Inside the Capitol

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

5-6 Puerto Rico trying for statehood again

50613 Puerto Rico

SANTA FE – Oh, no. Don't look. Puerto Ricans have decided they want to become a state. They are in for an even rougher time than New Mexico had.
Puerto Rico suffers from the same difficulties New Mexico had but to an even greater degree. It has a different culture, different language and it is too far from Washington, D.C.
Even more difficult were the politics of the situation. In 1850, President Zachary Taylor wanted to admit New Mexico to become a state as soon as it became a territory.
But it was politically impossible because leading up to the Civil War every Western territory that wanted to become a state had to be paired with a territory that allowed slavery.
Unfortunately all the slave territories had already been admitted. New Mexico did not permit slavery so its goose was cooked.
Puerto Rico faces a similar dilemma. The Democratic Party is most popular there. Democrats would be very likely to take both U.S. Senate seats and almost all the U.S. House seats.
Washington D.C. faces the same problem. Its quest for statehood has been stymied for decades. There are no Republican territories to offset Democrat requests.
Democratic Hawaii and Republican Alaska were the last pair of states admitted to the Union.
Western Washington State has tried hard to be separated from its coastal brethren where Democrats reign. But that is unlikely.
Many states have a geographical difference in political philosophies. New Mexico, for instance.
It has been suggested by some, however, that these two states be allowed to split, creating two new conservative states, thereby allowing Washington, D.C. AND Puerto Rico to become states.
The extra requirement would be that none of the four states created by splitting Washington State and New Mexico be allowed to keep their old name.
That little maneuver would eliminate confusion over whether people are talking about Washington State or Washington, D.C. And it would eliminate confusion about whether New Mexico is part of the United States.
With both of those possibilities being extreme long shots, Puerto Rico has an unenviable task. Up until now, it was content with its present commonwealth status. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens receiving most U.S. benefits but are not required to pay federal taxes.
For many years that argument appealed to most everyone but politicians who wanted to play on the big stage. But now with tensions over immigration laws, Puerto Ricans decided they would like it to be clear that they already are U.S. citizens and not required to show papers when they enter our country.
There was some doubt about the conduct of the election, so President Obama has decided to conduct a new election paid for and monitored by federal officials for the first time.
The choices are present status, statehood or independence. Statehood and the present status always drew the great majority of votes but there always was a small group pushing for independence, which Puerto Rico would have great trouble handling.
But those wanting independence felt strongly. In 1950, two independence seekers tried to assassinate President Harry Truman.
Those not wanting statehood also have a good point. They worry about losing their culture and identity. They see themselves as a Latin American nation and as a Caribbean nation, not as an American state.
Still, most Puerto Rican political leaders have long felt statehood would be best for Puerto Rico. So they have been asking Congress for statehood for years. They say they feel like second-class citizens. When they come to the states, they often are hassled for green cards and called immigrants.
A 1998 vote by Congress was close. It even had the support of House Speaker Newt Gingrich. When it fell short, Puerto Rico went to the United Nations and asked to be declared a colony in need of international attention.
When that didn't work they tried a court suit. But it is hard to prove mistreatment when your commonwealth and its citizens receive most of the benefits of citizenship without paying federal taxes.


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