Denver Post, Denver, CO
Let Puerto Ricans Decide
(06/13/98, Copyright © 1998 Denver Post)
Kudos to Republican U.S. Sens. Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell, both of Colorado, for co-sponsoring a measure that would let Puerto Ricans determine their own future.
The island's voters long have needed an opportunity to weigh realistic alternatives to their commonwealth's nebulous status: not quite independent, not a state and more of a colony than anyone cares to admit.
A plebiscite held five years ago offered only an unrealistic alternative. It would have given Puerto Ricans almost all the rights of citizenship, but would have let the island ignore laws passed by Congress. Although a slight plurality of Puerto Rico's voters favored this proposal, the arrangement clearly couldn't pass muster with Congress or the U.S. Constitution. The 1993 vote was a charade, not a measure of the Puerto Rican people's will.
By contrast, the measure now backed by Allard, Campbell and others, S. 472, doesn't automatically confer statehood to Puerto Rico. Instead, it realistically outlines the island's choices: statehood, independence or functioning as an unincorporated U.S. territory under Congress' jurisdiction.
If Puerto Rico's voters opted for statehood, Congress would set up a transition process, and a second plebiscite would be held on that question.
The proposal echoes the processes used to admit Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.
Last year, a companion measure to S. 472 squeaked through the U.S. House, 209-208.
The House debate was troubling because many arguments against the measure - whether Spanish-speaking people truly could become part of the nation, for example - were stalking-horses for racism.
In this light, the support offered by Allard and Campbell is admirable and proper.
The measure has been referred to the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which is to take up the matter next month. Campbell, who sits on the committee, should help usher it into the full Senate for consideration - so the question ultimately can be answered by Puerto Ricans themselves.