To the editor:
Puerto Rico wants to be a state. Some 52 percent of island residents said so in a locally sponsored plebiscite last November.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico affirmed that choice when he introduced a Puerto Rico statehood bill, S.780.
“Last November, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood and for full voting representation in Congress,” Heinrich wrote in a press statement. “It is long past due for the millions of American citizens living in Puerto Rico to get the representation they deserve.”
As of this writing, only three of Heinrich’s Democratic colleagues have signed on to this bill. New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, was not among them. Schumer and 38 of his Democratic colleagues did endorse the D.C. Statehood Admissions Act, S.51.
Schumer is all-in on statehood for the District of Columbia, but seemingly lukewarm on giving Puerto Rico the same consideration. The reasons for this should be called out, challenged and scrutinized.
In an interview last September on MSNBC, Schumer detailed some of what he hoped to accomplish as the new Senate Democratic Majority Leader.
“On D.C. and Puerto Rico, particularly if Puerto Rico votes for it. D.C. already has voted for it and wants it. Would love to make them states,” he says.
In November, 52 percent of island residents — 655,505 — showed up at the polls to “vote for it.”
Six weeks later, Schumer moved the goalposts. He told El Nuevo Dia, Puerto Rico’s largest daily newspaper, that 52 percent of the vote did not reflect the strong majority required to advance a statehood bill.
“There is still no consensus. There is division,” he said. “I’m waiting for a consensus to develop.”
So now Puerto Rico has to vote for statehood in big numbers like the District of Columbia did to win his support.
Democrats in Puerto Rico expressed disappointment after learning of his remarks. They wondered why he was “backtracking” his support since he pledged to support statehood if the people of Puerto Rico chose that as an option.
“You can’t ask the people of Puerto Rico to vote and then ignore what they democratically decide with their ballots,” wrote Puerto Rico Democratic Party chairman Charles Rodriguez, in a letter sent to Schumer last December.
Schumer proposes an artificial threshold to judge the validity of an election. Trying to nullify and discredit an election because the results produced a majority that was too low is a questionable position. Consider the following.
The U.S. Senate recently passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill by a one-vote majority. The final vote was a tie: 50-50. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tie-breaking vote.
Washington Heights congressman Adriano Espaillat told Podcast from Washington that a 52.5 percent majority was not large enough to advance a statehood bill. Espaillat won the Democratic primary for his congressional seat in 2016 with 36 percent of the vote.
Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, a longtime statehood opponent, won the Democratic primary in the first contest for her congressional seat in 1992 with 33 percent of the vote, according to The New York Times. She has been re-elected 14 times with a voter turnout that does not exceed 25 percent of those registered.
Using Schumer’s logic, don’t these low numbers invalidate the legitimacy of these elections? Where is the outcry deploring the lack of a consensus or strong majority? Doesn’t that mean that the 655,505 folks who voted for statehood in November participated in a fair, honest and valid act of self-determination?
We lament it when folks don’t exercise the franchise, but we don’t negate the votes of those who do. Nor do we nullify the results produced by those elections.
Why is Schumer eager to implement D.C.’s status preference through a statehood bill while blocking Puerto Rico’s?