Breaking ranks with his party’s presumptive nominee, Florida Senator Marco Rubio gave his piece on the sensitive subject of Puerto Rican statehood. His position: reject the notion that Puerto Rico could request statehood with “50% + 1” vote. According to El Nuevo Día, Rubio stated that Puerto Rican support for statehood “doesn’t have to be 100%, nor 90%, but it cannot be, to say a figure, 51% of the votes.”
The Senator, widely promoted as a potential running mate for Mitt Romney, sharply differs with the nominee on the island’s statehood issue. If you recall, Romney stated, while in Puerto Rico, that he would support Puerto Rico’s petition to become the 51st state if “50% plus one” of Puerto Ricans voted for it.
Rubio’s position places him in the same camp as Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, both who believe that a change in Puerto Rico’s status option should come with a broad consensus and not a razor thin majority like Governor Romney suggests. Rubio’s statements regarding the status issue did not end with statehood – he also had words regarding the much debated “Commonwealth” status, stating that Puerto Rico should have the option to “expand” the current Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) status, a notion that was rejected by the White House’s Task Force on Puerto Rico.
Rubio’s statements will resonate differently on the local political camps on the Island. Statehood supporters may turn against the Florida Senator, just as they scorned Santorum and Gingrich for not supporting a simple majority vote for statehood.
Rubio may also face some criticism from Florida Boricuas, many who believe in the statehood cause. This is due to the fact that the anti-statehood movement has usually resorted to the “supermajority” argument in its campaign against statehood.
In sum, the theory goes that Puerto Rico would need a supermajority vote in order to become a state. In so far as said vote tally cannot be achieved, statehood will remain a pipe dream. The supermajority requirement has been mentioned in previous congressional hearings regarding the status issue, but it has never been included in a final bill before Congress. Additionally, Congress has never imposed said requirement on a state prior to entry. For “statehooders”, support for anything that sounds like the supermajority rule is interpreted as veiled opposition for statehood at worst, and timid support at best.
On the other side of the political battlefield, Commonwealth supporters who advocate for greater powers (such as vetoing federal legislation while maintaing federal funds for the Island, among other convenient points), will welcome Rubio’s statement that the current status can be retooled to expand Puerto Rico’s autonomy powers. This, the possibility of a new (and more autonomous) commonwealth status that does not fall in the category of a free associated republic has been dismissed by the Statehood Party (PNP), Independence Party (PIP) and the White House (in its Task Force Report). It will embolden those on the “right” of the Commonwealth party (PPD)who reject the idea of a free associated republic model for Puerto Rico (such as the Hernandez Mayoral brothers) while diminishing the voice of those on the “left” who advocate a more sovereign model for Puerto Rico (such as the PPD’s candidate for San Juan, Carmen Yulín).
Senator Rubio’s comments place him at complete odds with Mitt Romney on this issue, something that will become a significant thorn (among Puerto Rican Republicans) if Rubio is picked to be the VP for the GOP ticket. However, it could also showcase the fact that Rubio is not afraid to say what everyone else is thinking: the US cannot accept Puerto Rico as a state with 49% of the population against it. Given that Rubio represents (as a Florida Senator) a significant portion of the Puerto Rican diaspora, it will be interesting to see how these comments play out in Boricua politics.