The Tennessee Plan for statehood is a bold alternative that the territory of Tennessee used to speed up its admission as a state. Several more territories have done the same, and now Puerto Rico plans to use the Tennessee Plan to become the 51st state of the Union.
In 1795 voter turn out for a statehood referendum in the territory of Tennessee was 8%, but statehood won by 73%. Puerto Rico just held a political status vote with a 31% voter turnout and statehood won by 97%.
In Tennessee the people were too impatient to wait for Congress to make the next move. The territory went ahead and adopted a constitution, declared statehood and elected a state delegation to Congress.
A year later in 1796 the territory of Tennessee became the 16th state. To show it was still in charge, Congress required the Tennessee delegation elected in the territory to go back home and get elected again – in the state this time!
That strategy for aggressively seeking statehood when Congress is acting too slowly is called the “Tennessee Plan.” Six other territories adopted modified versions of the Tennessee Plan tailored to unique circumstances each faced on the road to statehood (Michigan, Iowa, California, Oregon, Oregon, Kansas and Alaska).
Now along comes Puerto Rico, with a 61% vote for statehood in a 2012 general election with 78% turnout, and now the June 11 vote resulting in a 97% statehood victory in 2017. This time, unlike Tennessee, the territory of Puerto Rico already has a statehood-friendly constitution, and Puerto Rico is more ready for statehood than most if not all of the 32 territories that became states.
Now that a majority of voters have approved statehood in an orderly democratic process, the government’s petitions to Congress for admission are official policy. Under the territory’s new statehood law, with advice and consent of the territorial legislature, the Governor will appoint a seven member delegation to represent Puerto Rico in Washington.
After two years a delegation will be elected to carry on the quest for statehood. A big part of the job will be educating members of Congress, the press and the public about how to discern the difference between truth and propaganda regarding the June 11 vote and what it means legally and historically.
Even with fiscal crisis and a century of confused federal and local narrative about Puerto Rico’s political status, the obstacles to statehood for Puerto Rico are more easily surmountable than the case against statehood for most territories admitted in the past. Statehood in the future is closer than it may look if we only gaze into the mirror at what’s behind us.
Anti-statehood factions now disparage over half a million of their own people who went to the polls in an off-season special election to vote for statehood. But those who chose not to vote forfeited their right to claim “we would have won” if they had not boycotted or gone to the beach.
“Now that the people have spoken in Puerto Rico, this is something Congress has to address,” said President Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer during a Monday press briefing. “The process has to work its way through Congress.”
That makes the Tennessee Plan Puerto Rico style, focusing on educating Congress and the public, timely and imperative. Call it salsa diplomacy, beans and rice statesmanship, it is as all-American as Tennessee, Michigan, Iowa, California, Oregon, Kansas and Alaska.
If you live in a state, contact your legislators and let them know that you want them to honor the will of the voters of Puerto Rico.