Puerto Rican plebiscite bill is up in the House today

By Brian S

caribbean-puerto-ricoThe 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Comments

  • Loudoun Lady says:

    I need to read up on this a bit more, but at first glance I was alarmed. Chalk it up to being suspicious of the timing, even though the bill has been around for 3 years. Mike Pence holds huge weight with me, and I agree with the premise that Puerto Rico should be given the right to determine their future.
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    Thanks for the good post Brian, I’ll dig deeper.

  • Dan says:

    Great post, Brian. But you are such a spoilsport. Asking the lunatic fringe to take a deep breath and look at actual facts before they start screaming and foaming at the mouth? That is no fun at all. Besides, trying something like that that they have never tried before might cause them to injure themselves.
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    I bet the Puerto Ricans opt to continue under their current status. It seems to afford them the greatest benefit with the least downside.
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    Interesting that the wingers would be so opposed to adding new Republicans on Capitol Hill. I wonder if something else is motivating their opposition?

  • Dan, there you go with your usual veiled racism… as a proud so called member of the “lunatic fringe” this bill has my back 150%. Do you ever bring up your own party’s so called fringe?

  • Brian S says:

    Dan, I think the only thing motivating the opposition is a lack of information. That’s it.

  • Yosem Companys says:

    The irony of all this is that Puerto Rican statehooders have traditionally been the strongest supporters of the GOP on the islands. If you follow statehood forums and blogs, they tend to regurgitate all of the Republican talking points. Moreover, the statehood party’s founder was a Libertarian Republican.

    So essentially, conservative Republicans are against a vote that would help their Republican brethren on the islands? To a Puerto Rican, this is weird.

    If you want to hurt the Democrats, then you would vote for this bill because most of the Democratic leaders in Congress — especially, Nancy Pelosi — are opposed to this bill because the pro-commonwealth status quo party in Puerto Rico is very solidly Democratic. Commonwealthers are Democrats who oppose statehood because they depend on welfare and corporate tax subsidies, which they fear would be lost were Puerto Rico to become a state.

  • Dan says:

    Dan(not the liberal one), what are you talking about? Where did I say anything about race?
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    And yes, I have criticized my party’s lunatic fringe. I have often expressed my anger at them for blunting needed opposition to horrendous national policies. Nuts like Code Pink, for instance, made it far too easy for the Bush administration to paint all opposition to the strategic blunder of invading Iraq as coming from nutty pacifists rather than from serious people who were very concerned about national defense. Not to mention the cover it gave them for the bungled critical first year of the occupation. You remember that? And how you could be assured the “liberal” media would show you a clip of the Code Pink ladies screaming at the back of a hearing room but never asked a single pointed question about the bungled occupation that subsequently cost many American lives.
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    Yes, I have criticized the lunatics on both fringes. It just seems there is one key difference. The Republicans are embracing the fringe. Hell, they are letting them drive the danged bus.
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    Might have something to do with the number of Republicans currently in Congress. What do you think?

  • Dan says:

    “Dan, I think the only thing motivating the opposition is a lack of information. That’s it.”
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    You are probably right, Brian. That is pretty much par for the course. Get three facts (correct or otherwise) and start screaming. No need to complicate it with too much information.
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    What is Limbaugh saying about it on his radio show today? That will cement the “facts” for a sizable portion of your base. If he says it is part of the plot of the Kenyan born Marxist terrorist who is secretly trying to destroy America to enhance his power they will believe it to be true.
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    Maybe those Puerto Ricans are “secret” Democrats. Only pretending to be Republicans. It is all part of the larger plot! They will become a state, elect Democrats and tip the balance in order to kill grandma, make us an Islamic Republic (the Puerto Ricans may be secret Muslims too!) and bankrupt America while forcing us all to join unions and pledge allegiance to the ChiComs!

  • I got that RPV letter, too, and was disgusted by the panic is seeks to create. Brian’s right – it’s wrong on the facts and effect of the bill. Even so, PR, as a US territory, has the right and should have the right to seek statehood. As far as changing the cultural dynamics of the nation, I don’t see that either – PR already IS a part of the nation.

