Presidential Task Force Discards "Commonwealth" As An Option… Republican Party Continues To Accept Statehood As An Option... DC GOP Presses National Party On Democratic Rights…

August 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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Presidential Task Force Discards "Commonwealth" As An Option

Members of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status indicated that they do not agree with the status visions of Puerto Rico’s "commonwealth" party during a quiet visit to the Commonwealth this past week.

Task Force members told insular mayors that the territory’s options were to become a U.S. State, a sovereign nation, or remain a U.S. possession.

The current leadership of the "commonwealth" party, headed by Resident Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila, contends that Puerto Rico is a "commonwealth" and not a territory as the U.S. Government believes. It also asserts that the Commonwealth can become a nation to which the U.S. is permanently bound.

Neither the U.S. nor Puerto Rico would be sovereign nations if they were ‘nations’ permanently bound to one another. National sovereignty means that a political jurisdiction has full powers of self-government, including the power to enter into and end relationships with other sovereign nations.

Under Acevedo’s vision of "commonwealth", the Commonwealth would be able to veto the application of U.S. laws and enter into agreements with foreign countries that require national sovereignty. Additionally, the U.S. would continue to grant citizenship to people born in Puerto Rico, all current program assistance to Puerto Ricans, and other benefits.

Acevedo’s proposal has been rejected by the U.S. executive branch of government during the Clinton Administration as well as by members of Congress but the Bush Administration’s Status Task Force has previously said that it would re-evaluate the proposal. The statements this week of Task Force members made it clear that they do not accept the basic premises of Acevedo’s status views.

Unclear from the meetings -- as from previous Bush Administration statements --is whether the Task Force recognizes ‘free association’ as an option for the territory. Under free association, two sovereign nations enter into a very close relationship in which one nation lets the other exercise some of its sovereign powers on the condition that the nation loaning the powers can reclaim them.

The Clinton Administration recognized free association as an option for Puerto Rico. International law also recognizes it as an option for territories that become sovereign nations.

Acevedo rejects free association as an option for Puerto Rico because U.S. policy would discontinue the granting of citizenship in a ‘freely associated state.’

The Task Force meetings were conducted by Ruben Barrales, Co-Chair of the Task Force and Bush’s chief aide on Puerto Rico matters. They were held with several of Puerto Rico’s leading mayors, including mayors who are members of the "commonwealth" party as well as the statehood party. Other members of the Task Force were also present.

Barrales most recently expressed the hope that Puerto Rico would become a U.S. State. He has previously said that President Bush supports Puerto Ricans choosing the territory’s ultimate status between U.S. Statehood and independence.

Republican Party Continues To Accept Statehood As An Option

The Republican National Convention’s Platform Committee this past week retained language from the 2000 GOP Platform that supports statehood as an option for Puerto Rico’s ultimate status.

The language was included in the draft platform prepared by aides to President Bush. It was approved in a Committee meeting in New York City in advance of this coming week’s presidential nominating convention. The Platform is to be approved by the convention Monday night.

The language states that U.S. Statehood is a right of Puerto Ricans as U.S. citizens and the Puerto Rico should be made a State after Puerto Ricans vote for the status. It also states that referenda should be conducted periodically under federal or local law.

Continued status as a U.S. territory is the one other status anticipated by the language. It stated, however, that the U.S. Congress could also define "constitutionally valid" options under which Puerto Rico would have a permanent status and no longer be a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans would have equal voting representation in their national government.

Independence and free association are the recognized statuses that would qualify if the statuses were determined by the Congress to be options. Congress would also have to determine that Resident Commissioner Acevedo’s "commonwealth" is a possibility in order for it to be an option. To date, federal officials have said that the proposal would not be constitutional as well as that it is not desired by the U.S. Government.

The only change made to the 2000 Platform was to add "non-territorial" to the text description of the options that Congress might define. The addition was described as a clarifying amendment by Puerto Rico Republicans because it did not change the meaning of the Platform language. The other criteria for options that Congress might define already excluded U.S. territory status as a permanent option.

Puerto Rico Republicans had hoped that the Platform would be stronger than the Democratic Party’s Platform but they could not convince Bush aides to accept such language. In particular, Puerto Rican Republicans wanted to eliminate continued U.S. territory status as an option. The Democratic Platform also includes U.S. territory status as an interim option for Puerto Rico.

The Democratic Platform is much stronger, however, in that it pledges the President and the Congress to clarify options for Puerto Rico that would provide voting representation in Puerto Rico’s national government and permanence, and meet the requirements of the U.S. Constitution and it pledges to support Puerto Ricans’ choice among such options.

