“My first project as governor,” says Pedro Pierluisi, “will be the admission of Puerto Rico as a state.”
Pierluisi, currently the Resident Commissioner for Puerto Rico, is running for governor of the Island. He described statehood as a real and permanent solution to the economic problems facing the Island, pointing out that territories invariably have improved their economic positions upon becoming states.
“In rice and beans,” Pierluisi says, “if territorial status was better than being a state, we would be better than in the states. The reality is different and history confirms this.”
Pierluisi mentioned Alaska and Hawaii, the most recent territories to become states. “Their per capita incomes increased 69 percent and 52 percent respectively in the first 10 years.”
Pierluisi pointed out that Puerto Rico’s voters already voted in favor of statehood. Funding has been set aside for a federally-sponsored referendum to confirm the 2012 vote. The current governor pledged to hold the referendum in 2016, but that clearly will not happen, so the new governor will be responsible for implementing the new vote. HR 727, a bill introduced by Pierluisi, lays out the details of the path from that referendum to statehood.
The new vote will offer only choices that the federal government agrees are constitutional. In the past, some status votes have included “enhanced commonwealth” and similar options which the federal government has already rejected as unconstitutional. Since the U.S. will not accept these possibilities, including them on the ballot would be pointless. The U.S. Department of Justice will therefore certify all the ballot options as viable — which means that the results of the vote can lead to action.
Puerto Rico’s election for governor will take place in November, along with the U.S. presidential election, in which residents of Puerto Rico cannot vote. There will be a primary in Pierluisi’s party in June, and the candidate who wins that primary will go up against a candidate from the current ruling party, which prefers to maintain the territory status. The current governor has already announced that he does not intend to run again.