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WASHINGTON - If there is any recent reference to understand the steep hill of a petition in favor of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state of the United States, this is the case of Washington D.C.

For more than three decades, its residents have tried unsuccessfully to convince the Congress that they should have the same political rights as those living in states.

Contrary to Puerto Rico, it is very clear that an overwhelming majority of Washington D.C. aims to become the next US state.

And here the opposition - practically invisible - is not grouped in proposals with the objective to keep some association with the United States, as a good part of the Island does, or to claim independence, as an active small minority demands in San Juan.

By constitutional amendment, Washington D.C. voters, who pay income taxes, are already voting for the president of the United States.

In the most recent referendum, held last November, about 86 percent of Washington voters reaffirmed their support for statehood and adopted a constitution for what would be known as the state of New Columbia.

The 2016 status consultation in Washington D.C. had a 55% of voter turnout, not far from the 62% who voted for the presidential candidates. But for 35 years the will of the electorate has been clear. In 1982, 62% also voted for statehood.

"We are Washington DC, state 51", said the New Columbia Statehood Commission, which includes Mayor Muriel Browser, City Council chairman, Phil Mendelson, "senators in the shadow" Paul Strauss and Michael Brown, and the "representative in the shadow" Franklin Garcia.

"Among the Democrats, there is no doubt that the residents of the District of Columbia are almost unanimous in wanting to be a state, after multiple referendums that had no procedural controversy or conflictive interpretations of the results", said Federico de Jesus Febles, a Puerto Rican who was a hispanic spokesman for the first presidential campaign of Barack Obama and represented in Washington the former candidate for governor of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) David Bernier.

The US capital, however, has two strong obstacles.

On one hand, the virtually unanimous opposition of Congressional Republicans. But it also faces doubts as to whether the US Constitution - which establishes Washington D.C. As the capital and seat of the federal government - allows to convert part of that jurisdiction into another state of the United States.

Even in the government program - which is not binding on elected officials - Republicans reject statehood for Washington D.C.

The Republicans' most recent electoral platform backed the admission of Puerto Rico as the 51st state if the 2012 vote which they interpreted in favor of statehood was to be ratified in a forthcoming plebiscite.

On the Democrat side, however, the government program gave unequivocal support to statehood for Washington D.C. The Congress, recalled Jesus Febles, once amended the Constitution to allow the presidential vote of residents of the federal capital.

The bills

As in recent years, there are already bills submitted in the Senate and the House of Representatives in favor of statehood for New Columbia, which would leave Washington D.C. as a limited space that would gather the main dependencies of the federal government.

In the Lower House, the project of Washington DC delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has 133 co-sponsors, all Democrats, including Puerto Rican Jose Serrano (New York), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Luis Gutiérrez (Illinois) and Darren Soto (Florida).

In the Senate, a similar project by Tom Carper (Delaware), presented in June, has won 19 co-sponsors, also all Democrats.

Although the idea of ??offering Puerto Rico statehood has not advanced in Congress, at the last session the project of admission of the then Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, had 110 co-sponsors. Among them, only 14 were Republicans.

The first version of the project of admission of Puerto Rico as the 51st state, of the Resident Commissioner in Washington, Jenniffer González, only obtained a co-sponsor, the Puerto Rican Soto.

But, in any moment, González can announce a new bill, a decision forced after the refusal of the governor Ricardo Rosselló to wait for the possible endorsement of the secretary of Justice of the United States for the consultation of the past June 11th.

The plebiscite, coldly received by the leadership of congressional committees with jurisdiction on the status issue, generated 502,000 votes in favor of statehood (97%), but had the lowest electoral turnout of a status consultation on the sland (23%) in the middle of a boycott of all opposition parties.

Franklin Garcia, re-elected in 2016 as Washington D.C. "shadow representative," recognizes that under a Republican government the opportunities are practically zero for the prostatehood project of the federal capital, unless there is some kind of "barter."

In the past, with the help of then-Republican representative Tom Davis (Virginia), delegate Holmes Norton came close to achieving a measure that would have allowed Washington D.C. to have a seat with voting right in the Lower House in exchange for granting another one to the state of Utah, strongly Republican.

