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Statehood for Puerto Rico? Romney supports a 51st state

By Jim Malewitz, –

Would a Mitt Romney presidential win help pave the way for Puerto Rican statehood? Luis Fortuno thinks so. On Wednesday, the island commonwealth’s Republican governor said Romney has assured him of it.

“I must tell you something,” Fortuno told The Daily Caller. “He [Romney] looked me straight in the eye and he told me that he was convinced that Puerto Ricans had contributed to the nation for so long, yet we were not partaking fully in the responsibilities and benefits of our citizenship, and that it was about time that we decide what we want to do, and should that be statehood that he would provide the leadership necessary to move that forward.”

That sentiment — that Congress should grant statehood, if the people want it — is consistent with the GOP platform and Romney’s past statements.

“It was Ronald Reagan who very famously in our party said that it was important for people of Puerto Rico to have a choice to become a state,” Romney said last March, according to the Washington Post. “And if the people of Puerto Rico choose that path, I would be happy to help lead that effort in Washington.”

President Obama, although he has been less vocal on the issue, also supports self-determination for Puerto Rico.

“I am committed to working with Congress to ensure that a fair, clearly defined, and transparent process is available for people to decide for themselves,” the president wrote last year upon releasing his task force report on Puerto Rico’s status.

When Obama arrived in office in 2009, advocates for the District of Columbia’s statehood had hoped he would help usher in that change, granting District residents a say in Congress. But D.C. statehood remains far off as Obama nears the end of his term, partly because of the complicated constitutional issues wrapped up in Washington’s role as the nation’s capital — an obstacle Puerto Rico would not have to contend with.

Statehood, long a thorny issue in Puerto Rico, will come to a vote in November, appearing on Puerto Rican ballots for the first time in 14 years. Voters will weigh in on a two-part referendum. They will be asked whether they want to change the island’s status and to choose one of three options: statehood, independence or sovereign free association.

The statehood push has grown stronger in Puerto Rico over the years, but it still may lack the momentum to win the vote. A poll published last March in El Nueva Diva, a San Juan newspaper, estimated that just 37 percent of Puerto Ricans wanted a status change, while 51 percent sought to maintain the status quo.

If Puerto Ricans do vote for statehood, it’s hard to say whether Congress would be receptive to the change, Fortuno told The Caller.

“Until Puerto Rican voters ask for it, there’s not much more we can say about this. Puerto Rican voters so far have not voted for statehood. So until that happens, it is — it will be unfair to characterize ahead of time what will Congress do,” he said. “What I can tell you is — and I served for four years in Congress — what I can tell you is that they’ll be open to a request that is supported by a majority of voters.”

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