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THE SAN JUAN STAR
Congress Seeks Clear Majority in Plebiscite
PDP support for 5th option said 'immaterial,' 'unfortunate'
by Robert Friedman
October 17, 1998
©Copyright 1998 The San Juan Star
WASHINGTON - The early word from Washington appears to be that majority
rules, even if the Popular Democratic Party will urge its followers to vote
"none of the above" in the upcoming plebiscite.
The issue that Congress is most concerned about, according to House and
Senate sources, is whether the plebiscite will result in a majority victory
for one of the options.
"We're looking to the people of Puerto Rico to express their [status]
desires," said Derek Jumper, spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural
Resources Committee Chairman Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska. "It's unfortunate
if that's what the PDP intends to do, but Congress will be addressing the
results of the plebiscite," Jumper said.
Murkowski's draft bill never got out of the committee he heads, and the
pro-plebiscite forces had to settle for a "sense of the Senate"
resolution that "recognizes" the Dec. 13 status vote and says
it will "review" the results.
By calling on its supporters to vote the fifth ballot option, "none
of the above", the PDP is reiterating that it disagrees with Congress's
definition of commonwealth, as a territory under its powers. The congressional
sources, who say they speak for their bosses, more or less said Friday that
while they recognize the right of the PDP to disagree, that disagreement
will only have meaning here if the "none of the above" option
gets a majority vote.
The PDP's latest position is "sort of immaterial" unless the
option produces a majority, said John Lawrence, minority staff director
of the House Resources Committee, and aide to Rep. George Miller, D-Calif.,
the ranking Democrat on the committee, which produced the bill approved
in the House with commonwealth defined as an unincorporated territory.
"Congressman Miller believes that the people were given a legally
accurate definition of the options and that Congress should consider acting
on a majority vote," Lawrence said. "If 'none of the above' gets
a majority, then the guidance coming from Puerto Rico would be unclear.
Our preference is that the voters make a clear choice and Congress acts
quickly on it."
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, a prime mover on the energy committee to get
a plebiscite bill approved, doesn't see the latest PDP move "as much
of a big deal," according to spokesman Will Hart. "The question
is, if the PDP is asking the people to basically vote for nothing, does
that mean they are satisfied with the status quo?" Hart asked on behalf
of the Idaho senator. "The U.S. House and Senate are not bound by the
Puerto Rican legislation, anyway, so it [the 'none of the above' vote] won't
have a huge effect," Hart said.
Manase Mansur, speaking for Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said the only thing
Congress will look at after the plebiscite "is whether a majority wants
change" in the current status.
Neither the House nor the Senate will receive any special message from
the fifth option vote, unless it receives a majority, Mansur said. And that
message would be, according to Mansur, that the island voters are "confused
and were given disinformation."
"The only important thing in the end is what is the will of the
majority for a particular status," he said.
A spokesman for a senator on the Energy Committee who chose anonymity
said, "When I tell my senator this he will be p[issed] off. He will
say, 'Let's address this [plebiscite] as adults, not as children'."