|Its "All Aboard" For The Mainland Voter-Registration Express
Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderons mainland voter registration steam engine chugged away from New York City last Monday in what is scheduled to be a nation-wide run. By weeks end, it had powered into Washington for a press conference at the National Press Club and was taking on water and coal for a nationwide run.
According to Gov. Calderons press aids, the project is billed a "celebration of democracy" and forms a part of the 50th year recognition of the founding of the Commonwealth government that her administration will laud in a year-long series of events beginning July 25, 2002. Calderon holds that the Commonwealth is a "unique system that has served (Puerto Ricans) very well," and is the "preferred choice of the majority - the vast majority - of the Puerto Rican people." The Governor plans other stops in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Hartford, Houston, Miami, Newark, Orlando, Philadelphia and Springfield Massachusetts, all places where the island government has representational offices.
The originating "gate and track " for the "express" was the Grand Street Settlement, a community center in New Yorks Lower East Side. In a staged event, several previously unregistered Puerto Ricans were added to the voting rolls for the November 2002 elections while New York States Republican Governor, George E. Pataki, serving as break man to Calderon at the throttle, lauded the purposes of the trip. Also attending were representatives of New York City Mayor Bloomberg, New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey and several New York State elected officials. Left at the station were New York Citys two Puerto Rican Democratic Party members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nydia M. Velazquez (DNY 12th) and Jose E. Serrano (D-NY 16th) who did not attend, complaining that Gov. Calderons voter project was biased to attract voters to Republican Party candidates. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL 4th), also Puerto Rican, agreed with his New York Democratic colleagues.
Surrounded by Spanish language posters that read "We Will Not Be Deterred," "Puerto Rican! Register and Vote," and "Pride, Unity, Power," Gov. Calderon briefly explained her program, calling it a "groundbreaking effort." As she offered bouquets to her hosts, "coming here is like visiting my extended family
I really love this city," Gov. Pataki beamed approval. Maria Carmen Aponte, Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office in Washington, explained that the campaign would feature radio ads in Spanish and English and other uses of "unpaid media." By some estimates, the total cost for the campaign will exceed 6 million dollars, not including the salary costs for the many public employees that will execute the campaign in mainland cities.
The Governors "whistle stop" at the National Press Club in Washington was more sedate. There, Ms. Calderon spent most of her time lauding the advantages to Puerto Rico and to the United States of its Commonwealth form of government, speaking of it as a "dramatically successful experiment," one that is "widely supported" by the residents of Puerto Rico. Just fourteen blocks east of the Press Club, on Capitol Hill, she would find little support for that view. Congress recently issued a resolution recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Puerto Rico Constitution (HR 395), purged of original language suggested by Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila, a Commonwealth supporter, that Puerto Rico is a "nation," or that its Constitution imbued the island with a permanent political status. The resolution makes clear that Congress maintains ultimate control over Puerto Rico that, in legal terms, is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Even in its present mild form, some 32 members of the House of Representatives voted not to issue it, including Puerto Rican Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) who made an impassioned floor speech characterizing Commonwealth as a "colonial status" and calling for the Congress to require that the Puerto Rico electorate choose simply between Independence and Statehood. In response to a reporters question, Ms. Calderon characterized the resolution as a "victory" and said that Mr. Serrano was "mistaken."
Justifying the need for a voter registration drive, Gov. Calderon pointed out that there are 1.7 million Puerto Ricans living on the mainland eligible to vote while nearly half that number remain unregistered and, for those who are, only 40% do vote in a typical election. She asserted that there are 79 mainland congressional districts with more than 10,000 Puerto Rican residents, potentially constituting a "swing vote," making candidates more responsive to "their views and our views." To a reporters question, Ms. Calderon said that she saw no inconsistency in using money from the Puerto Rican treasury to register voters on the mainland, while the people of Puerto Rico who are all American citizens have no voting representation in the U.S. Congress and cannot vote for the President of the United States.
Luis Angel Vega, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Congress from Californias 31st District, took issue with that point. After attending the press conference, he told the Herald, "anything that empowers Puerto Ricans merits attention, but using Puerto Rican tax resources to influence local elections is overreaching. There are U.S. federal funds available to assist local voter registration campaigns and the Governor of Puerto Rico is making a mistake by imposing her agenda on U.S. Congressional districts. I view the effort as confrontational and likely to create ethnic division in many parts of the United States. For instance, in my Los Angeles district, there are very few Puerto Ricans but many voters of other ethnicities who would resent outsiders undertaking a campaign of the type that Sila Calderon is suggesting."
So, what do you think most motivates Gov. Sila Calderons mainland voter registration Drive?