Chairman Bennie Thompson, as this newspaper announced yesterday, you are leading a congressional delegation to Puerto Rico, where America becomes a Caribbean nation, late this week to observe how previously appropriated federal disaster relief funds are flowing to help our territory recover from hurricanes Irma and María 17 months ago and how federal agencies are coping.
Since September 20, 2017, you and many other members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have visited us with the congressional delegate with the most populated congressional district in the nation and helped in the process of appropriating funds to deal with our weather-induced crisis. While I only saw members of our Democratic Party in the initial public list of delegation members, both sides of the aisle will be represented when your host, our Resident Commissioner, joins you in touring our islands, as has been the tradition, particularly after María and offering the perspective that only she can provide.
As you must know well, our national parties do not nominate candidates for elective office in Puerto Rico. In fact, in our only federal race, that for Resident Commissioner, in 2008 and 2012 both major candidates for Congress were Democrats, and it appears that in 2020 none of the candidates will be affiliated to our Democratic Party, since our current delegate, elected as a statehooder and not as a Republican, may not face any Democrat, since it appears that her main opposition will be a sovereigntist mayor who has never joined any of the two national parties. But then again, it is a nationally non-partisan race that has no effect whatsoever on the partisan composition of the US House of Representatives since delegates, as you know, don’t have a say or vote in the election of Speakers.
During your trip you’ll run into many public officials who are not elected as Democrats or Republicans, but as statehooders or, in the alternative, believers in various versions of our current territorial status. Governor Rosselló, for example, is a statehooder affiliated with our party --yours and mine-- while Representative Jenniffer González, also a statehooder, sits with the Republicans, although she cannot vote for Speaker.
Before you leave our international airport, you should envision the tens of millions of dollars in new economic activity that your asking the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to authorize an in-transit lounge would generate here, as well as turn our airport into the air hub of the Caribbean. If that issue does not appear in your trip briefing, you may want to make sure that the issue, which is smack in the middle of your committee’s jurisdiction, is addressed during your trip.
Likewise, your committee’s influence over DHS could also help an initiative which Rep. González is championing on behalf of all her constituents to turn Puerto Rico’s three major airports into our country’s second long-range air cargo hub, along with Anchorage, Alaska. That initiative alone, which may encounter DHS’ objections, would generate literally billions of dollars in new economic activity. I’m sure Jenniffer, as your host, can bring your delegation up to speed on this win-win proposition.
Despite all the political confusion, as a statehooder and as a Democrat, I’m convinced that, just as members of Congress from both sides of the aisle worked effectively together when Republicans were in control of the House during the first 16 months after the hurricanes, we Democrats can prove that bipartisanship is alive and well during the 116th Congress. You can continue serving Puerto Rico’s needs by attempting to accelerate the disbursement of funds previously appropriated to America’s largest territory (as well as the United States Virgin Islands equally affected by Irma and María), continue tearing down the barriers of long-time discrimination that in the past condemned us to being unprepared for Category IV and V hurricanes and the subsequent recoveries, and help Puerto Rico achieve long-term economic growth and job-creation in the future.
So, once again, as an American residing in our country’s largest territory, as a Democrat, as a lifelong consensus builder, and as a strong believer in equality for residents of Puerto Rico, I join your hosts --Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Representative Jenniffer González-- in welcoming you, Chairman Thompson, and your colleagues in your first official visit as committee chairman to Rep. González-Colón’s district to continue Congress’ 16-month long bipartisan efforts to help her 3.1 million constituents recovery from the largest disaster in our territorial history and the largest FEMA has handled since its inception.