Yesterday, the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources convened a hearing on various topics including the issue of Puerto Rico’s status. The territory’s Republican governor, Luis G. Fortuño, was present, and he testified that the Senate needs to approve legislation that will help Puerto Rico clarify its status.
If the Senate approves the measure, it will be following the example of the U.S. House of Representatives, where 128 Republican members recently voted
in opposition to the bill, despite strong bipartisan support.
mong those in opposition to what’s being called the Puerto Rico Democracy Act
was Congressman Sam Graves
, a conservative from the Missouri
In spite of the fact that every Republican president for the last fifty years has claimed to support Puerto Rico’s right to self determination
, and the fact that the GOP platform
claims to do the same, Congressman Graves broke with his party and voted in favor of the continued second-class treatment
of the island’s population.
What’s worse is that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens
; they have been since 1917
. Congress has a constitutionally mandated responsibility to make rules and regulations for the territories
of the United States
However, Congressman Graves chose to justify his dereliction of duty by hiding behind the “big government” boogeyman. The Puerto Rico Democracy Act, if passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama, will allow the people of Puerto Rico
to vote in a federally sponsored referendum.
Their votes will determine if Puerto Rico
should maintain its current status as a territory or if the island should instead pursue a more permanent solution. If Puerto Rico
votes to pursue a permanent arrangement, a second federally sponsored vote will take place.
This time, the people of Puerto Rico will have an opportunity to decide if they want their territory to become the fifty first state, if they want independence, or if they want some other type of relationship to the United States
. In a recent e-mail to constituents
, Congressman Graves implied that he opposed this legislation because Puerto Rico shouldn’t be forced by Washington
to become a state.
However, there’s nothing forceful about this legislation. Puerto Rico
is receiving the opportunity to vote on this issue in a federally sponsored democratic
referendum. Congressman Graves also suggested that he opposed this legislation simply because Puerto Ricans have opposed statehood in numerous votes throughout the last several decades.
However, Congressman Pedro R. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources yesterday that the votes that took place in 1967, 1993, and 1998 were misinformed. Apparently, the island’s minority Popular Democratic Party has been deceiving voters by presenting a completely different, unconstitutional status option. This has confused a number of voters, making the results of previous elections inconclusive.
It’s difficult to understand why the congressman is so scared of Puerto Rican statehood.
After all, statehood is only one of four possible outcomes.
Moreover, any decision reached under the current bill would be non-binding and subject to further congressional debate
before implementation. Perhaps Congressman Graves is playing politics; he can’t bring himself to put the good of Puerto Rico
Maybe he’s afraid that the largely Hispanic population will alter the landscape of electoral politics by creating another blue state.
At the very least, that’s what conservative think-tanks, such as the Heritage Foundation
, would lead him to believe. In reality, Puerto Rico
would likely become a red state
or a new battleground state.
The island’s largely Christian population tends to be more conservative on a number of social issues; Puerto Rico’s current governor is even a member of the GOP
. Or, perhaps Congressman Graves is afraid that Puerto Rican statehood will undermine the Republican Party’s support of a national law making English the official language of the United States
. This would also undermine conservative’s ability to use this as a political wedge issue
After all, continued GOP support for “English-as-the-national-language” will challenge the party’s legitimate support for the Tenth Amendment and states’ rights
Shouldn’t the “state” of Puerto Rico be more capable of deciding if it wants Spanish and English as its official languages
, similar to the way Louisiana
should be capable of deciding if it wants French and English as its de facto administrative languages
. Of course, Congressman Graves may fear that Puerto Rican statehood will undermine his election-year posturing
in the debate over other issues like immigration reform.
He recently decided to co-sponsor H.R. 1868
, a piece of “questionable legislation” that would
remove a newborn’s citizenship status if it is born to an illegal immigrant.
Not only could this legislation be “unconstitutional if passed,” but at least one of Graves
’ constituents now believes the man to be “ignorant of the constitution.” Maybe fears of a Puerto Rican blue state are legitimate after all?
Or, maybe attempts to spin the issues of immigration reform and Puerto Rican self determination into some “grand liberal conspiracy”
are just that. Whatever the case, these fears are irrational and none of them justifies Congressman Graves’ dereliction of duty.
A vote in favor for the Puerto Rico Democracy Act would simply have been the right thing to do. Puerto Rico
has spent too long in limbo.
The people of Puerto Rico are tired of being treated as second class citizens—and they are U.S.
They are U.S.
citizens who have fought and died for
They are U.S.
citizens who have paid federal taxes
They are U.S.
citizens who have pledged allegiance to the flag
They’re also U.S.
citizens who don’t have voting representatives in congress, and they’re not allowed to vote for president in the general election
. Puerto Rico
has four choices before it.
Maybe they will choose statehood, or maybe the island will choose independence.
It’s time for Congress to empower the people of the island to make this decision for themselves. It’s time for the Senate to take responsibility where others have failed; it’s time to approve the Puerto Rico Democracy Act.
Note: The above cartoon featuring Congressman Sam Graves being led on a dog leash by a conservative think-tank while urinating on a road sign was designed by Kyle Wilson for this article. The cartoon may be reused, but Kyle Wilson must be credited or the image must be linked to this article.