Puerto Rico Senate Minority Leader and Popular Democratic Party (PPD) gubernatorial nomination hopeful Eduardo Bhatia yesterday proposed amending the territory’s constitution to require that any government borrowing above an amount to be determined be approved by the islands’ voters in a referendum.
The proposal was one of ten basic government reforms he suggested, seven needing amendments to the territory’s constitution.
The other amendment that would specifically affect finances would require referendum approval for any tax increases or new taxes.
Citizens, however, would also be empowered to call referenda to make laws.
Several of the proposals concerned elective office:
- The governor and the Legislative Assembly would be elected at different times. Now, they are chosen in the same election once every four years.
- Elections would have to be decided by a majority of the vote. This would require runs-offs between the top two vote getters in the absence of a winner by majority in an initial election. Most Puerto Rican voters choose slates or candidates of the PPD or the New Progressive Party (PNP) but the Independence Party and its candidates garner a few percent of the vote and recent elections have seen a series of new parties and independent candidates do as well, in one case with an independent candidate for governor drawing a percentage of the vote in the low double-digits. That candidate in 2016, Alexandra Lugaro, is now the gubernatorial candidate of a new party, the Citizens Victory Movement.
- Bhatia proposed creating an elective position of Lieutenant Governor. The role is now filled by the territory’s Secretary of State, the only Cabinet member that has to be confirmed by both houses of the Legislative Assembly.
- Another proposal would have vacancies in the Legislative Assembly or in mayoral seats filled by special elections instead of chosen by the party of the departed legislator or mayor.
The Senate Minority Leader said that he would sponsor a resolution in the Legislative Assembly for a referendum on calling a constitutional convention to be held along with this November’s election.
Constitutional amendments pushed by the major parties in Puerto Rico have a history of failure with the voters. Bhatia’s proposals, however, appeal to the electorate at a time when, public opinion polls show, many voters have lost confidence in the PNP and the PPD as well as in the territorial government.
Bhatia is leading, by a comfortable margin, in a three-way race for the PPD gubernatorial nomination, with San Juan Mayor Carmen “Yulin” Cruz and Isabela Mayor Charlie Delgado Altieri trailing. Cruz is a leader of the party’s nationalist wing, and Delgado also has nationalist inclinations. Bhatia has been a reliable “commonwealther” — supporting a governing arrangement that the U.S. will not accept due to Constitutional and practical reasons – but gives no sign that he will try to end Puerto Rico’s current territory status.
Polling suggests that either of the two candidates for the PNP nomination for governor, incumbent Wanda Vazquez Garced or Governor-for-five-days and former Resident Commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives Pedro Pierluisi, would defeat Bhatia by a percentage of votes high in the single digits or in the low double-digits.
Danger, Will Robinson! Constitutional amendments are risky. State constitutions restrict legislatures’ ability to enact local or special laws. Should one trust these current crop of politicians to keep to their instructions?