  • And another thing: Congress has to approve the admission. No plebiscite could ever directly result in statehood, period. The misinformation on those wacko blogs highlighted by Brian just kills me.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “pledge allegiance to the ChiComs!”
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    No way. The ChiComs actually allow you to keep much more of your own money. Just don’t stand in front of one of their tanks, though.

  • Dan says:

    Communism never fit the Chinese. They have capitalism in their DNA.

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  • RichmondDem says:

    “I don’t see that either – PR already IS a part of the nation.”
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    Even the language issue wouldn’t be that huge of a deal, New Mexico has Spanish as co-official with English, and IIRC Louisiana also uses French as a co-official language.
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    A State of Puerto Rico would probably be similar to New Mexico politically, actually, a majority-hispanic state that leans slightly Democratic but can be competitive. This is of course assuming Republicans listen to Karl Rove and don’t go full wingnut like Arizona in immigration and alienate hispanics as badly as they did the Irish Catholics in the 19th Century.
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  • RichmondDem says:

    That said I doubt PR votes for statehood. They get 99% of the benefits of U.S. citizenship with 0% of the federal income taxes. That’s a pretty strong incentive to stay a “commonwealth”. It’s not like D.C. where they don’t have any representation AND they have to pay federal income taxes.

  • Cato the Elder says:

    “They get 99% of the benefits of U.S. citizenship with 0% of the federal income taxes.”
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    Sweet. Do they accept immigrants?

  • Brian S says:

    I’m happy to see that the bill passed on a 223-169 vote. It’s interesting to see that the vote had bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition – Glenn Nye and Tom Perriello both voted against it and Eric Cantor voted for it.
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    Go figure.

  • Linda B says:

    Hey, we’re a commonwealth! Can I stop paying federal taxes now? Please?

  • Brian S says:

    Ha! Nice try Linda.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    The kids at RPV who write that junk are utterly clueless. If I had a nickel for every piece of mindless, ignorant pablum that gets sent to me from Richmond by RPV, I’d be cruising the world in my 44 foot yawl instead of selling hours to litigants.

    Statehood has long been a position that has been popular among Puerto Rican Republicans and opposed by Puerto Rican Democrats (who have been playing the Commonwealth fiddle like Paganini). What in the name of heaven is RPV doing taking any stand, let alone this particular one on this issue? There is simply little downside to giving the people of Puerto Rico a clear right to decide their status. The current Commonwealth status is, in my opinion, a bad deal for all. You’re in or you’re out. If you don’t like being part of the United States, best wishes. If you want to be part of the country on a mature basis, then accept responsibility for taxes. Let’s give a fair chance for a responsible majority view to be expressed.

  • Brian S says:

    NoVA Scout – just to make clear, it wasn’t RPV that sent this out. It was RPVNetwork, which is an activist network that was set up a few years ago.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    You mean there’s another source of this stuff? Yikes! I get both, but always assumed there was a connection because of the “RPV” term.

  • Brian S says:

    There was – Frederick endorsed them when they set it up.

  • Jack says:

    > 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.

    Those sentences contradict each other. The second sentence is flat-out wrong — if they vote against statehood, they will vote on it again in eight years. In fact, that second sentence is flat-out BACKWARD — if they vote FOR statehood then that’s the end of it. That decision can NEVER be revoked. As we learned in the Civil War, this federation is like the Roach Motel — you can check in, but you can’t check out.

  • Brian S says:

    They don’t contradict each other Jack, because when I said “and that’s the end of it” I meant “that’s the end of it for those eight years.” So far, the Puerto Ricans have voted against statehood four times since the 1950s, largely because Democratic anti-statehood forces have prevailed.
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    They can keep voting against statehood as long as they want to. Or they can join. And, no, it can’t be revoked. That’s a good thing.

  • Jack says:

    “That’s a good thing.”
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    That is a matter of some debate.

  • Brian S says:

    Honestly, no it isn’t.

  • NoVA Scout says:

    I was too quick to complain about RPV proper and you (Brian) were right to straighten me out. In fairness to them, their material has been much better in the last year.

  • Steve Vaughan says:

    The worst thing about the bill was tha it allows for a continuation of PR’s current status.
    I don’t believe the US was ever meant to be an empire and I don’t think we should have subject territories.
    There have been multiple referenda on this issue over the years, but Puerto Ricans need to make a clear choice: statehood or independence.

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