What Is a Resident Commissioner?

Puerto Rico, since it is a territory and not a State, does not have Senators or Representatives like the States.  Instead, Puerto Rico has a Resident Commissioner.

Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner is an elected official, chosen by the people of Puerto Rico every four years, who can propose bills and join discussions and serve on committees, but who cannot vote on the floor of the House.

The first Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico was Federico Degetau y González.  He arrived as a delegate in 1901, and worked tirelessly for citizenship, for incorporation as a territory as a first step toward statehood, and for a stronger position for the delegate from Puerto Rico.

He was not allowed to speak on the floor of Congress, so he spoke to the press instead, telling them that the people of Puerto Rico had less representation in the United States than they had enjoyed under Spain.

Degetau y González served on the Committee on Insular Affairs, and he proposed a bill granting citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico.  In 1904, he gained the right to participate in debates in Congress and to have a seat in Congress, but not to vote on laws.  The Resident Commissioner still does not have that right.  Degetau y González left the government in 1905 and died a few years before the people of Puerto Rico gained citizenship in 1917.

Since that time, there have been 18 more Resident Commissioners, including Luis Muñoz Rivera, Carlos Romero Barceló, Luis Fortuño, and the current Resident Commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi, whose picture is shown above.

The Resident Commissioner provides a voice for the U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico, but the inability to vote on bills means that voice has no legal effect and does not constitute consent of the governed – the most fundamental of all rights of citizenship.  Only when the voting power in Congress is apportioned among the people of the U.S. in a manner that gives the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico voting representation proportional to its population will our fellow citizens have a way to give meaningful consent to the government and law of the land under which they live.

The current Resident Commissioner provides constituent services to 3.5 million U.S. citizens, while all other members of the House provide services to an average of less than 600,000 citizens.  When Puerto Rico becomes a State, there will be two Senators and five Congressional Representatives.  The voice of Puerto Rico will be heard as promised by the Constitution for the first time in a century of U.S. rule since citizenship was conferred in Puerto Rico.

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