COLUMN: POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Let's do it for the sake of democracy

Robert Lee

You may look back in history and recall that Oklahoma started out as a divided territory with a part being Oklahoma Territory and part being Indian Territory.

It was not intended to be a state - at least, not one state - but history shows us what was originally intended is not what always happens. Like with our ancestors in the East, the lands here soon saw white migration and hunger for land. With the Land Run of 1889 around 50,000 non-Native settlers arrived and staked their claim.

Over in IT we have this from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, "As whites continued to move into I.T., their numbers increased from 110,254 in 1890 to 302,680 in 1900." So, there was agitation for statehood with those in opposition fearing it would result in the non-Native citizens having to pay taxes. Then there was the political consideration of who would have influence.

Skipping a lot of history, we end the encyclopedia story with this, "Consequently, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and the Republican-controlled Congress wanted joint statehood to eliminate the possibility of I.T. joining the Union as a Democratic state. On June 16, 1906, President Roosevelt signed the Oklahoma Enabling Act, which provided for the writing of a constitution for a state to be formed from the merging of Indian and Oklahoma territories."

These are the same arguments being made against statehood for Puerto Rico. The shifting of tax burden and fearing the citizens of Puerto Rico would vote "Democrat" has led to opposing doing the right thing. Mind you, Puerto Rican residents are already U.S. citizens, they just don't get the full benefit of citizenship. They don't get to vote, they don't receive the financial support of states, the citizens are not treated as equals to citizens of states. Further, the citizens of Puerto Rico want to have the full status of statehood. From we see, "The last significant vote occurred in 2017, with 97% of voters saying that they wanted to join the United States." To be fair, it was a low turnout referendum. It wouldn't all be easy, like Oklahoma transitioning to statehood wasn't easy. But it is the right thing to do. As for D.C. being a state, I recall the cries from our early revolutionary period "No taxation without Representation." That idea was a foundational concept and argument against our remaining colonies of England. They rightfully argued that if they were going to pay taxes to "the king" they should have a seat at the table and help decide about taxes and spending. Yet to this day, due to political and racial considerations, some of it very blatantly racist, the citizens of Washington, D.C., continue to have no voting representation in Congress in spite of their paying the highest federal taxes per capita in the nation. Plus, they have more population than two states - Vermont and Wyoming. That's over 700,000 U.S. citizens who have no voting representative in Congress. Does that seem right to you?

There is a lot of history to explore, but what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Over the years the idea of providing statehood status to Washington, D.C., has garnered bipartisan support and being argued favorably on both sides of the aisle - at different times of course. The reason for the difference is political expediency, but to borrow a phrase from last week's column quoting Patrice Arent of Utah, "It doesn't matter who it helps or who it hurts. It's what we ought to be doing in our democracy."

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.

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