Puerto Rico: 51st State?

Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the United States and has been since 1952 when that status was approved by the Puerto Rican citizens, President Harry S. Truman, the United States Congress and the Puerto Rican governor at that time.  Puerto Rican residents have been U.S. citizens since 1917 when the Jones Act was passed, although they do not receive all the benefits and protections of other U.S. citizens.  For example, they can vote in U.S. Federal Primary Elections but are not permitted to vote in the General Elections.

In case you wanted to know, the Republican voters went for Rubio over Trump by 75% to 14% and the Democratic voters favored Hillary Clinton to the tune of 61% of the votes cast.  Puerto Rico has a Governor, a legislature and one non-voting delegate in Washington, D.C.  Puerto Ricans pay federal income taxes on any earnings from work done in the U.S. but no federal taxes for work done in Puerto Rico.  They pay into Social Security and have access to Medicare and Medicaid, and do not receive the same level of federal funding as does a state.

Puerto Rico has a significant economic problem and that has seen nearly a half-million residents flee the island to take up life in the U.S. proper.  Unemployment is at about 11.5% and almost half the population is below the poverty level.  Puerto Rico recently defaulted on debt of about $73 billion.

A vote was taken in Puerto Rico this past Sunday when a non-binding referendum was passed by some 500,000 votes for statehood to 7,600 votes for “free association” and 6,700 votes to maintain the current territorial status.  Voter turnout, however, was just 23% of eligible voters so some are declaring this result to be invalid.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is a notable immigrant from Puerto Rico having immigrated with her family to the Bronx in the 1940s.  Rita Moreno is a Puerto Rican native.

Puerto Rico’s Governor is pushing hard for statehood.  Would you be in favor of making Puerto Rico our 51st state even though that would require quite a bit of additional federal funding, or would you favor ignoring Puerto Rico’s problems?  How would you want your elected people to vote on that issue if it comes up?

Is it time for the United States to become a union of 51 states instead of 50?  What would be gained if that were to be put before Congress?  I suspect that political leanings of the Puerto Rican populace might well play a role in that vote.  If the Dems felt they could pick up seats in both the Senate and the House, they would likely be strong supporters of such a move.  Similarly, Republicans would love extra votes if they felt they’d gain by admitting Puerto Rico to statehood.

As with virtually everything involved in government, voter gains will be an important part of the equation.

The economic considerations would also play a role in this process.  We would be taking on some responsibility for debt loads that we currently do not have.  We have effectively been protecting Puerto Rico from foreign powers given their proximity to our mainland so that wouldn’t be much of a change.  Cruise lines already pay calls there when in that area.  There might be workers who would love the opportunity to work for U.S. companies whether there or on the mainland.

I suspect that we would look favorably on the making of Puerto Rico our 51st state but that process will provide an interesting look into national politics and possible reaction from other countries.

Time will tell.


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