Despite Governor’s Push, Puerto Rican Statehood Unlikely
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuno is pressing President Obama and Congressional leaders to get the ball rolling on statehood for the island commonwealth, one week after Election Day, when his push for the island to become a state received a historic level of support.
“The plebiscite’s results constitute the US Citizens of Puerto Rico’s clear rejection of the continuation of the current territory status,” Fortuno wrote in a letter to Obama, according to the Caribbean Journal. The letter called on the president to “fulfill your commitment to actively seek implementation of this choice by the US citizens of Puerto Rico.”
Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative to Congress, echoed the governor Wednesday (November 14), telling The Hill: “The people of Puerto Rico have spoken, and I intend to make certain that their voice is heard loud and clear.”
Though the president and members of Congress have been receptive to granting statehood — if Puerto Ricans clearly want it — it probably won’t happen soon. That’s because Puerto Ricans’ choices on Election Day cleared little up.
For the first time in history, the majority of Puerto Rican voters chose statehood. But the vote came out of a messy two-part referendum, in which 54 percent of voters responded “no” when asked whether they approved of the island’s current status. On the second question, statehood was the preferred alternative, notching 61 percent of votes. But one-third of voters left that question blank, meaning overall support for statehood may have been below 50 percent.
That has prompted several experts to suggest the vote was anything but a mandate.
“This isn't to say that support for statehood hasn't increased; it has,” Jorge Benitez, a political scientist at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, told CNN. “But the only thing we can decipher with certainty from the vote is that the people of Puerto Rico want a change to the current status.”
Complicating matters is that pro-statehood Fortuno lost his reelection bid. He’ll be replaced by Alejandro Garcia Padilla, who has not supported statehood.
Last week, The Hill reported that Republicans and Democrats understand the complexity of the vote. They see it as a reason to hold off on considering any statehood legislation.