The GOP on Puerto Rico

One of the most frequent claims about Puerto Rican statehood in mainland media is the notion that a Republican Congress won’t allow Puerto Rico to become a state. A primarily Hispanic population, the thinking goes, would be bound to support Democrats, shifting the balance of power within the Congress.

Does the recent history of the Republican party support this claim?

The Republican party’s 2012 platform contained this statement:

We support the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the Union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine. We recognize that Congress has the final authority to define the constitutionally valid options for Puerto Rico to achieve a permanent non-territorial status with government by consent and full enfranchisement. As long as Puerto Rico is not a State, however, the will of its people regarding their political status should be ascertained by means of a general right of referendum or specific referenda sponsored by the U.S. government.

A referendum took place in November, 2012, in which Puerto Rico’s voters chose not to continue in their current territorial relationship with the United States. Of those who voted for an alternative form of government, 61% chose statehood.

Earlier this year, a coalition of Republican leaders called for recognition of Puerto Rico’s vote for statehood. The group included the following individuals:

  • Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles
  • Luis Fortuno, former Republican Governor of Puerto Rico
  • Niger Innis, national outreach director for TheTeaParty.net
  • Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and executive editor of The Christian Post
  • Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform
  • Dr. Hernan Padilla, former mayor of San Juan and the first Hispanic chair of U.S. Conference of Mayors

In an interview before the meeting, Aguilar responded to the suggestion that Puerto Rico would probably vote democratic. He pointed out that Republicans (including the former Governor) have often been in positions of leadership in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are socially conservative, he said, voting against abortion and same-sex marriage. In fact, “if Republicans champion statehood,” Aguilar suggested, Puerto Rico might be impressed by the Republicans’ concern and respect for their rights — enough to favor Republican candidates in the future.

The idea that Republicans could and should work to gain the trust and support of Hispanic voters is certainly widespread. In fact, the Durham County Republican Party reaffirmed the platform’s support for Puerto Rican self-determination and further added

the Republican party needs to commit to a significant initiative building ties with and informing Puerto Ricans of why Republican principles are a good fit for their aspirations of a strong Puerto Rico with a limited government, strong economy and personal liberties.

Former Governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuno has said much the same thing, and George Will supported him when he said it in 2010.  Commentator Michael Trinklein  suggested that it would be a “crafty strategy.” Fortuno, he points out, could run for President of the United States, but could not vote for himself. Latino Rebels also posted an essay recommending this initiative to Republicans. Author Samuel A. Rosado says, “this is another issue the GOP can at least address that affects a core segment of the Hispanic vote within the United States.”

It is not only for strategic reasons that Republicans are supporting the idea. The Young Republicans have endorsed statehood for Puerto Rico, calling on Congress to “grant unconditionally to the nearly 4 million American citizens their full, inalienable rights in accordance with the Constitution of the United States.” Clearly, there is no shortage of Republicans who view statehood for Puerto Rico as a human rights issue.

Looking further back, we see that Republican presidents including Bush, Reagan, Ford, and Nixon have supported statehood for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rican voters on the mainland (as U.S. citizens, individuals born in Puerto Rico can vote in any elections held in the state where they live, and there are currently as many Puerto Ricans living on the mainland than on the island) do not vote as a bloc. However they choose to vote in the future, though, it is clear that the Republican party cannot be assumed to be opposed to Puerto Rico’s statehood.

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