As the presidential primaries approach, it will be telling how the Democratic candidates handle the Puerto Rico status issue. Liberals as they all are, some more some less, one would suppose the entire field of candidates would be for self-determination. In other words, that each one of them would state that it behooves the Puerto Rican people first to express their preference through a fair and impartial process, perhaps adding a commitment to help instrument the people’s choice. But as all things political, it gets more complicated than that.
As a Democrat and Commonwealth advocate, I have participated in the drafting of language on Puerto Rico for various presidential candidates in the past, both at the primary and general election stages, and it always turns into a ugly fight with the statehooders. It is in their nature not to agree to language that is balanced and fair on this issue. To them, neutrality from a presidential candidate on the issue of Puerto Rico status amounts to a rejection of statehood. And so they fight tooth and nail over words and commas to claim a statehood victory. It becomes fairly absurd, but it has an historical explanation.
Puerto Rico statehooders are relative newcomers to the Democratic Party. The commonwealth party’s ties to the Democrats go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. President Harry Truman championed the cause for the creation of the Commonwealth status between 1950 and 1952, and president John F. Kennedy expressed a willingness to further develop the commonwealth concept.
Throughout that period, the statehood parties maintained a close relationship with the Republican Party. It was not until the 1976 presidential campaign, when the Commonwealth party supported Henry Jackson, that the statehooders made their first serious inroad into the Democratic Party by joining the successful Jimmy Carter campaign. Since then, they have had one foot in the Democratic Party and the other in the Republican Party.
In the Republican Party, they have it easy when it comes to platform language. Since there are no commonwealthers there, the Republican Party Platform is all for statehood. It is a commitment they never carry out once in power, but statehooders rejoice nonetheless every time those platforms are approved.
Statehooder-Democrats expect the Democratic Party to do the same as the Republican Party, even if it is just lip service. But Democrats are different. Democrats recognize and respect diversity. If the Puerto Rican people have different views on status, the only correct thing to do is to help them set up a fair manner in which to measure their preferences. It should irritate every Democratic presidential candidate when a Puerto Rican statehooder rejects language that proposes a fair process to measure the support for all status options.
As a final tactic, pro-statehood Democrats allege that Puerto Ricans living in the states are predominantly pro-statehood and, thus, that presidential candidates must support statehood or risk losing that vote. As a commonwealther, I can flip that around and remind all candidates that the Puerto Rico delegates are won in Puerto Rico where there are more pro-commonwealtth Democrats than statehooders who are democrats (because half of them are Republicans). Besides, why isn’t it enough for a statehooder Puerto Rican in Florida to vote Democratic if the party commits to it if that is the people’s will?
Granted, politics is a battle of interests. But as a Democrat who participates in the drafting of language for a party or a candidate, you are there to help the party or the candidate win. Forgetting that is a disservice to the party and the candidate.