Politics & Policy

If We Can Make It There . . .

A Right to the D.C. Council.

In Washington, D.C., where liberals outnumber conservatives 10-1, conservatives may be making a comeback in local politics, with Republican Patrick Mara’s campaign for an at-large seat on the D.C. Council (the District’s legislative body). The 13-person Council has, in the recent past, had only one Republican member: Carol Schwartz, the incumbent whom Mara is challenging in the September 9 primary.

In his campaign, Mara, who has worked as a legislative aide to Rhode Island Republican John Chafee, is challenging Schwartz’s political identity: “She is not a conservative at all,” he tells National Review Online. When the facts are laid out, Mara’s claim seems accurate: Nine of her ten staff members are Democrats, and her voting record is to the left of Ted Kennedy’s. In this current election, Schwartz has received endorsements from the AFL-CIO and the SEIU, two liberal labor unions. Mara, by contrast, has received the support of the D.C. business community, including endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and the Board of Trade.

Mara tells NRO: “The D.C. Council spends and spends and wastes and wastes. As a councilmember, I would put an end to that.” If elected, Mara plans to introduce legislation that cuts 10 percent of the D.C. government’s budget, beginning with his own staff. In addition, Mara would be the only councilmember who has vowed never to vote for a tax increase; Schwartz voted for eleven in her most recent term on the Council to subsidize welfare programs. One summer-jobs program, which Schwartz recently advocated expanding, hands out paid summer jobs to D.C. students; the problem is that students who do not show up are still getting paid, and many are not showing up. Mara, who will not expand this program, says “It’s encouraging welfare early on,” Mara says, “and it’s bad for our businesses and for our constituents, who have to pay to support this ineffective program.”

Mara likes to point out the business community’s frustration with Schwartz. The incumbent was responsible for the “Sick and Safe” legislation, enacted last March, that forces small businesses to pay for their employees’ sick leave. Mara says that Sick and Safe “is an example of yet another unfunded mandate that the Council has made into law. When high tax rates and regulations mean that D.C. is already the 51st worst state in the country to do business, this piece of legislation doesn’t help.” To date, only D.C. and San Francisco have this law on the books — making Mara question why Schwartz spearheaded this law through the Council. (Schwartz’s office declined to comment.)

Schwartz is also bad on education, opposing vouchers, charters, and parental choice in schools. Mara — who favors all these things–says that “in D.C., we pay more than anyone else for the worst education. We have a 40 to 50 percent dropout rate. Yet Schwartz, who was elected to the school board in 1974, stands in the way of educational reform to appease the American Federation of Teachers.”

Specifically, Mara is referring to the Public Education Reform Act of 2007, which Schwartz voted against. The bill would have put the school system directly under the mayor’s control. “It would create a system of accountability,” Mara explains. The teachers’ unions, however, fear precisely that: The mayor could tie teaching jobs to teaching performance, so that teachers who performed well would receive monetary rewards, but those who did not would get the boot.

According to the Home Rule Act, which created the D.C. Council in 1973, at least two members of the council must come from the non-majority party, leaving an opening for Republicans in an overwhelmingly Democratic city. One of those seats will likely go to an independent candidate, while the other has historically gone to a Republican. Can we hope that, this time, the seat will be won by someone who’s not just a Republican, but a conservative?

– Emily Esfahani-Smith is an intern with National Review and the editor of The Dartmouth Review.

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