November 29, 2018

USA: House Republicans And Puerto Rico Governor Agree On Statehood Vote

The Hill
written by Rafael Bernal
Tuesday November 27, 2018

The Republican leaders of the House Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday called on Puerto Rico to hold a new vote on statehood.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) tweeted a letter dated Monday, signed by four top Republicans on the House panel, which oversees territorial affairs.

"We are ready for a binding process, endorsed by the federal government, that puts an end to more than 100 years of colonial status through a yes/no statehood vote," said Rosselló.

"We will do our part and the federal government must do its part. Our priority is to end the colony, fulfilling the wish of a people who has chosen statehood on two occasions in the last seven years," Rossello tweeted in Spanish.

The letter recognizes the validity of two previous statehood plebiscites, in 2012 and 2017, and blames the Department of Justice (DOJ) for the nonbinding effects of the 2017 process.

"Despite both the Obama and Trump Administrations and many in Congress having recognized the validity and decisions of the 2012 and 2017 votes, the inability of the DOJ to provide a timely blessing of the 2017 vote has allowed its opponents to contest its results," wrote the Republicans, led by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Bishop was joined by fellow Republicans Rep. Don Young (Alaska), the chairman emeritus of the panel; Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), head of the Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs Subcommittee; and Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón.

The letter represents the most explicit acceptance of the 2017 plebiscite's results, where 97 percent of voters picked statehood, albeit with a historically low 23 percent participation rate.

The plebiscite was considered non binding, as the Department of Justice requested changes to the ballots initially presented by Rosselló.

Rosselló's administration made changes suggested by the DOJ, but refused to change the date of the plebiscite to allow the feds time to review the new ballot.

That ballot included a three-part question, meant to level the playing field between statehood, independence or maintaining Puerto Rico's status as a free associated state.

Natural Resources Republicans suggested in their letter a further referendum, with a yes/no question on statehood.

"This would allow for all the opponents of statehood — whether they support independence, continued Commonwealth status, Free Association, or even 'none of the above' — to vote 'No,' thus defeating the exclusion argument that some have advanced in the past," reads the letter.

Although Rosselló and other pro-statehood Puerto Rican officials have based their claim on statehood on the 2017 plebiscite, the governor seemed open to the suggestion in the letter, advanced by his ally in the statehood fight, González-Colón .

Rosselló and González-Colón are among the most vocal advocates for statehood, and belong to the pro-statehood New Progressive Party on the island, although nationally, Rosselló is a Democrat and González-Colón a Republican.

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