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Conservatives &Culture wars Richard Falknor on 27 Apr 2010 09:14 pm

What Are They Thinking? GOP Puerto-Rico-Statehood Fans

UPDATE APRIL 30!  Yesterday the House of Representatives approved HR 2499, the so-called “Puerto Rico Democracy Act.” Here is the vote. By our quick count, of the 55 or so Republicans who initially were co-sponsors of the measure, around 31 came to a better mind when a broad spectrum of grass-roots and national conservatives gave them a more factual perspective. Of the initial 55 Republican co-sponsors, 26 voted against the measure – –  notably such conservatives as Todd Akin of Missouri, Trent Franks of Arizona, John Shadegg of Arizona, and Joe Wilson of South Carolina, and five — notably Ron Paul of Texas – – did not vote. Readers will note that while the House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio, and chairman of the Republican Study Committee Dr. Tom Price of Georgia, voted against the bill, Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Republican Conference chairman Mike Pence voted for it. By way of background, the current governor of Puerto Rico Luis Fortuño is a political favorite of Americans for Tax Reform chief Grover Norquist:  here is an interesting Newsweek post readers will enjoy.

Tomorrow the House of Representatives leadership proposes to bring to the floor a scheme known as the “Puerto Rico Democracy Act” (HR 2499) — front-loaded to advance statehood for the Island commonwealth of around 4,000,000 people which has been under the U.S. flag since 1898.  Quick links here and here give some basic facts about the Commonwealth as it presently known.

Readers can see the House Committee on Natural Resources Report here. Page seven shows Representative Paul Broun’s defeated committee amendment requiring

“that, if Puerto Rico were to become a State, its
official language would be English and all its official business would be conducted in English.”

A Stake in the Heart of Assimilation

English is the core cement of our American Commonwealth, enabling it to prosper and its heritage of individual enterprise and freedom to grow.  It is very clear that most citizens of Puerto Rico espouse, at best, a kind of bilingualism. According to the U.S. Census in 2000, about 72 per cent of the Island “spoke English less than ‘very well.'”

The conflict on the Island over English has been going on since 1898, as as Dr. Alicia Pousada of the University of Puerto Rico explained in 1999 – –

“In 1990, the College Board reported that Puerto Rican high school students attained a median score of 390 (out of 800) on the English test, evidence of significant problems in managing the language. Torruellas (1990) investigated three different private schools, supposed bastions of English teaching, and found that the level of mastery of English depended upon the social rank of the clientele of the particular private school. Only students in schools catering to the elite were actively striving to succeed in oral and written English. Students in middle class private schools had developed a sort of ‘counterculture’ of resistance toward the language and its teachers. Attitudes ranged from apathetic to openly hostile, and ridicule and mockery were used to censure students who attempted to excel.”

. . . . . . . . . .

“Other interesting findings–93% of the sample answered that they would never give up the Spanish language even if the island became a state and even if English were established as the sole official language. 91% considered themselves to be Puerto Ricans first and Americans next. 87% claimed to feel strong patriotic attachment to the Puerto Rican flag. 95% felt a strong attachment to the island . . . .”

In the meantime, the U.S. taxpayer has spent substantial treasure on the Puerto Rican education system.  According to the OMB Watch’s FedSpending.org calculations, the U.S. spent in FY 2007 about $16.4 billion in Puerto Rico on all programs, and apparently well over $1 billion on education from K through 16.

Our point is not to criticize the people of Puerto Rico for keeping a predominantly Spanish-speaking culture — they have done so in the context of their “Associated Free State” or Commonwealth. Rather it is to sound the alarm about this stealth Congressional attempt to make the United States a bi-lingual country via Puerto Rico statehood and about some leading Republicans (see co-sponsor list) treating “assimilation” as a process of no consequence.  Some of these Republican members just haven’t been paying attention or they wouldn’t have gone along with their co-sponsorships, but, we suspect, for some “assimilation” is not a goal to be taken seriously. It is merely a slogan for the GOP Establishment to jolly their conservative base.

There are many other flaws in the current Puerto Rico legislation which, if enacted, would likely ignore the preferences of a plurality of Puerto Ricans many of whom are now burdened with around 16 percent unemployment in an economy where there is one public worker for every twenty residents in a government with a fragile credit rating.

