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Should the Governor of Puerto Rico Endorse Mainland Political Candidates?

May 31, 2002
Copyright © 2002 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 
At first blush it might have seemed odd that Puerto Rico Governor, Sila Calderon, a national party Democrat, would endorse Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican and brother to President George Bush, in his up-coming race to repeat as the Sunshine State’s Chief Executive. His likely Democratic opponent will be Janet Reno, President Bill Clinton’s two-term Attorney General. Calderon’s intervention in the race could be pivotal, considering that the number of Puerto Ricans residing in Florida has grown exponentially over the past decade, especially in the central sector of the State. Predictably, many of the former islanders — now Floridians - hold her and her Popular Democratic Party (PDP) in esteem.

Further analysis reveals the wisdom of her move. Puerto Rico’s limited influence in Washington’s corridors of power has always required its Governor to camp out in Congressional and Executive Branch offices to schmooze with politicians and make deals. Insiders report that Calderon’s deal with the Bush Administration is to stop any move by the President to push for a permanent political status for the island. The past four Republican Presidents have openly favored statehood for Puerto Rico and George W. Bush seems to be leaning in that direction also. Such a move would present a serious problem for the PDP leader, whose party has always favored the Commonwealth option, albeit with enhanced powers. Serious problems require dramatic action.

Her flirtation with mainland Republicans also include New York Governor George Pataki and New York City’s new mayor, Michael Bloomberg. Pataki supported the U.S. Navy’s removal from its training base on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques while Bloomberg has been a expansive host to Gov. Calderon in the "Big Apple." The GOP is, of course, delighted by Sila Calderon’s attentions. The Governor represents the interests of 3.8 million American citizens of Hispanic origin in Puerto Rico who, although they cannot vote in mainland elections, can be seen as part of a growing Hispanic political force in the United States, now being assiduously wooed by candidates of both mainland political parties.

Moreover, nearly an equal number of stateside residents are of Puerto Rican descent. They either emigrated from Puerto Rico or are offspring of one or both parents who left the island to take up residency in the fifty states. Thus, what the governor of Puerto Rico says, or doesn’t say, endorses , or doesn’t endorse, can affect their voting decisions in local, state and national races.

Calderon’s political opponents on the island are gleeful at her political dalliance with mainland Republicans. Politicians of the competing New Progressive Party (NPP), or "Statehood Party," is composed mainly of Republicans and they watch the Calderon drama with amusement. NPP Senator, Orlando Parga, his tongue firmly lodged in his cheek, "welcomed the Governor to the Republican Party." He further lectured her on the need for Puerto Rico to be a part of the mainland political process, although it was clear that he was referring to a different political status arrangement than the one preferred by Puerto Rico’s current Governor.

Governor Calderon is not the first Puerto Rican Governor to tack into the political winds blowing at the time. Former Governor, Pedro Rossello, also a Democrat, endorsed former New York Senator Alfonse D’Amato, a Republican, in his 1998 race for re-election against challenger Charles Schumer, in gratitude for D’Amato’s support for a Senate joint resolution agreeing to the language of the House-passed "Young Bill," that spelled out language for Congressionally approved political status options for Puerto Rico. He too was lambasted by mainland and island Democrats and his discomfort was increased when candidate Schumer became Senator Schumer leaving Governor Rossello with two more years in office to navigate the halls of the Senate office buildings.

Governor Calderon, however, is raising the stakes in her effort to leverage her political clout among Republicans. She has undertaken a voter registration drive in Florida and several other states where Puerto Ricans cluster to make sure that she is seen as the purveyor of a mainland Puerto Rican voting block in state and local offices. She has ordered her mainland representational offices to identify residents of states who come from Puerto Rico or who are descended from people who came from the island and urging them to register to vote. Her goal is to put 700,000 new voters on the rolls. She has requested four and one half million dollars from the Puerto Rican legislature, both bodies controlled by her party, to accelerate the effort to full speed.

Then all the new Puerto Rican voters in Florida need to do is get it right. No hanging chads, Please!

This Week's Question:
Should the Governor of Puerto Rico Endorse Mainland Political Candidates?

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