Fred Costello, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida’s 6th District, is calling on Congress to take action toward resolving Puerto Rico’s political status.
Costello’s remarks are consistent with the political state of play in Florida, in which numerous candidates – including Sen. Nelson (D-FL) and his opponent Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL) – have announced support for Puerto Rico statehood.
While Puerto Rico has held five plebiscites on political status, funding is still in place for the first federally-sponsored status referendum. $2.5 million in federal funds were allocated in 2014, and Governor Rossello intended to hold the vote in 2017.
The Department of Justice did not end up approving the ballot options. They expressed concern about two points:
- They wanted the current territorial status to be included as an option on the ballot. The government of Puerto Rico did not want to include this possibility, because 54% of voters rejected it in 2012.
- They wanted it to be clear that a vote for the Free Associated State option would be a vote for independence, not for “enhanced commonwealth.”
While the requested changes were made quickly, the DOJ did not certify the ballot before the scheduled date, and the federal funds (and implied sponsorship) are still available.
Costello is calling for a “binding plebiscite.” A plebiscite is usually nonbinding: it is a way of asking voters’ opinions about a law, not a way of voting for a law. Costello’s proposal would commit Congress to take action after the vote.
Costello is calling for a vote in Puerto Rico, not for Congress to admit Puerto Rico as a state. Nonetheless, his intention is to provide equal rights for Puerto Rico.
“This is a matter of fundamental fairness as we approach the 242nd anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence from colonial rule,” Costello stated. “The residents of Puerto Rico deserve the same full rights of American citizenship enjoyed by more than 326 million fellow Americans living in our ﬁfty states.”
Of the three constitutionally viable options for Puerto Rico’s political status — statehood, independence, or the current territorial status — only statehood would have the effect of providing “the same full rights of citizenship” as described in Costello’s press release.
“After more than a century as a territory of the United States and more than 500 years under colonial rule, it’s time for Congress to stop treating our Puerto Rican neighbors like second class citizens,” the press release concludes. “Let Puerto Rico vote on statehood.”
A vote on statehood might be an up or down vote, like those taken by the territories of Hawaii and Alaska, or it might be a vote among the three possible options, like the 2017 vote.