Should Puerto Rico Get Statehood?

The Gainesville Sun published an article called “Editorial: Should Puerto Rico Get Statehood?” Surprisingly, there is no answer to that question included in the editorial.

Congressman Michael Waltz (R-FL) may have been the impetus for the article when he decided to co-sponsor HR 4091, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act of 2019. As the Sun pointed out, Florida is now home to more than a million Puerto Ricans, more than double the number before Hurricane Maria. People of Puerto Rican heritage, born on the Island or in Florida, make up one third of the Hispanic vote in Florida. Floridian voters overwhelmingly support statehood for Puerto Rico.

So Rep. Waltz is simply representing his constituents, the editorial implies, when he supports statehood.

Waltz on statehood

“The people of Puerto Rico have twice requested to become a state,” the article quoted Waltz as saying. “It is time for the citizens of Puerto Rico to be able to have the same rights and privileges as American citizens.”

The citizens of Puerto Rico are in fact U.S. citizens, and have been since 1917.

Waltz’s statement on his support for HR 4091 also included this quote from Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner:

“This historic bill places us on a path towards the political equality that our people deserve. The American citizens of Puerto Rico will have the opportunity to participate in a federally-sponsored vote and be asked the following question: ‘Should Puerto Rico be admitted as a State of the Union, yes or no?’. This is similar to what happened in Alaska and Hawaii, which is what ultimately makes this legislation different.”

Puerto Rico has held plebiscites five times already: in 1967, 1993, 1998, 2012, and 2017. In the first two votes, territorial status won. However, it was not clear to voters that they were voting for the status quo. The “commonwealth” party implied that there was a “perfected” or “enhanced” option that would be negotiated between Puerto Rico and the federal government. The U.S. government said then, and has many times since, that “enhanced commonwealth” is not a viable option, and Congress took no action on those votes.

In 1998, the “commonwealth” party, stymied by the federal government’s insistence that “enhanced commonwealth” could not be an option, added “None of the above” to the ballot. That option won. The 21st century ballots, which were clear that the territorial option does in fact mean the status quo, both resulted in wins for statehood. It is these two votes to which Waltz refers when he says that “Puerto Rico ha[s] twice requested to become a state.”

Facts about Puerto Rico

The Sun editorial concludes with a list of facts about the territory. We have added links to further information about these facts:

  • Puerto Rico is an “unincorporated territory” of the United States.
  • Puerto Rico sends a single representative to Congress with limited voting power.
  • Puerto Ricans voted overwhelmingly for statehood in a 2017 non-binding referendum with about 97% voting for it but just 23% turnout. Groups opposing statehood boycotted the referendum and questioned the results.
  • Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, carry U.S. passports and serve in the military. They are able to vote in national elections.
  • Since 1917, more than 200,000 American citizens from Puerto Rico have served in the U.S. military, There are more 10,000 of them on active military duty.
  • If Puerto Rico were to join the nation, it would have two senators, like every other state, and likely five to six members of the House.
  • With about 3.4 million people, Puerto Rico has a larger population than 21 states, including Iowa, Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska.
  • Its gross domestic product would rank No. 37 among the states, ahead of New Mexico and New Hampshire.
  • More than 44% of its citizens live in poverty. A recession occurred after Congress stopped federal tax credits for businesses locating in Puerto Rico, but that policy change was based on credible evidence that those businesses were benefiting while the people of Puerto Rico were not and a similar manufacturing downturn impacted the rest of the country. A bankruptcy was driven by risky bank lending and government borrowing. And Hurricane Maria killed about 3,000 people and devastated the island.
  • Most Puerto Ricans don’t pay federal income taxes but they do pay Social Security, Medicare, import, export and commodity taxes.

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