Bush Asks Statehooders To Help Him Win… Senate Nominee Expected To Help Bush Is Close To Puerto Rico… NY Governor Who Lost Ground For Vieques Misleads On Clean-Up… Republicans Rebuff Their DC Party On Voting Rights

August 27, 2004
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Bush Asks Statehooders to Help Him Win

President George W. Bush asked the Puerto Rico Statehood party’s candidate for resident commissioner to campaign for him in Orlando, Florida during a meeting this past Thursday.

Bush’s personal request to Republican National Committee Member Luis Fortuno came on the heels of a request by Bush aides to San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini (statehood) to also campaign in a State that may be a key to the presidency this year as it was in 2000.

National political observers believe that Puerto Rican migrants to Florida -- especially in the center area of the State near Orlando -- could cast the deciding votes in the election. One reason for this is the explosion of the Florida Puerto Rican population in recent years. It doubled from 241,000 in 1990 to 482,000 in 2000 and is now estimated to have increased to 650,000.

Another reason that the vote of Puerto Ricans in Florida is so coveted by both national political parties is that a high percentage of Puerto Ricans there do not identify with either national party and many of those who do swing their votes between candidates of the two parties. This is largely attributable to the fact that most Puerto Ricans in the territory affiliate with a local party and not with one of the national parties.

An example is that Puerto Ricans in Central Florida supported Vice President Gore over Bush in 2000 but backed the re-election of Bush’s brother Jeb as governor in 2002.

Bush has sought help from Fortuno and Santini because most Puerto Ricans in Florida retain close ties to and a great interest in Puerto Rico. Additionally, support for statehood runs particularly high among Florida Puerto Ricans.

Further, Bush has a very vulnerable record on Puerto Rico issues. His most significant proposal regarding the territory would discontinue refunds of federal payroll taxes to Puerto Rican workers with three or more children, which began under an initiative of his predecessor, President Bill Clinton. Bush’s proposal would deprive more than 150,000 Puerto Rican families of $2.1 billion over 10 years.

His three other real initiatives regarding Puerto Rico pale in comparison to the scope and number of Clinton initiatives.

  • Bush proposed eliminating a referendum on the island of Vieques, PR on the question of whether U.S. military training should continue on a Navy range there past May 1, 2003 -- but this end date had been determined by Clinton.
  • Bush proposed extending an additional $2.75 per proof gallon grant to the territory of collections of the federal tax on rum produced in Puerto Rico or foreign countries -- a Clinton initiative.
  • Bush proposed $8 million, and then $4 million, for a water treatment plant.

Bush’s record on the territory’s most important issue -- its ultimate political status -- is also bad.

  • He failed to spend $2.5 million appropriated to his office under a Clinton initiative to facilitate a Puerto Rican status choice among locally-proposed and presidentially-approved status options.
  • He twice delayed reports of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status created by Clinton -- most recently until the next presidential term of office.
  • His administration has said little and answered few questions on the issue. Bush’s top aide on Puerto Rico issues, Task Force Co-Chair and White House Intergovernmental Affairs Director Ruben Barrales, has said that the President favors Puerto Ricans choosing their ultimate status between Statehood and independence and has expressed a preference for Statehood. But Barales has also failed to take any position on the "commonwealth" party’s proposal that the Commonwealth be recognized as a nation to which the U.S. is bound and that it be able to veto federal laws and enter into binding international agreements while the U.S. continues to grant citizenship and more financial assistance than at present -- a proposal that the Clinton Administration said is impossible. The White House has even failed to answer basic questions about the issue from the Congress.

This record is a particular liability for Bush in courting Florida Puerto Ricans, who overwhelmingly favor a change in Puerto Rico’s status to a governing arrangement that enables Puerto Ricans to have a democratic form of national government.

There have been recent indications, however, that the White House recognizes that its record on the status issue is a weak point for Bush. Barrales has gotten the Puerto Rico Status Task Force down to work.

Fortuno and Santini have been asked to go to Orlando because more than half of Florida’s Puerto Ricans are estimated to live in the center of the State. Santini also plans to campaign for Bush in the Central Florida city of Tampa and in Miami in South Florida.

