Ex-PR Governorship Rivals Help Kerry, Fortuno Tries to Help Bush
The presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry began using recorded messages from two of the most noted rivals in Puerto Rican politics on radio and in automated phone calls in Central Florida this past week.
The messages were by former Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon ("commonwealth" party) and former Resident Commissioner and Governor Carlos Romero-Barcelo. The two ran against each other for governor three times.
Over 400,000 people of Puerto Rican origin live in Central Florida. Most are new two the area and most have moved directly from Puerto Rico. Many who have voted before in the area have swung their votes between Democratic and Republican candidates.
In recent polls, a fifth of those likely to vote have been undecided between Kerry and President Bush, an extremely high percentage in a State that is one of the top battlegrounds of this presidential election, if not the top battleground.
In the Spanish-language messages, the two former governors say that the Bush Administration and Republicans have "virtually ignored" Puerto Rico. They note that the White House office on the territory was closed and federal help for resolving the question of the Commonwealths ultimate political status has been delayed. They also point out that the Bush Administration "asked the Congress to deny our people more than $2 billion they are now receiving," referring to Bushs proposal to stop refunding Social Security and Medicare taxes to workers in Puerto Rico with children while continuing the refunds in the States.
In their messages, Hernandez Colon and Romero also reiterate several Kerry pledges to Puerto Ricans. One is that "Puerto Rico will receive as much attention as the States" from a Kerry Administration and Democrats. Another is that "Puerto Rico will be treated more equally in federal programs." A third is that the Commonwealths "status dilemma" will be "addressed."
Meanwhile, statehood party resident commissioner candidate and Republican National Committee member Luis Fortuno, speaking for the Bush campaign, told the Orlando Sentinel that Bushs proposal to discontinue the payroll tax refunds in Puerto Rico was unintentional and had been dropped. The paper, however, also quoted a U.S. Treasury Department spokeswoman who said that the proposal had not been dropped. Reports by the staff of the Congress Republican-dominated Joint Committee on Taxation and the Democratic-leaning Center for Policy and Budget Priorities earlier made it clear that the proposal had been intentional.
Fearing that the Kerry and Democratic attacks on Bushs Puerto Rico record could cost the president the election, Republicans reportedly made plans to take to the airwaves to address Puerto Ricans in the last few days of the campaign.
Acevedos Record in Congress
The gubernatorial campaign of Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth"/D) has suggested that: Acevedo has compiled a good record as the territorys representative to the federal government; the election of former Governor Pedro Rossello (statehood/D) would be a "disaster" in federal relations; and he and Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party) have improved federal territorial relations. The facts are otherwise, however.
Some of the most negative developments for Puerto Rico that occurred due to actions by Calderon and Acevedo are the following.
- The U.S. Navys Roosevelt Roads based was closed, depriving the territorial economy $300 million a year.
- The Armys Southern Command -- which Rossello brought to Puerto Rico -- was moved away, costing Puerto Rico another $100 million a year.
- The U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, chastised the territorial government for improper activities with foreign governments and directed U.S. ambassadors to keep a close eye on Commonwealths activities. (Calderon and Acevedo denied that the improper activities had taken place or that U.S. State Department officials had criticized them but their denials were disproved by State Department documents.)
- The federal tax rate on income from manufacturing in the territory was set at a higher rate than the rate on income from manufacturing in the States for the first time in 83 years. The higher rate will be a disincentive to investment in the territory.
- A federal tax incentive for disinvestment from Puerto Rico became law. The incentive will encourage various types of businesses based in the States with operations in Puerto Rico to reinvest their earnings in the States.
- Puerto Ricans were denied ownership of three-quarters of the Navys former range on the island of Vieques, PR, about 40% of the island. The land is the portion of the range that is not needed for environmental protection purposes. Rossello had previously convinced then President Clinton that the land should be made available for local ownership.
- Neither the governor nor the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico had a single, substantive meeting with the president or the vice-president of the U.S.
The only substantial improvements in federal policy regarding the territory that have taken place while Acevedo has been in Congress have been initiatives that Clinton took at the request of Rossello and then resident commissioner Carlos Romero-Barcelo and that were substantially approved by federal officials while Rossello and Romero were in office.
This includes the phase in of equal funding with the States in elementary and secondary education programs for areas with a high percentage of low-income children. It also includes the closing of half the gap between the rates Medicare pays for hospitalization in Puerto Rico and the rates it pays in the States.
To prove their influence at the national level, both candidates have sought support from elected officials in the States. Acevedo has obtained the support of only two U.S. senators and governors although he has gotten signatures of support from dozens of his U.S. House of Representatives colleagues.
Rossello, however, has been endorsed by many more U.S. senators and governors. He also has been endorsed by key members of the U.S. House, such as Minority Whip, Steny Hoyer (D-MD).
Why Ted Kennedy Is Supporting Acevedo
Edward M. Kennedy, one of the most senior members of the U.S. Senate and influential figures in the Democratic Party, said that Puerto Rico statehood party gubernatorial candidate Pedro Rossello, another Democrat, was the best governor of the Commonwealth since Luis Munoz Marin when Rossello previously served as governor. Munoz, founder of the local "commonwealth" party and the territorys first elected governor, had a close working relationship with Kennedys brother John when John was president of the United States.
And Kennedys son Patrick, a U.S. Representative from Rhode Island, has been one of Rossellos best friends and supporters in the Congress and remains so today.
In this campaign, however, the senior senator from Massachusetts has endorsed Acevedo. Kennedy has also complained about a Rossello campaign ad criticizing Acevedo that uses Kennedys picture. Kennedy has, additionally, complained to the presidential campaign of the junior senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, about the ad and Kerrys recognition that territory status cannot be considered permanent status.
A Kennedy aide says that the senator places great trust in a college roommate who also went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and has long lobbied for Puerto Rico administrations headed by "commonwealth" party members, John Culver.
A longtime Kennedy supporter says that Kennedy was also convinced that Rossello was involved with the theft of federal education funds, although the theft has been exhaustively investigated and Rossello had no involvement with or knowledge of it and also deplored the crime.
Kennedy was reportedly convinced of a Rossello connection by Governor Calderons s first secretary of justice, although the Puerto Rico Justice Department has not linked Rossello to the theft. The justice secretary, Annabelle Rodriguez, has had close ties to the "commonwealth" party and was recently named to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court by Calderon, who has criticized Rossello almost daily since she has been in office. While he was governor, Rossello did not support Rodriguezs nomination to be a federal judge and she failed to win confirmation.
Kennedy this past week publicly reiterated his complaint about a Rossello television ad noting Acevedos extremely poor attendance record in Congress in which Kennedys picture is used. Kennedy reiterated the complaint because he had been told by Acevedos campaign that the ad was still being run. In truth, however, the Rossello campaign stopped using the ad the day after Kennedy first complained about it.
Can the Democrats Win the Senate?
While most attention in this years campaign in the States is focused on the close presidential contest, a series of battles for the majority in the Senate is also being fought.
The battles will not determine control of the 109th Congress upper house: control requires 60 of the 100 seats -- far beyond the wildest dreams of either national political party. But the battles will determine which party sets the agenda for the Senate . . . and whether the president will have a Senate agenda set by his party.
Currently, Republicans hold 51 Senate seats. Democrats have 48 and one is occupied by an independent who is a former Republican but now generally votes with the Democrats.
Thirty-four seats are up for election. In one case, however, the Republican incumbent is unchallenged. Fifteen other Republican seats are up this year. Nineteen Democratic seats are.
Of the 66 seats that are not up for election, 36 are held by Republicans. The larger number of Democratic seats being up for election and the larger number of Republicans continuing in office helps explain the decided Republican advantage in retaining the majority in the Senate.
The likely winners of twenty-five to 27 of the seats contested in this election are already known. Republicans seem assured of 48 or 49 seats; Democrats 44 or 45.
With this Republican lead, can Democrats win the majority? The answer is "yes," although most analysts do not think that they will and some think a Republican gain is more likely.
The reason for the Democratic possibility is the six to eight contests that are too close to call. The reason that most analysts think Republicans will hold or increase their majority is that President Bush is expected to easily carry six of the States with close Senate contests (not to mention that he may well win the other two).
The winner of one of the toss-up seats is unlikely to be determined until a December 4th run-off election. Louisiana will have an open primary November 2nd in which three major candidates -- one Republican and two Democrats -- are running to succeed Democratic Senator John Breaux, who has been active on Puerto Rico issues. An absolute majority of the vote (50% plus one vote or more) is required to win. In the latest poll, Republican U.S. Representative David Vitter had more support than that of his two Democratic rivals, U.S. Representative Chris Johns and State Treasurer John Kennedy, combined but he was still only registering 35% support.
Another later than November 2nd election could also determine the majority in the Senate. If Democratic Senator John Kerry wins the presidency, his successor will be chosen in a special election in Massachusetts between next March and July.
The other key races in the fight for the majority in the Senate are noted below.
Alaska Incumbent Republican Lisa Murkowski, daughter of the former chairman of the lead Senate committee on territorial affairs, Energy and Natural Resources, is four percent behind former Governor Tony Knowles in the latest poll. Bush has a strong lead in the State.
Colorado State Attorney General Ken Salazar (D) is ahead of beer tycoon Pete Coors by five percent in the most recent poll. Salazars election would put an Hispanic in the Senate. The seat is currently held by a retiring Republican. Bush and Kerry are running dead even in Colorado in the latest poll.
Florida Former Bush Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez -- who has family ties to Puerto Rico, is the other potential Hispanic senator. But Martinez is four percent behind former State Senate President Betty Castor in the latest poll. The two are seeking the seat of one of the Senates most attentive members to Puerto Rico issues, Democrat Bob Graham. The presidential context in Florida is one of the most contested in the nation, although Bush has a lead in the latest polls.
Kentucky Incumbent Republican Senator Jim Bunning, who helped sunset the Internal Revenue Code Section 936 partial tax exemption on profits companies based in the States attribute to Puerto Rico, is just one percent of his Democratic challenger, State Senator Dan Mongiardo in the latest poll. Bush is ahead by a wide margin in Kentucky.
North Carolina Republican U.S. Representative Richard Burr has a one percent lead over President Clintons former Chief of Staff, Erskine Bowles, in the latest poll. The winner would replace Senator John Edwards, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Bush is expected to win the State.
Oklahoma Former Republican U.S. Representative Tom Coburn has a five percent lead in the latest poll over U.S. Representative Brad Carson. The seat is currently held by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Don Nickles, a foe of tax exemptions for income companies based in the States attribute to Puerto Rico as well as U.S. Statehood for the territory. Bush is way ahead in the State.
South Dakota Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, who has advocated a democratic status for Puerto Rico and economic assistance for the territory, is behind former U.S. Representative John Thune four percent in the latest poll. Bush has a commanding lead in the State.
One other Senate race has been considered a possible battleground, South Carolina. U.S. Representative Jim DeMint, a Republican, leads State Education Secretary Inez Tenenbaum for a seat now held by a Democrat by seven percent. South Carolina is another Bush state.
Puerto Rico Gets Crayon Color
Spurred by the quick work of Puerto Rico Senate Minority Leader Kenneth McClintock (statehood/D), crayon maker Crayola has come out with a Puerto Rico crayon color in a promotion that issued different colors for the States and the District of Columbia. Puerto Rico is the only U.S. territory included in the promotion.
The promotion was announced in April. McClintock contacted the company when he learned that Puerto Rico had been excluded because of its political status.
Crayola announced this week that Puerto Ricos crayon will be "Coqui Green", named after the melodious tree frog that is native to Puerto Rico. The color was not picked because it represents independence in Puerto Rican politics.
The special box of crayons that includes "Coqui Green" is now available at toy stores and mass retailers throughout Puerto Rico, including Wal-Mart.