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A Puerto Rican state wouldn't hurt California

Posted: November 14, 2009 1:40 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Legislation is moving through the U.S. House of Representatives that would provide a congressionally-sanctioned process for consulting the people of Puerto Rico regarding their preferences as to the territory's political status. In a recent letter ("McKeon's intentions are unclear," Nov. 4), a critic from the island's minority "commonwealth" party made misleading claims about what this bill would and wouldn't do.

Further, his contentions about an impact on California's congressional representation are erroneous.

Under this straightforward bill (HR2499), the territorial government could conduct periodic referenda asking voters if they wish to maintain or change the island's current political status.

If at some point a majority of voters want a change, a referendum could be held to ask their preference among the three constitutionally viable options: independence, national sovereignty in association with the United States or statehood.

The "commonwealth" party's real complaint about this bill is it does not include their proposal to empower Puerto Rico to nullify federal laws and court jurisdiction, and to enter into international arrangements as if it were a sovereign nation - with the United States permanently bound to grant more benefits financed by U.S. taxpayers than at present.

That proposal fails the tests of both the U.S. Constitution and common sense, and has been judged impossible by the congressional committees of jurisdiction, Congressional Research Service, the Justice and State departments and a presidential task force.

HR2499 does not favor any status option, and is only a first step in resolving the question of Puerto Rico's ultimate status.

The bill is non-binding, meaning any result in favor of a specific change in status would only lead to a change if the U.S. Congress chose to act on the result.

For the sake of argument, let's say at some future point Congress acts to make Puerto Rico a state - which, to be clear, would not be provided for by HR2499.
For most of our history, the size of the House was increased with the admission of new states, and that would almost certainly be the case here.

A 2002 Congressional Research Service paper did not conclude California would lose a seat under a Puerto Rico statehood scenario, as was claimed.

Indeed, Puerto Rico would be entitled to six representatives based on its population of 4 million; it is wrong to think Congress would decide to strip six states of seats when Congress has the authority to simply add to its number of representatives.

A main premise of HR2499 is, Congress will be better able to decide what action, if any, is appropriate once it knows if Puerto Ricans want the current status or one of the possible alternatives.

It is at the very heart of our democratic process in this country to ask the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico the bill's basic and fundamental questions about their governance.


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