Back in 1796, the Territory of Tennessee decided that Congress was moving too slowly on granting them statehood. In a plebiscite, 73% of the voters had favored statehood, and they were ready to take on the rights and responsibilities of a state. The people of Tennessee declared the territory to be a state, elected senators and congressmen, and sent their representatives to Washington to demand their seats in the Congress.
It wasn’t that simple. Congress refused to accept Tennessee’s representatives and disagreed that Tennessee had the power to declare itself a state. Then as now, territories were under the power of the Congress and couldn’t just decided to become states.
It was just a few months later that Congress admitted Tennessee as a state, though, and the representatives went back to Washington to serve in the Congress.
This method of demanding statehood was used by a number of other territories to speed up the process of becoming a state. It became known as “The Tennessee Plan.”
Puerto Rico Governor Rossello signed a bill approving the use of the Tennessee Plan for Puerto Rico. The law, H. B. 876, is officially described as follows:
To establish an “Act for Equality and Congressional Representation of the United States Citizens of Puerto Rico”; create, as a transitory measure, the Puerto Rico Equality Commission attached to the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, to be constituted by the first delegation of two U.S. Senators and five U.S. Representatives who shall promote, in the Congress and the Federal Government, the electoral mandate ensuing from the November 6th, 2012 plebiscite and any equivalent, future electoral mandate rejecting the current territorial, colonial status and seeking admission as a state into the Union on an equal footing with the citizens of all other states; and for other purposes.
The act, signed into law on June 5, 2017, explains the motives behind its passage:
With a population of 3.5 million people, the island of Puerto Rico is the oldest and most populated colony among the nations of the civilized world. It is a colony inhabited by citizens of the United States of America who are deprived of the full democratic rights enjoyed by the U.S. citizens residing in the fifty states
It summarizes the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States over the past century, and makes a strong statement about the 2012 referendum:
On November 6, 2012, the people of Puerto Rico went to the polls to express their will: 53.97% of voters expressed their disapproval and rejection to the current colonial status; and 61.16% voted in favor of Statehood.
Since then, the so-called consent of the “people of Puerto Rico” to the relationship established during the constitutional process in 1952, was withdrawn. For all political purposes, the United States of America has been exercising colonial dominion over Puerto Rico since 2012, without the consent of Puerto Ricans and in violation of international law.
The law allows Governor Rossello to appoint seven representatives — two senators and five congressmen or -women. Here is the list of appointees:
- Carlos Romero Barceló
- Pedro Rosselló González
- Charlie Rodriguez Colon
- Iván Rodríguez
- Luis Fortuño
- Major General Felix Santoni
- Zoraida Fonalledas
The appointees range from former governors (Fortuno, Rossello Gonzalez, and Romero Barcelo) to Baseball Hall of Fame member Rodriguez. Romero Barcelo and Fortuno also served as Resident Commissioners. Rodriguez Colon is a former President of the Puerto Rico Senate, retired Major General Santoni was Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, and Fonalledas has served as National Committeewoman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico.
The group, known as the Puerto Rico Equality Commission, will head to Washington D.C. to promote statehood.