|Will Sila Calderons Republican Dance Help or Hurt Her Washington Agenda?
The dancers were nimble, the music sweet, and the costumes beautiful. Puerto Ricos Governor, Sila Calderon, swayed to the election beat with mainland Governors and Mayors, mostly Republicans, and left important Democrats off her dance card. Faced with the specter of this faux pas, she swept onto the floor some Democratic swains for a quick whirl before the orchestra went home. Now the ball is over and the bills are coming in. It could be an expensive party. The Governors visible involvement in mainland politics could damage her mainland legislative agenda if the resentment of rejected suitors turn into "pay backs" and preferred dancing partners turn fickle when memory of the melodies fades.
Ms. Calderon says that she identifies with neither major mainland political party although her own Popular Democratic Party (PDP) has traditionally bonded with mainland Democrats. The PDPs staunch rival for power in Puerto Rico, the New Progressive Party (NPP), has a symbiotic relationship with national Republicans (GOP). The rub here is that the NPP is solidly behind statehood for Puerto Rico while the PDP would rather see the island cast adrift in the Caribbean before they would witness it caucusing as an equal partner with the current fifty states.
Herein lies an exquisite irony; Puerto Ricos PDP Governor stumping for Republican Governors Jeb Bush in Florida and George Pataki in New York, often campaigning on the heals of her NPP antagonists from the island, all Republicans and natural allies of the reelected New York and Florida Governors. Observers speculate that both have the same agenda - to influence White House policy on Puerto Ricos political future albeit from diametrically opposed positions.
Left seething were some of the Governors loyal supporters in Congress, such as Democratic Congressional incumbents, Jose Serrano (D-NY) and Nydia Velasquez (D-NY). Another New York Democrat, influential Rep. Charles Rangel, an African American, who is a traditionally strong backer of Puerto Rico and a promoter of Black-Hispanic Unity, is furious. In backing Governor Pataki, Ms. Caldron opposed his Black rival, H. Carl McCall. Rangel says that he will remember Caldrons waltz with New York Republicans when items favoring Puerto Rico come up before the House Ways and Means Committee on which he sits. Governor Calderons rhapsodic praise for Republican New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in his recent campaign has also riled Puerto Rican New York Democrats. They pouted on the sidelines when Governor Calderon launched a national voter registration campaign in New York with Mayor Bloomberg at her side.
Traditionally, sitting Governors of Puerto Rico have steered clear of active involvement in mainland political campaigns, preferring to let the partisan dust settle before working the halls of Washington in support of their initiatives. They have understood that, since Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress, it has no real power there. They have concluded that it is better to make casual friends of many rather than strong friends of a few and enemies of the rest. Sila Calderon, who is unwilling to support any move to gain full political rights for the 4 million American residents of Puerto Rico, seems to have concluded that she can co-opt the latent power of the some 3 million Puerto Ricans residing on the mainland who do have a voice and vote in the shaping of local, state and national government. She has often claimed that "they" mainland Puerto Ricans will support her agenda in Washington. She has spent $6 million in public money to register some 70,000 new mainland Puerto Rican voters, although it is not yet clear how they voted in the 2002 elections.
It is a risky strategy since "they" vote in Congressional Districts represented by many of the Democrats she has offended. The Governor, however, says that she has calculated those risks, has made strong new friends and ultimately will not loose the old ones since they will be assuaged by the voices of their Puerto Rican constituents. Her opponents and some of her friends are saying that she has ignored the cardinal rule of partisan politics, "If there is a downside, it will happen."
What do you think? Will Sila Calderons Fandango with prominent Republicans help or hurt her Washington Agenda?