Puerto Rico’s “Commonwealth” party governor is worried about the substantial willingness in Congress to grant statehood to the territory.
Since taking office, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has lobbied Federal officials to not support the possibility of the equality and permanence for Puerto Rico within the American political family that Puerto Ricans petitioned for in a plebiscite at the time of his narrow election just over a year ago.
PUERTO RICO REPORT has now learned that Garcia two weeks ago wrote members of the U.S. House of Representatives who have sponsored a bill that would authorize a vote on statehood in the territory asking them to withdraw their sponsorship.
The request is ironic because Garcia’s predecessor as president of the territory’s “Commonwealth” party just a few years ago formally asked the U.S. House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over territory status issues to authorize an insular vote on statehood.
The legislation that has now panicked ‘commonwealther’ Garcia has been sponsored by 126 members of House — a very high number. The bill also enjoys the support of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC).
If statehood wins the vote, the Puerto Rico Status Resolution Act would require the president of the United States to submit a plan to transition the territory into equal treatment with the States in Federal programs over a multi-year period. This would enable the conversion to statehood to be smooth budgetarily and economically.
H.R. 2000 would also express a congressional commitment to pass such a plan.
Garcia’s main argument for House members to back away from their support was that the vote on statehood would not specifically include two other status proposals. One is an unprecedented, new “Commonwealth status” that Garcia and his party continue to insist upon although the Obama, George W. Bush, and Clinton Administrations and congressional committees have found it to be impossible for constitutional and other reasons.
The other proposal is independence, which obtained the least support in last year’s plebiscite — 5.49% among the three possible alternatives to the current territory status.
Garcia did not complain that the possible status that received the third-highest amount of support, nationhood in an association with the U.S. that either nation could end, would not be an option in the vote. It got 33.34% of the vote among the alternatives to territory status.
The status is advocated by a wing of Garcia’s “Commonwealth” party that he has dismissed as “feathers.” But the faction includes leading mayors and members of Puerto Rico’s legislature.
Garcia opposed ‘free association’ in the plebiscite.
Statehood won 61.16% among the alternatives to territory status and more votes than territory status, which was rejected by 54% of the vote.
Despite these facts, Garcia asserted in his letters “Commonwealth … consistently has had majority support in Puerto Rico.” Puerto Rico’s current status — territory — is often misleadingly called “Commonwealth” after a word in the name of Puerto Rico’s insular government.
Garcia unsuccessfully campaigned for Puerto Rico’s current status in the plebiscite.
The island’s territorial status was also rejected in Puerto Rico’s most recent plebiscite before last year’s — in 1998.
The status was not an option in the territory’s first two status plebiscites — in 1967 and 1993. Instead, the votes included proposals for a “Commonwealth” status that were substantially different from the current status.
The 1967 “Commonwealth” proposal won a majority of the vote, but a Democratic Congress and Republican President Ford later rejected Federal legislation based on the proposal.
The 1993 proposal won a plurality — but not a majority — of the vote. The Clinton Administration and Republican leaders of the U.S. House said it, too, was not viable.
The bill in the House now would authorize Puerto Rico to conduct a vote on statehood because Garcia and fellow commonwealthers who won control of Puerto Rico’s Legislative Assembly last year dispute the plebiscite held at the same time and its results.
By not including other status proposals, Garcia contended that the bill would deny “millions of Puerto Ricans” the right to cast ballots. He said it would “disenfranchise” them.
He, apparently, did not recognize that opponents of statehood would have as much right to cast ballots in the vote as supporters of statehood.
Statehood would not have an advantage in the vote but supporters of other status options could form a coalition to try to defeat statehood.
Garcia, additionally, asserted that the bill “stands opposite” to President Obama’s desire for another “plebiscite that includes all options” — as last year’s did.
But Obama’s staff has made it clear in the 2011 President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status that another plebiscite proposed by the President could include one or more of the possible statuses for Puerto Rico. It would, however, have to exclude the proposal for a new “Commonwealth status” promoted by Garcia and some other leaders of his party.
The President supported last year’s plebiscite limited to Puerto Rico’s possible statuses — U.S. statehood, independence, and nationhood in a free association with the U.S. in addition to territory status for a while longer — and excluding the new “Commonwealth status” proposal.
In addition, his staff publicly hailed the results of the plebiscite denied by Garcia although the results were certified by Puerto Rico’s tripartisan Elections Commission.
Garcia’s letter identified the primary sponsor of the bill that he asked U.S. House members to back away as a “delegate.” The House includes five delegates.
The primary sponsor of the bill, however, is Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, who is the territory’s elected, official representative to the Federal government with a seat in the House. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi was the top vote getter in last year’s election in Puerto Rico and now heads the territory’s statehood party.