Digital Town Hall: Puerto Rico Statehood Vote and American Democracy

On September 17th, PR51st hosted a town hall meeting on Puerto Rico Statehood Vote & American Democracy.

We had three panelists for the meeting:

  • John P. Caves III, a former U.S. Army officer, author of The New Model Federalist. He holds degrees in International Affairs from Princeton and George Washington University.
  • Scott A. Olson, a writer and policy expert. He holds a law degree from University of Oregon School of Law and a degree in Public Policy from George Washington University.
  • Prof. Christina D. Ponsa-Kraus, a Professor of Legal History at Columbia Law School and a Constitutional Scholar, and co-editor of Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution. She holds degrees from Princeton, Cambridge, and Yale.

Caves started off with a discussion of the consent of the governed, as laid out in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. Referencing philosopher John Locke, he began with a statement that conquest provides no moral right to rule. Since Puerto Rico doesn’t yearn for independence, the relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States needs to change for a more permanent and positive foundation.

Olson continued by pointing out that quandaries about statehood are nothing new for the United States. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t have much detail about the formation of states, but the history of our nation gives “breadcrumbs” including the Northwest Ordinance. Territorial government was intended to be temporary, until statehood could be established. He pointed out, too that colonialism has been part of the conversation from the beginning of this long and difficult history.

Ponsa-Kraus introduced the upcoming ballot question: statehood yes or no. She suggested that statehood or independence are the obvious options, and described the “commonwealth” option which is seen in Puerto Rico as “the middle way.” When Puerto Rico achieved home rule and adopted a constitution, the process stopped and did not go on to statehood and full equality. For the last 70 years, the territory has debated the possibility of a special arrangement for Puerto Rico or statehood. It’s time for a decision.

The meeting continued with discussions of current topics in the news and participant questions.

Enjoy the recording above.

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