“I think Puerto Rican citizens, U.S. citizens, ought to have the right to determine if they want to be a State,” he said. “I think statehood is the best path, personally. I’ve believed that for a long, long while.” Bush further explained, “to get the full benefits and responsibilities of citizenship, being a state is the only path to make that happen.”
Bush also called on Puerto Rico to hold a simple up-or-down vote for statehood and added that “the next President… has a duty to make sure they use their influence to make sure Congress acts on this.”
He called Puerto Rican self determination a question of principle or morality, not a political question.
Puerto Rico last addressed the status question in a 2012 plebiscite. The two-part ballot first asked voters whether they would like to continue with Puerto Rico’s current territorial status and then asked voters which status option they preferred from among the viable alternatives: statehood, independence and free association. Fifty-four percent of voters rejected Puerto Rico’s territorial status and 61% chose statehood.
Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla rejected the referendum vote because the ballot did not include a “commonwealth” option in the second question. Although Puerto Rico often called a “commonwealth,” the label is actually just a word in the official title of the government of Puerto Rico, just as it is in the states of Massachusetts, Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Since 1952, the term “commonwealth,” has evolved to describe a potential relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico in which Puerto Rico is given special rights and privileges greater than those enjoyed by states. Such proposals have been soundly rejected by legal authorities and policy makers for both constitutional and practical reasons.
If Bush decides to run for President, he will not be the first candidate to firmly endorse statehood for Puerto Rico. As a candidate, President Ronald Reagan explained in a February, 1980 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he supported Puerto Rico statehood:
When I formally announced my intention to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1980, my televised speech to the nation included a commitment to not only support statehood for Puerto Rico if the people of the island Commonwealth desire statehood. It also included a commitment that, as President, I would initiate statehood legislation, which really means that I would take the lead in persuading the people of Puerto Rico – the mainland United States – all American citizens – that statehood will be good for all of us.
At the event today, moderated by former Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno, Bush also discussed his experience campaigning for his father, former President George H.W. Bush, in Puerto Rico for three months during the 1980 election. “I I loved the passion,” he explained, “I loved the intensity.” Although the U.S. Constitution does not permit Puerto Ricans to vote for President through the Electoral College, Puerto Ricans can vote in presidential primaries.
Former President George H.W. Bush has also expressed support for Puerto Rican statehood. In his 1989 State of the Union address, he said, “I’ve long believed that the people of Puerto Rico should have the right to determine their own political future. Personally, I strongly favor statehood. But I urge the Congress to take the necessary steps to allow the people to decide in a referendum.”