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Congressional Candidate Fred Costello Calls on Congress for Action on Statehood Vote

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.

Another plebiscite

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.

Equal rights

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.

Read the full press release.

3 thoughts on “Congressional Candidate Fred Costello Calls on Congress for Action on Statehood Vote”

  1. This article makes no sense to me. There was a plebiscite a year ago at this time. 97.1% of the voters chose statehood. In how many plebiscites do PR’s have to vote before it can become a state?

    I do not believe things have changed much since 1898. At that time, many members of Congress said that our new insular territories should never become states.

  2. Jeff Sessions did not refuse to certify the vote. The letter refusing to certify was signed by Ron Rosenstein, who is still the Deputy Attorney General. He is not a Republican policy maker. The Rosenstein letter abdicating his sworn duty to uphold the law by certifying legally valid ballot options is deeply flawed in its legal and constitutional content ad logically absurd. It represents an obvious and arrogant decision to evade the responsibility Congress assigned to the Department of Justice to certify the ballot options if not inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution and federal law. It did not authorize the Office of Attorney General to certify or not to certify based on its opinion about how the ballot options could be better phrased. His letter was replete with factual and legal errors. What he got right appeared to be by accident and not intentionally. In the case of his sloppy and legally wrong letter failing to carry out his oath of office by complying with his duty under a clear federal law, it is not known if he had a conflict of interest. What is clear is that he did know know or care what was right or wrong, he just signed a letter that meant whatever happened in Puerto Rico’s self-determination process would have no recognized legal meaning to the federal government as provided under federal law applicable to Puerto Rico, a law he was sworn to uphold.

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