Statehood for Puerto Rico has been championed by the national Republican Party and by many Republican elected leaders, including Presidents Ford, Reagan, George H.W. Bush to name a few. But some Republicans fear that a State of Puerto Rico would be a Democratic State.
The truth is that the national political orientation of a State of Puerto Rico is yet to be determined. Trying to predict it is much more difficult than it was predicting the predominant party preferences of Alaska and Hawaii under statehood.
In the cases of both of those territories — the most recent to become States — the conventional political wisdom in Washington, DC got it absolutely wrong. It was thought that Alaska would be a Democratic State and Hawaii and Republican one. The opposite has turned out to be true.
Here are some points about Puerto Rico to keep in mind.
Republican and Democrat are not the important political divisions in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s main political parties are local parties organized around different visions of the territory’s ultimate political status — statehood, independence, and a proposal for a “Commonwealth” status that Federal officials of both national political parties have said is impossible for constitutional and other reasons. The primary politics of the territory revolve around the status debate. Because Puerto Rico has no votes in the election of the president and vice president of the country, has no senators, and does not have voting representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives, national party identification is a minor issue in Puerto Rican politics and many Puerto Ricans do not identify with either national political party. The current representative to the Federal government with a seat but not a vote in the U.S. House, Piedro Pierluisi, is a national Democrat, but ran on the ticket of a Governor, Luis Fortuno, who was a national Republican. At the time, Fortuno headed the statehood party; now Pierluisi does. When Puerto Rico becomes a State, the reasons for its status-based parties will cease to exist and national parties will be the main political organizations.
Puerto Rico already has Democratic and Republican parties. Their only politics concern presidential nominations. Puerto Rico does have votes in the nominating process of both national parties. About one-quarter of Puerto Rico’s voters participate. Their votes suggest that a State of Puerto Rico could have a competitive Republican Party.
Puerto Rico has elected many Republicans. When Luis Fortuno was Governor, Puerto Rico’s Senate president, House speaker, and many of its mayors — including the mayor of San Juan — were national Republicans. Fortuno was not Puerto Rico’s first national Republican Governor. A majority of Puerto Rico’s elected governors have not been Democrats. If not Republicans, they have had no national political party identification.
Many Puerto Ricans who have moved to the States in recent years have voted for Republicans who support statehood for Puerto Rico. More Puerto Ricans who have moved to the States in recent decades have moved to Florida than to other States. Governor Jeb Bush, a statehood advocate, won a majority of the Puerto Rican vote.
Many Puerto Ricans share Republican values. Mitt Romney said, “Those people who don’t think that Latinos will vote for a Republican need to take a look in Puerto Rico.” He was referring to the national Republicans in Puerto Rico’s statehood party, its largest local party. Many political analysts also point out that Puerto Ricans tend to be socially conservative compared with Democrats in the existing States. And, of the three current voting members of the U.S. House born in Puerto Rico, one is a conservative Republican.
In short, both Democrats and Republicans would have to work to gain voters from a new State of Puerto Rico; the result would not be a foregone conclusion. President George H.W. Bush believed that Puerto Rico would be a Republican State if Republicans championed the inevitable statehood for the territory. Republicans who oppose statehood for the territory can create a self-fulfilling prophecy.