"LOTT FEARS VOTING POWER OF A PUERTO RICAN STATE"
THE SAN JUAN STAR, VIEWPOINT, SUNDAY, APRIL 12, 1998
The Majority Leader in the Untied States Senate, Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) seems to be in no hurry to consider the passage of legislation for the decolonization of Puerto Rico.
Lott has been quoted as saying that the subject of Puerto Rico's political future must wait "until more important issues are handled." He has included among those issues the passage of the federal government budget, the reformation of the Internal Revenue Service and the creation of educational savings accounts.
What he did not say is that, in other congressional sessions, many more bills have been considered and passed, in a shorter period of time. It depends on the will of the Senate leadership, not on excuses or evasive maneuvers.
The real reasons for the unenthusiastic attitude of Lott toward the passage of legislation for the decolonization of Puerto Rico merit some analysis.
Appearing on the Evans-Novak Report on CNN, aired the weekend after the passage of the Young bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, Lott indicated that much of his opposition to the bill came from the belief that Puerto Rico as a state would be overwhelmingly Democratic. "It is not just two senators, it is six members of the House of Representatives. This is a consideration." (STAR, March 11).
But it is not a legitimate consideration. If there ever was an overwhelmingly Democratic state, it was Mississippi. Its governors for more than a century as well as its congressional delegation and both houses of the State Legislature were Democrats. In 1988, only 10 years ago, the Senate of Mississippi was under the firm control of the Democratic Party, which held 44 seats against only 8 for the Republicans. In the House, the numbers were 112 Democrats against 9 GOP representatives. At this time, the Democratic Party still controls both the State Senate (34-18) and the House (94-34). All these facts are known by Sen. Lott, but he has never said that Mississippi is unworthy of being a state of the union, because of its overwhelming support for the Democratic Party.
Sen. Lott is not well informed about the nature of Puerto Rican politics. Although both our governor and resident commissioner are affiliated with the Democratic Party, a majority of our senators and representatives, as well as mayors, belong to the Republican Party. In fact, the Speaker of the House, Edison Misla Aldarondo, is the national committeeman, while former Gov. Luis A. Ferré is the GOP's state chairman. The "overwhelming Democratic" majority so much feared by Lott is to be found in his own State of Mississippi, not in Puerto Rico.
Another reason for Lott's unhappiness with the Young bill can be seen in a comment by Ralph Z. Hallow, of The Washington Times (March 8): "Representatives of the small states will be under particular pressure to oppose the bill because the admission of Puerto Rico would dilute their voting strength, particularly in the Senate."
Puerto Rico, as the 51st state, is to elect two members to what has been deemed to be "the most exclusive club in the world." The Puerto Ricans thus elected would be colleagues of the two senators from each of the other 50 states, including those from Mississippi. Unfortunately, senators Lott and Thad Cochran seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of having two Puerto Ricans seated on equal terms with them in the U.S. Senate.
In the House, the Puerto Rican delegation, with not less than six seats, would outnumber the Mississippi delegation, which has five seats. Besides, the number of Hispanics in Congress, which increased from 6 in 1981 to 17 at this time, would be at least 23. No wonder a Mississippi Congressman, Roger Wicker, is already on record opposing equality for the American citizens of Puerto Rico.
It must be pointed out that Puerto Rico is more populated than 28 of the states. The island's population, projected at 3,850,000 by the year 2000, is considerably larger than that of Mississippi, with 2,750,000 inhabitants by the end of the century.
The size of Puerto Rico's population is an asset, in terms of political empowerment. It means that Puerto Rico would mean eight electoral votes for the presidential candidate obtaining a majority in the island. Puerto Rico would be on equal terms for the election of the President of the United States with Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Oklahoma and South Carolina. Our voting strength would be greater than those from 25 states. Among those smaller states is Mississippi, with 7 votes. With such voting power, no presidential candidate could ignore the problems and aspirations of the American citizens of Puerto Rico.
There is another fact that should be taken into consideration by Sen. Lott and his colleagues before shelving the status bill. The ancestors of the present-day residents of Mississippi emigrated to America. In the case of Puerto Rico, it was the other way around. The American forces came to our shores, and for a century the stars and stripes have been displayed over our island. Since 1917, we are American citizens, by a unilateral action of Congress. It was America that wanted us to be Americans.
Sen. Lott should remember that there was an hour when both Puerto Ricans and Mississippians were equal, when they fought together in the battlefields of Korea. However, Puerto Rican units fought harder than those from Mississippi. As a result, there were 3,049 Puerto Rican battle casualties, while only 1,563 from Sen. Lott's home state. In terms of battle dead, we carried a heavier burden. We lost 731 of our sons while Mississippi lost 403. Indeed, Sen. Lott can take note of certain words from Shakespeare, in the play "King Henry V," Act VI, Scene III: "For he today that sheds his blood with me, shall be my brother."
The gentleman from Mississippi should also take into account the words delivered before the U.S. Senate on March 6 by his colleague Robert G. Torricelli. The senator from New Jersey pointed out that it was not in the interest of the United States "to leave the 20th century under a cloud of colonialism" because the status of Puerto Rico is "the unfinished business of democracy."