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November 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

Republican or Democrat! Does It Matter For Puerto Rican Candidates?

In 1902, Jose Gomez Brioso and Robert H. Todd traveled from the newly annexed territory of Puerto Rico to participate in the Republican Party’s national convention in Chicago. Ten years later, 12 delegates and 9 alternates from Puerto Rico were seated at the Democratic national convention held in Baltimore. These initial forays into mainland party politics have continued in various ways over the past century of the island’s ambiguous political status.

In 2000, the then Texas Gov. George W. Bush won 94% of votes in a primary election in Puerto Rico, collecting the island’s 14 delegates to the Republican national convention held in Philadelphia, a conclave that subsequently nominated him as the Party’s candidate for President. On the Democratic side, an April 2, 2000 caucus considered the candidacy of then Vice President Al Gore and former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. At the end of the process 88% of those in attendance favored Gore, committing the entire delegation to his effort to secure the Presidential nomination at the Democratic Party convention that year in Los Angeles.

The overarching motivation for island politicians’ matriculation in mainland partisan politics has been - and is today - the advancement of their differing visions for the island’s political status. Evidence for this is the unshakable identification that Puerto Rico’s main political parties maintain with stateside counterparts, even though they are often disappointed by a lack of interest in territorial matters displayed by national Democrats and Republicans.

Once in office, Puerto Rican officials riding on the Washington merry-go-round are careful not to let partisanship dominate their interaction with mainland politicians. They bring no votes to the table, since Puerto Rico has no Congressional delegation and its residents cannot vote for President. Party primaries and fundraising are the only real strengths that Puerto Ricans possess in the advancement of mainland partisan objectives. Their role traditionally has been one of diplomacy rather than politics. It was Luis Muñoz Marin’s affinity with the Kennedy family that led to the federal government’s largesse during the "Operation Bootstrap" days and it has been the friendship of NPP leadership to Republican presidents that have motivated their public statements in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico.

Incumbent PDP Governor Sila Calderon is an exception to the party affiliation rule for Puerto Rican political leaders, even though virtually all in her administration are Democrats. In her frequent trips to the mainland to advance her administration’s objectives and stall any movement towards a self-determination process that would disfavor the status quo, she managed to rile both parties for different reasons. Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives boycotted her voter registration festivities in New York charging that she was pandering to Republicans, while the conservative Republican leadership in the Senate and White House fumed at her rhetoric about Vieques.

Her predecessor, NPP statehood advocate Pedro Rosselló, a mainland Democrat, was much more overt in his identification with the national Democratic Party. He became a prominent member of the National Governor’s Conference and an active supporter in the election campaigns of fellow Democrats. In one case, however, his statehood passions overrode his party loyalty when he backed the re-election hopes of Republican Senator Al D’Amato, an advocate for a Puerto Rico self-determination process, against a Democratic challenger, Chuck Schumer, the ultimate winner. Insiders say that resentment towards Rosselló at this breach of party solidarity still runs deep in New York Democratic circles.

Although there are exceptions, PDP members tend to be mainland Democrats while NPP affiliates usually favor the national Republican party. The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) presently enamored with the idea of an "enhanced Commonwealth," sees the Democratic Party as a kindred spirit, while the New Progressive Party (NNP) is enthralled by the national Republicans as key to their pro-statehood agenda. These sentiments prevail even though in the "Young Bill" process of the 1990’s, strongly backed by statehooders, it was Democrats that moved it to a one vote victory in the House of Representative and it was Republicans that blocked it in the Senate.

Ironically, it was a Democratic Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero Barceló, and a Democratic Governor, Pedro Rosselló, who became the chief Puerto Rican Washington spokesmen for a legislative process being considered by a Republican organized Congress.

This is not to say that party affiliation is unimportant for the Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner taking a seat in a new Congress, especially if he or she is a member of the party holding a majority in the House of Representatives. Belonging to the majority party gives the member a better chance of moving initiatives through the committee process and organizing leadership support for passage. Also, in the case of the currently razor-thin balances in both houses of Congress, each vote is highly valued, giving the next resident commissioner unique leverage.

In the 2004 New Progressive Party (NPP) pre-candidate primary for Resident Commissioner to be held on Sunday, each of the four competitors are touting their mainland party affiliation with arguments as to how that identity can advance the statehood cause. Two are stateside Democrats and two are Republicans. The job of Herald readers this week is to register an opinion about the extent to which mainland political affiliations will factor into a voter’s determination about the candidate’s desirability.

How important is the mainland political affiliation of a Puerto Rican running for the office of Governor or Resident Commissioner?

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:
How important is the mainland political affiliation of a Puerto Rican running for the office of Governor or Resident Commissioner?

US . Residents
. PR
It is very important 64%
22% It is somewhat important 20%
18% It is unimportant 16%


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