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Republicans Shouldn't Fear Puerto Rico Statehood

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Andres Kudacki

Puerto Rico statehood has made national headlines in recent weeks as Democrats threaten granting statehood to both Puerto Rico and D.C. in retaliation for President Trump nominating Amy Coney Barrett to fill the vacancy left by the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. In response, several Republicans have come out against statehood for the island, with the implication that the territory would only support Democrat federal elected officials. While Puerto Rico is more valuable to our nation than as a political football, these fears are unfounded. With Puerto Ricans voting on a statehood referendum on November 3rd, known as a plebiscite, statehood is becoming even more of a real possibility - and, unlike D.C. statehood, would be the correct and constitutionally congruent decision for the U.S. and Puerto Rico alike. 

Politically, fears a Puerto Rican state would mean Republicans “never get the Senate back” are unfounded. For evidence, one can simply look at the Island’s current elected representatives. Not only is Puerto Rico’s current congressional representative a Republican, Jenniffer González, the current Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced is also a Republican. Puerto Rico’s House and Senate are both led by Republicans as well. 

In addition, the values of many Puerto Ricans on the island also closely mirror those of traditional Republicans, with a strong emphasis on family values and the Puerto Rican legislature has been known to pass conservative legislation

Historically, the national Republican Party has been in support of Puerto Rico statehood. Since 1940, Republicans have favored statehood for the island. Past Republican presidents, including Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush have all issued their support for statehood. 

A letter from President Reagan from June 22, 1989, read:

“My beliefs toward Puerto Rico statehood remain as they were while I was in office. I feel that Puerto Rican statehood would benefit both the people of Puerto Rico and their fellow American citizens in the 50 states...Puerto Ricans have fought beside us for decades and worked beside us for generations. Should the people of Puerto Rico choose statehood in a free and democratic election, we would work together to devise a union of promise and opportunity in our Federal union of sovereign States.”

Even when I served as chairman of the Young Republican National Federation our national committee - representing tens of thousands of members - overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution supporting Puerto Rico statehood.

Puerto Rico is currently in the process of choosing statehood in a free and democratic election in less than a month. This will be the third time that Puerto Ricans have gone to the polls to vote on the status of their island, but this one is the most significant, because it asks simply: “Should Puerto Rico be admitted immediately into the Union as a State?”

If those on the Island vote for statehood November 3rd, it is incumbent upon Congress to act. As it stands, Puerto Ricans, although they are American citizens, are not granted the full rights of every other citizen. They don't get full voting representation in Congress. And although Puerto Rico residents are required to pay federal and social security taxes, in addition to other taxes, they do not qualify for all the same benefits as other Americans. This should be unacceptable to all Americans.

Not only is honoring the statehood vote of the Puerto Rican people the morally right thing to do, it may prove to be a major political asset for Republicans at every level of government. 

Jason F. Emert, Esq. is president of The Emert Group, a global political advisory firm, and an adjunct professor of law at Lincoln Memorial University in Knoxville, Tennessee who formally served as chairman of the Young Republican National Federation from 2017-2019.

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