As long as probably anyone can remember, our flag has included thirteen stripes and fifty stars, but that could be about to change. For the fourth time, a bill regarding the possible statehood of Puerto Rico is making its way through Congress. This bill, HR 2499, is rapidly slipping through Congress seemingly unnoticed by the public. Ever since the massive health care overhaul passed earlier this year, Americans have been curiously guessing as to what Congress’ next challenge will consist of. Immigration reform and Cap and Tax, excuse me, Cap and Trade, have been popular topics of discussion, but HR 2499 has come up for a vote with almost no mention by the mainstream media. Only a couple sporadic mentions on Fox News and online sources alerted me to the issue. Why have we not heard about this bill? It’s because, unlike the Obama administration, it’s as transparent as a window. Any passive reader would be able to detect that this is much more than “democracy for Puerto Rico.” It’s more of a brilliant political move designed to increase the voting base of the Democratic Party. Even if the bill fails in passing, the intent remains clear. The real question facing this legislation is, why now?
The “Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009” has been set out “to provide for a federally sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rice.” It sets out a two-step process for determining the future status of the current territory. If this measure, which has garnered bipartisan support, is passed by the U.S. Congress, the citizens of Puerto Rico will have two choices on an upcoming ballot to resolve this issue; (1) “Puerto Rico should continue to have its present form of political status” and (2) “Puerto Rico should have a different political status.” The last time such an initiative was put to a vote in 1998, keeping the “current status quo” of a commonwealth only received 0.1% of the vote. Independence received 2.5%, statehood received 46.7%, and a choice for “none of the above” received 50.3%. Since a very small percentage of the Puerto Rican population voted to keep their government in its current state in 1998, it can be assumed that a change is desired. Because the vote proposed by HR 2499 has been changed to a dichotomous choice between keeping things the way they are and making a change, we can expect that the vote should make it through the first phase. As proposed by the bill, the second vote will force Puerto Ricans to make a drastic change in their status. If (2) passes, three different alternatives are possible. The first option is “Independence: Puerto Rico should become fully independent from the United States.” The second, “Sovereignty in Association with the United States: Puerto Rico and the United States should form a political association between sovereign nations that will not be subject to the Territorial Clause of the United States Constitution,” will disallow the United States from having final power over Puerto Rico, meaning that the U.S. government will NOT be able to create rules and regulations for Puerto Rico, as they are able to do with all territories. The third option is statehood. The selection of three options for Puerto Ricans instead of two is more of a genius political move than a legitimate choice. Any way Puerto Rico decides, they will either be independent from the United States or move closer to, or accomplish, statehood. The reason why this triple-choice method is so ingenious is because whatever is chosen will most likely not receive a majority vote, thus making Puerto Rico’s path to statehood that much easier. Also, as part of HR 2499, Puerto Ricans living in the United States will be allowed to vote in the two-part election. This is an absolute outrage considering that more Puerto Ricans live in the United States permanently than live in Puerto Rico itself. Of course Puerto Ricans who reside in the United States will be mostly favorable toward adding their homeland to America’s collection of states. Even if this bill falls flat in the U.S. Congress (which it most likely will not, considering it has 182 cosponsors in the House), it is important to note that it is written to succeed. Puerto Ricans will most likely vote to change their current system of government and will be stuck making a choice between independence, sovereignty out from under the Territorial Clause, or statehood. Let’s just hope it does not make it that far. This intricate crafting of HR 2499 begs the question, why now?
If I was not mistaken, the United States is facing a recession, climbing unemployment rates, and increasing debt, so why is statehood for Puerto Rico so important now? Why can’t it wait until after we set the economy back on track? It can’t wait because it is 2010, meaning that elections are a mere seven months away, and Democrats are losing ground quickly. Many experts are forecasting large wins for the Republican Party and far more important, major losses for the Democrats. After pushing through a massively unpopular health care overhaul, the Democrats have few friends. So, if they cannot gain support in the United States, why not get it elsewhere? The Democratic Party has long expressed its desire for Puerto Rico’s self-determination. The 2008 Democratic platform stated, “We believe that the people of Puerto Rico have the right to the political status of their choice, obtained through a fair, neutral, and democratic process of self-determination.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately the “fair” process that the Democratic Party so desires is only fair to one side of the political aisle. If Puerto Rico does become the 51st state, the Democratic Party will receive a large boost in votes because Puerto Ricans living in the United States who want statehood for their homeland won’t be able to resist voting for the party that granted their wish. This along with rumors of increased voting rights for criminals and possibly amnesty for illegal immigrants adds to the Democratic Party’s larger objective of keeping their supermajority come November. Therefore, HR 2499 isn’t about Puerto Rico at all; it’s just another political maneuver to gain voters for the injured Democratic Party. This is not something to take lightly, though, and who knows, before long, we could be sewing yet another star upon Old Glory’s blue fabric.