Calderon To Count On Lott (& With GOP?)… Dems Remain Angry With Calderon… Election -- Puerto Rico Highlights

November 8, 2002
Copyright © 2002 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.


Republicans winning a majority of the seats in the U.S. Senate in this week’s election may well breathe new life into the federal agenda of Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party). The election results will also strengthen the already dominant role that lobbyist and national Republican strategist Charlie Black performs in Calderon’s federal efforts.

Black suggested that Calderon will -- and can -- count on Senate Majority Leader-to-be Trent Lott (R-MS) to deliver on her objectives. First, second, and third on the wish list is exempting profits that companies based in the States receive from Puerto Rico from taxation.

Lott should be expected to try to help. He has been one of Calderon’s closest allies in Congress since she was mayor of San Juan. And Black has always been the link between the two.

In addition to repaying the friendship of Black, Lott shares Calderon’s deep opposition to statehood for Puerto Rico. His opposition as Majority Leader was the principal reason that a bill to enable Puerto Ricans to choose the territory’s future political status among the islands’ real options did not become law in 1998. The opposition was requested by Black, Calderon, and Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D), now the territory’s Resident Commissioner, but it was also strongly felt by Lott. He said he opposed Puerto Ricans being able to choose statehood because they would elect "two Democratic senators" and "six Democratic representatives." He also said that the bill was unfair to Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" option although he did not explain how.

Lott also --- unsuccessfully -- fought President Clinton’s initiative in 2000 to appropriate funds for public education in Puerto Rico on the islands’ real status options and a choice by Puerto Ricans among the options. He also resisted -- before backing down -- a 1998 Senate resolution supporting a Puerto Rican status choice. In both of these cases as well, he worked with Black, Calderon, and Acevedo.

Lott’s most recent Puerto Rico status-related statement came on the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico’s local constitution. He taped a video message for Calderon’s public celebration of the anniversary.

The Senate leader has not limited his involvement in Puerto Rico issues to the islands’ status, however. In 2000, he succeeded in blocking President Clinton’s proposal to eliminate 50% of the gap between Medicare payments for in-patient hospital services in Puerto Rico and the rates for payments everywhere else under the U.S. flag.

Lott’s motivation for blocking the measure, which would have provided some $25 million a year for hospital services for the elderly in Puerto Rico was unclear. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and House of Representatives Republican leaders had agreed to the Clinton proposal. Congressional staff said that Lott, a strong supporter of the U.S. Navy, was upset that the Government of Puerto Rico had gotten President Clinton and the Congress to have the Navy end training at its range on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico by May 1, 2003. But it was widely suspected that Lott opposed the health care funding for Puerto Rico at the request of Black and Calderon simply to deny incumbent statehood party officials another federal victory at a time that Calderon was running for governor and trailing the statehood party candidate.

Blocked in 2000, the Medicare increase still has not become law. And without White House leadership on the issue, Republicans have proposed delaying the benefits so that the increase would be phased-in from 2004 to 2008 rather than take effect immediately. This would bring the cost of the Lott delay to Puerto Rico hospitals and patients to $125 million.

An increase is not expected to become law soon, however. It is tied to Medicare reform legislation that, most notably, would provide prescription drug benefits. The legislation has been held up by the unwillingness of both national political parties to compromise on the bill before this week’s election. Republicans countered a Democratic initiative on the subject with a more modest proposal that is supported by pharmaceutical companies that put over $15 million into U.S. House of Representatives races.

A few years ago, Lott publicly questioned initiatives to extend the tax credit that companies based in the States can take for wages, investments, and local taxes in Puerto Rico and to grant Puerto Rico tax collections on rum produced in the islands and foreign countries, citing the territorial government’s opposition to Navy training on Vieques. But Black and Acevedo point out that the political circumstances were different -- statehood party Democrat Pedro Rossello was Puerto Rico’s governor and the initiatives came from President Clinton.

Lott is well positioned to help Calderon with her proposed tax exemption for companies based in the States as well as with the Medicare increase. In addition to being Republican leader, he serves on the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over both issues.

Lott’s reclaimed power is not the only reason that Calderon will rely on Black even more than she has already. President Bush’s campaigning for congressional candidates and the election results have strengthened Bush’s position in the Congress and the influence of his chief political adviser, Karl Rove. Black has good ties with the President, having been a top strategist for his father’s presidential victory in 1988, and he has a close working relationship with Rove.

But Black has had more success in advocating Calderon’s agenda with Lott than he has with the Bush political operation. There his main success has come in neutralizing the influence that statehood party Republicans have with White House aides who deal with Puerto Rico issues on a day-to-day basis. He has not been able to advance Calderon’s goals with the Bush Administration.

His efforts to do so have attracted national media attention to the point of significantly embarrassing Rove, further limiting his ability to get things done for Calderon in the White House. The efforts also resulted in serious criticism of Rove from conservative Republican supporters of the President, including Members of Congress.

