Statement of Karen D. Rose, Legislative Advisor, DC For Democracy before The City Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole Hearing on Attorney General Partisan Election on Monday, February 10, 2014.
Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers for holding this important, time sensitive, hearing on Councilmember Cheh’s proposed bill B20-0602, “The Attorney General Partisan Election Implementation Amendment Act of 2013.” DC For Democracy (“DCFD”) is a major non-aligned, political organization in the District of Columbia, with a membership comprised of grassroots activists, community leaders, and everyday voters committed to effective and accountable local government. DCFD is unable to testify this morning, so is submitting this statement for inclusion in the official hearing record.
As a membership driven organization, DCFD is compelled to comment on Council Bill B20-0602. For more than three years now, DCFD has supported the direct election of an Attorney General for the District of Columbia, beginning in 2014. Specifically, on October 20, 2010, DCFD formally endorsed the public ballot referendum on the question of amending the DC Home Rule Charter to allow citywide elections in 2014 for the Office of Attorney General, as published in the DC Register. In fact, our members overwhelmingly approved of the proposed Charter Amendment with an 85% favorable vote—well over our strict minimum two-thirds threshold requirement for all organizational endorsements. Once DCFD has made an official endorsement, our members then collectively focus their limited time, energy and resources on achieving our declared goals, commitments, and priorities. Needless to say, DCFD was elated when more than 75% of DC voters also overwhelmingly approved the DC Council initiated public ballot referendum on November 2, 2010.
As you all well know, before any Council proposed Charter Amendment can become law in DC, it must be approved by the whole electorate. To present a referendum to the voters first requires the Board of Elections and Ethics (“BOEE”) to formulate and promulgate precise language for the ballot, in the form of a Short Title and Summary Statement of no more than 150 words, pursuant to BOEE regulations, DC Code, and in this instance, in accordance with DC Act 18-351 (March 30, 2010). Consequently, on July 7, 2010, BOEE convened a Special Board Meeting to formulate, adopt, and prepare for publication appropriate ballot language for the public question on amending the city’s Home Rule Charter. During this meeting, BOEE unanimously approved language that includes the proviso “If voters approve of this amendment and the U.S. Congress does not reject the measure, the residents of the District of Columbia would begin voting for the Attorney General in 2014.”
BOEE’s “Proposed Charter Amendment IV” first appeared as a notice of publication for elector reviewon July 16, 2010. By this time, BOEE was required also to have formally notified “the Mayor and Chairman of the Council” of the proposed referendum language, for their respective reviews. Because there was no disagreement with BOEE’s proposed language, another Special Board Meeting was duly convened on July 28, 2010, during which the Board’s proposed Charter Amendment language was certified, without challenge, and placed on the next November General Election ballot. Both BOEE’s certified referendum language and DC Act 18-351 were then published in the DC Register on August 13, 2010, along with the announced date of the next general election, Tuesday, November 2, 2010.
In DC, laws–whether enacted by the legislature or the electorate–must also survive a Congressional Review Period (“CRP”) before going into effect. For Charter Amendments, CPRs are set at 35 legislative days. In this instance, emergency legislation DC Act 18-352 (August 6, 2010) was also enacted, starting the CRP clock and producing another round of public notification. No Congressional challenge was made, and on September 10, 2010, DC Act 18-532 was published in the DC Register.
As an organization, DC For Democracy takes its own internal procedures and rules of governance very seriously. Even the smallest by-laws changes are carefully deliberated and all amendments require prior notification and full membership approval. DCFD is not, however, a government. So when a sitting Council moves to amend the Home Rule Charter by simple legislation on a close 7-6 vote, like this Council did last year, to change the date of the first direct election of an Attorney General from 2014 to after January 1, 2018, DC For Democracy becomes extremely concerned.
In 2010, DCFD members did not only vote to amend the DC Home Rule Charter to provide that the selection of DC’s first elected Attorney General would commence in 2014, we actively advocated for this. And as illustrated above, there were numerous and predictable opportunities for the Council, Mayor, BOEE members, and/or the general public to propose modifications to any aspect of the final referendum language formulation, as contained in BOEE’s very short Summary Statement, prior to its certification and placement on the 2010 general election ballot. In addition, having passed the Congressional Review Period with the expectation of a 2014 election, DCFD is also very concerned that any errant attempts to obviate the rules of law locally could jeopardize current efforts to reclaim both legislative and budget autonomy from Congress, as well as seriously undermine the city’s on-going efforts to block intrusive riders on annual DC budget appropriation bills, or to gain broader Congressional support for our DC statehood legislation (H.R 292/S. 132).
With this in mind, DCFD supports B20-0602 as a temporary measure offering the only practicable means of electing the Attorney General in 2014. However, the bill should be amended to make this change a temporary measure for 2014 only. The voters intended that the Attorney General election be conducted as a normal partisan election involving a partisan primary, followed by a general election. Therefore, the bill also should be changed to restore the normal partisan process for electing Attorneys General starting in 2018.
Thank you for your consideration.
[The complete testimony, with footnotes, can be downloaded AG hearing testimony.]