Sun-Sentinel, Ft. Lauderdale
LOTT SHOULD GET OUT OF THE WAY, LET PUERTO RICANS VOTE ON FUTURE
(05/15/98, Copyright © 1998 Sun-Sentinel)
Puerto Ricans deserve a chance to decide if they want to be
full-fledged Americans, paying federal income taxes and electing
their fair share of U.S. senators and representatives. To deny
Puerto Ricans a vote on choosing whether to become a state, as the
stubborn Sen. Trent Lott has been doing, is to denigrate their 100
years of paying dues as U.S. citizens without full rights and
Puerto Ricans have fought in wars and died for the United
States, yet they remain as sort of half-citizens. They can't vote
in presidential elections, and elect just one non-voting delegate
to Congress while being exempt from paying income taxes.
As polls show, perhaps they would narrowly reject becoming
this country's 51st state, choosing instead to continue the current
commonwealth status. Or maybe they would approve becoming a state;
the third choice, leaping to independence as a new nation, has
little support on the island.
The proposal to conduct a referendum was passed by the U.S.
House of Representatives but is stalled in the Senate because of
Lott's intransigence. As Republican Senate majority leader, Lott
pretty much controls what bills are voted on, and he contends the
referendum tilts toward statehood.
Not only is Lott being unfair to Puerto Ricans, and cutting
against the views of such party stalwarts as Bob Dole, the majority
leader's not even showing political acumen. Republican Party
pollsters and consultants are saying the GOP must reach out to
Hispanic voters for the coming century, and to push for the Puerto
Rican referendum would give the party favorable marks.
It's not as if Puerto Ricans are committed Democrats. Their
deeply conservative views seem to fit best on the Republican side.
By large majorities, Puerto Ricans oppose abortion, support school
vouchers and silent school prayer, and advocate a strong national
Many Puerto Ricans were offended by the anti-immigration
views of 1996 GOP presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, and the
resentment remains. It wouldn't take much, though, for Republicans
to win their votes.
A recent poll shows 97 percent of Puerto Ricans want a chance
to vote on their political status. On the mainland, 63 percent of
American voters favor a referendum in Puerto Rico, a stunningly
Next Tuesday, the bill will get a hearing in the Senate
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. That would be an ideal
time for Lott to announce a change of heart and a willingness to
schedule a Senate vote, this year, on a referendum in Puerto Rico.
In fairness, he ought to do just that.