The criticism came when it was revealed that Rove had pushed the Defense Department to change policy on the Vieques range issue after talking to Black and New York Governor Pataki. In the end, the effort failed because the Pentagon only agreed to propose canceling the referendum on Vieques that, at the time, was to result in the May 2003 end of Navy training. This disappointed Calderon, whose goal was an immediate end of the training. Further, the Bush Administration adopted the position that the referendum was too democratic, versus Calderon’s argument that it was not democratic enough.

Black has also not been able to get the White House to make statements in favor of Puerto Rico’s status -- which does not enable citizens to vote for their national government officials -- or prevent the Administration from advocating a fully democratic governing arrangement for the islands.

He also was not able to get Calderon a role in the re-election of the President’s brother, Jeb, as Governor of Florida. Governor Bush declined to meet privately with Calderon when he went to the islands to raise campaign funds. He also did not ask Calderon to campaign for him when she offered. Instead, he invited the statehood party Republican who leads in Calderon in polls for Puerto Rico’s 2004 gubernatorial election, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini. The San Juan mayor was featured prominently in a Bush campaign event, along with President Bush, and announced that the Florida governor would make another visit to Puerto Rico.

Observers note that Black cannot be faulted for these developments. Governor Bush, they point out, has long supported statehood for Puerto Rico and has worked in the past with Puerto Rico Republicans who advocate statehood. They report that Black’s inability to get the Bush Administration to support Calderon’s policy goals is due to the unacceptable nature of the proposals, and consider Black a very capable lobbyist.

Some observers close to Puerto Rico Republicans and the Bush political operation say that Calderon will have to move even closer to the Republican Party to obtain greater deference from the White House. She moved significantly towards Republicans in this election by campaigning for Pataki at the expense of her past helpful alliances with New York Democrats; spending millions of Puerto Rico’s dollars to register residents of New York and Florida of Puerto Rican origin to vote in the States while both Republican governors were trying to win re-election in part by capturing a larger percentage of the predominantly Democratic Puerto Rican vote; and by publicly offering to campaign for Governor Bush. She also has spoken fondly of the President. Observers note, however, that she has also campaigned for Democrats.

Calderon seemed to have gotten the national Republican message in her comments on the results of the elections. Although she has previously told national Democrats that her heart is with their party and has courted Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle (SD) and others, she said she was happy about the Republican takeover of the Senate, was as close to Republican leaders as to Democratic leaders, and liked Governor Bush’s policies as well as liked him personally.

Black’s increased importance to Calderon may result in a pay increase. He is reportedly dissatisfied with the approximately $1 million a year that the Calderon Administration is paying his firm.


Governor Calderon’s campaigning for Governor Pataki and support of Governor Bush has offended key Democrats in Congress and Democratic leaders in New York and will probably hinder congressional passage of her federal agenda, despite her contention that it will not.

The irritation that New York Democrats felt at Calderon’s campaign trip to New York for Pataki has spread to national Democratic ranks, and it was exacerbated by Calderon’s effusive praise of Governor Bush.

Two of the Members of Congress who have been the most help to Puerto Rico, House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Democrat Charlie Rangel and House Appropriations Committee Member Jose Serrano, both New Yorkers, openly said that Calderon’s campaigning for Pataki would result in less aid for the islands. Calderon has dismissed their statements, contending that they will need to support her proposals because of the number of people of Puerto Rican heritage that they represent. Aides to both confirm that Calderon has failed to appreciate how angry their bosses are at her. They indicate that the congressmen will not oppose aid for the islands but suggest that they can no longer be counted on to champion Calderon aid proposals.

Serrano was born in Puerto Rico and is a strong critic of the islands’ undemocratic governing arrangement. Small Business Committee Ranking Democrat Nydia Velazquez is the other House member from New York who was also born in Puerto Rico. Although she has been an appointee of Calderon’s "commonwealth" party, sources indicate that she is as upset as Rangel and Serrano are with Calderon’s Republican flirtations. Adding to Velazquez’s unhappiness with Calderon is the governor’s treatment of her political mentor, former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon ("commonwealth" party/D), for whom both Calderon and Velazquez worked. Velazquez remains close to the former governor while Calderon considers him a political rival.

New York Democrats intentionally expressed their ire at Calderon by inviting her predecessor, statehood party Democrat Rossello, to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall and the candidate to succeed him as Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, and praising him as effusively as Calderon praised Pataki.

Led by Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic Chair, his predecessor Roberto Ramirez, McCall, and other elected officials, they called Rossello "the true Governor of Puerto Rico" and "a true Democrat" in response Pataki’s erroneous claim that Calderon was "the Democratic Governor of Puerto Rico." (Calderon insists she is neither a Democrat nor a Republican, and just a member of Puerto Rico’s Popular Democratic Party, which is not affiliated with the national Democratic Party.) In spite of the truth -- including her support of Governor Bush -- Calderon supported Pataki’s claim by telling New Yorkers that he was the only Republican she had ever supported.

