KISSIMMEE – In a speech in the the heart of the nation’s Puerto Rican diaspora, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló vowed to sic Puerto Rican voters on political candidates who do not support the island’s hurricane reconstruction efforts after devastating losses inflicted by Hurricanes María and Irma.
Rosselló, who was joined at his first town hall meeting in Central Florida by Sen. Bill Nelson, Cong. Darren Soto, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Kissimmee Mayor José Alvarez, said his appearance before a 400-plus capacity crowd at Kissimmee’s civic center was more than an event.
“It is the start of an organization” to push and unify the stateside Puerto Rican population to register to vote and cast ballots not just in Florida, but also in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Ohio, among other states.
It was time, Rosselló said, to let elected officials know that “there are consequences” for voting against Puerto Rico’s interests, as Congress recently did in the federal tax reform that will make it costlier for companies to operate in Puerto Rico, dealing an economic blow to the island.
Three of four Puerto Ricans – all Democrats – in Congress plan to boycott the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.
Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, and Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano of New York have stated publicly they won’t be at the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States. Central Florida’s freshman congressman Darren Soto also added his voice to the growing boycott of the ceremony.
Raúl Labrador, the Republican Congressman from Idaho and a Trump supporter, is likely to attend the event.
“Looking forward to a productive partnership with @realDonaldTrump. We must change business as usual,” Labrador tweeted earlier.
Most of the inauguration rejections – numbering about 40 mostly Democrats and still growing, as of this writing – came after Trump insulted veteran civil rights leader and Georgia Congressman John Lewis on Twitter right before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, stating Lewis was all talk, no action.
Gutiérrez, who attended George W. Bush‘s inauguration, made a floor speech which he posted on YouTube explaining that “this is different.”
He continued, “The reason I’m not going is that I can’t bring myself to justify morally or intellectually justify the immense power we’re placing in that man’s hands.” Instead, Gutiérrez said he plans to march with women in Washington on January 21.
New York Congresswoman Velázquez tweeted, “@repjohnlewis is a national hero and I stand with him! I also am not attending inauguration given the tone of @realDonaldTrump‘s campaign.”
Serrano also tweeted but didn’t mention Trump by name. “I will not attend the #inauguration2017 next week- cannot celebrate the inauguration of a man who has no regard for my constituents. #Bronx.”
Soto, who represents Congressional District 9 which includes Osceola and parts of Orange and Polk counties, got some immediate pushback on Facebook from Myrna Benítez de Vivaldi.
“This is what happens when you serve your own agenda and not the people. Mr. Soto, you were elected to SERVE a community, people from both parties voted for you because they thought you were a better option so do your work and stop acting like a brat. #Please#HeIsOURpresident#SuckItUpButtercup.”
Benítez is married to Peter Vivaldi, who once ran for the congressional seat that Soto now occupies.
Demings and Murphy to Attend
Unlike Soto, fellow freshman Congresswomen Val Demings of Congressional District 10 and Stephanie Murphy plan to attend, according to Channel 9. However, neither Demings nor Murphy have made public statements about the inauguration, as of this writing.
Demings and Soto are in fairly safe districts, in which either African-Americans or Latino voters, respectively, predominate. They are likely to be re-elected two years from now without much of a hitch.
Not so, Murphy, who ousted veteran Republican Congressman John Mica from Congressional District 7, which includes Seminole and parts of Orange and Volusia counties.
Seminole County is mostly Republican and party supporters have already targeted Murphy, looking to recruit a viable contender to take back the seat. By not attending, Murphy would be providing Republicans strong ammunition against her come re-election time.
Newly sworn Central Florida Congressman Darren Soto (D) plans to push for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico.
It’s the second Puerto Rico-related measure in as many days, as newly elected Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González today filed a fill to admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state.
There is no doubt that Puerto Rico’s status needs fixing and obtaining the presidential vote for Puerto Rico is a worthy cause. And to be fair, Alan Grayson, Soto’s predecessor, last December called for the presidential vote for Puerto Rico, stating American citizens who reside in Puerto Rico suffer from disenfranchisement.
“The contradictions are painfully clear,” he added, comparing Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C., whose residents vote for president although it’s not a state.
However, González’s bill likely is dead on arrival, as will be Soto’s.
“Siéntate a esperar,” said a Facebook reader in reaction to the news.
“Dream on sister!” wrote another in response to González’s bill.
Let’s count the ways in which this will fail. First, the representatives are two newbies in Congress, meaning they have no clout. Second, Puerto Rico is in such a financial mess that no one will touch this. And third, neither of the bills is realistic.
Soto, who has said he would be supportive of Puerto Rico, is not backing Gonzalez’s bill, stating that first he’d like to see a clear referendum. He won’t need to wait long. Puerto Rico Gov. RickyRosselló is proposing one.
However, Soto’s presidential vote for Puerto Rico bill would be far more difficult to achieve, requiring two-thirds approval by the House and Senate – and ratification by three-quarters of the states. It’s an often unsuccessful process.
The last amendment was approved in 1992, stipulating that congressional salary increases cannot take effect until the next class of representatives takes office. That amendment took over 200 years to see fruition.
What could Soto be thinking? He is drinking from the cup of status.
The González-Soto proposals are feel-good measures aimed at winning the hearts and minds of constituent’s back home. Soto is the first Puerto Rican from Florida in Congress. His district is over 40 percent Latino, mostly Puerto Rican.
But it also plays cruelly with the hearts and minds of constituents back home, because the bills aren’t feasible in today’s political climate. They would be extreme long shots even in a favorable Congress.
This is political manipulation of a pueblo down on its luck and in a precarious emotional state of mind.
Political status is the elixir of the Puerto Rican people – to paraphrase Karl Marx.
I’ve said this before and it bears repeating, because the newly installed island Gov. RickyRosselló and newly sworn Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González expect to file a bill in Congress on Wednesday for Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union as the 51st state.
At the same time, the Puerto Rico Legislature will put forth a bill for yet another plebiscite with only two options – statehood or independence – thus excluding the present-day commonwealth status.
The move harks to a 2012 non-binding plebiscite – of which there have been several in Puerto Rico – in which statehood buried Commonwealth, garnering 61 percent of the vote. Congress ignored it.
For six decades Commonwealth has been billed as a semi-autonomous option, except that the congressionally imposed fiscal control board that likely will govern Puerto Rico over the next five years has proven that commonwealth is hollow. The island is not, in fact, self governing.
With Puerto Rico in dire financial straits as it tries to manage $72 billion in debt and in need of drastic economic reforms, a plebiscite can serve only as a public distraction from the very difficult decisions that lie ahead.
A distraction from billon-dollar budget deficits. A distraction from thousands of potential layoffs. A distraction from the downsizing and privatization of government. A distraction from badly needed education reform. A distraction from the island’s incredibly shrinking population as migrants continue to flee to places like Central Florida.
In fact, Rosselló’s father, former two-term governor Pedro Rosselló, utilized the very same distraction – twice during the 1990s. To no avail.
To be sure, the island’s political status needs to be seriously addressed and resolved. After all, it has been over 100 years since U.S. troops marched into Puerto Rico and took the island. And Puerto Rico is treated very unfairly in hundreds of federal programs because of its territorial status, as outlined in a recent report by a congressional economic commission on Puerto Rico that included Florida’s Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R).
However, Puerto Ricans love, love, love talking about political status. Many will be more than happy to welcome the distraction.