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Exploring the Possibility of True Home Rule in Washington, D.C.: The 1970 Proposal to Cede Part of the City Back to Maryland

In 1970, a bill was proposed to give most of Washington, D.C.'s land back to Maryland, in an effort to achieve true home rule. Explore the proposal in this article, which details the bill and the reactions of Congress members at the time.
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Now this is interesting. It’s part of the ongoing debate about home rule here, as well as D.C. statehood. How can we really be autonomous if Congress controls our budget and we aren’t even represented in Congress?

a proposed map of the federal district in Washington (1970)
a proposed map of the federal district in Washington (1970)

In 1970, Representative John Kyl of Iowa (yes, the father of Arizona Senator John Kyl — born in Nebraska, grew up in Iowa), proposed a bill to give most of Washington’s land back to Maryland, effectively achieving true home rule for the city.

Below is an article that we dug up in the Washington Post from Wednesday, March 11th, 1970.

The House District Committee in its first home-rule hearings for Washington in five years, heard yesterday a suggestion that most of the city be ceded back to Maryland.

The administration proposal for a self government study commission and a nonvoting delegate in the House was also endorse at the hearing.

Suburban Maryland and Virginia members of the Committee endorsed the bill to return part of Washington to Maryland as “the only true proposal that gives actual home rule.”

Endorsement of the administration-backed proposals came from Rep. Ancher Nelsen (R.-Minn.), the ranking Republican on the Committee. He urged swift action on the measures, which were passed by the Senate last year.

The bill to cede part of Washington back to Maryland–one of 16 home-rule bills before the Committee–was introduced in January, 1969, by Rep. John Kyl (R-Iowa), who said yesterday it would offer “the only meaningful home rule for the District.” Two other similar bills were introduced last year.

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When both Broyhill and Hogan said there might be some resistance on the part of Maryland to the idea, Committee Chairman John L. McMillan (D-S.C.) said, “I’d think they’d want it back. It’s one of the wealthiest cities in the U.S.”

Kyl’s bill would carve out a federal section of the city running roughly from 25th Street NW, along Pennsylvania Avenue to East and West Potomac Park and Hains Point. The rest of the city–including all “populated portions”–would be returned to Maryland which relinquished the land in 1791.

“If the idea were adopted,” Kyl said, “every person would have complete citizen participation in a city, school district, county and state.”

Broyhill won House District Committee approval of a similar plan in 1965. Both he and Kyl cited the precedent of an 1846 presidential proclamation returning one-third of the original District of Columbia to Virginia.

Virginia had backed the retrocession in an attempt to increase proslavery strength in the state assembly by adding the slave port of Alexandria to the state.

The so-called “charter commission” would conduct an 18-month study and make recommendations to Congress and the White House on the best type of local government for Washington.

Admitting that the legislation was not a real home-rule measure, Nelsen said he had already encountered opposition to it “because of the home-rule tag.”

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