Are You Smarter Than A Congressman?

Are you smarter than a Congressman? Answer one geography question, and let’s see. Is Guam a foreign country? With a 50/50 chance of getting the right answer, let’s hope you chose wisely. The answer is a resounding “NO!” If that was your response (guess?), you are smarter than at least one sitting federal legislator.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representing Georgia, learned a geography lesson the hard way. And by hard way, I mean she publicly made a geographic misstatement. Taylor’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference (“CPAC”) in February included the statement, “…our hard-earned tax-dollars should just go for America not for what? China, Russia, the Middle East, Guam….” I’m not sure why little old Guam was lumped together with those large and daunting countries and a volatile world area, but Guam is definitely not foreign. Yes, Marjorie, Guam is part of the U.S.

Some folks may be scratching their heads and saying to themselves, “I know Guam is not one of the 50 states, so how can that be?” Answer? The United States is composed of more than just 50 states; in addition to states, Uncle Sam counts some territories, including Guam, as part of his homeland too. The island territory may not be a state, but its residents are U.S. citizens, and Guam sends a (non-voting) delegate to the U.S. Congress.

The current delegate from Guam to Congress is Michael F. Q. San Nicholas (“MFQSN” for short). Since he can’t vote, MFQSN has a bit more time on his hands than representatives in Congress. Accordingly, he arranged to provide an impromptu geography lesson to Rep. Greene. Accompanied by three dozen National Guard troops from Guam, MFQSN marched over to Greene’s office in the Capitol bearing a big basket containing cookies and guidebooks on Guam. The guidebooks, to no one’s surprise, made abundantly clear that Guam is a part of the United States. Unfortunately, Rep. Greene was absent from class that day, being out of her office at the time the Guamanians came a calling.

Although Rep. Greene has been criticized for her geographic blunder, I think she’s in a big boat of people who aren’t educated about Guam. My memory may have dimmed a bit over the years (OK, decades) since I was in high school, but I don’t recall ever studying Guam in geography. Additionally, I don’t remember helping my kids do geography homework concerning Guam. So, I think it is a safe assumption most Americans need a crash geography course, Guam 101. Guam, here we come!

How does one get to Guam? Westward ho! Guam is a jaunt of 5,800 miles from San Francisco to the western north Pacific Ocean. In fact, Guam is so far west that it’s actually the westernmost part of the United States. Due to its proximity to the International Date Line, this U.S. territory’s unofficial motto is “Where America’s Day Begins.”

The island, part of the Mariana Island archipelago in Micronesia, is volcanic in origin and is ringed with steep cliffs along its coast. Guam covers an area of 210 square miles and provides a home to an estimated 168,801 people and serves as the location for 19 villages. The capital, Hagatna (formerly known as Agana), is a bustling village of 1,051 residents. With a tropical rainforest climate , absolutely no one should be surprised that the territory’s economy is dependent primarily on tourism.

The indigenous people of the island are the Chamorros. Their language and English are the official languages of Guam. Presumably, the Chamorros are wonderful bakers as MFQSN filled his basket with Chamorro Chip Cookies to deliver to Rep. Greene. Baking supplies are not locally grown though; Guam must import most of its food.

Ferdinand Magellan, whom I am certain U.S. citizens studied about in school, arrived on Gaum on March 6, 1521. That day is celebrated as Discovery Day by Gaumanians. The Kingdom of Spain ruled Guam for about four centuries, but that European control ended when the U.S. occupied the island after Spain’s defeat in 1898 in the Spanish-American War. Japan occupied Guam during World War II.

Guam officially became a U.S. territory as a result of the Organic Act of 1950 (doesn’t that name make you think of food?), and its people were granted U.S. citizenship. As a result of Guam’s territorial status, its residents are U.S. citizens by birth. The islands’ official name is the U.S. Territory of Guam, and the U.S. dollar is its official currency.

Pouring big bucks into the island’s economy are the Department of Defense installations on Guam. The territory occupies a strategic location, and one-third of its land is owned by the U.S. armed forces. Military installations situated on Guam include Andersen AFB, which is the most important U.S. air base west of Hawaii, U.S. Naval Base Guam, and Marine Corps Base Blaz. Guam was a major base of operations for the Air Force and Navy during World War II.

Lest one think that Guam is nothing but tourists and military, think again. The island is home to the University of Guam, the only public university in the western Pacific. I’d imagine its students may be tempted to lounge on the island’s beaches sipping tuba, a local fermented coconut drink, rather than hitting the books though.

Tourists stream to the island through the island’s only public airport, the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. And no matter how many tubas a tourist drinks, they ought to easily remember the airport code of GUM. If they imbibe too many tubas, tourists can claim they were merely verbalizing the USPS abbreviation for Guam, GU, when speaking incoherently.

In the end, perhaps freshman Rep. Greene’s geographical gaffe was a good thing. It provided a teachable moment (or 5 if you read this whole blog post) for Americans to learn more about their country. Surprise! The USA is bigger than you thought and includes exotic and faraway locations outside the continental U.S. such as Guam. Perhaps Rep. Greene’s biggest contribution to her constituents and other American citizens is not serving them but spurring them to have a greater geographical grasp of the country we call home–one of which Guam has been a part for many years whether we knew it or not. Hopefully all of us in addition to an embarrassed member of Congress are smarter geographically now.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you were given a globe, could you pick out Guam’s location? Were you aware Guam was a U.S. territory? After reading this blog post, do you deem your geographic education adequate? Why or why not?

