We can all agree that in a democratic society, elections should have consequences. Unfortunately, that general rule does not apply to Puerto Rico, whose citizens have voted in favor of statehood for the island three times over the past decade, to no avail. Thankfully, the congressional representative for Puerto Rico, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, took action to honor the voice and vote of the people of Puerto Rico by introducing legislation to finally make Puerto Rico a state. However, in order for the will of the Puerto Rican people to finally be carried out, Rep. Gonzalez-Colon needs support from members of Congress like Scott Franklin and Greg Steube.
The status of Puerto Rico has been debated for a century, and the only thing people seem to agree on is that the territorial option is simply not working. Although Puerto Ricans are American citizens, the people of Puerto Rico do not have any representation in the Senate, and those who live on the island are not permitted to vote in our presidential elections. It is difficult to comprehend how a citizen of our country who is living in Puerto Rico is permitted to serve in our armed services, yet they are not permitted to vote for their commander-in-chief. The only opportunity Puerto Ricans have to voice their rights in Congress is through Rep. Gonzalez-Colon. However, although she can introduce the necessary legislation, she cannot vote in favor of the legislation on the House floor.
One of the founding principles of our nation is that our government should govern with the consent of the governed, that is, the people. It is a principle so deeply held that it was one of the primary reasons our founders rebelled against the crown. Yet nearly 250 years later, we are allowing Puerto Ricans to be relegated to second-class status because of congressional inaction.
It is not just the rights being denied to Puerto Ricans that should urge Congress to act. Everyone knows that the current territorial status of Puerto Rico will not last forever, particularly given Puerto Ricans’ opposition to the status quo. This means that the island’s entire governmental structure is subject to change, and no one knows when that will happen. This uncertainty discourages businesses from establishing themselves on the island, which further hinders economic growth in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is in dire need of new businesses which will in turn provide employment opportunities to help reinvigorate their economy — and to prevent the brain drain that currently happens as Puerto Ricans head stateside in search of employment opportunities.
It is unfortunate that statehood — the objectively right thing to do and what the Puerto Rican people have asked for — has become a political issue, pitting Republicans against Democrats. This is not surprising, given the partisanship in Congress. The falsely perpetuated fear that Puerto Rico will be a “blue” state is simply unfounded. In fact, the statehood bill that was introduced in Congress was by Rep. Gonzalez-Colon, who caucuses with Republicans and just won an island-wide election. Puerto Rico has elected right-leaning governors, as well as leaders in both their House and Senate. Therefore, if Puerto Rico is admitted, it will likely be a “swing” state and present opportunities for both Republicans and Democrats to fight and earn the support of Puerto Ricans. Irrespective of its status as a swing state, the focal point should be that all citizens of the United States have the rights given to them in our constitution, even if they live in Puerto Rico.
The people of Puerto Rico must adhere to the rules and regulations established by the president’s administration and the laws passed by Congress. Therefore, the logical and moral thing to do would be for Reps. Franklin and Steube to support Rep. Gonzalez-Colon’s statehood bill and help give the people of Puerto Rico their full voice, and the full rights afforded to all citizens of the United States.
Ruby Wake is the founding partner of Wake Law, a boutique estate planning and probate law firm, and she is vice president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce.