Remember When the U.S. Wanted to Figure Out Puerto Rico? That’s Still Happening

Puerto Rico may have voted in favor of statehood, but its future status remains unclear.

Pro-statehood New Progressive Party supporters waves a U.S. flag at the party's closing election campaign rally in San Juan, Puerto Rico last November.
National Journal
Marina Koren
See more stories about...
Marina Koren
Aug. 26, 2013, 3 a.m.

As Hawaii marks the 54th an­niversary of its state­hood this month, we’re re­minded that the fu­ture of one of the coun­try’s ter­rit­or­ies re­mains in flux. Last Novem­ber, Pu­erto Ric­ans voted in a plebis­cite — the fourth of its kind since 1967 — in fa­vor of state­hood for the first time ever.

Des­pite the res­ults, con­ver­sa­tions about the fu­ture of what some call Amer­ica’s last colony have petered out. Con­gress held a hear­ing on Pu­erto Rico’s status at the be­gin­ning of this month, with sen­at­ors call­ing for a change, any change.

“After 115 years, it is clearly time for Pu­erto Rico to de­term­ine what polit­ic­al path it will take,” Sen­ate En­ergy and Nat­ur­al Re­sources Com­mit­tee Chair­man Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said at the hear­ing, re­fer­ring to 1898, the year Spain ceded Pu­erto Rico to the United States. “The cur­rent status un­der­mines our na­tion’s mor­al stand­ing around the world.”

What’s keep­ing Pu­erto Rico in polit­ic­al limbo?

While more vot­ing is sure to come, law­makers from the is­land and the main­land have yet to fig­ure out what to ask Pu­erto Ric­ans on the bal­lot. The Sen­ate com­mit­tee lead­ers read last year’s res­ults as Pu­erto Ric­ans re­ject­ing the cur­rent status, but some ques­tion the valid­ity of the vot­ing out­come. The first ques­tion on the bal­lot asked voters if they favored U.S. ter­rit­ory status; 54 per­cent said they didn’t. The second asked voters to choose from three op­tions: state­hood, in­de­pend­ence, or sov­er­eign free as­so­ci­ation — a status that would give Pu­erto Rico more autonomy than it cur­rently has.

Sixty-one per­cent chose state­hood, but 26 per­cent of voters left the bal­lot blank. Pu­erto Rico Gov. Ale­jandro Gar­cia Pa­dilla be­lieves this shrank sup­port for state­hood to 44 per­cent. He calls for something like the cur­rent com­mon­wealth status, not full-fledged state­hood, but at this month’s hear­ing he didn’t provide de­tails on how that would work.

Mean­while, Res­id­ent Com­mis­sion­er Pedro Pier­lu­isi, the is­land’s non­vot­ing mem­ber of Con­gress and a state­hood sup­port­er, is push­ing for a fed­er­ally com­mis­sioned “yes” or “no” vote to de­cide Pu­erto Rico’s fu­ture once and for all, just like the one for Hawaii 54 years ago. Pier­lu­isi’s party, the New Pro­gress­ive Party, filed a law­suit this sum­mer against Pa­dilla, claim­ing the gov­ernor was try­ing to dis­suade law­makers on the main­land from sup­port­ing state­hood.

Wyden says an “en­hanced com­mon­wealth” such as the one Pa­dilla is pro­pos­ing is not an op­tion. Pa­dilla coun­ters that neither is state­hood, say­ing that last year’s vote was “an elect­or­al pro­cess rigged in fa­vor of state­hood” be­cause it didn’t in­clude a range of dif­fer­ent op­tions, a pro­cess known as self-de­term­in­a­tion. While he hasn’t said as much, un­der Pa­dilla’s stand­ards, the bal­lot that helped de­term­ine Hawaii’s fu­ture in 1959 would be con­sidered a fraud.

Al­though it doesn’t mat­ter now, the Hawaii­an plebis­cite vote was once ques­tioned too. “It pre­ten­ded that Hawaii did not have to go through a self-de­term­in­a­tion,” says Jonath­an Osorio, a Hawaii­an stud­ies pro­fess­or at Uni­versity of Hawaii (Manoa). “We were not giv­en the full range of op­tions.”

U.S. law­makers are anxious to re­define Pu­erto Rico’s status. But the tug-of-war between its lead­ers, com­bined with un­cer­tainty about past state-com­mis­sioned votes and fid­get­ing over po­ten­tial fed­er­al ones, sug­gest that the is­land will have to keep wait­ing.

What We're Following See More »
LOTS OF STRINGERS
Inside the AP’s Election Operation
4 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
THE QUESTION
What’s the Average Household Income of a Trump Voter?
4 hours ago
THE ANSWER

Seventy-two thousand dollars, according to FiveThirtyEight. That's higher than the national average, as well as the average Clinton or Sanders voter, but lower than the average Kasich voter.

Source:
VERY FEW DEMS NOW REPRESENT MINING COMMUNITIES
How Coal Country Went from Blue to Red
6 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
STAFF PICKS
History Already Being Less Kind to Hastert’s Leadership
9 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

In light of his recent confessions, the speakership of Dennis Hastert is being judged far more harshly. The New York Times' Carl Hulse notes that in hindsight, Hastert now "fares poorly" on a number of fronts, from his handling of the Mark Foley page scandal to "an explosion" of earmarks to the weakening of committee chairmen. "Even his namesake Hastert rule—the informal standard that no legislation should be brought to a vote without the support of a majority of the majority — has come to be seen as a structural barrier to compromise."

Source:
‘STARTING FROM ZERO’
Trump Ill Prepared for General Election
9 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Even if "[t]he Republican presidential nomination may be in his sights ... Trump has so far ignored vital preparations needed for a quick and effective transition to the general election. The New York businessman has collected little information about tens of millions of voters he needs to turn out in the fall. He's sent few people to battleground states compared with likely Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, accumulated little if any research on her, and taken no steps to build a network capable of raising the roughly $1 billion needed to run a modern-day general election campaign."

Source:
×