Would Pedro Pierluisi believe that "third time's the charm"?
Twice, has the former Justice Secretary and former Resident Commissioner ran for governor and twice has he failed. The first time, he was defeated in the primaries by Ricardo Rosselló Nevares. That defeat, he acknowledges, hurt him deeply.
The second time was even more controversial. Ricardo Rosselló had resigned, effective August 2, following events that were partly the result of inexperience in politics and in life, things Pierluisi had pointed out to him during the race. Before resigning, he appointed Pierluisi as Secretary of State, with the intention that he assumed the governorship.
However, the confirmation process in the Legislative Assembly had not been completed by the time Rosselló's resignation became effective, and Pierluisi made the controversial decision to take the oath and still take office, based on a law that five days later was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, in a resounding unanimous decision.
Pierluisi, who as a result of his decision to take the Oath of Office was exposed to attacks that suggested he tried to go over the constitutional order to become governor, announced a few days ago that he is considering running for governor again.
He would return to politics in a Puerto Rico that has changed - although it is not yet possible to say to what degree - during the historic summer of 2019. He would present himself with his extensive background as a public servant, but also with his criticized decisions following Rosselló Nevares´ resignation, as well as with what is perceived as a very close relationship with the Board, also strongly repudiated during summer protests and for which Pierlusi worked while serving as a private lawyer.
Will your decision to run for governor depend on whether someone else is running or are you willing to run in the primaries?
-I'm willing to face anyone in the context of a primary as well as a general election.
You said, during your campaign, that Ricardo Rosselló had neither experience nor background. Didn't what happened next make you feel vindicated?
-I didn't feel that way, because what happened this summer hurt me. But, yes, I have to say that this chat issue, I think, was the result –to a large extent- of a lack of political and personal maturity.
You and other people say that corruption is a matter of values. But in these cases, there are also patterns and schemes that seem to repeat in time: shady arrangements between private contractors and people in the public sector. How would you handle this issue?
-There are flaws in the public awarding of contracts, which are obvious. We have to thoroughly examine the whole public procurement process.
Another pattern that appears to return again and again is that the person who collaborates with a politician during his campaign then registers a corporation and begins to recover the investment. Are you going to propose something to ban that?
-Caesar's wife must not only be honest but appear honest. That looks very bad, regardless of whether it's legal. I'm going to prohibit that. From now on, I'll tell you. Guaranteed. Puerto Rico can't take that anymore.
But the scheme now is that these people don't have contracts, they take people who want contracts with the government and these, in turn, pay them a percentage. Is that also going to be prohibited?
-Well, uh, you talked about lobbying. I know that word is now fashionable or has very negative connotations. But there's lobbying and there's lobbying and it depends on how you define it. For example, a lawyer advocates for his clients and often does so in the context of contractual negotiation, of a thousand things. The practice of law cannot be criminalized.
There are companies in Puerto Rico that hire people as their lawyer/lobbyist because they know they have access and they live off it. Isn't that something that worries you?
-I'm worried about appearances.
Have you been reading these days about contracts in the House? Do you think it's okay, or that it needs some control? What would you do about that?
-The same principle should rule all three branches of government, not just the executive branch. They are the people's funds.
Do you think what's going on in the Legislature right is okay or not?
-The important thing here is that every dollar spent is justified.
From what you have seen the papers, do you think they are justified?
-I'd rather wait for the House Speaker to say something about it.
You were governor for five days. There is an image of those days that shocked me and I understand that many people were also shocked and it was your decision to be sworn-in privately.
-I was in the House that Friday for, like, four or five hours, the same day that the governor's resignation was effective. After that process ends, they go to a vote. That lasts until about 3:30 p.m. and the resignation was effective at 5:00 p.m. Circumstances were not normal. But there had to be a governor by 5:00 p.m.
Many people believe in good faith that you wanted to go over the constitutional order.
-They can repeat that a thousand times and I am at peace with my conscience. The Supreme Court itself recognized that I could rely on that law because it was presumed constitutional.
At first, you resented the idea of control over the Puerto Rican government established by the U.S. Congress. But when the Board comes, you have a considerable openness and closeness attitude toward their efforts.
- After leaving Congress, I worked for a law firm that, before my arrival –following a competitive process- the Board chose as an external legal advisor. I worked in that firm until I resigned when I took the oath as Secretary of State a month and a half ago. As part of my job in that firm, I was part of that Board's legal team. That can be understood by any lawyer or anyone who has ever had a lawyer.
Would you have supported the austerity plan imposed by the Board?
-As a citizen, which is what I am now, the first thing I say is that the Law 80 issue and the Christmas bonus, they seem to me that they both were unnecessary controversies. Neither Law 80 is a panacea or a solution to everything in the economic area in Puerto Rico, nor is the Christmas bonus an expense that you say is not justified.
The Board´s position about pensions is by adding here and taking there, there is no way to pay them as they are right now. Do yo differ from that position?
-They can be paid.
One of the Board's most controversial measures was a violent cut to the UPR's budget. Would you have agreed to that?
-I see the University can move forward under the circumstances. They're doing it.
From 2012 to now, there was what can be understood as a victory for statehood. You were in Congress and, this term, there was a pro-statehood governor and a pro-statehood Resident Commissioner... and it´s not making any progress.
-A step forward would be to hold a "statehood: yes-or-no" referendum on Election Day and that the vote is endorsed by the U.S. Justice Department and that we have federal funds to finance that plebiscite. I think that would make a difference.