Party conventions took place as DC voters gathered to draft a new state constitution. A local referendum on statehood passed overwhelmingly (86%) at the end of 2016.
The 2016 Republican Party Platform addressed the District in much greater detail and in much more hostile language than any previous platform. The statement began, echoing previous platforms,
"The nation's capital city is a special responsibility of the federal government," adding, "because it belongs both to its residents and to all Americans, millions of whom visit it every year. . We call for Congressional action to enforce the spirit of the Home Rule Act, assuring minority representation in the City Council. That council, backed by the current mayor, is attempting to seize from the Congress its appropriating power over all funding for the District. The illegality of their action mirrors the unacceptable spike in violent crime and murders currently afflicting the city. We expect Congress to assert, by whatever means necessary, its constitutional prerogatives regarding the District."
Regarding statehood specifically, the platform asserted,
"Statehood for the District can be advanced only by a constitutional amendment. Any other approach would be invalid. A statehood amendment (sic) was soundly rejected by the states when last proposed in 1976 (sic) and should not be revived."
In fact, the DC Voting Rights Amendment, which was sent to the states following passage in Congress in 1978, would have provided for full Congressional representation, but not statehood. Beyond its opposition to statehood, the 2016 Republican Party platform boldly rejected any efforts to reform the District's political status.
The 2016 Democratic Party Platform stated,
"Restoring our democracy also means passing statehood for the District of Columbia, so that the American citizens who reside in the nation's capital have full and equal congressional rights as well as the right to have the laws and budget of their local government respected without Congressional interference."
The 2020 Democratic Party Platform stated,
"It's time to stop treating the more than 700,000 people who live in our nation's capital as second-class citizens. The residents of Washington, DC pay more per capita in federal income taxes than any state in the country -- and more in total federal income tax than 22 states -- and yet the District has zero voting representatives in the US Congress. The Congress retains broad power to override budget decisions made by democratically elected officials in Washington, DC. And as was made shockingly clear to the American people this year, under current law, Washington, DC does not have control over its own National Guard units and can be occupied by military forces at the President’s whim.
The citizens of Washington, D.C.—a majority of whom are people of color -- voted overwhelmingly in favor of statehood in a 2016 referendum and have ratified a state constitution. Democrats unequivocally support statehood for Washington, DC, so the citizens of the District can at last have full and equal representation in Congress and the rights of self-determination."
The Republican Party did not issue a Party Platform in 2020.
Conclusion: 6 Decades of Shifting Political Winds -- from Calm Breezes to a Big Storm
America's major parties started out very much in agreement during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s over full Congressional representation and self-government for the people of the District of Columbia, with many in both parties supporting the DC Voting Rights Amendment in 1978. In the 1980s, the parties said little following the failure of the states to ratify the Amendment, which led to the emergence of DC statehood in the Democratic Party platform. In the early 1990s, both parties retreated, but Democrats soon returned to support statehood, while Republicans began to focus on opposition to statehood, saying nothing more about Congressional representation. In the 2000s and 2010s, support for Congressional representation and greater self-government appeared in the Democratic Party platform, while Republicans focused on the definition of Washington, DC as a city under federal control. Following the reintroduction of statehood legislation in 2012, the 2016 Democratic and Republican Party platforms represent a significantly wider partisan split than ever before, with Republicans in Congress saying nothing more about their previous support for full representation in Congress. (The Republican Party did not issue a platform in 2020, while the Democratic Party continued to express support for statehood, passing DC statehood legislation in the House for the first time in June 2020.)