His written testimony began with good news: “Successfully restructuring our public debt to sustainable levels is helping us rise from bankruptcy with renewed momentum. This new era of economic stability and progress-oriented policies is already working to restore investor confidence on the Island, which is evidenced by the economic upswing being felt across Puerto Rico,” he said, “We also strategically allocated federal funds related to the pandemic to mitigate the effect on our public health and our economy. This has helped provide a sustained rise in economic activity indexes for the past twenty months. In fact, even accounting for inflation and historic high fuel prices, our economy is growing, businesses are expanding, and tax collections are rising consistently.”
He continued, “Moreover, we have been able to create over 105,000 jobs in less than twenty months since I took office, and Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate is at 5.8%, its lowest point in our history. Also, more people have joined the workforce, reaching levels we have not seen in almost 15 years, and last month 44 percent of businesses on the Island reported plans to increase their workforce.”
The governor also wrote about Puerto Rico’s political status. “125 years of unequal treatment towards the American citizens living in Puerto Rico have taken a toll on our society. Even after the successful restructuring of our public debt and the rebuilding of our infrastructure, Puerto Rico will remain hindered until our century-long status question is resolved,” he reminded his listeners. “The people of Puerto Rico voted and chose permanent union with the United States through statehood as their path forward. So many Puerto Ricans have defended American democratic values at home and abroad that their lack of voting representation in Congress and voting rights is clearly unacceptable.”
“Congress should call for a vote on the political future of Puerto Rico and commit to implementing the will of the majority,” the governor concluded. “After all, that is what democracy is all about. I thank you for favorably reporting HR 8393 out of this Committee and urge Congress to approve it.”
In his speech, he also said, “We have shown that when we are treated with equality, as happened with the COVID pandemic, we respond the same or better than any state. I am not here asking for more, I am asking that they treat us as what [who] we are: American citizens who deserve equality and democracy.”
Rep. Jody Hice responded to the governor’s reasonable and respectful words with a direct insult. “It is coming here with hands out asking for more money and/or asking for statehood,” he said. “That’s what we deal with here.”
It is certainly true that Congress deals with requests for funding. That is the job of Congress. Being scornful of requests for funding is wildly inappropriate for a member of Congress. It is, quite simply, the job of Congress to distribute taxpayer funds. Behaving as though the Governor of Puerto Rico were a panhandler accosting him on a street corner is insulting and irrational.
Congress is also the only body in the federal government which can admit states. There is no other organization apart from Congress who can be asked for statehood. Territories have a right to ask for — indeed, to demand — admission as a state. After more than a century as a territory of the United States, Puerto Rico is entirely right to ask Congress for statehood.
Once again, suggesting that there is something inappropriate or undignified about asking Congress for statehood is irrational and insulting.
Hice stated that he does not favor statehood for Puerto Rico. We believe that Rep. Hice does not support equal rights for Puerto Rico. His insulting and disrespectful comments make it clear that he does not support equality for the territory.
Rep. Hice owes Puerto Rico, and the duly elected Governor of Puerto Rico, an apology.