"Let Puerto Rico Decide If It Wants to Be a State"


(03/04/98, Copyright Newsday Inc., 1998)

Beginning today, Congress will ponder the fate of Puerto Rico - but for weeks now, the hot air has been howling at gale force.

The question before the House is pretty simple: Should the United States establish a plebiscite process to let Puerto Rican voters choose one of three options - independence, statehood or continuation of commonwealth status? The correct answer is also simple: The island's 3.8 million residents deserve a chance to determine their future. Congress should start the plebiscite process.

It probably will. After all, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.) back the plan.

Just the same, the proposal has stirred up some treacherous crosscurrents. Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-Brooklyn) opposes it because she thinks it's biased toward statehood. Rep. Gerald Solomon (R-Queensbury) reportedly worries that the United States is creating its own version of the Quebec dilemma. Rep. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx), who favors the bill, wants to let Puerto Ricans who reside off the island cast votes on its fate. Politicians from small states worry about a dilution of their Senate voting power if statehood happens, while others fret about losing congressional seats (Puerto Rico would get six of the 435).

In addition, some Republicans worry that only Democrats would represent the state. Some conservatives think the nation would see a serious erosion of its common culture.

Never mind. While many of these anxieties merit discussion, only two big complications are likely to pop up this week: a plan to make English the official language of instruction in the United States and an amendment to let mainland Puerto Ricans cast votes in the plebiscite. Neither is good. The English-only measure would kill statehood in its tracks. As for the voter proposal, why should a Bronx resident be allowed to vote on a question that could extend U.S. taxation to a resident of San Juan? Sorry, but that's un-American.

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