Acevedo Obtains Support For Status Plan From Non-Players On Issue
Puerto Rico Governor Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D) obtained support this past week for his proposal to the local legislature of a process to address the territorys political status issue from Democrats in the States who have little or no responsibility for the issue.
The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) and U.S. Representative James Oberstar (D-MN) endorsed Acevedos proposed process for local consideration of the issue. The lack of jurisdiction over the issue of governors of States and another territory is obvious. Oberstar is not a member of the House committee with jurisdiction over the issue -- Resources. He also has not been active on the issue in the past.
Acevedos proposal would hold a referendum with two options. One would petition the Congress for a referendum with "Commonwealth," statehood, and independence options. The other would elect a "Constitutional Assembly" to determine Puerto Ricos future status choice.
The DGA endorsement came in the form of a resolution sponsored by DGA Chairman Bill Richardson (NM), seconded by Gov. Ed Rendell (PA), and supported by 20 other governors in addition to Acevedo. Later, Richardson gave further support to Acevedos proposal by saying that Puerto Ricans should decide what they want before approaching the U.S. Government on the issue.
Acevedo, Richardson, and other Democratic governors were in Washington in connection with an annual meeting of the nations governors here, which includes a dinner and a meeting with the President.
Oberstar responded to a letter from Acevedo by writing that the people of Puerto Rico should decide on the approach they want to take to the issue.
It was unclear whether any of the governors or Oberstar knew that majorities in each house of Puerto Ricos Legislative Assembly favor a different approach to the issue and why. The statehood party, with members in most of the legislatures seats, has proposed petitioning the Congress to identify the statuses under which Puerto Rico would no longer be unincorporated territory of the U.S. The Puerto Rican Independence Party has made a similar proposal.
Richardsons endorsement was particularly interesting. Like most Democratic governors, he had endorsed Acevedos rival for the governorship in last years election, former DGA Chairman and now Puerto Rico Senator Pedro Rossello (statehood). In addition, however, Richardson a year ago issued a proclamation as governor of New Mexico calling on the federal government to enact a law providing Puerto Ricans with the options under which Puerto Rico would no longer be unincorporated territory of the U.S. and authorizing a Puerto Rican choice among such options -- a position almost identical to the current statehood and independence party proposals.
Acevedo also pitched his status process at the White House dinner - but with no apparent success. Among those he lobbied were Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, President Bushs Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and White House Co-Chair of the Presidents Task Force on Puerto Ricos Status, Ruben Barrales.
McClintock Explains Acevedos Plan Not Democratic Enough
Puerto Rico Senate President and Democratic National Committeeman Kenneth McClintock (statehood) Friday wrote the nations Democratic governors "to ensure that Governor Acevedo adequately explained to you" why his status process bill will not pass the local legislature "and that majorities of each house of the Legislative Assembly support a more democratic alternative" referring to the statehood party proposal.
McClintocks letter performed a similar role to a letter that Puerto Ricos representative to the federal government, Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuno (statehood/R), had sent President Bush the week before. Fortunos letter responded to one that Acevedo sent Bush seeking support for his plan without explaining that there was any controversy locally about it.
Like Fortuno, McClintock objected to the "Constitutional Assembly" option in Acevedos bill on the grounds that it was not democratic enough. He noted that it "would enable a small group of elected officials to choose the governing arrangement that Puerto Rico would propose to the federal government from among the various proposed statuses that Puerto Ricans support" and he asserted that, "Puerto Ricos status choice should be made by the people of Puerto Rico, not by a select group of officials."
McClintock also pointed out that, "[t]he assembly option would also enable Puerto Ricos choice for its future status to be made without regard to whether the choice is even a possibility." He, additionally, contended that "federal agency objections to the governing arrangement that the governor has proposed are a primary reason" for Acevedos assembly proposal.