The campaign of Bush’s opponent, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), has criticized Bush’s record, contrasted it with Kerry’s, and issued a specific policy statement on Puerto Rico issues. It has not, however, indicated that it will make a special effort to win the vote of Florida Puerto Ricans.

Bush made his request of Fortuno in a meeting with top Republican Party officials during the party’s national convention. Also present at the meeting from Puerto Rico were National Committee Member Zoraida Fonalledas and territorial committee chair Tiody de Jesus.

In making the request, Bush asked how Fortuno’s own race was going. Fortuno has led the "commonwealth" party candidate, Senator Roberto Prats, the chair of Puerto Rico’s Democratic committee, in polls taken during the campaign.

Bush’s interest in Fortuno’s election was shared by other Republican leaders in the convention. Fortuno was one of 25 congressional candidates included on the program to speak to the convention. He also reported that the chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, Representative Thomas Reynolds (NY), thinks his election would demonstrate that Republicans can win in jurisdictions that are almost 100% Hispanic.

Reynolds has been providing substantial assistance to Fortuno. Fortuno’s election would also be used to convince a powerful minority in the Republican Party that the party can be competitive in Puerto Rico. The minority, most notably Senator Trent Lott (MS), has opposed efforts to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s ultimate status because it believes the efforts will result in a Democratic State.

While Fortuno was at the convention in New York City this past week, leading opponent Prats was also there for the convention. Prats, however, was present as a member of a Democratic Party ‘truth squad’ to counter Republican claims during the convention.

Prats was named to the group to provide some help for his campaign against Fortuno. Fortuno served on the Republican Party’s ‘truth squad’ in Boston in July during the Democratic National Convention. Prats, however, did not succeed in obtaining a speaking role at the Democratic convention.

Fortuno cleverly made different points during his one-minute speech to the convention and its national television and radio audience. The most important for Puerto Rico was that "shared values" make an American, "ethnic background or the language you use to pray with your children at night does not." This answered a main criticism of statehood as an option for Puerto Rico promoted by the "commonwealth" party to right-wing Republicans, some of whom accept it: that Puerto Ricans are incompatible with other Americans. It also was a Republican appeal to Hispanics across the nation.

Fortuno noted that Bush agrees with the point. He also asserted that Bush supports "empowering" Puerto Rico to choose its political status. Additionally, he said that Bush wants to help Hispanics in terms of education, employment, health care, and lower taxes.

Prats criticized Fortuno’s remarks as well as other Republican statements during the convention.

Senate Nominee Expected to Help Bush is Close to Puerto Rico

Florida Republicans nominated a candidate for the U.S. Senate this past week who is expected to help President Bush in the State and has a close tie to Puerto Rico.

The Bush organization took the unusual step of helping nominee Mel Martinez win a contested primary. National party leaders usually stay out of primary fights.

Martinez got the support because of his Cuban origin more than because he had served as Bush’s Housing and Urban Development Secretary. Republicans hope that Martinez will shore up their ticket’s support among voters of the large constituency of Cuban origin in Florida. These voters have traditionally provided lopsided support to Republican candidates but Democratic candidate Kerry has been making inroads among Cuban voters.

The Bush campaign also hopes that Martinez will attract Puerto Rican votes to the Republican ticket. Martinez was a top county elected official in the Central Florida area where most Puerto Ricans live before being tapped for the Bush Cabinet, making him very familiar to Puerto Ricans there.

Martinez also has had years of contacts with Puerto Rico statehooders who are Republicans. But his most intimate Puerto Rico connection is a close family tie. Other members of his Cuban refugee family settled in the territory. He is particularly close to cousin Arturo Guzman, an active Republican statehooder.

Guzman also has a good relationship with Bush’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Card, who handled Puerto Rico issues for President Reagan and the presidential campaigns of the first President Bush, the current president’s father.

Martinez expressed confidence this past Thursday that Bush can win the Puerto Rican vote in Central Florida. He also noted that he had "great friendships in the Puerto Rican community."

NY Governor Who Lost Ground for Vieques Misleads on Clean-up

New York Governor George Pataki vaguely suggested a greater clean-up of the former Navy range on Vieques than is likely to take place this past Wednesday.

