Driving to an event in Orlando, Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York and current Democrat presidential candidate, kept me company. No, not Bloomberg in person but Bloomberg appealing to Orlando’s Latino voter community in a radio ad.
“Juntos vamos a reconstruir la nación,” he said. Together we will rebuild the nation.
Bloomberg has been making his presence felt in Florida as the state draws closer to its March 17 presidential primary. His campaign this week opened offices in Orlando and Tampa. And last month, he penned a 750-word commentary in the Orlando Sentinel with a direct appeal to the area’s Puerto Rican voters by taking a stand for statehood for Puerto Rico.
This was very unlike Joe Biden‘s commentary published in the Sentinel in December, which addressed Puerto Rico’s political status in the most general and noncommittal terms.
Puerto Rico’s political status is a subject dear to the heart, no matter where boricuas stand on the independence-commonwealth-statehood spectrum. That’s because Puerto Rico’s current status as an unincorporated territory of the United States with limited self government and little ability develop its own economy is precisely what makes the island ungovernable.
Because Puerto Rico’s status looms so large in the political imagination of the Puerto Rican electorate – aquí y allá, here and there – the sentiments of Puerto Ricans on this subject can be easily exploited.
So when political candidates of any stripe appeal to Puerto Ricans based on the island’s unresolved status, know that it’s exploitive. Period. No president or Congress has had an appetite to take on Puerto Rico’s political status seriously in more than a generation. But that hasn’t stopped them from talking about it.
The last time the subject was seriously addressed was during the George H.W. Bush administration. In 1990-1991 the Senate and House held hearings, including in Puerto Rico, to negotiate the terms of the first status plebiscite authorized by Congress. The initiative collapsed in the Senate. The key word is “authorized by Congress,” meaning Washington would have to abide by the results.
Since 1967, Puerto Rico has conducted four referenda, each one unauthorized and, thus, Congress, which holds direct control over Puerto Rico’s affairs, could safely ignore.
Bloomberg has never before taken a position on Puerto Rico’s political status, according to City & State New York. Yet, he wrote a cogent and coherent commentary on the issue, one that correctly indicated that the United States, and Congress in particular, is a big part of the island’s problem.
“Helping Puerto Rico move from a state of constant crisis to a state of stable and steady growth is a big management challenge — but by combining statehood with a robust economic and rebuilding plan, I know we can get it done.”
Whether statehood is the solution is anybody’s guess. What is certain is that the Puerto Rican diaspora in Florida supports statehood, as demonstrated in several official and unofficial polls through the years, including one posted in the Sentinel the day Bloomberg’s commentary appeared. Plus, both the Democrat and Republican parties support statehood for Puerto Rico in their party platforms. And the island’s three political parties agree that a political change that devolves more power to Puerto Rico is necessary.
Candidates who come knocking on Central Florida’s door get that talking about Puerto Rico’s political status is the way to Puerto Rican voters’ hearts.
˜˜María Padilla, Editor
Below is my annotated take on Bloomberg’s commentary.
Bloomberg: A new future for Puerto Rico includes making it our 51st state
By MICHAEL BLOOMBERG
ORLANDO SENTINEL | JAN 27, 2020 | 12:01 AM
Over the last few decades, Puerto Rico has been decimated by a mounting debt crisis, failed economic policies and mismanagement, a closed naval base that has left deep environmental and health scars, and a series of devastating storms and hurricanes. U.S. naval base
This month, a series of earthquakes have damaged buildings, knocked out the island’s largest power plant for up to a year, and left many people terrified about the structural integrity of their homes — and fearing the worst.
To make matters worse, we have a president who doesn’t seem to believe Puerto Rico is his responsibility — or understand that its residents are Americans. Trump has been punitive and cruel toward Puerto Rico.
Well, Puerto Ricans are American citizens. And on the mainland, we should see their challenges as our challenges, because a strong Puerto Rico strengthens America. Instead, President Trump just points fingers and tosses paper towels.
For decades, Puerto Ricans and their interests have been ignored by Washington. And there’s a simple reason why: They don’t have a vote in Congress. And so politicians don’t have to care how they feel. So true. But also, politicians and their constituents know very little about Puerto Rico.
That’s why they don’t have the same funding as other Americans for essential programs, including Medicaid, even though Puerto Rico’s poverty rate, at almost 43%, is more than double that of the highest-poverty U.S. state.
And it’s why, when the island faces a natural disaster, Washington is often slow to respond.
Ignoring the island’s needs has come at a substantial cost to U.S. taxpayers. It’s akin to bailing out a bank every year or so, instead of adopting smart regulations that prevent banks from acting recklessly. Or paying for emergency room visits for those without health care insurance, instead of extending coverage that would allow people to see a doctor and prevent costly and deadly illnesses. A good way to look at it. Bailing out Puerto Rico every year is not cost-effective or efficient without addressing fundamental issues of economic growth. But there is no coherent policy re Puerto Rico.
There’s a clear solution to this challenge that a majority of Puerto Ricans support. And it’s a solution that, polls show, two-thirds of all Americans also support: statehood. But most
candidates for president have been too afraid to back it. They tip-toe around it, to avoid alienating any voters.
Not me. I’ll state it clearly: I support statehood for Puerto Rico. And as president, I will work to pass a bill making it a reality, subject to approval by the people of Puerto Rico — who will make the ultimate decision. The last serious effort to address Puerto Rico’s political status occurred in 1990-91, during the George H.W. Bush administration. It died in the Senate.
I believe statehood would be good not only for Puerto Rico, but for our whole country.
Here’s why: Until Puerto Rico becomes a state, it will continue to lack the tools and resources needed to build a stronger economy and recover from disasters — and Congress will continue sending just enough money to put Band-Aids on problems, without actually fixing them. He is seeing this clearly. Halfway measures don’t work.
Helping Puerto Rico move from a state of constant crisis to a state of stable and steady growth is a big management challenge — but by combining statehood with a robust economic and rebuilding plan, I know we can get it done.
In consultation with leaders from the island, our campaign has put together a detailed plan that will deal with the island’s debt crisis, alleviate the devastating spending cuts, overhaul the disaster recovery process and put Puerto Rico on the path to growth and stability.
It’s a strong, ambitious and achievable plan — and I believe Puerto Rico’s future should be an important part of the presidential debate. But my fellow presidential candidates, who have been campaigning for a year, haven’t invested any substantial time or resources there, even Puerto Rico will award more delegates in the Democratic primary than either Iowa or New Hampshire. No, they haven’t. But it’s also embarrassing to seek primary votes when you consider Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote for president in the general election.
Our campaign is different. We believe taking Puerto Rican voters seriously starts in the Democratic primary, and that’s why I’m opening up an office in San Juan and building a ground operation — because the best way to stop Puerto Rico from being ignored in the future is to stop ignoring it right now. He is the first presidential candidate to do so in this election cycle. But then again, Bloomberg has a lot of dough.
The citizens of Puerto Rico deserve to have their voices heard — not only in the presidential primary election, but in the general election, too. They deserve real representation in Washington that reflects their interests. And they deserve the same federal funding for disaster relief and reconstruction that all other Americans would expect.
The best way to make that happen is through statehood. And it’s the only way for Washington to stop ignoring the island and applying Band-Aids — and start forming a true partnership with elected leaders there who are on the same footing as other representatives around the country. The case for independence has grown weaker and weaker through the decades, but there are still pro-independence supporters, maybe less than 4 percent of the electorate.
The time has come to sew Puerto Rico’s star into our national flag. As president, when voters there are ready to begin the stitching, I’ll bring Congress and the whole country together to get it done.