McClintock recalled that Acevedos "proposed arrangement would supposedly empower the Commonwealth to determine whether federal laws apply and to enter into international agreements as if it were a sovereign nation while the United States continues to grant citizenship and all current assistance to Puerto Ricans and appropriates a new block grant of aid." He also wrote that, "[t]his "Covenant would also bind the U.S. to its terms in perpetuity -- effectively making the United States a colony of Puerto Rico."
Acevedos hope, McClintock explained, is "that assembly adoption of the arrangement will pressure the federal government into accepting the arrangement because it would represent the self-determination will of a U.S. territory that still lacks a democratic form of government at the national level."
McClintock asserted that the role of a "constitutional assembly in the resolution of Puerto Ricos status issue should be to "do what constitutional conventions have always done: Draft a constitution" after Puerto Ricos future status is determined.
Puerto Ricos senate president also criticized the other status process option in Acevedos bill: a congressionally-approved referendum with "Commonwealth," statehood, and independence options. One reason was the inclusion of the "Commonwealth" option.
McClintock recalled that authorities of all three branches of the federal government have determined "that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is subject to the Congress powers regarding unincorporated territory of the U.S." He also explained that "Commonwealth is really just a word in the name of Puerto Ricos local government as it is in the names of four States . . . and another territory."
Noting that "Commonwealth" does "not permit Puerto Ricans to have voting representation in their national government," he explained that it cannot resolve Puerto Ricos status issue "[b]ecause all people have a continuing right to a democratic form of government."
McClintock also faulted Acevedos proposal for excluding "the option of Puerto Rico becoming a nation in free (terminable) association with the United States."
The senate presidents final complaint was that Acevedo was pursuing a proposal he made during last years campaign when a large majority of seats in Puerto Ricos law-making body were won by candidates who ran in opposition to the proposal and for the statehood party alternative.
Acevedo Drops Immigration Law Exemption Idea, Contradicts His DC Aide
While in Washington, Governor Acevedo revealed that federal immigration laws were one set of federal laws that he would not have his proposed "Commonwealth" exempt Puerto Rico from.
He acknowledged that members of his "commonwealth" party have sought exemption from federal immigration laws in the past and said that this was to more rigidly restrict migration into the territory. But he asserted that he now believes that foreign migration into Puerto Rico is beneficial.
Acevedo has most recently identified federal shipping laws as an example of the laws that he would have the "Commonwealth" exempt Puerto Rico from under his "Commonwealth" proposal. The laws require the use of U.S. residents and U.S.-built and owned vessels in shipping between U.S. ports, including ports in Puerto Rico.
Acevedo also contradicted the head of his offices in the States on the strategy that Puerto Rico should follow in improving Puerto Ricos treatment in Medicaid, the federal subsidy for State and territorial health care of impoverished and disabled individuals.
Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration Director Eduardo Bhatia had criticized Resident Commissioner Fortuno for not sponsoring legislation for Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories to be treated equally with the States in the program. Under equal treatment, the federal government would pay 83 percent of the cost of Puerto Ricos Medicaid program. It now pays about one-fifth of the cost -- $219.6 million this fiscal year.
Fortuno believes that immediate equal funding is unrealistic and is exploring a lesser but substantial increase. Acevedo agreed that Fortunos approach was more realistic than Bhatias proposal.
This is the second time that Acevedo has agreed with political opponent Fortuno over political ally and new aide Bhatia. In addition, Fortuno has advised Acevedo that he does not appreciate Bhatias public second-guessing of Fortunos actions.
Fortuno Campaign Manager Named To Bush Political Staff
The campaign manager of Resident Commissioner Fortuno was named Associate Director of the White House Office of Political Affairs.
Annie Mayol, a Puerto Rico lobbyist, will be President George Bushs political coordinator for the 11 States of the northeastern U.S. -- Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland -- and the District of Columbia.
Mayol previously coordinated political matters in the region for the Republican National Committee. Before returning to Puerto Rico to help Fortuno and become a lobbyist, she also worked for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.