Wednesday, March 12, 2014
On Election Day, the citizens of Puerto Rico made history. For the first time, they voted for statehood.
A resounding 61 percent of voters chose statehood. The other choices were independence (5 percent) or free association (33 percent). Seventy-seven percent of the island's registered voters participated in this all-important decision. The question is: What will happen now?
There are 3.9 million people in Puerto Rico. The legal residents are all U.S. citizens. They carry U.S. passports, and many fight and die in wars wearing uniforms of the U.S. armed forces. But they don't have a vote in Congress, and they can't vote for president.
While these citizens were voting on their future, the Republican Party on the mainland took a mortal blow from Hispanic voters. Seventy-one percent of Hispanic voters voted for President Barack Obama. In the critical swing states of Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Virginia, this group provided the crucial margin of victory.
For the first time, Hispanic voters made up 10 percent of the total turnout nationwide.
President Obama, in an interview with the Des Moines Register shortly before the election, said emphatically that if he won a second term, his victory would be due to the huge Hispanic turnout for him.
And in states that Obama did not win, such as Arizona and Texas, the percentage of Hispanic voters will increase greatly and could well turn these Republican states to Democratic states in the near future.
All you have to do is to look at formerly reliably Republican California and see how large numbers of Hispanic voters have turned the tide there.
You would think that the national Republican Party would do everything it could to stop the fastest-growing minority in the United States from becoming a sure thing for the Democratic Party.
Ricardo Aponte, the executive director of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, made the party's task clear to me in an interview:
"If the Republican Party rejects statehood for Puerto Rico because it has a Hispanic population, that explains and perpetuates the 71 percent who voted for Obama."
Aponte further stated, "This is an opportunity for the Republican Party to redeem itself."
The Republican Party has been accused of conducting itself as if it were a country club: elitist and exclusionary; not welcoming to those different from itself.
Jose Fuentes, a former attorney general of Puerto Rico and co-chairman of the Romney campaign's Hispanic Steering Committee, summed up the election results for Hispanic Republicans: "The results were dismal." And in an admonition for the future, he pronounced, "Unless we are able to change our message and change our tone, we will be at the losing end of the spectrum for another 50 years."
Fuentes pointed out the ultimate prize. "It's time for Congress to make Puerto Rico the 51st state."
I am an advocate for Puerto Rican statehood. Why? First, it is fair and just. Second, I see a way for the District of Columbia to become a state.
George Washington Plunkitt, the fabled boss of Tammany Hall, sized up politics in this memorable phrase: "I seen my opportunities, and I took 'em." This is our opportunity.
D.C. citizens should be aware that such prominent Republicans as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida support Puerto Rican statehood. They believe that Puerto Rico has a good chance of electing Republicans to the U.S. House or Senate.
Democrats from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada have spoken passionately in favor of D.C. statehood.
Don't we have the makings of a statehood deal here? Besides doing the right thing, everybody comes out a winner.
There is precedent. Remember Alaska and Hawaii? They came into the union together. (Ironically, Alaska was supposed to be Democratic, Hawaii Republican. The reverse occurred.)
D.C. Council members Mary Cheh and Jack Evans, both Democrats, have already contacted Puerto Rican elected officials about pursuing this joint effort. Where is Mayor Vincent Gray?
President Obama has a second chance to thank the residents of the District of Columbia for giving him such astounding support (92 percent in 2008; 91 percent in 2012) by championing this cause and making it happen.
D.C. and Puerto Rico should become the 51st and 52nd states. I really don't care about the order -- just that they both get in.
Mark Plotkin is the political analyst for WTTG-TV (Fox 5 News) in Washington. This column was distributed by The Washington Post, where it first appeared.