DC’s shadow senators and representative can’t vote and don’t get paid

Washington, DC, isn’t a state, so it doesn’t have a real senator or a real rep.
Washington, DC, isn’t a state, so it doesn’t have a real senator or a real rep.
Image: REUTERS/Jim Young
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Like US territories, Washington, D.C. isn’t represented in the Senate or House of Representatives. But since 1990, it does have shadow senators and a shadow congressperson.

They don’t get officially sworn in, they don’t have voting privileges, and they don’t draw a salary. So why does anyone bother running for them, and what do they actually do? Michael Brown, one of DC’s current shadow senators and whose seat is up in the 2018 US midterm elections, explained to the Washington Post, “If you look at the mandate that created our office, we’re supposed to lobby Congress and keep them informed that we’re ready for statehood.” The current DC shadow representative, Franklin Garcia–whose seat is also up–is on the same page. He says on his website, “I advocate for the admission of the state of New Columbia as the 51st state in the union.”

DC also has a nonvoting delegate who it sends to the House of Representatives (as do Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the US Virgin Islands). Like their shadow counterparts, the non-voting delegates can’t vote on legislation either, but they can serve and vote on House committees. Since 1990, longtime civil rights advocate Eleanor Holmes Norton has represented DC as its non-voting delegate. On her website, she calls herself “congresswoman.”

The second DC shadow senate seat, originally held by civil rights leader and one-time presidential candidate Rev. Jesse Jackson, has been held since 1997 by an attorney named Paul Strauss. That seat will be up again in 2020.

Shadow representation in the US Congress isn’t new. The first shadow senators were elected back in 1796 by the Southwest Territory, whose residents lacked statehood but wanted representation. A few months later, after the territory had become the state of Tennessee, its two shadow senators became fully fledged US senators.