If you read the floor debate on last week’s historic vote on statehood for Washington, D.C., you will see some comments that might seem familiar. In fact, we think they could apply just as easily to Puerto Rico as to Washington, D.C.
Here are some questions that the House of Representatives discussed in that debate.
Do these U.S. citizens deserve statehood?
“They have been dealt the injustice of paying taxes, serving in the military, and contributing to the economic power of our Nation, while being denied the full enfranchisement that is their right,” said Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “Serving in the military, fighting, risking their lives for our democracy. Fundamental to that democracy is representative government. They were willing to risk their lives for a principle, for a value, for our democracy, while where they lived was being denied that full opportunity.”
“This is about human rights. This is about democracy. This is about our Nation being better than that,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer. “It is something that ought to concern all Americans, because when some Americans are denied the full rights and representation of citizenship, it diminishes the meaning of citizenship for all. Statehood is not merely a status; it is a recognition by the rest of the States of the sovereign equality of the people who live there that they are part of the main, not simply an island, as the poet reflected, and that they cannot be treated as lesser by their fellow citizens.”
Is it right to refuse statehood because of the way you think the state might vote?
Puerto Rico doesn’t vote for either Democrats or Republicans all the time, but we have often heard the argument that Puerto Rico shouldn’t be admitted because that might bring more Democrats into Congress. We’re glad that Members of Congress stood up and said that this is a ridiculous, un-American argument.
“They [anti-statehood faction] would rather deny voting rights for hundreds of thousands of American citizens than even consider the possibility that representatives from the new State could be Democrats,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney. “Now, think about that argument. They are willing to violate the core principles of our democracy merely because they may be from a different political party. This argument is anti-democratic and un-American.”
“They want to deny 700,000 people their right to representation in this body and in the other body because of their politics, or likely politics,” said Rep.Gerry Connelly. “When have we ever done that as America? We haven’t looked at how people would vote before we decide to incorporate them into the Union as a State. We understood the right of people to petition to become a State, and Congress has that power.”
Do citizens need statehood?
“In America, States make their own local policy and budget decisions without constant tampering and interference by other people’s representatives,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin. “In America, every political community stands on equal footing through statehood. Each one sends two Senators to the U.S. Senate and voting representatives to the House, delegations that guarantee no one will push their people around. When you are a State, you help decide things like whether your country goes to war, who will be your judges and supreme court justices, how will your Federal tax dollars get spent, and what should be the laws of the Nation.”
Raskin continued, “America started as 13 States, but we have exercised our powers under Article IV, Section 3, 37 separate times to admit 37 new States, all of them by simple legislative acts, none of them by constitutional amendment, and each one was controversial in its own way.”
Rep. Stacey Plaskett said, “The United States territories that I represent are also not on equal footing with the rest of the Nation. There is no representation in the U.S. Senate. No equal voting representation in the House of Representatives. Unlike D.C., we cannot vote for President. We know what it is like to be part of the greatest country in the world but not a full participant, and it feels incomplete.”
Say the same for Puerto Rico
Each of these arguments could be said of Puerto Rico, too. We hope that when the debate on Puerto Rico statehood hits the floor of Congress, the members of Congress will remember these things that they said.