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Clinton And Rosselló Fatigue

by Lance Oliver

October 27, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

The similarities between the race for president of the United States and governor of Puerto Rico are, in many ways, striking.

Most importantly, both races are too close to call even though the election is just days away. In both races, the winner is unlikely to emerge with a majority of the popular vote. And, in both races, the man the candidates hope to succeed is casting a large and unusual shadow over the race.

So strong and complicated is the influence of Bill Clinton that even after two successful campaigns for the White House and presiding over the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, his number-two man, Al Gore, felt the need to stand before the party at the national convention and declare, "I am my own man."

In Puerto Rico, Carlos Pesquera faces a very similar situation. He, too, has in some ways distanced himself from the man he would replace, Gov. Pedro Rosselló, while also following his former boss’ program enough to avoid appearing as a maverick to the New Progressive Party rank and file. In the smaller pond of Puerto Rico, Rosselló casts a bigger and just as murky shadow over the race as Clinton does in the United States.

Just as Gore has served at Clinton’s side for eight years, Pesquera was in Rosselló’s cabinet the entire two terms, until he resigned to run for governor. And just like Clinton, Rosselló presents a dilemma for the man who would succeed him.

Like Clinton, Rosselló remains influential and popular among hard-core members of the party because he has done what the political classes most like and respect: win elections and consolidate power. But also like Clinton, Rosselló has strong negatives that absolutely drive the opposition into mouth-foaming fits and alienate some supporters, as well.

So Pesquera, like Gore, has walked a careful line. In many ways, in this campaign, he has seemed more like Resident Commissioner Carlos Romero Barceló’s man rather than Pedro Rosselló’s man. But Pesquera has followed the Rosselló lead on several occasions when he could have set a new direction for the party.

The biggest example is Vieques, where Pesquera accepted and supported the deal Rosselló struck with Clinton to remove the Navy from the island over three years. Facing the choice of splitting the party he leads by breaking with Rosselló or handing his opponents a ready-made campaigning tool to bludgeon him with, he chose the latter. He followed Rosselló’s line, even though it is generally unpopular with voters.

The latest example occurred this week when Rosselló fired Department of the Family Secretary Angie Varela. El Nuevo Día published the findings of an unfinished internal audit showing delays in sending child support payments collected by the government agency to the recipients. The paper accused the government of delaying the payments to poor children in order to earn more interest on the deposits.

The head of the child support agency denounced the newspaper report. Varela, his boss, did not. For that, Rosselló demanded her resignation from his cabinet.

That’s exactly the type of move that has made Rosselló so unpopular. The other two candidates for governor immediately pounced on it and attacked the governor. Pesquera said it was the governor’s prerogative to remove a cabinet member if that official had lost his confidence, as Varela had, and Pesquera left it at that.

These are tough decisions for Pesquera. Every time Rosselló reinforces the electorate’s perception that the administration has been a steamroller flattening public opinion, dissidents, the legislative minority, etc., a little threatens to rub off on Pesquera.

Gore has to wonder if bringing Clinton into the final days of the campaign will remind voters that he, the vice president, has been part of an administration that generally gets good job ratings from the voters, or if it will remind them that he stood beside Clinton during a tawdry episode that led to the only impeachment of an elected U.S. president in history.

Meanwhile, Pesquera must wonder how to appear as strong and steadfast as Rosselló, in the eyes of the NPP fanatics whose votes he absolutely must have, while not appearing to be Rosselló’s lackey or his political clone in the eyes of those rare independent voters who, for the most part, are cramping up with a bad case of Rosselló fatigue.

It’s telling that the political ad that shows Pesquera, Rosselló and Romero shaking clasped fists above their heads in victory is being aired by the Popular Democratic Party, not Pesquera’s campaign.

We know which way his opponents are betting. Which way will Pesquera bet?

Lance Oliver writes The Puerto Rico Report weekly for The Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached by email at:

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