Democrats Should Add Three States Now: Turnabout, as the old saying goes, is fair play

And Dems should channel GOP talking points from when that Party added four states

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash
  • By 2040, 50% of America will live in 8 democratically-controlled states and only be represented by 16 out of 100 US Senators, creating an unbeatable majority for the GOP.
  • During the Civil War Abraham Lincoln & the GOP added Nevada, for purely partisan reasons, when it didn’t qualify as a state. They did it again with Colorado and both Dakotas, just to add Republicans to the Senate.
  • Adding Washington DC and Puerto Rico as states will not only help the senate reflect who America is, but also gives representation to Americans who currently have no voice.
  • With a balanced Senate, impeachment, Medicare For All, the end of student debt and a Green New Deal would all be done.

If the US Senate was actually representative of America, the conviction of Donald Trump for inciting insurrection would have been assured. As would passage of Medicare for All, Free College, and a Green New Deal.

But it’s not. And things are about to get a whole hell of a lot worse.

The Democratic Party is facing a crisis that it’s experienced only once before in its history: the possible near-complete loss, for multiple generations, of control of the Senate.

Within the next two decades, half of the population of the United States will live in just eight mostly-Democratic-controlled states and be represented by only 16 (out of 100) US senators. The GOP, if their dominance in low-population states holds, will have an unbeatable majority in the Senate for generations going forward.

Right now, about two-thirds of the US population lives in just 15 states, represented by only 30 senators (and thus 30 percent of the Senate). As a result, Democrats in the Senate represent 41,549,808 more Americans than do Republicans, even though that body is split 50/50.

There’s history here, and Democrats need to learn it fast.*

As our country was adding new states in the 19th century, the population threshold necessary for statehood was the same as that for a single member of the House of Representatives. In 1864, that was 125,000 residents.

But during the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln and his Republican Party (which controlled both the House and Senate at the time) needed 2 more senators to assure their control of that body.

To remedy that political problem, in 1864 Lincoln and his Republicans in Congress brought the Nevada Territory into the Union as a state—even though there were only 7,000 “legal residents” then living in that territory. Had Nevada waited until it had enough residents to qualify for a single House seat and two senators, it wouldn’t have been admitted as a state until 1970.

But Nevada added two Republican senators, giving Lincoln’s GOP solid control over the Senate for a generation.

Twelve years later, in 1876, to solidify that GOP majority, Republican President Ulysses S. Grant and his party granted Colorado — with a mere 40,000 residents — statehood.

Republicans doubled down on the process again in 1889, when they’d just ousted Democrat Grover Cleveland from the White House.

Republican president Benjamin Harrison not only admitted the Dakota Territory into the union but split it in two to produce four senators and two representatives for the GOP. (North Dakota had 36,000 residents in the census of 1880; South Dakota had 98,000.)

Thus, in roughly 40 years the GOP added eight US senators, largely cementing their control of the Senate until the Great Depression; from Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861 until 1933, Democrats controlled the Senate for only eight years.

Democrats must do the same. All it takes to add a state is that territory passing a referendum asking for statehood (already happened for DC and Puerto Rico), a simple majority vote in the House and Senate, and the President’s signature.

Almost half of our states have fewer than four million people, with 14 of them having fewer than two million, and generally the least populous states are the most rural and the most reliably Republican.

To fix this undemocratic imbalance, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico must become states now.

“Taxation without representation” is proudly displayed on the license plates of vehicles registered in Washington, DC. It’s ironic, considering that the city is the capital of a nation birthed in the colonial cries of “No taxation without representation!”

Though residents in Washington, DC pay federal taxes and the District has more citizens than either Wyoming or Vermont, DC is not a state, has no votes in Congress, and has had only three Electoral College votes since the 1961 passage of the 23rd Amendment.

Puerto Rico, with several times the population of Wyoming or Vermont, is in a similar situation, although residents of the territory don’t generally pay federal income taxes. In a 2017 referendum, 97 percent of the island’s residents voted in favor of statehood.

And if Democrats want to really imitate Lincoln’s political coup to solidify control of the Senate, they could add a third state.

One of the real breakout stars among the House Impeachment Managers, Delegate Stacey Plaskett, represents the US Virgin Islands in Congress. Like DC’s Eleanor Holmes Norton, she has no vote, but she can speak up during House debates.

The US Virgin Islands have a bit over 100,000 residents, which easily fits into the historic population ratios Republicans used to add both Nevada, Colorado and the Dakotas as states, all just to get more senators. While a harder lift, the Virgin Islands should be considered for statehood, too, if for no other reason than to balance out the 39 million Californians who have only two US Senators.

The people of both Puerto Rico and Washington, DC want the places where they live to become states, and Republicans are terrified at the prospect because both places vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

Statehood would add four Democratic senators, producing a Senate that more accurately reflects the overall American electorate. And adding the US Virgin Islands would make the Senate much closer (but still not there) to being representative of the overall American population.

Republicans will predictably scream that adding states will diminish the overwhelming power the GOP has relative to the US population they represent in the Senate.

Those screams should be met by pointing out how both DC and Puerto Rico easily meet the population threshold necessary for statehood.

And when Republicans start squealing about the “tiny” US Virgin Islands being added, Democrats should simply lay out the historical facts about how Republicans ignored those population thresholds to bring Nevada, Colorado and both Dakotas into the union just to maintain a GOP grip on the Senate.

Either the American republic operates as a democracy or we don’t. It’s been an ideal since our founding, and every generation until the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s has moved us forward in that direction.

The senate, as currently configured, is profoundly anti-democratic (a crisis amplified by the filibuster), and adding three states will only partially correct that, but it’s still a big step toward a More Perfect Union.

Democrats need to act now.

*I cover this in greater detail in my book The Hidden History of the War On Voting.

America’s #1 progressive talk show host & NY Times bestselling author. Thom’s latest project is the “Hidden History” series of books.

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