US capital uses Obama's limo, parade to press for statehood

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Local politicians stepped up their campaign for the District of Columbia to become the 51st state this week, introducing a bill in the House of Representatives and mounting a PR campaign tied to President Barack Obama's inauguration next Monday.

From presidential license plates to a parade reviewing stand, Washington is using the pomp of the inauguration to put its case for more self-government before crowds of onlookers and millions of television viewers.

"This is an opportunity that we get every four years, that is, to be able to say to America that there is not full democracy here in this city," Democratic Mayor Vincent Gray told a news conference on Wednesday.

At the request of the District, Mr Obama's fleet of inaugural limousines will carry license plates with the city's slogan - "Taxation without Representation" - when he is sworn in for a second term.

Although President Bill Clinton's vehicles carried the plate late in his 1993-2001 term, Obama will be the first president to show the slogan at an inauguration, a Gray spokesman said.

"Taxation without representation" was one of the complaints that triggered the American Revolution against Britain in the 18th century. All Washington license plates carry the slogan.

Washington DC was created in the 18th century as a political compromise between Northern and Southern states, with Congress wielding power over it.

An elected mayor and a 13-member council have governed the overwhelmingly Democratic city of 632,000 people since 1973. But Congress has overriding authority and may overturn local laws.

The 177km sq District has a non-voting representative in Congress and no senators. Residents are subject to all federal taxes, unlike US territories such as Guam and Puerto Rico.

The District's congressional representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives on Tuesday to make the District the 51st US state, New Columbia.

The House rejected a similar bill introduced by Holmes Norton in 1993 in the only vote on District statehood.

The District also will display a sign - A More Perfect Union Must Include More Democracy in DC - on its US$342,000 (S$419,000) city hall reviewing stand along the inaugural parade route.

Mr Gray said the District's ultimate goal was statehood, with control over its budget an interim target. The Board of Elections last week allowed budget autonomy to be put on the ballot for an April 23 special election.

Opponents argue that making the District a state would require a constitutional amendment. They say that since the District belongs to all US citizens, all citizens should have a say in how it is run.

The push for statehood has become a partisan issue, with Republicans generally opposed and Democrats mostly in favour.

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