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Chaffetz getting gripes from constituents — not Utahns, but those in D.C.

First Published      Last Updated Feb 02 2017 08:21 am


If Utah lawmaker wants to call the shots, he should also take care of potholes and trash, residents say.

Washington • When Charles Allen's trash wasn't picked up this week at his home here, he knew the right guy to call: Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Allen, a member of the District of Columbia's City Council, figured if the Utah congressman wants to tell D.C. what to do in local matters — on a range of issues from legal marijuana to assisted suicide — he should be able to help residents with more rudimentary problems.

"If we're going to have a member of Congress from the great state of Utah decide that he wants to be focused on local D.C. issues and what laws the City Council is passing here, maybe he'd like to help with things like potholes and trash pickup," Allen said Wednesday. "It makes sense to me."



As chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has broad jurisdiction over D.C., Chaffetz says it's his job to be involved in what laws residents or council members pass.

That includes trying to overrule recent legislation attempting to block a voter-approved referendum to legalize marijuana. Chaffetz said this week he was "exploring" the idea of making D.C. residents part of Maryland so they would have a governor, two senators and a House member. D.C. has no federal representation.

Those efforts have earned a strong rebuke from District residents who have flooded Chaffetz's phones with complaints.

Allen, who represents the Capitol Hill area — including the Capitol and House office where Chaffetz sleeps on his cot — says Chaffetz should be worried about what his Utah constituents want and need, not on laws passed by D.C. residents or their elected officials.

"The fundamental part to understand is that 680,000 people live here in the District of Columbia," Allen said in an interview. "We call it home. We didn't vote for Congressman Chaffetz."

Chaffetz's efforts to overturn D.C.'s "Death with Dignity" law isn't the first, nor likely the last, time Congress has meddled in the city's affairs. Because the city was set up in the Constitution as a federal district, Congress has the power to jettison any budget item or legislation within a certain time frame.

D.C. residents, for example, overwhelmingly approved a law to legalize marijuana but Congress, partially at the urging of Chaffetz, passed legislation to prohibit the city from spending any money to enact that law. (City residents, therefore, can legally smoke marijuana in their homes or property but it is still a crime to sell weed.)

Chaffetz says he will hold an Oversight hearing on legalization to toss out the city's assisted-suicide law because the federal government spends $200 million a year to prevent suicides and the nation's capital shouldn't be going the opposite direction.

A proponent of local control and government closest to the people, Chaffetz says the District is completely different than any other community in America — his home of "Alpine, Utah, is not highlighted in the Constitution as our nation's capital," he notes — and D.C. residents shouldn't complain to him that Congress has oversight of the city.

"They needed to talk to the framers of our Constitution, which is crystal clear on this point," Chaffetz said. "Washington, D.C., is not a state; it is our nation's capital, and per the Constitution, the United States Congress has jurisdiction on all matters whatsoever."

The Utah Republican supports ceding residential areas of the city back to adjoining Maryland — which gave up 68 square miles to form the District in the late 1700s — even though D.C. residents and Maryland leaders have objected to such a move.

In the meantime, Chaffetz says it's Congress' role to manage the District even if the city's leaders don't like it.

"It's a constitutional issue; It's not something Jason Chaffetz came up with," he said.

D.C. Vote, a group that seeks to get representation for residents here, tallied nearly 30 attempts last year by members of Congress to change D.C. law or its budget.

For Allen, the solution is simple: Make the District the 51st state, a wish that has been pushed by some residents for decades. The councilman notes that the District is the only capital city in the developed world that doesn't have representation in the national government.

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