"We are meeting (this week) to determine the steps to be taken under the government of Donald Trump. We have a strategy, directed at the Tennessee plan, which was designed prior to the 2016 election", Garcia said in an interview with El Nuevo Dia.

Garcia noted that a few months ago he had a talk with Commissioner Gonzalez about the possibility of joining forces between the pro statehood men of Puerto Rico and those of the federal capital. According to Garcia, Gonzalez then mentioned that Puerto Rico might be seen as the possible Republican state, because a good part of the leadership of the New Progressive Party (NPP) joins the Grand Old Party (GOP).

However, Democratic participation has outpaced the Republicans' 2-1 in the recent US presidential primaries in Puerto Rico. And in the United States it is overwhelming the support that Democrats have over Republicans within the Puerto Rican electorate.

Gonzalez denied that seeking to unite the efforts of the Rosselló government with the Washington D.C. commission, considering that each jurisdiction should chart its own route.

THE WASHINGTON PLAN

In the case of Washington D.C., its Tennessee plan has allowed the election of two people seeking a seat in the federal Senate and another (Garcia) in the Lower House.

Lobbyists elected by Washington residents work part-time in favor of the idea that the city becomes the 51st state. They have an annual budget of $ 225,000 to finance the office they have in the city, very close to the White House and minutes from the Congress.

"The budget is to keep the office, pay employees and travel costs", Garcia described.

In the case of Puerto Rico, the NPP government formed an Equality Commission of seven people - including three former governors and baseball star Ivan Rodriguez - to lobby in Washington.

Puerto Rican law contemplates that these seven lobbyists - who will also be part-time officials and almost all with residency on the Island - aspire to be "senators" (two) and "representatives" (five) as if they were to claim seats in the Congress.

Although he thinks they will be heard, Garcia, of Dominican origin, said that in the future the Island's lobbyists should be elected.

Among the duties and powers of the Commission, the law indicates that it will manage and demand "participation and recognition as congressmen of the American citizens of Puerto Rico in the Senate and the House of Representatives". But, Gonzalez acknowledged that the 'lobbyists' of the government will not come to Washington to demand a seat in Congress.

Two days after the June referendum, the House Budget Committee chairwoman, Diane Black (Tennesee), said on Twitter that calling the Puerto Rico statehood initiative "Tennessee plan is insulting to the patriots who founded " her state. "No to a financial bailout for Puerto Rico", Black indicated.

Commissioner Gonzalez, on her part, said that the initiative of the Puerto Rican government "is not a Tennessee plan, it is an Equality Commission which in the campaign was called Plan for Puerto Rico."

The current law that creates the Equality Commission bases its claim on statehood in the 2012 plebiscite, in which 54% of voters supported ending the present territorial / colonial status.

In a second question, 61% of voters supported turning Puerto Rico into a state. The opposition warns, however, that by adding blank ballots, support for statehood is about 45%.

When the government tried to link the most recent plebiscite to a federal law that could have allowed the support of the US Secretary of Justice to the consultation of June 11th, then Interim Secretary of Justice Dana Boente said that they do not take into account the rejection of the territorial status of 2012, due to demographic and economic changes since then.

The Equality Commission

A few days ago, the governor finished designating the Equality Commission, composed of former governors Carlos Romero Barceló, Pedro Rossello and Luis Fortuño; the chairman of the Island's Democrats, Charlie Rodriguez; the retired Army General Felix Santoni; the permanent delegate of Puerto Rico to the US Republican Party, Zoraida Fonalledas, and Rodriguez.

González said that before Rodríguez's request that expenses of the  members are not not reimbursed, the law that created the Commission will be amended. But she does not know how the relation between lobbyst and the government will remain and how they will regulate ethical standards.

The law indicates that the Commission will be attached to the Federal Affairs Administration (Prfaa). "I do not know what the scope of the concept of being a government official will be, because they will not receive emoluments or expenses," Gonzalez said.

Consultant Javier Ortiz, who advised  the Trump´s Transition Committee, thinks the White House "will consider anything that Congress determines about a statehood proposal for D.C., Puerto Rico or Guam."


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