The Politicians: What Do You Want Them To Do?
Twelve months ago, Herald readers responded to the same question.
At the time, Resident Commissioner Aníbal Acevedo Vilá had emerged as the gubernatorial candidate for the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) after a brawl with the incumbent, but lame duck, Governor Sila Calderón, who seemed to prefer anybody but him. For the opposition New Progressive Party (NPP), former Governor Pedro Rosselló was still in a fight with then NPP Party President Carlos Pesquera whom he later vanquished in a November primary contest, while perennial Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) leader, Rubén Berríos, had staked his claim as his partys candidate for Governor in 2004.
And so today, the race for the Fortaleza is joined by the two major parties, with the PIP nipping at the flanks of the leaders as opportunities present themselves.
So far, the discussion of issues has taken a back seat to mud slinging at Rosselló and criticism of the Calderón administration. Opponents have tried to tie the former Governor to the corruption convictions of a few of his associates but the allegations have not diminished his front-runner status. The private civil suit that tried to disqualify him from running for office based on residency requirements was thrown out of court; though a last ditch effort is being made by die-hard opponents to bring it before the U.S. Supreme Court. Allegations of improper tax filing and claiming fictitious public work service towards his retirement credits have kept him on the defense but have not affected his popularity. Most polls show him leading PDP candidate Acevedo Vilá by at least five percentage points, some as high as twelve percentage points.
He is helped and the PDP candidate is hurt by the perceived ineptitude of the Calderón administration. A current Herald poll asked readers to give the governor a final grade for her term in office. 71% of island respondents considered her "a failure." For an incumbent who began her term with high approval marks, her fall in popularity has been dramatic. Acevedo Vilá is running from her record but it is increasingly difficult for him to hide from voters, especially since he was a principal player in the PDP administration.
Last year, readers of this page ranked political status as the most urgent category of problems that politicians needed to address for the benefit of Puerto Ricos people. 35% of respondents placed this issue at the top of their list of priorities and the trend was approximately the same on both the island and mainland. Boricua voters placed the economy and jobs slightly ahead of the status question and, overall, this economic issue was in second place at 27%. Crime and security, at 23%, ranked third in order of priority among all voters on both sides of the Atlantic, with social services such as health care and education, at 10%, and infrastructure projects, at 5%.
Since previous Hot Button Issue polls, as well as other public opinion research surveys, have shown that Puerto Ricans relate political status options to an aspiration for island economic growth, it is no stretch to conclude that the September 5, 2003, poll reflected a significant concern for Puerto Ricos underperforming economy. When one combines the two leading issues political status and the economy and jobs 62% of poll participants seem to have been looking for political strategies to boost island economic performance and create jobs.
Considering that there is a net emigration from the island to mainland job centers, and that trend is increasing, it seems clear that nothing much has happened to improve economic performance. In her campaign for Governor, Calderón promised to create 100,000 jobs on the island during her term in office but has fallen very short of that total, even by her own estimates. NPP critics accuse her of exaggerating new job totals and point out that the number of jobs lost negates any new positions created. Her administration continues to place its hopes for job creation on federal tax breaks for U.S. investors who establish businesses on the island but the U.S. Congress is in no mood for "corporate welfare" and has constantly rebuffed efforts by Resident Commissioner Acevedo Vilá and Washington lobbyists to sew this policy into ongoing tax legislation.
On the subject of political status, all three gubernatorial candidates are holding to ideas presented last year that would break the stranglehold on change that island politicos consistently apply to curry favor with their core constituencies.
The NPP is calling for a next-term plebiscite asking voters a question requiring a "yes" or "no" answer. "Do you want the U.S. Congress to present Puerto Rican voters with status choices that are non-territorial (read non colonial)? If the response is affirmative in the majority, Pedro Rosselló could move his pro-statehood troops to Washington to lobby for a binding plebiscite that offers that option, as well as nationhood and independence with free association. The status quo Commonwealth would be eliminated.
The PDP is proposing a constituent assembly composed of representatives from differing status persuasions that would work to develop a "consensus" position on the islands ideal status. After that model was approved by island voters, it would be shipped to Capitol Hill as a petition. Throughout her administration, Governor Calderón has attempted to put together such a consultative body but was always rebuffed by statehooders who saw it as a ploy to delay consideration of a permanent political status for the island by keeping the process under the control of the political establishment.
The PIP, as always, is on the sidelines debating the details of various proposals, hoping to shape any viable status movements at the margins.
The real energy on the status question has moved from San Juan to two mainland cities, Boston and New York. Puerto Rican delegations to the Democratic and Republican conventions have been busy beavers as they have tried to influence party platforms and national heavyweights with their vision of Puerto Ricos future. Neutral analysts see both national parties crafting platform language that favors a self-determination process for Puerto Rico but nuanced so as not to alienate mainland Puerto Rican voters with strong views on a particular status option.
Since nobody in Puerto Rico can vote in the Presidential election, both campaigns have essentially written off the 3.9 million American citizens resident on the island. In play are the Puerto Rican communities on the mainland, especially in Florida, a "battleground state."
There has been movement on the crime issue since last year but it has been worsening. Since January of this year, the felony rate increased by 11% from a like period in 2003. Within this percentage, the homicide rate in Puerto Rico has risen to more than three times the U.S. national average. From January until Governor Calderon called on the assistance of the National Guard to police public housing projects in July, there were 30 more deaths than at the same time last year. The FBI rates the island as the per capita murder capital of the United States.
Even though she had opposed use of the National Guard by Pedro Rosselló and had resisted it during her term, she finally relented to popular pressure and PDP candidates seeking election in November. In the Herald poll just completed, a majority of mainland respondents thought that her action was a "wise move." In contrast, the view among island readers was just the opposite. Only 25% of island poll participants considered the call up of the Guard to be a "wise move," while a whopping 65% did not agree with use of the military for policing purposes. 10% of island respondents were "not sure."
Although there have been some proposals put forward on the issues of health care and education reform, few comprehensive programs have emerged that match aspirations to available dollars. That is likely to be the dominate challenge for political aspirants, since the island has a growing deficit and, with more than half the island existing below the poverty level, human needs far exceed financial resources.
Politicians will need to make choices. What choices would you wish to see them make?
This week, using the same list of choices from the September, 2003, poll, you can once again tell the candidates what your area of principal concern is.
Dear Candidate: I care most about the following issue: