Ralph H. Reed, Jr.

Remarks on Puerto Rico

Before the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce

San Juan

February 5, 1998

Not far from this place are buildings with names of honor and distinction: La Fortaleza, El Morro, San Cristóbal. Four centuries ago, when the high tide of colonization threatened to sweep all nations under the power of a few nations, this city repelled British, French and Dutch corsairs. Those forts, those places were manned by men who sought to keep their freedom and preserve their way of life. It is a fight that is still being fought.

Thirty years ago, the great movement sweeping the world was de-colonization. After centuries of being strangled beneath the oppressive yolk of distant tyrants, men and women began to seize control of their lives. President Kennedy called it "one of the most notable movements of mankind". Pope Paul marveled at the "majesty of man". Within a few years, scores of millions of men, women and children were for the first time free to exercise control over their lives, direction over their future, and hope for new lives.

Tragically, this great movement of political self-determination and opportunity was not a movement that reached this place. That reached this island of beauty and majesty within miles of the United States coastline. I believe that the great movement of yesterday will be the great movement of this great place.

The Hispanic vote in American politics is increasingly the swing vote in American politics. They are the swing vote in 1/3 of the Electoral College (California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina).

The Republican Party today stands on the threshold of sweeping political success in the next two election cycles. Not only has a resurgent national Republican political party captured control of the Congress, it is poised to capture the Presidency as well in the year 2000.

To achieve the sweeping political success, we face a great challenge in the months ahead. We must demonstrate that we are an inclusive party. We must demonstrate that our party is the natural home to millions of Americans of Hispanic heritage and is the true representative of their ideals and values.

The ideals and values of Hispanic Americans are the ideals and values of the Republican Party. Family values, school choice and vouchers, keeping drugs off our streets, protecting the life of the unborn, prayer in our schools, and child care tax breaks. Less to the government equals more money for our families. These are the core values of the Republican Party.

But consider this, in 1996, 6.6 million Hispanic voters participated in the presidential election. A Twenty-percent increase from just four years earlier and overwhelmingly, they supported the Clinton/Gore ticket: 60% in 1992 and an outstanding 72% in 1996.

This is unacceptable. It must change, and it can. Through outreach, the Hispanic population can be pulled into the fold of the Republican Party, the party that consistently reflects their majority views and the party which, for them, should be home.

We have an opportunity to begin this outreach now. H.R. 856 – the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act, sponsored by Republican Chairman Young and supported by the House Republican Speaker and Majority Whip would establish a fair and balanced process by which the political status of Puerto Rico would finally be determined.

Chairman Young’s bill would create a plebiscite in which the residents of Puerto Rico would express a preference on the future status of Puerto Rico. They will have the opportunity to choose among three options: commonwealth, which would maintain Puerto Rico as a US territory, statehood or independence.

Chairman Young’s bill is awaiting a vote in the House of Representatives. If it becomes law, for the first time in 100 years, the people of Puerto Rico will have an opportunity to decide their political future in free and fair elections.

Every Republican president since 1953 has supported this process, this right of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico. President Ronald Reagan, on numerous occasions, stated his support for statehood and his belief that "statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens. President Bush thought the issue was so important that he pledged his strong support for statehood for Puerto Rico in his 1989 State of the Union Address. These Presidents realized that it was not only the right thing to do, but they also realized that doing so has tremendous political significance. Recent history has validated their foresight. For example, no Democrat (until Bill Clinton in 1996) has carried the State of Florida in a national election since Jimmy Carter.

The people of Puerto Rico overwhelmingly embrace the same conservative values as the Republican Party. If you don’t think so, the results of a recent poll, hot off the press, conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy states that:

  • The people of Puerto Rico are pro-family. Almost 83% support voluntary prayer; 70% support prohibiting abortion except where the life of the mother is endangered; 83% oppose taxpayer-funded abortions; and 78% support education vouchers.
  • Puerto Ricans are just as conservative on eradicating crime; 86% favor life imprisonment for persons convicted of three violent crimes; 88% support mandatory prison terms for those convicted of violent crimes; and 87% support life imprisonment for persons convicted of crimes against children.
  • Puerto Ricans also support a conservative lifestyle; 81% oppose state recognition of homosexual marriages; 76% oppose allowing adoption of children by homosexuals; and 63% oppose teaching that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle.
  • Finally, like our fellow Republicans, the people of Puerto Rico endorse economic growth and opportunity. By a two-to-one margin, they support a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced state budget with a limitation on tax increases; three quarters support a $500 state tax credit for each dependent; and 88% support "workfare" programs.

Already, the elected officials in Puerto Rico are predominantly Republican. Just look at the statistics: the majority of both houses in the Puerto Rican legislature are affiliated with the Republican Party and 68% of the mayors in Puerto Rico are Republicans. More importantly, though, if Puerto Rico became a state tomorrow and congressional elections were held, we would expect that Republicans would fare very well.

During the 100 years that Puerto Rico has been a US territory, there has not been a single congressionally mandated election allowing the citizens of Puerto Rico to decide their political status. This is the longest period of time that any US territory has waited to exercise political self-determination. Correcting this problem is long overdue, especially in view of the tremendous national sacrifices that many citizens of Puerto Rico have made. More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in US wars and more than 2,000 have died. Four have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

This year Puerto Rico celebrates its 100th anniversary as a territory of the United States. Let’s let them freely express their status preference and if they choose, let’s welcome them as the 51st state. It’s only fitting that a Republican Congress should give the people of Puerto Rico what so many Republican presidents sought to achieve: a way to determine for themselves the government they should have. Give them your support for H.R. 856.

A final thought. A little more than 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus came in search for a short trade route to riches. He found instead the New World; the place of boundless riches that would become the place of boundless opportunity. When he landed he came not to Plymouth Rock or the shores of Chesapeake Bay. In his second trip, he came to an island named after the Catholic saint San Juan. What some seem to have forgotten along the way is that this place already has a name… and it is called Borinquen. There is a history and legacy and nobility to this place and to the people of it. It is a history that deserves the right to determine what route they choose and to chart its own course and to freely determine its own future.

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