60,000+ Registered To Vote In States By Calderon Are Not Puerto Rican… Calderon’s Other Agenda In Washington… Florida Puerto Rican Gets Spotlight In Bush Campaign

September 10, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

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60,000+ Registered To Vote In States By Calderon Are Not Puerto Rican

More than 60,000 citizens of States registered to vote in the States by an over $12 million program of Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth" party/no national party) have no Puerto Rican heritage, according to the head of the program.

Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) Director Mari Carmen Aponte this past Tuesday allowed that at least 20% of those registered had no Puerto Rico background. She made the revelation in the wake of an announcement by Calderon that day in Washington that the program had registered more than 300,000 people to vote in the States.

The program’s goal has been to register the 642,000 citizens of the States of Puerto Rican origin that it estimated were not registered to vote out of some 1.7 million eligible. Its purpose was to empower people of Puerto Rican heritage in the States to advance Calderon’s federal agenda through their votes.

A premise of the program is that Puerto Rican identity is defined by ethnicity and heritage rather than by residence and citizenship. Calderon and Aponte contend that individuals with an unspecified percentage of blood that came from Puerto Rico are Puerto Rican.

The program, which was initiated by Calderon, has been spending more than $6 million a year. The spending means that Puerto Ricans have paid some $2.5 million in taxes to register the 60,000 plus people in the States who had no Puerto Rico-related background.

The registration of people with some Puerto Rican blood is also questionable, however. The Commonwealth’s government authority, which is provided by U.S. law, covers the territory of Puerto Rico on local matters; it does not extend to other political jurisdictions. Voter registration is a typical function of State and local governments within their jurisdictions. Under the Calderon program, the Commonwealth is performing a function of State and local governments within their jurisdictions.

Voter registration is not the only local government function that the Calderon Administration is performing for citizens of the States, however. Puerto Rico taxpayer dollars have also been used to: conduct a day camp; provide advice on personal finances; pay for the travel of teachers between States; and train local organizations in applying for federal funds -- potentially in conflict with applications from Puerto Rico -- and entrepreneurs. Territorial taxes have also been used to oppose renewal of a neighborhood, take a position in a local referendum, and redistrict a State legislature.

Much of the $6 million plus a year cost of the program has gone to national and local political operatives. The political experts have been helping Calderon’s protégé, Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila who has been campaigning to succeed her as governor, and another acolyte, Commonwealth Senator Roberto Prats who is running to succeed Acevedo as resident commissioner, with political endeavors in the States.

Another controversial aspect of the program is that some 2,000 people were fraudulently registered to vote in a Chicago neighborhood. Individuals registered were not citizens and did not reside at the addresses the program gave for them. Chicago elections officials said that the registrations were the biggest case of voter fraud in a city that has allegedly had substantial voter fraud.

Contractors were blamed by Aponte for the fraud. It was suggested that they did the phony registrations because they were paid based on the number of people that they registered. It was also acknowledged that PRFAA had not adequately supervised its contractors.

The program also failed to provide Calderon’s federal agenda with the political boost she expected. A primary reason is that the agenda -- permanent 85-100% exemptions from federal taxation for profits that manufactures based in the States take from territorial operations -- was unrealistic. The initiative was intended to diminish support for U.S. Statehood and true nationhood in the territory as well as provide a multi-billion dollar windfall to some companies but it contradicted established federal tax policy.

The voter registration program has also not had the political impact Calderon wanted because of political factors. One is that much of the registration has taken place in communities in which the new registrants have not significantly affected the political balance of power.

Another factor is that Calderon miscalculated the political impact in Florida, the State from which she hoped the program would have the greatest impact in Washington. Florida votes were the deciding factor in the 2000 presidential election and are expected to be key in this year’s presidential election.

The Calderon program claims to have registered 40,000 people to vote in Florida. Surveys, however, indicate that Puerto Ricans in the State favor Statehood for Puerto Rico over continued status as a possession of the U.S. without votes in its national government. The program, therefore, had a political impact in Washington opposite from the one Calderon wanted: the more voters the program registered in Florida, the more political reason there was to not go along with Calderon’s anti-Statehood, "commonwealth" proposals.

The program began in 2002 with a substantial controversy that created a major breach between Calderon and leaders of Puerto Rican origin in New York and Florida. Calderon began the program with New York Governor George Pataki, a Republican who was running for re-election at the time. New York Democrats were excluded from the program, which reportedly registered a relatively high percentage of Puerto Ricans in New York as Republicans. Calderon also went to New York to campaign for Pataki.

Calderon’s direction of the program and support for Pataki angered many Democratic elected officials of Puerto Rican heritage, including some key leaders who previously had supported her agenda in the States, such as U.S. Representative Nydia Velazquez and Bronx Democratic Party Chairman Jose Rivera. It also drew the ire of the leading congressional advocate of her proposal to exempt from taxation Puerto Rican profits of manufacturers based in the States, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, the senior Minority Member of the tax law-writing House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means. Rangel was especially upset because Calderon had promised him she would not support Pataki.

Florida Puerto Rican leaders also objected to the partisan nature of Calderon’s voter registration program in the State and the lack of involvement of local Puerto Rican leaders. Calderon supported Florida Governor Jeb Bush (R), the brother of President George W. Bush for re-election in 2002. Governor Bush later, however, spurned her offer to campaign for him recognizing that she would not be an asset among the State’s many Puerto Ricans who favor Statehood for the territory.

Calderon has sought to overcome Puerto Rican leader complains about the program in New York, at least, with program contracts for key leaders.

PRFAA said that Calderon made the announcement that her program had registered 300,000 voters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It was raining at the time, however, and at least one of the most interested Members of Congress was unaware of the announcement.

Calderon’s Other Agenda In Washington

Asked about her schedule in Washington this past Tuesday, Calderon said that she had no official meetings planned but had a private conference with someone whom she declined to identify.

The only other item on her schedule was the opening performance of a three-week series of exhibitions by Puerto Rican artists at the Kennedy Center, the national center for the performing arts.

The series, named the "Spirit of Puerto Rico," is largely being paid for by the Commonwealth through Calderon’s offices in the States and the territory’s rum and tourism promotion programs. It is part of the Kennedy Center’s focus on Latin America.

Although Calderon was scheduled to be at the performance, reporters on the scene did not see her there.

Florida Puerto Rican Gets Spotlight In Bush Campaign

The only Republican member of Florida’s House of Representatives whose background is Puerto Rican is getting substantial assistance from President George Bush’s re-election campaign for his own re-election campaign.

John Quinones is only in his first term in the State legislature but he is getting the aid because his heavily-Puerto Rican constituency is considered a key battleground in the presidential election. His district is in the central Florida area in which half of the State’s Puerto Ricans live.

Puerto Ricans are considered a swing factor in the large State because: the population has grown so rapidly in recent years --142,000 of the 624,000 Puerto Ricans in Florida moved there since the last presidential election, most Puerto Ricans from the territory do not have a history as Democrats or Republicans, and most Puerto Ricans in the State supported the re-election of Governor Bush.

Among the assistance given Quinones is letting him introduce Governor Bush’s Hispanic son, George P. Bush, at the Republican National Convention.

Quinones’ Puerto Rican background was considered a major factor in his election in 2002. His opponent that year was of Nicaraguan origin.

His opponent this year, Israel Mercado, however, also has roots in Puerto Rico. State Democratic leaders are providing Mercado with special assistance in an effort to boost their party’s chances of winning the State.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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