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Party Rules Impede Fortuno From Backing Pesquera


February 10, 2003
Copyright © 2003
SAN JUAN STAR. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON - Contrary to media reports, island Republican National Committeeman Luis Fortuno said he does not officially back fellow New Progressive Party member Carlos Pesquera for governor of Puerto Rico.

"We [island GOP leaders] cannot officially back a Democrat over a Republican" in any island race, said Fortuno.

He said a misunderstanding may have occurred when he threw his support to Pesquera over the controversial American flag incident, in which the NPP president was involved in a scuffle while replanting the Stars and Stripes outside the Office of Women’s Affairs in Old San Juan.

But Fortuno is barred by the GOP in giving support in his capacity as a member of the Republican National Committee to gubernatorial candidate Pesquera. The reason: Pesquera is a Democrat. Under party rules, Republican National Committee members cannot endorse a non-Republican candidate.

Fortuno made his comments after the Republican National Committee wound up its winter meeting here last week. One GOP source insisted that there was "concern" in both the RNC and the White House that Republicans in Puerto Rico were not going all-out to recruit fellow party members to run for elected offices on the island.

Fortuno, who was former Gov. Pedro Rossello's economic development chief, said if there was indeed any concern, it was unfounded. "We're encouraging more Republicans to become active as politicians," he said.

But he did not include himself in that list, as far as elected office is concerned. Asked whether he might challenge Pesquera in a NPP primary, he replied: "I’ve said it 15 times before, I'm not actively seeking the governorship."

The national Republicans also supposedly were wondering why island Republicans, who had stomped for GOP candidates in the states, have not always showed the same enthusiasm in Puerto Rico.

The answer, of course, is status. If you are a Republican who believes in statehood, and a national Democrat such as, say, Pedro Rossello or Carlos Pesquera is running for governor on the pro-statehood New Progressive Party, you know where your allegiance lies. Nevertheless, if you represent a national party on the island like Fortuno, or GOP Chairman Luis A. Ferre, or Republican Committeewoman Zoraida Fonelladas you are supposedly barred from officially endorsing a non-Republican for island office.

The same applies to the Democratic Party, according to island Democratic Chairman Eudaldo Baez Galib. But, according to the Popular Democratic Party senator, the national parties do not support gubernatorial candidates in Puerto Rico. They do, however, choose between candidates for resident commissioner, he said, because those non-voting House members will be sitting on either the Democratic or the Republican side of the aisle.

The RNC rules say that Fortuno, Ferre, Fonelladas, and other Puerto Rico Republican bigwigs cannot officially endorse NPP front-runner Pesquera if he's the one to challenge Gov. Calderon in her reelection bid. Fortuno said, however, that does not stop them from backing Pesquera in their personal capacities as U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico.

If Pesquera were to be challenged in a primary by a died-in-the-wool Republican like, say, San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini, would the island GOP leaders be obliged to back the mayor?

"That's something we would have to discuss internally," said Fortuno. If RNC and DNC rules are followed to a tee, Puerto Rico's situation vis-à-vis national and local political allegiances, could engender all sorts of strange realignments. For instance, in an improbable but not impossible turn of events, suppose Gov. Calderon, currently unaffiliated with any national party, decides to become a Republican. That presumably would mean that the Popular Democratic Party leaders of the island Democrats, such as Baez Galib, could not officially get behind the governor in her reelection campaign.

Imagine this scenario: Ferre, Fortuno, Fonalledas, et al pledge GOP allegiance to Republican Calderon, while Baez Galib, and other island Democratic-PDP leaders, give the Democratic Party blessing to fellow Democrat Pesquera in the run for La Fortaleza.

When presented with that possibility, Baez Galib seemed to be scratching his head over the telephone. "If that happens," he said, "we would have to revisit the issue."

The above scenario, of course, more than likely will not happen. But it points to the island's tenuous ties to the national political scene, so long as status remains unresolved.

Jeffrey Farrow, White House liaison to Puerto Rico in the Clinton administration, said under Democratic Party rules Baez Galib, in his capacity as head island Democrat, would have to back Pesquera for governor.

But, said Farrow, a still-active Democrat, "like a lot of rules, there is the question of enforcement."

He noted that some years back Baez Galib had brought charges to the DNC against former Resident Commissioner and Democrat Carlos Romero Barcelo, who voiced support election support for Alfonso D’Amato, Republican candidate for the Senate from New York.

But Romero was forgiven, Farrow said, because of the "unique situation." D'Amato had told the then-resident commissioner that "you’ll have to say something nice about me" during the campaign in order for D’Amato to give his crucial backing to legislation that would provide millions of dollars to health insurance for island youngsters.

"Puerto Rico is a special case," Farrow said. "Everyone knows it."

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