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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'."

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