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Special Report


W For White House

Island Republicans Gung-Ho On What A Bush Presidency Will Mean For Puerto Rico

BY Francisco Javier Cimadevilla

December 28, 2000
Copyright © 2000 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

A Bush administration will most probably not have a Puerto Rico-specific policy. Unlike Clinton’s, a Bush White House may not even have a senior staffer fully dedicated to look after Puerto Rico issues.

Yet Puerto Rico will fare better under the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush than it has under any other administration in recent history.

That’s the consensus among four influential, well-connected Puerto Ricans who have gravitated in the inner sanctum of national Republican circles in Washington, D.C. and elsewhere, for the last quarter century.

"Under a Bush administration Puerto Rico will be well understood," said Antonio Monroig, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, name partner in the law firm of Lasa, Monroig & Veve, who served as assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development under the Reagan-Bush administration (1980-86) and is a former national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly. "But no U.S. administration, whether Democrat or Republican gets to the White House with a clear agenda on Puerto Rico." According to Monroig, the fact that the island does not participate in national elections and has no voting representation in Congress makes it barely a second thought in the minds of Washington policy makers.

Eduardo L. Ballori, Chairman of the Board of Ballori & Farre, agrees. "I’m not too sure there’s going to be such a thing as a top policy priority. What I’m certain of is that George W. Bush will be the president that goes into the White House with the widest and closest knowledge of Puerto Rican issues. I don’t think there’s ever been anyone elected before who has been so close to the island’s leadership and issues, be they political or economic. Puerto Rico can expect a great deal of sympathetic attention from a Bush White House," said Ballori, whose Puerto Rico Republican resume goes back 20 years and includes Finance Chair of the ’84 Reagan-Bush campaign in Puerto Rico, and the State Chair of the Dole campaigns in ’88 and ’96.

"I don’t think Bush will create a specific Puerto Rico policy," said Juan Woodroffe, president of Juan F. Woodroffe and Associates Inc., a founding member of the George W. Bush for President National Finance Committee and the only Puerto Rican in the 12-member Hispanic Advisory Board designated by the Republican National Committee to assist the party on Hispanic issues in the 2000 campaign. "Instead, he will address Puerto Rico as part of this overall national Hispanic agenda."

"I went to Florida four times, rode in the bus with Gov. Bush, his brother Jeb (governor of Florida), and (vice-president-elect) Cheney. I saw up close his rapport with Hispanics. He connects," said Hans Hertell, Chief Executive Officer of Beers/American Builders, Corp., member of the Republican National Finance Committee, Republican Pioneers for Bush and the Presidential Trust of the Republican National Committee. "He will want to do an extraordinary effort to reach out to Hispanics, and that includes Puerto Rico. He believes in his heart that Hispanics, culturally, are closer to the Republican set of conservative values. So he will be very proactive for Hispanics, and that’s going to favor Puerto Rico."

These Republican insiders also agree that Puerto Rico’s lucky star in a Bush White House has a name: Andrew Card, the President-elect’s appointment for Chief of Staff. During the earlier Reagan-Bush administration, Card chaired the White House Task Force on Puerto Rico. "He has visited and worked with Puerto Rico for many, many years; has kept relationships, knows the idiosyncrasies," said Monroig.

"In addition, the president is likely to appoint someone–and there’s no secret we’re hoping that person be Michael Govan, who knows Puerto Rico very well and is a fair, balanced professional–who will have Puerto Rico as one of his main responsibilities, but not the only one," said Woodroffe.

The early involvement of these and other Puerto Ricans in Gov. Bush’s race to the White House is certain to pay off for the benefit of the island, according to Hertell. "There’s a group of us who were invited to participate in the campaign early on, I dare say even before he announced he was going to run. So there was a significant early input from Puerto Rico in the Bush campaign. That’s going to benefit us now with people like Andy Card. We have invested a great deal in these relationships," said Hertell.

But to Hertell, Bush’s concern for Puerto Rico is part of his broader philosophy. "The President-elect has a special place in his heart for Puerto Rico. It flows out of his whole philosophy of compassionate conservatism. He is fully aware that there’s a community of Puerto Rican-Americans who are U.S. citizens but who lack the representation in Washington that most Americans take for granted. He wants to make a difference for us. And he wants to make a statement," said Hertell.

National priorities vs. Puerto Rico issues

There seems to be agreement that given the slight Republican majority in the House and the dead-even tally in the Senate, Bush is likely to focus on issues everyone can agree on to forge a consensus agenda on tax cuts, prescription drugs, Social Security and education.

"This is not the time to put forth bold agendas that imply change, tension and dissension. One of his objectives will be to try to unite the nation," said Ballori.

Still, these observers are cautiously optimistic about the future of Puerto Rico specific issues, like the possible extension of section 30A. The tax incentive was not discussed among the Bush team during the campaign and, therefore, there’s no official Bush policy on it yet. But the re-alignment of forces in Congress may bode well for 30A.

