Puerto Rico Senate President Eduardo Bhatia said Friday that he would support a Statehood: “Yes” or “No” plebiscite if authorized by Congress.
He seemed to be unaware that Federal law has provided for such a vote.
The law authorizes the vote if proposed by the territory’s Elections Commission.
The law was enacted a year ago. It proposed by President Obama and passed the Republican House of Representatives even before it passed the then Democratic Senate.
The statehood party representative on the Commission has proposed that the body act to have the vote on statehood. The representatives of the “commonwealth status” and Independence parties, however, blocked his measure.
Bhatia is the “commonwealth” party’s second highest elected official.
The Commission makes decisions by consensus of its three party representatives or, if they cannot agree, by its president. The governor of the territory appoints the president. Current Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla heads the “commonwealth” party.
Garcia Padilla has opposed a vote on statehood.
The territory’s sole representative to the Federal government, who has a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives with a vote only in committees, has proposed a vote on statehood. Pedro Pierluisi (D) also heads the statehood party.
In the last Congress, 132 other House members and three senators joined him in proposing a territorial vote on statehood.
A plebiscite on the territory’s status options conducted by the Commonwealth government along with the territory’s last elections in November 2012 rejected the current territory status sometimes misleadingly called “commonwealth” and chose statehood among the alternatives by 61.2%.
In the campaign, Garcia supported the rejected territory status option. Afterwards, he and the “commonwealth” party-controlled Legislative Assembly opposed Federal action on the people of Puerto Rico’s self-determination decision in favor of permanence and equality within the U.S.
The commonwealthers’ objections led the Obama White House to propose the Federal plebiscite law. It wanted to prevent their opposition from resulting in Federal inaction on the question of the territory’s ultimate status since majorities in the plebiscite rejected territory status and favored statehood. The Obama Administration had supported the insular government’s plebiscite and hailed its results.
Garcia’s predecessor as “commonwealth” party president, former insular House of Representatives Minority Leader Hector Ferrer, has also proposed a vote on statehood.
Ferrer and other “commonwealth” party leaders testified in favor of a vote on statehood in U.S. Senate and House hearings in 2009 and 2010.
Ferrer would like to replace Garcia as the “commonwealth” party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2016. Bhatia is also thought to want to replace the Governor.
The “commonwealth” party’s Secretary of Federal Affairs under Garcia has acknowledged that a vote on statehood would be a “valid” way of resolving Puerto Rico’s status question. Like Garcia, however, Jose Hernandez Mayoral has opposed such a vote.
Although the Republican U.S. House approved the law that permits a vote on statehood a year ago, Bhatia asserted that the new Republican Congress would not support such a vote. ‘Tea Party’ members, who he characterized as “racist,” are the reason, he contended.