This may seem like a small story, but then again Puerto Rico is a small island. And the District of Columbia? Well, it is a virtual postage stamp at 68 square miles. (The mean land area of the 3,000-plus U.S. counties is 622 square miles.)
Democrats have always pushed for both to be the 51st and 52nd states. In a near panic for the Latino vote — given that the legalization of millions of illegal Mexicans will be a sure thing — the Republican 2012 platform supported “the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union … if they so determine.” (Barrack Obama had earlier pledged support, being reminded of the importance of the Puerto Rican vote in Florida before the 2012 election.)
Republicans never supported D.C. statehood. Politics aside, the idea is silly. One D.C. councilman recalled a similar situation with the vote over the admissions of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959. (Hawaii was a Republican territory; Alaska a Democratic territory.)
The solution was to tie both territories together as a package in one bill. Now that Puerto Rico has arguably voted for statehood, he wants D.C. to ally itself with Puerto Rico to give both sides political cover. All political solutions are grand bargains nowadays.
The perennial issue over D.C. statehood could be resolved by simply allowing the state of Maryland to take back the land it ceded to form the District of Columbia in 1790. The problem is Maryland doesn’t want it back.
Residents of D.C. argue they pay income taxes, unlike Puerto Ricans, but they have no voting representation in Congress because Congress has exclusive jurisdiction over the District. (They have 3 electoral votes and can vote for president and vice president.)
A number of solutions have been advanced over the years. The most practical would be to treat D.C. citizens as residents of Maryland for purposes of congressional representation; so Maryland’s congressional contingent would be beefed up by including the votes of D.C.’s citizens.
Puerto Rico presents an intractable problem. It is three times larger than Rhode Island, which isn’t saying much, since Rhode Island is the smallest state in the U.S. It has a population of about 3.7 million. (Another 4.6 million Puerto Ricans live in the U.S.)
Congress granted U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917, but as in all U.S. territories, any U.S. citizen who resides in Puerto Rico cannot vote at the national level — unless registered to vote in any of the states.
As the 51st state, its status would be irrevocable by Congress. Even if its status were to remain as a commonwealth, it will remain totally dependent on the transfer of U.S. wealth to the island. But as a state, their status will be guaranteed.
Over half of the Puerto Rican population receives food stamps. Their unemployment rate is two to three times greater than ours. They pay no federal income tax. (This would be of interest to only a few citizens of the island.) They receive Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
However, Earned Income Tax Credit is where they would strike the mother lode as a state. With an average income of $16,000, just about every family would be entitled to EITC welfare.
Do we want another Mississippi — the poorest state in the union? Mississippi’s average income is a whopping $35,893.
If Puerto Rico were granted statehood, would it be an act of compassion or a race to the bottom? What benefit would they bring to the U.S.? We’ve seen the stark economic differences.
There is a striking similarity between Puerto Rico and Quebec both linguistically and culturally. Ninety-eight percent of the island’s population speaks Spanish; half speak no English — and another quarter struggle with English. Canada had the same concerns, and the Official Languages Act was an attempt to enforce the preservation of the French language and culture. The secessionist movement in Quebec has formed a minority government in Canada.
The U.S. has enough of a challenge with Mexican immigration. Some Latino leaders have applauded those Latinos who have resisted assimilation to preserve their Latino culture.
Puerto Ricans are proud of their Caribbean culture; and Spanish is their national language. The issue of independence has been a hot button issue over the years. With that in mind, the United Nations, ever critical of the U.S. as a “colonial” power, formed a special committee on “Decolonization” and passed a resolution in 2009 calling for the U.S. to “expedite a process that would allow the Puerto Rican people to exercise fully their inalienable right to self-determination and independence.”
Congress has that right too. It has plenary power to determine the status of Puerto Rico. I would argue for relinquishment of sovereignty, for all the economic and cultural reasons previously detailed.
Similar to the process Congress designed when granting independence to the Philippines, time would be necessary for an orderly transition from commonwealth to independent nation, but Puerto Rico already has a democratic republican form of government in place, so they wouldn’t be starting from scratch.
With Democrats, the calculus has unfailingly been to have complete control of government. That means always campaigning for votes — in this case Latino. (Puerto Rico as a welfare state would mean more reliable Democratic votes.)
Republicans are falling into the trap of trying to remain “relevant” with the Latino vote — particularly Mexican. They would be better served, and America would be too, if they just fell on their sword and explained the facts — the truth.
What would be best for our country — statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico?
John Reiniers, a regular columnist for Hernando Today, lives in Spring Hill.