A champion of resolving the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate political status has been named chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on territory issues.
Representative Don Young (R-Alaska) will be the Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs in the new 114th Congress. The “Insular” in the title refers to the U.S.’ territories.
As Chairman of the full Committee on Natural Resources in 1998, Young was the lead sponsor of a bill that passed the House that would have provided an on-going, full process for Puerto Rico to become a State or a nation based on the choice of the its people.
The bill would have authorized a referendum in the territory that year, required a presidential recommendation if a majority did not choose a fully-democratic status — statehood or nationhood, and authorized further referenda on the question at least every 10 years as long as there was not a majority for a fully-democratic status.
Supported by President Bill Clinton, the bill appeared to have enough votes to pass the Senate but Majority Leader Trent Lott and Majority Whip Don Nickles blocked it from votes despite the efforts of committee Chairman Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska). Murkowski was the father of the new Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on energy and Natural Resources in the 114th Congress, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).
Young was Chairman of a Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs in the 112th and 113th Congresses. Territory issues were handled by another subcommittee because of full committee Chairman ‘Doc’ Hastings’ opposition to statehood for Puerto Rico. Hastings reportedly feared that Young would try to enable the issue of Puerto Rico’s status to be resolved.
Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has replaced Hastings. Bishop voted against a Puerto Rico status choice bill that passed the House in 2010 but recently said that he probably would not do that now.
As the “Ranking” (senior) Minority Party Member of the Natural Resources Committee in 2010, Young was a leading co-sponsor of that bill. He has consistently supported efforts to resolve the Puerto Rico status question.
Puerto Rico’s insular government held a plebiscite on the status question along with its elections in 2012 under Commonwealth law. A majority rejected territory status and a 61.2% majority chose statehood among the alternatives.
Because the “commonwealth status” party governor and legislature majorities narrowly elected at the same time disputed the plebiscite, a Federal law was enacted a year ago providing for a plebiscite on a status option or options that can resolve the issue — statehood and nationhood — under U.S. Department of Justice auspices.
The option or options for the plebiscite are to be proposed by Puerto Rico’s Elections Commission but must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department. The Commission has not proposed options because the “commonwealth” party is split between advocates of continuing territory status and nationhood.
Young has served in the House since 1973. He is its longest serving Republican member and third-longest serving member.
The Alaskan was Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee from 1995 to 2001 and Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee from 2001 to 2007.