Puerto Rico statehood. It’s hardly a new discussion. The island, which was recently visited by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie– has been a US territory since the end of the Spanish-American War and has taken several referendum votes to determine whether its citizens wanted to become the nation’s 51st state.
The people of Puerto Rico– who have been US citizens since 1917 but cannot vote in presidential elections and have no voting representative in Congress – voted against changing their status in 1967, 1993 and 1998. Their most recent vote on the issue – in 2012 – had a different result. In that referendum, over 61 percent of Puerto Rican voters indicated that they wanted full statehood for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico’s statehood took a step closer to becoming a reality last week, according to Fox News Latino report. Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow the people of Puerto Rico to vote regarding statehood. If the people of Puerto Rico approve of the territory attaining statehood, the bill requires the president to introduce legislation to Congress seeking approval of statehood for Puerto Rico.
According to his website, Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative who introduced a similar bill to the House of Representatives, said:
“Those of us who seek equality and justice through statehood understand that this struggle requires passion and determination, but that it also demands strategic thought and action. The filing of a Senate companion bill to H.R. 2000 demonstrates that the momentum in favor of statehood continues to build. We are closer than ever before to achieving our goal. I thank pro-statehood leaders in Puerto Rico for their support and, in particular, I want to recognize the efforts that former Governor Carlos Romero Barceló has made in the U.S. Senate.”
Sen. Heinrich had this to say about Puerto Rico statehood:
“In 2012, 54 percent of Puerto Ricans rejected their current relationship with the United States. We have a responsibility to act on that referendum, and this step is critical in that effort. My home state of New Mexico spent 66 years as a territory before gaining statehood in 1912—the longest of any state. Puerto Rico has spent nearly 116 years as an American territory. That’s long enough. The debate over Puerto Rico’s status needs to be settled once and for all so that its people can focus on fostering a more prosperous future.”
Sen. Wyden of Oregon co-sponsored the Senate bill. In an August committee meeting discussing Puerto Rican statehood, he said:
“There is no disputing that a majority of the voters in Puerto Rico… have clearly expressed their opposition to continuing the current territorial status… the current relationship undermines the United States’ moral standing in the world. For a nation founded on the principles of democracy and the consent of the governed, how much longer can America allow a condition to persist in which nearly four million U.S. citizens do not have a vote in the government that makes the national laws which affect their daily lives? That is the question.”
Many Puerto Ricans feel the move makes sense and could help the island with their recent financial woes. As Rep. Pierluisi put it:
“Puerto Rico is confronting the worst economic and fiscal crisis in its history, with all three credit rating agencies having downgraded our bonds to junk status. Residents of Puerto Rico are leaving in unprecedented numbers for the states in search of the quality of life they deserve as American citizens. Those who remain on the island face high unemployment, high crime and other challenges. The people of Puerto Rico comprehend that this crisis is structural in nature, rooted in the unequal and undemocratic treatment that Puerto Rico receives because it is a territory. The truth is undeniable: Puerto Rico has remarkable potential; but to fulfill it, we must change our status.”
Not everyone agrees. Puerto Rico’s Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla has expressed his preference for the island to maintain its status as a US commonwealth.
Even if the Senate bill passes and Puerto Ricans vote for statehood, Puerto Rican statehood would still depend on an up or down vote in Congress. A Republican-controlled House of Representatives could pose a major obstacle to the proposed addition of a 51st state, since Puerto Rico generally votes heavily Democratic. Some believe that Republican lawmakers would be nervous about adding a state that would likely give the Democrats two additional senate seats and a majority of the six or more representatives the island would send to the House.
The bill is not without bipartisan support, however. In addition to Democrats who have sponsored the bill, Voxxireports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Virg.) have expressed support for Puerto Rico statehood.