When asked about the clean-up issue, Pataki said that President Bush "demonstrated he knows what happened in Vieques" and that he would work with statehood party congressional candidate Fortuno "to improve the environment and economy of that island."

Pataki, a close ally of Bush, formally introduced the president to the Republican National Convention a day later. He also played a key role in developing Bush’s position on the Navy range . . . and the problem that many Puerto Ricans have with the current environmental clean-up plans.

The Navy plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars removing ordnance and otherwise cleaning the range but the effort would not necessarily make the land -- 40% of the island -- safe for human habitation. This is because federal law prohibits human access to a portion of the land and authorizes the U.S. Interior Department to deny human access to most of it. Since, the land will not necessarily be accessible to people, federal law does not provide for it to be cleaned up to the extent necessary for safe human access.

Pataki got into the Vieques issue in connection with his own re-election in 2002. Important elements of his strategy were to obtain support from New York City labor leader Dennis Rivera, a major Democratic Party funder, and from Puerto Ricans in New York.

Rivera agreed in return for Pataki’s support of a controversial $2 billion raise package for health care workers represented by Rivera’s union and Pataki lobbying Bush to end military training on the range earlier than the May 1, 2003 date determined by Clinton in 2000 in an agreement with then Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D) and top U.S. military officials.

Rivera is a major supporter in the States of the territory’s "commonwealth" party. He made the Vieques request of Pataki in an alliance with Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party) whom he helped elect in 2000 on a platform of immediately ending military training at the Navy range.

Rivera tried -- but failed -- to get Clinton to order an immediate end to the training, including after Calderon had been elected saying that she had a plan that would force the U.S. Government to end the training within months.

Pataki lobbied top Bush aides, including political adviser Karl Rove and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, for an immediate end to the training but they could not agree because the Navy did not have an alternative for the essential training.

Wolfowitz, however, developed the idea of an alternative response to Pataki that Rove and Pataki accepted. It called for repealing the federal requirement for a referendum on Vieques to determine whether the Navy could train on the range past May 1, 2003. The requirement had been agreed upon by Clinton, Rossello, and the U.S. military and was enacted into federal law.

Clinton viewed the referendum as making up for the fact that the people of Vieques do not have votes in the federal government. Wolfowitz argued that the referendum was too democratic.

A Defense Department request to the Congress to repeal the referendum requirement resulted in a law in 2001 that did not permit the Interior Department, which was to inherit the range after the Navy stopped training, to dispose of most of it. Members of the Congress were upset that Calderon had acted contrary to the Clinton/Rossello/military agreement and the 2000 law.

The agreement provided for most of the range land to be disposed of by the federal government, with Puerto Ricans having a primary claim on it. Federal disposal requires that land be cleaned to the extent needed for safe human access. The Interior Department was to only retain a small portion of the land that was sensitive environmentally.

Legislation for disposal of most of the range was expected to be acted upon after the referendum. It had been formally proposed by the Interior and Navy Departments but it was dropped after Calderon violated the 2000 agreement.

Pataki this past week offered no explanation of what more can be done under current law to clean the range. Calderon and her resident commissioner, "commonwealth" party gubernatorial candidate Anibal Acevedo Vila, had pledged to obtain ownership of most of the range for Puerto Ricans despite the 2001 law but their efforts in this regard have failed.

Republicans Rebuff Their DC Party on Voting Rights

National Republicans rejected the proposal of the District of Columbia Republican Party that they support congressional votes for the nation’s capital on the eve of the party’s national convention this past week.

The rejection came through the Convention’s Platform Committee.

The District party’s top goal in the committee was "voting representation in Congress, starting with the House of Representatives." The committee — directed by the Bush organization -- did not agree to address the issue.

National Republican leaders have generally opposed 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.

The DC representatives on the committee had greater success in proposing more autonomy for the District government. They sought opposition to the Congress imposing policy on the local government through amendments to the annual bill to provide special assistance to the District, a request supported by Bush and the Senate. They also proposed repeal of the requirement that DC laws be submitted to the Congress. Another request was for a locally-elected attorney general who would assume the local criminal prosecution jurisdiction of the U.S. Attorney for the District. The committee supported "yielding more budgetary and legal autonomy to local elected officials."

The platform approved by the committee was adopted by the convention August 30th.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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