Stealing the Senate through Statehood?

Columnist Justin Hankins suggests that the Democratic Party could get control of the Senate by adding a couple of new Democratic states — specifically, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. He’s not the first to suggest this strategy, by any means. But he does have a counterproposal: the Republicans should find a new red state for balance.

Like the others who have written about it, Hankins is assuming that Puerto Rico and D.C. both would send Democratic senators to Congress.

Hankins is confident that D.C. is close to achieving statehood, and so confident that the senators from D.C. would be Democrats that he describes these hypothetical legislators as “deep blue” and “left wing.” The District has in fact voted Democratic in every  presidential election in which they’ve participated.

But Puerto Rico is different. “If Puerto Rico were to become a state, it, too, would likely provide two additional seats for Democrats, making it even more difficult for Republicans to control the Senate and pass conservative legislation,” Hankins said, leading up to his single piece of evidence for Puerto Rico’s blue state future. “More than double the number of Puerto Ricans voted in the state’s 2016 Democratic primary than in the Republican primary.”

Democrats and Republicans in Puerto Rico

The political parties in Puerto Rico are divided not by left-wing and right-wing tendencies but by status preference. There is a “commonwealth” party, a statehood party, and an independence party. Both Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, a Republican, and Democratic Governor Ricardo Rossello are members of the same statehood party.

Elected officials in Puerto Rico, including governors and resident commissioners, historically come from both the “commonwealth” and the statehood party — and both the national Republican and Democratic parties. The independence party has never had a successful candidate for governor, but both of the other parties are well represented. As a state, Puerto Rico would have a permanent political status, and the status-related parties will be obsolete.

If Puerto Rico had the opportunity to vote in presidential elections and to choose legislators in elections, the national parties would become more important to Puerto Rican voters.

However, there is currently no strong evidence that Puerto Rico will be a blue state. In fact, Puerto Rican voters living in Florida tend to be conservative in their outlook, according to polls. What’s more, the shadow delegation from Puerto Rico has equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, with an Independent to boot.

Balance among states

Before and during the Civil War, Congress had a plan to maintain political balance in Congress by admitting states in pairs: one state in which slavery was legal for every state in which it was forbidden. Haskins wants to see this tradition continued, with a Republican state to partner with Washington, D.C.

In fact, Alaska and Hawaii were admitted with the expectation that Alaska would vote Democratic and Hawaii would vote Republican. Now, the opposite is true.

Admitting Puerto Rico on the theory that the new state will vote Democratic is not a sure thing. Rejecting Puerto Rico on the theory that they will do so is unproven and inconsistent with the current reality.

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