Will Obama's Plates Aid D.C.'s 'Taxation' Protest?

License plates in the District of Columbia bear the words "Taxation Without Representation," protesting the city's lack of voting rights in Congress. Advocates want President-elect Obama's limo to carry the message, too.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Bill Clinton used them, George W. Bush did not, and no one is quite sure what President-elect Barack Obama will do with the license plates most other folks in Washington, D.C., have when it's his turn to ride in the presidential limo. These plates include the cheeky slogan, "Taxation without Representation." From the nation's capital, Daniele Anastasion has more.

DANIELE ANASTASION: For new residents of the nation's capital, getting a D.C. license can be a bittersweet experience.

Mr. ADAM EIDINGER (Resident, Washington, D.C.): I came here as an idealistic young politico who wanted to work on Capitol Hill, and as soon as I got a D.C. driver's license, I suddenly had no senators and no representatives who had any votes in Congress.

ANASTASION: Adam Eidinger is a business owner and activist and one of nearly 600,000 Washingtonians who have no representation in Congress.

Mr. EIDINGER: We're the last industrialized nation on Earth that denies the people who live in the capitol city the right to vote. People in Baghdad can vote in the national elections. If it's good enough for the Iraqis, it's good enough for Americans, too.

ANASTASION: Washingtonians pay the second highest per capita federal income taxes in the country. D.C. councilmember Jack Evans thinks they deserve their say in Congress.

Mr. JACK EVANS (Democrat, Chairmen Pro Tempore, Council of the District of Columbia): If you've got it - you can't have it both ways. You've got to give us the vote or we don't pay taxes.

ANASTASION: Evans and the entire D.C. Council petitioned Obama to put "Taxation without Representation" tags back on the presidential limo.

Mr. EVANS: So that when he comes down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day and the cameras zoom in on the limousine, there's our license plate. The whole idea again is to educate the country.

ANASTASION: Obama has spoken out in favor of D.C. voting rights. But some are not so sympathetic. Hans von Spakovsky is a legal scholar with the Heritage Foundation.

Mr. HANS A. VON SPAKOVSKY (Legal Scholar, Heritage Foundation): I'll probably get in trouble for saying this, but if you don't like the fact that you don't have representation, it's very easy to move.

ANASTASION: The district votes overwhelmingly Democratic, and while most Democrats support D.C. voting rights, a majority of Republicans oppose it.

(Soundbite of congressional debate)

Senator MITCH MCCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky): But the District of Columbia has never been a state, and for this reason, according to the Constitution, it does not get congressional representation.

ANASTASION: That's Republican Mitch McConnell on the floor of the Senate last year. McConnell opposed the D.C. Voting Rights Act, which would grant the district a single representative. The bill passed in the House, but fell short in the Senate. Now that the political tide has shifted, some say it's time to reintroduce the bill. Ilir Zherka heads the nonprofit DC Vote.

Mr. ILIR ZHERKA (Executive Director, DC Vote): Times have changed, and elections matter. And now we have more allies in the Senate and an ally in the White House, and we're thrilled about that.

ANASTASION: But some legal scholars say the bill would immediately be challenged in court. Hans Von Spakovsky.

Mr. VON SPAKOVSKY: The problem is any - even if Congress passed such a bill, even if they do it the next session and if President Obama signs it, it's patently unconstitutional.

ANASTASION: An activist like Adam Eidinger believe the bill ignores the larger goal of full democracy for the district.

Mr. EIDINGER: Only problem - only way to solve this according to the way that founding fathers and the way our Constitution is structured, I believe, is by making us a state.

ANASTASION: Eidinger has staged over a dozen protests and even gone to jail agitating for D.C. statehood. In 2005, he and a group of activists were arrested while protesting in former Speaker Dennis Hastert's office, all dressed in colonial clothing.

Mr. EIDINGER: It was pretty powerful and we were singing this song - it went like this...

(Singing) Indentured servants of the D.C. plantation, Slaving away from misrepresentation, It's for a party to give back the tea. It's time to say free D.C.

ANASTASION: President-elect Obama says he supports D.C. voting rights. But it's unclear if he would put his weight behind full statehood. Obama spokesman Nick Shapiro had only this to say.

Mr. NICK SHAPIRO (Spokesman, President-elect Barack Obama): The president-elect is a strong supporter of D.C. voting rights because he believes that all Americans should have a voice in our democratic process.

ANASTASION: And while it probably won't be his first order of business, Washingtonians expect to see Obama with a new license plate on inauguration day. For NPR News, I'm Daniele Anastasion in Washington, D.C.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: More to come on Day to Day.

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