The Republican Platform, by contrast, does not commit to any federal action on the issue, either in enabling a choice or defining options other than U.S. Statehood.

The Democratic Platform, further, commits to more equitable treatment of Puerto Rico in federal social programs and measures to help the territory develop economically. The Republican Platform ignores these issues.

Additionally, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has issued a detailed position paper on all of these issues, outlining how he would approach the status, social programs, and economic development questions. President Bush’s only substantive proposal in any of these areas is to discontinue refunding payroll taxes to Puerto Rican workers with three or more children, denying Puerto Rican families $2.1 billion over 10 years. His Status Task Force has begun to work but has not made any contribution to the issue and has suggested it will not until next year.

DC GOP Presses National Party On Democratic Rights

The District of Columbia’s Republican Party pressed the national Republican Party to support greater democracy for the nation’s capital this past week.

The efforts were made in the Platform Committee of the 2004 Republican National Convention, meeting in New York City in advance of this coming week’s convention.

The District party’s top goal was "voting representation in Congress, starting with the House of Representatives." The DC representatives on the Committee also proposed greater autonomy for the District government.

National Republican leaders have generally opposed equal national government voting representation for the nation’s capital. President Bush is among them and Republicans in the House defeated statehood legislation that Senate Republicans also opposed.

DC is overwhelmingly Democratic.

Its Republicans have not aggressively pushed their party to support greater democracy for the District in recent years, including in 2000.

The 2000 Republican Platform supported the District’s current status. It also opposed incorporating most of the District into Maryland, an idea that a leading Republican, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, had promoted to provide voting representation for DC residents. Rather than call for greater autonomy for the District as DC Republicans wanted this year, the 2000 Platform, additionally, recognized the federal government’s responsibility to provide for the government of the nation’s capital and it proposed changes in DC local policies.

The District GOP’s proposed 2004 Platform plank gave tacit support to a bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee that would give DC a voting representative in the House. The legislation sponsored by Representative Tom Davis (D-VA) would challenge the U.S. Constitution’s limitation of voting representation in the House to the States.

If the bill actually progresses in the Congress, it would raise the question of whether territories, such as Puerto Rico, could also be granted voting representation in the Congress by legislation. Presumably anticipating this, the bill notes that DC residents pay all federal income taxes. Most federal income taxation has not been extended to the U.S.’s five territories.

Davis’ bill, which is co-sponsored by five other House Republicans, would also increase the size of the House from 435 to 437 voting members until after the next national census in 2010. States are allocated representatives in the House based on the census.

One of the two new seats would be expected to go to Utah, based on the 2000 Census and Utah’s claim that the 2000 count excluded many Utah citizens who were out of the country as Mormon missionaries. Utah currently has three seats in the House. Two of the Davis bill’s co-sponsors are the two Republican representatives from Utah.

A new seat for Utah would require redistricting the State. Democrats fear that the Republican-controlled State government would draw the district lines so as to elect four Republicans, unseating the Democrat who holds one of the three current seats.

This, presumably, is one of the reasons that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, have opposed the Davis bill. Kerry supports statehood for the District.

Support for statehood was struck from a draft of the Democratic Platform, however, at the request of DC’s Delegate to the House, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D). The document supports equal congressional representation for DC instead.

Utah gaining an additional seat in the House would also give the State one more vote in the Electoral College, the body that actually elects the president and the vice president of the United States. The vote would be expected to go to the Republican candidates since Utah is a reliably Republican State -- another incentive for Kerry and other Democrats to oppose the Davis bill.

Among the DC Republicans’ other proposals for their party were calls for the Congress to stop imposing policy on the local government through amendments to the annual bill to provide special assistance to the District and for repeal of the requirement that DC laws have to be submitted to the Congress. Another request was to propose a locally elected attorney general who would assume the local criminal prosecution jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney for the District. DC’s Republicans also proposed that the federal government pay the District for land it uses that the District cannot tax. Additionally, that it authorize DC to tax income earned in DC by residents of Maryland and Virginia.

The DC Republican proposals were not expected to be incorporated into their party’s Platform. At the time of this writing August 27th, it was not known whether they were although the Committee concluded its meeting August 26th. It was known, however, that few proposals of Platform Committee members were included.

The Platform was dictated by President Bush’s organization even more than is typical in the national political parties. Bush aides provided less opportunity for Committee deliberation than in 2000 and other recent national conventions to avoid a more open Platform-writing process because its debates could be divisive and convey messages to the public that they did not want conveyed.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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