And Then There Were 51 — Statehood For D.C. Ahead?

COVID-19 may not be the only thing that rocks Americans’ lives in 2020. What if the makeup of our United States changed? Fasten your seat belts because a 51st state is now being considered by Congress. Could we see the first addition of a state since Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1959?

What? You hadn’t heard of this development? Trust me. Neither COVID-19 nor the possible addition of a 51st state is a hoax. But having to figure out where to put another star on the beloved Stars and Stripes apparently isn’t as newsworthy to the networks as “breaking news” about the latest number of confirmed coronavirus cases or deaths. With all that bad news being reported, the possibility having a new state join the union should be a distracting and welcome story. Let’s check it out.

On June 26, 2020, the House passed the aptly named H.R. 51, also known as the Washington, D.C. Admission Act of 2020, which proposes to make D.C. the 51st state. Only the new state’s name wouldn’t be the District of Columbia because, well, it wouldn’t be a district anymore but a state. How does Washington, Douglass Commonwealth grab you? This name honors both our first president, George Washington, and former slave, abolitionist, and D.C. resident of many years, Frederick Douglass. Nice thought, but that name seems too much of a mouthful to me. If would likely end up being referred to as WDC for convenience. WDYT? (What do you think?)

This 51st state would not only have a new name but new territory. Out of the current D.C.,  a small federal district, to be known as “The Capital,” would be carved. Monuments (at least those still standing at the time), the White House, the Capitol, the National Mall, and federal buildings would not be contained in Washington Douglass Commonwealth–er, WDC..

So why does D.C. need to be a state? Isn’t it enough that it is the seat of our nation’s government and a huge tourist destination? The short answer for some proponents? TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION, a phrase which appears on D.C. license plates.

As of July 2019, approximately 706,000 people lived in D.C., a population which is higher than the states of Wyoming and Vermont. Residents of the District are required to pay taxes. And pay taxes they do since D.C. has a higher per capita income than any state. But D.C. residents have no voting representatives in Congress. Eleanor Holmes Norton serves as their delegate in the House, so she can speak on the D.C. residents’ behalf, but she cannot vote.

Other proponents of statehood for D.C. see it as an issue of racial injustice. Over 46% of the District’s population is black. Not allowing these residents to have representation in Congress, they claim, is oppressive. I’m assuming the other 54% of the residents, regardless of race, aren’t happy about their lack of representation either. Needless to say, statehood is strongly favored in the District. A November 2016 statehood referendum resulted in 86% of the voters backing the leap from district to state.

President Trump and Republicans oppose statehood for D.C. They see the push for the District’s statehood as a political issue. But then, isn’t EVERYTHING considered in D.C. these days a political issue? D.C. is overwhelmingly Democratic, having only ever elected Democratic mayors. So Republicans view the attempt to make D.C. a state as merely a power grab by Democrats to add 1 representative and 1 senator to the Democratic tally. Unsurprisingly, the vote on H.R. 51 was mainly along party lines. The bill passed the Democratic controlled House by a 232-180 vote with no Republicans voting for it.

But the legislation has a long and uphill way to go to become law. Next it heads to the Republican-controlled Senate where it is likely DOA. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell opposes the legislation, and senators are not expected to even consider it. Even if, miracle of miracles, the Senate also passed the legislation, President Trump has already stated that he would veto it.

Even if statehood for D.C. fails to pass this term, proponents have made progress. A similar bill proposed in 1993 failed. The June 26th vote was the first time a D.C. statehood bill passed either chamber of Congress. Maybe in the next 27 years Democrats can round up a few more votes to obtain passage in both the House and the Senate.

Politics aside, history does not support making the nation’s capital a state. The Founding Fathers were wary of giving too much power to a state by allowing it to permanently host the seat of the national government. They wanted the governmental seat to be independent of any state. Accordingly Article I, Section 8 allowed Congress to create a district to become the seat of government; that district was to be governed by Congress.

The District ultimately created with land ceded by Virginia and Maryland was named after Christopher Columbus (who’s apparently not P.C. these days). Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson were at odds as to where the capital was to be located. Sadly, this disagreement did not make the cut to appear in “Hamilton,” so the average citizen isn’t familiar with it.

One solution proposed to D.C.’s Taxation Without Representation issue has been proposed by Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican representing Maryland. If D.C. residents want to vote, they can return the land where they are living to Maryland who donated it for the nation’s capital to be created. A new Douglass County, Maryland would result and VOILA’,  current D.C. residents could then vote. Hmm. That’s going from one end of the spectrum to the other. One minute D.C. is going to become the 51st state; now they could become merely a county in a rather small state of the Union.

There are some things Americans just don’t know such as when this pandemic will finally be behind us. But it’s a pretty safe bet that redesigning the Stars and Stripes won’t be on the country’s 2020 agenda. Even if a 51st state isn’t going to join the first 50, the possibility is an interesting topic of conversation. Certainly it is way more interesting than hearing ad nauseum about COVID-19. But, the media begs to disagree…

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever been to Washington, D.C.? Is adding a 51st state, whether or not it is D.C., a good idea? If you don’t like the proposed name of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, what do you suggest for the new state’s name? Is it fair that D.C. residents are taxed without representation in Congress? Is life always fair?