October 23, 2014

Puerto Rican plebiscite bill is up in the House

The House of Representatives is set to vote today on H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rican Democracy Act.  If enacted, the bill will provide for a Puerto Rican plebiscite to determine whether they wish to remain a commonwealth territory of the United States, want to become a sovereign state “in association” with the United States, want full independence, or want to petition the Congress for statehood.  Now, I’ve already gotten one hyperventilating email from RPVNetwork today and I’ve noticed that some of the conservative bloggers out there are jumping up and down about this bill, acting like it came out of nowhere and will guarantee statehood to Puerto Rico, which apparently is a horrible idea.  Fortunately, there are other conservatives who have actually read the bill and recognize it’s a good bill and one worthy of Republican support.

Personally,  I support the bill 100%.  Puerto Rico deserves the continuing opportunity to determine their own future.  In an effort to provide a response to the conservatives who are apparently having a knee-jerk reaction against this bill, let me debunk a few of the myths that seem to be floating out there.

Myth #1 – This bill is being snuck through! No one knows about it! - This isn’t true. First, the bill is a repeat of a bill that was originally introduced in 2007 as H.R. 900.  Despite having bipartisan support and over 100 co-sponsors in the House and 15 in the Senate, the bill wasn’t voted on before the end of the 110th Congress.  The bill was reintroduced this Congress, and currently has the bipartisan support of 181 co-sponsors in the House.  How do you sneak through a bill that has almost half the House of Representatives as co-sponsor?  This bill has been floating around out there for three years.  That some folks weren’t aware of it, and there hasn’t been a whole lot of media coverage (between financial reform, immigration in Arizona and health care, there wasn’t much oxygen left for a bill like this) doesn’t mean it came out of nowhere or is being secretly passed at midnight.

Myth #2 – This bill guarantees they’ll become a state, and the rest of America will have no say! - This argument, frankly, doesn’t make any sense.  First, the bill only calls for a general plebiscite.  All Puerto Rican residents and all U.S. citizens born in Puerto Rico living elsewhere will be able to vote.  Statehood is simply one of four options they’ll have to choose from.  If they choose to remain in their current status, the bill provides for an automatic revote every 8 years.  If Puerto Ricans don’t want to become a state, they’ll vote against statehood and that’s the end of it.  The argument that “the rest of America won’t have a vote” – which, unfortunately, is even being made by lawyers at Heritage – is ridiculous.  Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress has to vote to approve statehood.  According to Brian Darling at Heritage, “A vote by members of Congress is not enough to indicate consent of the American people for Puerto Rican statehood.”  Apparently Mr. Darling seems to think that Puerto Rican statehood is somehow special and the Constitutional process that served to add 37  states to the Union since 1791 is “not enough to indicate consent of the American people.”   That’s an indefensible argument that mocks the Constitution.

Myth #3 – This is just a way to guarantee 2 new Democratic Senators and 4-6 Democratic House seats! – This, in my opinion, is the most offensive argument against this bill, and one that doesn’t hold up to any kind of scrutiny.  First of all, Puerto Rico is not a heavily Democratic state.  The leading political party there, the New Progressive Party, is majority Republican and very conservative, and the current Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuno, is a Republican.  Prior to being elected Governor, he spent 5 years as the Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico, which is generally equivalent to a Delegate position in the House of Representatives.  I worked with him quite a bit during that time period, and got to know him well.  He’s a good Republican and I was happy to see him win election to the Governorship by a landslide of over 200,000 votes – this in 2008, a horrible year for Republicans.   In terms of conservative policies, the people of Puerto Rico are very socially conservative.  According to recent polling (noted in Alex Castellanos’ article for NRO,)  “78 percent of the island’s residents are pro-life; 86 percent say prayer should be allowed in schools; 75 percent say displaying the Ten Commandments on government property should be allowed; a majority supports vouchers for private schools. An overwhelming majority of Puerto Rican citizens embrace socially conservative values.”  Does anyone honestly see them all jumping up and voting Democratic?  I certainly don’t.  When you’ve got 75%+ of their residents taking positions that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck would approve of, I don’t think making assumptions like this are even close to being fair.

This bill has the support of 57 Republican Representatives, not the least of which is Mike Pence, Chairman of the House Republican Conference.   At its core, this bill is about allowing the people of Puerto Rico the same right to self determination we would want any American citizen to have.  That’s why for the last 50 years, every Republican President and every Republican party platform has favored allowing Puerto Rico the right to vote to petition for statehood if they so choose.  Personally, I believe every Republican should be out there  supporting this bill and welcoming the chance to admit another state to the Union.  Our party has always been the party of expansion and has long supported promoting democracy around the globe from Theodore Roosevelt to George W. Bush, and this bill does exactly that – it gives the people of Puerto Rico the right to determine for themselves if they want to stay as they are, become independent, or join the Union.  That’s inherently democratic and something we should all be supporting. Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States, and they deserve the democratic right to choose their own destiny.

NOTE: This post was originally posted on Too Conservative on April 29, 2010.