Eagle Forum’s Phyllis Schlafly has a number of cogent objections to the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, among them – –

“H.R. 2499 is stealth legislation designed to lead to the admission of Spanish-speaking Puerto Rico as the 51st state, thereby making us a de facto bilingual nation, like Canada.  The U.S. Congress should not be forcing Puerto Ricans to vote on statehood, especially since the Puerto Rican people have rejected statehood three times since 1991!”

No Member of Congress who describes himself as a limited government, fiscal conservative should be casting a YEA vote for H.R. 2499, as Puerto Rican statehood would cause an immediate increase in federal expenditures, particularly for taxpayer-funded welfare state services.

Tell Congress not to override the wishes of Americans and Puerto Ricans who want to maintain the current commonwealth status of Puerto Rico by forcing a vote on rigged referenda.

Cautions Michael Barone – –

I have been following Puerto Rico issues for many years, and I think the Times misses one important point against this bill. And that is that statehood has traditionally been granted only to territories whose residents show, in referendum or otherwise, overwhelming support for statehood. There is no such support in Puerto Rico. Status—whether Puerto Rico should become a state, should become independent or should retain in current terms or somewhat modified terms the current status which in English is called commonwealth but in Spanish the more descriptive estado liberado asociado—has been the single most important issue in Puerto Rican politics since the 1940s. The electorate is closely split (as the figures cited by the Times show) between statehood and commonwealth and between the pro-statehood New Progressive party and the pro-commonwealth Popular Democratic party. Only a small percentage of voters, most of them university students it seems, support independence. I think it would be very unwise to grant statehood to a territory where there is not a strong consensus for statehood, as there was in the Alaska and Hawaii territories in the 1950s.”

“The Puerto Rico Democracy Act has some serious flaws.  The votes seem to be set up in a way that favors statehood.  The two provisions that allow a plurality of Puerto Ricans to vote for statehood to be ratified and the allowing of non-resident Puerto Ricans to vote in the plebiscite is of deep concern to those who favor a fair vote and referendum on statehood.  A vote by members of Congress is not enough to indicate consent of the American people for Puerto Rican statehood.  If the Obamacare vote and secretive procedure is instructive, many Members of Congress are willing to defy the will of their own constituents.”

Of course, we expect government-enlarging, culture-corrosive legislation from the Other Team – – that is lamentably what they more and more frequently do.

What is puzzling is why some well-known Republicans (see Puerto Rico Democracy Act sponsors) endorse such unconservative moves.

To understand the back story, maybe it would be profitable for readers to visit Ramesh Ponnuru’s 1997 National Review article “Buying Statehood” – –

”THERE are more lobbyists working on this bill than I’ve ever seen on anything,’ says Eric Pelletier, a counsel to the powerful House Rules Committee. ‘I get more calls from lobbyists on this bill than on anything else — whether it’s FDA reform or tax issues.’ He’s talking about HR-856, the United States – Puerto Rico Political Status Act,” which has become the subject of a fierce, mostly behind-the-scenes debate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Don Young (R., Alaska) and co-sponsored by 87 others, would have Puerto Ricans decide in a referendum whether they want the island to remain a commonwealth, become the 51st state, or declare independence. The vote could come as early as next year, the centenary of America’s conquest of Puerto Rico in the Spanish – American War.

Its supporters have a lot of clout. Speaker Newt Gingrich rarely even votes on bills, but he is the lead co-sponsor for HR-856. At least two dozen firms are lobbying for it, and both Haley Barbour and Harold Ickes are working for it. Not to mention former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D., La.) and former Rep. Robert Garcia (D., N.Y.).

Much of this politicking is tax-funded. The governor of Puerto Rico has a $250-million fund to play with, and the legislature, dominated by the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), has given each department of the government money with which to lobby. How many of the departments push statehood? None of them, technically; all of them, practically.”

The new pro-statehood bill seems to evoke some of the same concerns the old one did.  But at least then a senior Republican – –

“House Rules Committee chairman Gerry Solomon (R., N.Y.) scuttled it in the last Congress by insisting on an official-English amendment which supporters regarded as unacceptable. That got Solomon labeled ‘a Nazi’ on the floor of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives by its Majority Leader.”

Full disclosure:  the author has worked as a Washington, D.C. aide to a statehood-oriented governor, Luis Ferre, and later as chief of staff to a Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico, Jaime Benitez, a major developer of Commonwealth thinking.

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