Sen. Rosselló Reports To Work

by John Marino

February 18, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. Sen. Pedro Rosselló reported to work this week, full of the high hopes and enthusiasm of the freshman lawmaker that he now is.

He was well-behaved, deferential, but said he still intends to wrest the Senate presidency from Kenneth McClintock. There was no hurry. The New Progressive Party Senate delegation would eventually decide to do so, the former governor calmly predicted.

After his Sunday swearing in ceremony, in which mobs of supporters insisted that he lead the upper chamber, the former governor and defeated gubernatorial candidate appears to have good reason for his optimism. The crowd booed every party leader who was even neutral on the issue.

By Monday, two top NPP leaders -- San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini and Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño -- had responded. They said the party"s rank and file should be heard, and called for a quiet end to the ‘internal’ controversy. In other words, McClintock should resign his post, giving Rosselló, the party president, an expanded political power base as Senate president.

El Vocero newspaper reported this week that the NPP had quietly polled 500 rank-and-file supporters about who they wanted to see as Senate president. A full 83 percent of those polled favored Rosselló over McClintock.

Who knows how truly representative of the party the poll was, but it appeared to be on the minds of NPP leaders as they weighed in on the Senate presidency question this week.

On his first day on the job, Rosselló quietly sat through debate on an NPP-sponsored bill calling for a referendum to resolve Puerto Rico’s status dilemma. He voted for the measure, but did not speak during its debate. "Sometimes," he said afterwards, "actions speak louder than words."

On his second day on the job, Rosselló said: "I am focused on my work. In the end, it is up to the senators to make a decision, but there is no hurry."

By his third day, at least one NPP senator, who has declined to publicly support either McClintock or Rosselló, was praising the former governor‚s "eloquence" during a hearing.

Rosselló‚s plan to assume the top Senate post appears to be progressing, according to early indications.

And he has entered the Senate at an auspicious time, as the issue of Puerto Rico‚s political status appears to be gaining momentum, and sparking stark differences between the pro-commonwealth administration of Gov. Acevedo Vilá and the pro-statehood NPP-controlled Legislature.

Last Friday, Acevedo Vilá presented legislation calling for a referendum on what path islanders wanted to take to resolve the status dilemma: a federally backed plebiscite, or a constituent assembly, comprised of officials elected to represent each status choice.

NPP leaders shot back the legislation would never be passed.

The governor championed his bill as putting the status decision in the hands of the people, and said it would offer serve as a "showcase to the world of our willingness and enthusiasm to allow the people to decide."

Under the constituent assembly option that Acevedo Vilá supports, the 100 elected members of the body, each representing a different status option, would draft a status proposal to bring to Congress. The other option throws the ball immediately into Congress’s court, telling it to delineate constitutional decolonialization options for Puerto Ricans.

Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño said the constituent assembly idea would give Puerto Ricans the false sense that the status decision could be resolved without the intervention of Congress. "The issue can‚t be resolved unilaterally," he said.

Meanwhile, the NPP Senate is working towards legislation to petition Congress to give islanders "non-territorial options" to choose from in a federally-backed vote on the question.

Neither the NPP or the Popular Democratic Party appear willing to entertain suggestions that both sides reach a compromise by proposing to do both at the same time, arguing the proposals really go in two different directions.

The NPP is hostile to the idea of a constituent assembly because it fears a backroom deal between commonwealth and independence, in which both agree to kill off statehood as a realistic option.

The PDP fears going directly to Washington because both the executive and legislative branches of the federal government say that commonwealth as defined by the PDP is unconstitutional.

Acevedo Vilá struck first in the brewing status war by sending to the Legislature his proposal, which is being hailed by commonwealth supporters and some independence supporters.

But it’s almost a certainty that the measure won‚t be passed by the Legislature. Instead, the NPP will pass its own status legislation, calling for the immediate intervention of Congress, and send it off to La Fortaleza for Acevedo Vilá's signature.

Sure he could veto it. But there is the possibility that the NPP-backed Legislature could eventually, with some help from say independence and free association supporters, override that veto, which would mark an historic first. And of course, the Bush White House is looking into the status issue, and just might be reckless enough to prescribe action.

What‚s clear is that through the prism of status, the current government of Puerto Rico, with one party controlling La Fortaleza and another the Legislature, resident commissioner’s post and most island town halls, is looking more "divided" than "shared."

That appears fertile terrain for Rosselló to regain political stature, but not necessarily for making any breakthroughs on the status front. And that"s precisely the area the former governor has pledged to resolve in this four-year term, both as candidate for governor and at his Senate swearing in ceremony, by bringing statehood to the commonwealth.

It seems a wild promise at this juncture. Many observers believe making it cost Rosselló the election. But there’s no doubt there will be action on status, at least locally.

John Marino, Managing Editor of The San Juan Star, writes the weekly Puerto Rico Report column for the Puerto Rico Herald. He can be reached directly at: Marino@coqui.net

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