They also featured Rossello at an event with Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer and invited him to an event with former president Clinton. McCall and others extolled Rossello’s accomplishments at an earlier rally, prompting the crowd to chant, "Pedro, Pedro, Pedro!"

New York strategists say that the attention was focused on Rossello to make it clear to Calderon what leaders think of her as well as to counter the effects of her one campaign event with McCall.

National Democrats also noted that other statehood party Democrats had campaigned for Democratic candidates in the States, while Resident Commissioner Acevedo declined to support the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in New York and Florida and, with Senator Eudaldo Baez Galib ("commonwealth party"), the Puerto Rico Democratic Committee Chairman, excused Calderon’s support of Pataki and Bush. They pointed to campaigning for McCall by Puerto Rico Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock and for Florida gubernatorial candidate Bill McBride by former Senate President Charlie Rodriguez.

To demonstrate that Calderon’s support of Republicans would not be forgotten after the election, the New York Democratic Committee Chairman said he would boycott a meeting of the party’s state chairs in Puerto Rico, and Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe is doing the same. McAuliffe has said that if he goes to the meeting he will not see Calderon.


VIEQUES RANGE CLOSURE NOT AFFECTED -- The Congress’ strongest supporters of the Navy range on Vieques are unlikely to use the increased Republican power in the Congress to try to prevent closure of the range, aides report.

They view the Vieques issue as largely having been resolved last year by the so-called "Calderon Clause." The law provided that the range can be closed when the Secretary of the Navy determines, in consultation with the top uniformed officers of the Navy and Marine Corps, that the services have an at least equal means of providing training. The Calderon Clause replaced the Clinton-Rossello agreement law which provided that the range had to be closed by May 1, 2003 if the residents of Vieques voted for that. The Bush Administration has set a goal of having an at least equal replacement for the range by May 2003 and naval commanders are working to meet the goal.

Senate Readiness Subcommittee Ranking Republican James Inhofe (OK) and House Armed Services Committee Member James Hansen (R-UT) plan to seriously examine the expected plan to replace the range, but indicate they will not object to it if it is reasonable and military officers vouch for it.

Armed Services Committee aides do not expect, however, that members of the committees will want to spend the substantial sums that will be required to fully clean the range of ordnance and contaminants or allow it to go to Puerto Rican government or private ownership – all Calderon objectives.

INHOFE TO CHAIR COMMITTEE -- Inhofe is slated to become Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This power position will enable him to have a major say in the fate of the range if it is decommissioned for military use, as well as a major say over two other Calderon goals: funding for infrastructure projects in Puerto Rico and exemption of Puerto Rico from federal environmental laws. Inhofe has been a bitter critic of Calderon’s federal policies.

DOMENICI TO CHAIR ENERGY COMMITTEE -- Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is in line to become Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the lead committee on federal-territorial relations as well as federal lands and energy matters. Domenici is a supporter of Puerto Ricans choosing the islands’ future status. From a heavily Hispanic state, he disputes the notion that a Hispanic territory should not become a State -- a contention that Calderon and Acevedo have promoted.

Domenici was re-elected by an almost two to one margin over a candidate of Puerto Rican origin, Gloria Tristani.

THREE MORE HISPANIC MEMBERS OF CONGRESS -- The number of Hispanic Members of Congress was increased from 21 to 24.

Two of the new members are siblings of current, re-elected members of Congress. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) joins her sister, Loretta, (D-CA), a supporter of Puerto Ricans choosing the islands’ status between nationhood and statehood options. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) joins his brother, Lincoln (R-FL). Lincoln, in the past, has worked with members of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party, but recently has been closer to Puerto Rico Representative Jorge DeCastro Font (statehood party/R) who left the "commonwealth" party because of Calderon’s nationalist statements and actions.

Twenty-one of the Hispanic members-elect are Democrats and will presumably be members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Three are Republicans. Republicans have not joined the Hispanic Caucus to date.

PUERTO RICANS WIN STATE LEGISLATURE SEATS -- Candidates of Puerto Rican heritage won state House seats in Georgia, Florida, California, and Wisconsin, as well as in New York. Republicans John Quinones and Bonnie Garcia were elected in Florida and California respectively. Democrats Pedro Marin and Pedro Monclova Colon were elected in Georgia and Wisconsin.

PUERTO RICANS LOSE CONGRESSIONAL RACES -- In addition to Tristani, three other candidates of Puerto Rican heritage lost bids for Congress. Democrats Carlos Nolla of Kansas and Eddie Diaz of Florida lost to incumbent representatives Todd Tiahrt and Rick Keller, respectively. Each polled a little over a third of the vote. Republican Luis Vega got less than a fifth of the vote against incumbent Xavier Becerra in California. The results may say more about how congressional districts were aligned after the 2000 Census to protect almost all incumbents than the results say about the challengers.

BILINGUAL BANS: 1 AND 1 -- Colorado voters rejected a proposition that would have banned bilingual education in the State, but Massachusetts voters approved a similar proposal.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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