|April 1, 2005
Copyright © 2005 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.
A Quarter for Your Thoughts
When President Clinton sent invitations to state representatives to participate in a virtual "Numismatists Ball" in 1997, the coin collectors he inadvertently forgot were the delegates from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands and the District of Columbia. On December 1st of that year, the president signed Public Law 105-124, authorizing the "50 State Quarters Program", a cause for great celebration among coin collectors in the states.
The Program is a ten year initiative, 1999-2008, through which each of the states will be permitted to design the reverse (tails) of a quarter dollar coin to represent their state. The law stipulated that the new coins would be released at a rate of five per year, in the order in which each state joined the Union. Since the first new quarter, representing Delaware, was released on January 4, 1999, there have been more than 24 billion coins minted, representing 31 states, each state coin with its distinctive design reflecting pride in their community.
While the 50 states are celebrating the design and release of their coins, the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories have been left out, an omission which Washington, D.C.'s non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has been trying for several years to change. She has introduced a bill, the "District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act," which would make D.C. and the territories part of an extension to an 11th year of the program.
During a testimony before the House Subcommittee on Domestic and International Monetary Policy in 2002, Congresswoman Holmes Norton summarized the significance of her bill to Puerto Ricans and the other forgotten Americans. She observed, "The residents of the District and the insular areas are Americans. There are, of course, some differences between us and the states. However, qualifications to be a part of a program to redesign quarters to commemorate Members' home districts is not one of them. Under the Constitution we are absolutely equal to other Americans, in spite of the differences in form and structure of our jurisdictions. As the Subcommittee has all along recognized, there is no legal or constitutional reason to exclude the District and the insular areas from a commemorative coin program. By including all Americans, Congress avoids any appearance of differential or discriminatory treatment and any implication that these areas are colonies."
The "District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act" has passed overwhelmingly in the House several times, for example, in 2002, by a vote of 377-6, and in 2004, by a vote of 411-14. However, it has never passed the Senate, where an unusual ruling requires that it obtain 67 co-sponsors. In fact, it has been given so little priority that it has usually fallen victim to time running out on the Congressional sessions before it could be discussed in the Senate.
In an op-ed piece by Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock that appeared in the Miami Herald on March 23*, he presented his views of the injustice of this matter. "It is patently wrong," he wrote, "that the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico are denied the right to vote for the commander-in-chief who dispatches Puerto Rican military personnel into harm's way, but it is utterly preposterous that we have been legislatively ostracized from something so presumably noncontroversial as a commemorative coin program."
The question then arises: If Puerto Rico were allowed to design its own quarter, what form would it take? Would it feature the friendly coqui, so fondly identified with Puerto Rico? Or would it emphasize something more historic?
Most of the states have taken the opportunity, in addition to expressing their pride in their states, to also reflect their participation as a part of the Union or to demonstrate their contribution to its history and development. For example, the coin representing Delaware, "The First State," shows a man on horseback, Caesar Rodney, who was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1776. On July 1 of that year, in spite of serious illness and inclement weather, he rode 80 miles from Dover, Delaware, to Philadelphia, arriving just in time to cast the deciding vote in favor of the nation's independence.
The North Carolina coin, the 12th to be issued, features the first successful airplane flight of the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk in that state in 1903. The Florida coin, the 27th in the series, shows another type of flight, the space shuttle, based at Kennedy Space Center in that state. Following the theme "Gateway to Discovery," it also pictures a Spanish galleon, reflecting the exploration of the New Word by adventurers, especially Ponce de Leon (ironically, the governor of Puerto Rico at the time!), who named the land "Pascua Florida" (Flowery Easter) on Easter in 1513.
Puerto Rico's history, culture and contribution to the United States would offer numerous possibilities for a design on a coin. It could also have galleons -- of Christopher Columbus (Ponce de Leon has already been appropriated by Florida) -- to remind the millions who carry change in their pockets that the man who "discovered America" set foot on only one piece of soil that is now part of the United States -- Puerto Rico.
Or a Puerto Rico coin could represent the island's strong ties with the United States, including such commitments as military service. In her statement in the House of Representatives last year while supporting the "District of Columbia and United States Territories Circulating Quarter Dollar Program Act," Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton referred to this commitment by the jurisdictions that have been excluded from the "50 State Quarters Program." "This bill," she said, "points up the importance of including all Americans in the symbols of American citizenship
The Americans who live in these districts have fought and died in our country's wars and have extraordinary records of service in the armed forces in considerably larger numbers than many states."
Puerto Ricans could be proudly represented on a coin by an image of the heroic 65th Infantry Regimen, known for courage in battle, especially in the Korean War. Or it could take on the generic face of "the Puerto Rican Soldier," voted by the readers of the Puerto Rico Herald as the Person of the Year for 2004 and whose dedication to service is reflected in the fact that 26 Puerto Ricans have now made the ultimate sacrifice in the current war on terrorism.
Presumably anyone would like to have his home represented on a coin. So the question to you is not whether you would like to see a Puerto Rico quarter. The question is: How important do you think it is for Puerto Rico to have its own design on a U.S. quarter dollar coin?