What’s a Shadow Delegation?

The Puerto Rico Statehood Commission was presented to the U.S. Congress by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon as a step in the Tennessee Plan, which has been used by seven states in the past in their efforts to achieve statehood. This time around, another term is also being used: Shadow Delegation.

What’s a shadow delegation?

The terms “Shadow Senator” and “Shadow Congressperson” have been used since 1990 to describe legislators elected by the voters of Washington, D.C. Washington calls these men and women their senators and congresspeople, but they are not officially part of the House or Senate.

Wikipedia says that “The offices of shadow U.S. Senator and shadow U.S. Representative are elective offices in the District of Columbia and other unincorporated territories of the United States.” However, there is no history of the term being used for delegations from territories, incorporated or unincorporated.

The shoe fits.

Alaska’s pre-statehood delegation wasn’t called a shadow delegation because the term hadn’t been invented yet. Puerto Rico’s delegation, however, is being identified as a shadow delegation because of its similarity to D.C.’s shadow representatives.

The Commission, consisting of the five Members of the House and two Senators which Puerto Rico will have as a state, has made a formal request for admission for Puerto Rico as the 51st State. News reports are describing the Commission as a “shadow delegation” in numerous stories:

While there has been some controversy in D.C. over the use of the term “shadow representatives,” with some observers fearing that it implies a shadowy or even shady aspect, for many people the term has become so comfortable and familiar that it’s a natural choice to describe the Puerto Rico Statehood Commission.

Now what?

D.C. has had shadow senators for a couple of decades without moving toward statehood. The Tennessee Plan, however, has worked for a number of territories in the past.

Tennessee didn’t want to wait for statehood, so it declared itself a state in 1796 and sent a delegation to Washington. The U.S. Congress refused to seat the delegation and insisted that Tennessee could not just declare itself a state, but would have to wait for Congress to do that.

The delegation from the Territory of Tennessee went home, but they achieved statehood before the end of the year.

It hasn’t always worked immediately. Minnesota threatened to declare independence in part because its delegation was treated “with contempt” by Congress. New Mexico sent lots of delegations before gaining statehood in 1912. Alaska adopted its Alaska-Tennessee Plan several years before their admission as a state.

Puerto Rico has a plan to move ahead with its own Tennessee Plan and shows no intention of keeping its Statehood Commission in the shadows.

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