July 23, 2009
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K.C. McAlpin (703) 477-1623
Phil Kent (404) 226-3549
A stealth Puerto Rico statehood bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee yesterday and could be headed to a floor vote in September. H.R. 2499 appears to call for a non-binding expression by Puerto Rican voters on their political status. But appearances are deceiving. The wording and strategy for the proposed balloting are rigged to produce a majority vote in favor of statehood— while trampling on the wishes of Puerto Ricans who want to maintain the current U.S. commonwealth status or prefer full independence.
H.R. 2499, authored by Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood delegate to Congress, splits voting into two rounds. The first stipulates a yes-or-no ballot on the current political status. If the “current” e.g. commonwealth status doesn’t win a majority, there will be a second referendum. But in round two voters will have only two choices: statehood or full independence. Thus, commonwealth supporters could outpoll statehood voters in round one but not attain 50 percent. But in the second round they would be forced to choose between statehood and independence. This is undemocratic, patronizing, and an insult to Puerto Rican voters.
Even though the vote is non-binding, the pro-statehood party openly plans to use a victory in the second round to send its chosen “senators” and “representatives” to Capitol Hill to force its wishes on Congress— hoping the resulting publicity and political pressure would get them seated. It is similar to the strategy that Tennessee used to become a state.
Finally, an attempt to amend H.R. 2499 in committee stipulating that any new state mandate English as its official language of government operations was defeated on a 13-to-24 vote that split along partisan lines with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. This is a stunning and unacceptable attack on English as the common tongue that unites Americans — especially when polls show that 9 out of 10 of Americans want English to be the official language of government operations and 30 states have adopted laws to that effect.