|What Shape Of The 108th Congress Will Most Favor Puerto Rico Status?
With the "Super 11" state political primaries of last Tuesday behind us, campaigning for all seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate are in high gear for an election less than eight weeks away. National polling leaves open the possibility that power could shift in any one of three possible scenarios in the up-coming Congress, or it could stay the same as it is presently, with Democrats in control of the Senate and Republicans with a majority of the House of Representatives. A few votes in a handful of races could change dramatically the political shape of things on Capitol Hill for the next two years.
Change could play out in one of three scenarios. The parties could trade control of the two bodies, with Republicans organizing the Senate and the Democrats winning the House or either major party could sweep into the majority in both Houses of Congress. What will not change is control of the White House, which the George W. Bush Republican Administration will manage until at least January of 2005.
This is an important factor, since no legislation will be possible without a Presidential signature on the legislation and the President, like most of his modern predecessors, has expressed a willingness to support Puerto Ricos move to full sovereignty.
This weeks Hot Button Issue Poll asks Herald readers to look into their crystal ball to divine the best outcome in the upcoming November 5th election for the initiation of a Puerto Rico self-determination process, if that is what they wish to see. Participants in recent Herald polls clearly prefer the beginning of such a process, with solid majorities favoring legislation offering only two choices, Statehood and Independence. There is very little support among poll participants for Puerto Ricos current territorial status or for any tinkering with the status quo Commonwealth arrangement to "enhance" its powers. They also opine that the 1998Young Bill (H.R 856) was flawed, in that it did not come up for a Senate vote and did not commit the federal government to accept the status option chosen by a majority of plebiscite voters.
Since the passage of the Young Bill, much has happened to color Congressional attitudes about Puerto Rico. The controversy surrounding the U.S. Navys use of its training facility on Vieques has angered some influential Senators and House Members, while others have identified with the protest effort, presumably to curry favor with mainland Puerto Rican voters. The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 blunted some of the anti-Navy activism over the past year but Vieques is likely to be Puerto Ricos "1000-pound gorilla" in the next Congress, especially as May 2003 approaches, the time set for the cessation of Navy training on Puerto Ricos offshore island.
Another sea change is the Popular Democratic Partys (PDP) sweep of the local elections in Puerto Rico in November 2000 that gave the Governors chair and the majority of seats in both legislative chambers to a political party that will work to block any Congressional self-determination initiative. PDP Governor Sila Calderon has publicly called the Young Bill "a disaster," presumably because of its lack of recognition of the Puerto Rico Constitution as a "compact" granting sovereignty to the island. She put the best possible face on the lukewarm Congressional resolution sent to recognize the Constitutions fiftieth anniversary, one opposed by some 32 House members who complained that Congress should not be recognizing "a colony." Her strategy to organize a Unity and Consensus Committee to develop status options was also overwhelmingly rebuked by Herald poll participants.
The phenomenon of growing mainland Hispanic political power will surely influence the debate on Puerto Ricos future but it is difficult to predict just how it will play out. Most of the national Hispanic organizations have publicly come out in favor of a legislative process giving Puerto Ricans a chance to determine their political future, citing the irony of nearly four million American citizens deprived of representation in Congress and the right to vote for President of the United States.
One factor likely to play upon the future shape of the House of Representatives is the success of Hispanic candidates running for seats in the newly shaped Congressional districts resulting from the Y-2000 census which estimated the Hispanic population at 35.4 million. Pundits predict that from four to six new Hispanic members will be elected, the majority of them Democrats but none of them of Puerto Rican descent. All 18 members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus are expected to retain their seats, including Anibal Acevedo-Vila, (PR, PDP D) Puerto Ricos non-voting Resident Commissioner whose re-election bid will not occur until 2004.
Three mainland House incumbents are of Puerto Rican background, Nydia Velasquez (D-NY), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) & Jose Serrano (D-NY). Eddie Diaz, a Democrat born in Mayaguez, is running an uphill battle for a House seat in the newly formed Central Florida 8th District against the 1st term incumbent Ric Keller (RFL). Luis Angel Vega, a Republican and freelance journalist of Puerto Rican ancestry, is behind in the polls against his Democratic opponent Xavier Becerra, an incumbent, in Californias 31st District. Gloria Tristani a granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez (D-NM) and daughter of former Puerto Rico Industrial Development Company Administrator Jorge Tristani, is running as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in New Mexico but is given little chance of unseating 5-term incumbent, Peter Domenici (R-NM)
In the upcoming weeks, the Hot Button Issue Poll will be tracking the campaigning for seats in the 108th Congress, offering readers the chance to convey their views on issues impacting Puerto Rico. For this week we ask the question, "What is the most favorable outcome in the 108th Congress for the initiation of self-determination legislation for Puerto Rico?"