"The biggest obstacle to 30A was Chairman Bill Archer of the House Ways and Means Committee and other conservative Republicans," said Hertell. Now 30A is going to have a better chance first because these Republican committee chairmen in Congress are going to pay closer attention to what a Republican president wants, than was the case with Clinton and, secondly, because their edge in the majority is very slim."

Woodroffe is more optimistic. "I happen to think that 30A is looking better than ever. Other sectors in the U.S. are going to slow down and that’s going to have an impact in Puerto Rico. The Intels of the world will remain down slightly, and that’s going to affect Puerto Rico. So the argument can be made that in order to remain competitive in job creation, and in the face of surpluses in the Treasury, the longevity of 30A looks better. It was always an issue of how much money it costs," said Woodroffe.

Although they recognize the importance of favorable action on Puerto Rico-specific initiatives like 30A, these die-hard Republicans are more gung-ho on what’s in store for Puerto Rico thanks to Bush’s overall national agenda.

"Number one, he will be very much a pro-business president," mused Woodroffe. "He believes in limited government interference in the private sector. The most important industry in Puerto Rico is the pharmaceutical industry, which Gore basically demonized. A Bush presidency will not be in favor of controlling prices, or changing tax credits. It’s going to be a boom for the pharmaceutical industry in the U.S. And that means a boom for the pharmaceutical industry in Puerto Rico."

Then, there’s Bush’s ambitious education reform initiative. "It marked his tenure as governor of Texas and it was a main theme of his campaign. If there’s a jurisdiction in America that needs improvement in education it is Puerto Rico. He’s going to set standards and those are going to be applicable for Puerto Rico," warned Hertell. He notes that Bush believes in creative state competition for federal dollars. "There’re funds that will be made available for education on a competitive basis. We will benefit from the process by having to compete from the funds on the basis of our creativity," said Hertell.


President-elect Bush went on record during the campaign in support of the agreement reached between the Clinton and Rossello administrations. Whether he sticks to that commitment may be determined by changing winds out of San Juan.

"George W. Bush is a loyal friend. And although loyalty is a scarce commodity in politics, he is going to be a loyal friend to Puerto Rico. I wouldn’t expect much variation from a Bush presidency on the Vieques issue," said Ballori.

Opponents of the Navy in Puerto Rico are not optimistic. They note that Bush’s vice president will be a former Secretary of Defense, and his Secretary of State a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, both of whom are expected to be sympathetic to the military preparedness issue that underlies the Vieques conflict.

"They will be very sympathetic to the Navy’s point of view until such time as we’re able to show that the Navy has lied through the years saying there’s no damage to human beings from the shelling," notes Woodroffe. "The moment someone credible shows that the Navy, by omission or ignorance or what may be, has not understood the damage that it has done, regardless how pro-military they may be, Cheney, Powell and the rest will be objective. Precisely because they have a military background they are in a better position to say to the Navy: ‘what you’re doing in Vieques is not XXIst century.’ The fact that Colin Powell has gone from a four-star to a pinstripe, equips him very well to understand both sides."

Hertell may be the only Puerto Rican who has actually discussed the Vieques issue directly with President-elect Bush. "I discussed this personally with him. His position, out of deference and respect to the administration, is to support the Clinton-Rossello agreement and, so far as that agreement is observed, he is going to abide by it. I would not speculate what would happen if either side backs away. But again, based on this overall compassionate conservative philosophy, I believe he will be likely to pay attention to what the issue means for Puerto Rico from a human standpoint. So he is likely to balance that against all legitimate military preparedness issues."

While Woodroffe believes that it is Gov.-elect Calderon’s prerogative to renegotiate whatever she believes is in the best interest of Puerto Rico with the mandate that she has, Monroig warns against the possibility she might work herself into a corner.

"Gov. Rossello painted himself into a corner in that famous hearing when he told Senator Inhofe ‘not one more bomb.’ That played very well here to the visitors’ gallery and on television in Puerto Rico. But in politics, you always have to leave room to wiggle and be able to negotiate. He adopted that position and later had to come down to a more realistic agreement with the Clinton administration. During the campaign, the PPD played Faust, selling its soul to the devil on this issue. And, like Rossello before her, Gov. Calderon may have left herself no room to negotiate."

If Calderon backs out of the agreement–Monroig warns–the Navy will feel they can do the same and Puerto Rico will be back to square one to the situation existing prior to the unfortunate death of David Sanes. "I don’t believe any administration will offer Puerto Rico a better, more realistic compromise on Vieques than what the Clinton administration offered and Rossello accepted," he said.

But that scenario, which would open the door for conservative Republicans in Congress to stick to their guns in favor of the Navy, doesn’t worry Woodroffe. "The hawks in Congress and in the Senate are history. The message from the American people was very clear: ‘Mr. President, we want you to strike a middle ground. We don’t want you to rock the boat.’"

Ballori is optimistic. "Bush, and some of his closest advisors, are indeed going to be very national security oriented. But I don’t think there’s any intrinsic conflict between being national security oriented and trying to do what is politically and morally right. Gov. Calderon, who I believe is likely to present reasonable and prudent proposals, is likely to find a sympathetic ear and to the extent there’s some wiggling room there, there will be some wiggling."

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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