Through the cigarette smoke around the political poker table in San Juan, there is a player holding aces. His name is Kenneth McClintock and his strong hand was dealt him in January when he was voted President of the Puerto Rico Senate. The only other card shark left in the game is Pedro Rosselló and he has just drawn new cards. His expression conveys that he has been dealt a "full house." McClintock is wondering if he is bluffing and has only made a failed attempt to fill an "inside straight."
McClintock has "called" Rosselló and is waiting for him to "show his hand."
McClintocks opponent is a successful political gambler of long standing, but today he is playing at a new table. His seat at the Senate table was "inherited" from the elected Senator from Arecibo who resigned to allow Rosselló, the New Progressive Partys President and defeated candidate for Governor in 2004, to take his place in the game.
The stakes in this game are very high. In the pot for the winner is long-term political life. The looser is likely to have played his last hand.
The poker metaphor aside, former Governor Rosselló -- now a rank and file member of the Puerto Rico Senate -- has become increasingly restless in the past few weeks about his inability to wrest the Presidency of the Senate from fellow New Progressive Party (NPP) member, Kenneth McClintock. Last week he told a crowd of supporters, "I cannot allow this to persist." With him was the City of Canovanas mayor, José "Chemo" Soto, one of some 30 NPP mayors that have signed a petition backing Rossellós bid to become Senate President.
Shortly after the final recount of votes in the November 2004 election that showed Rosselló loosing the Governorship to Popular Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Aníbal Acevedo Vilá by a razor-thin margin, Pedro Rosselló announced that the NPP Party leadership should put him into the Senate and make him its President, a position already earned by McClintock by a majority vote of the newly elected Senate membership.
His argument all along has been that as President of the NPP, he is its "natural leader" and that only he among party leaders can effectively check the power of the PDP now in control of La Forteleza and only he can advance the pro-statehood agenda of the Party. Under him, Rosselló asserts, "the Senate will become the center of political power in Puerto Rico."
Senator McClintock refused to accede to this suggestion and has all along said that he has the support of a majority of Senators including NPP members to rebuff efforts by Rosselló to wrest control of Puerto Ricos senior legislative body. Then, after Rosselló was sworn in to fill the vacated Arecibo seat, tension on the Senate side of El Capitolio has been palatable.
Now Senator Rosselló wants the NPP party leaders to decide the matter once and for all. He has called for an NPP Delegates Assembly on May 15, to resolve the dispute. Already, McClintock supporters are calling the Assembly fraudulent. The Senate Presidency, they say, has been determined by democratic means and any interference in that process would be inappropriate for a Party that has Puerto Ricos lack of full Democracy as it principle argument for U.S. Statehood.
Pedro Rosselló has told supporters that if he doesnt become President of the Puerto Rico Senate he will resign as President of the New Progressive Party, a position that he wrested from his old political ally Carlos Pesquera after he returned to the island in 2002 to make his failed run for the Governorship.
Whispers are heard that, for many NPP supporters, that would not be a bad idea. They are the ones who consider Pedro Rosselló to be a part of the "old guard" and who look at Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño and San Juan Mayor Jorge Santini --- as well as McClintock as the Partys future.
On the other hand, should Rosselló prevail at the party assembly, it would still be up to Senator McClintock to obey the mandate or not. A negative answer to that party order could precipitate the kind of division that occurred in 1983 when a struggle between Governor Carlos Romero Barceló and then San Juan Mayor Hernan Padilla split the NPP and led to Romeros 1984 election defeat by Rafael Hernandez Colón, the PDP former Governor that Romero had ousted eight years earlier.
The stakes in this game are very large. Who do you think should win the "pot?"
Please vote above!