Posted by: José Cabrera | April 26, 2008

Democrats’ Campaign in Puerto Rico Becomes Entangled in Statehood Issue

Article posted some weeks ago in The New York Times:

 

April 3, 2008

Democrats’ Campaign in Puerto Rico Becomes Entangled in Statehood Issue

By SARAH WHEATON

At 11 a.m. on March 27, hours after an indictment against Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá of Puerto Rico was unsealed, his allies met members of the rival party in San Juan. The discussion was not about the charges. It was about Senator Barack Obama’s campaign.

 

The 19-count federal indictment on charges of campaign finance violations and tax fraud was not the only complicated aspect of Mr. Obama’s high-profile endorsement from the governor. In advance of the Puerto Rican Democratic primary on June 1, his campaign, like that of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, is seeking to avoid being mired in the issue that defines local politics — the island’s status in relation to the United States.

If the nominating contest lasts until June 1, Puerto Rico, with its 63 delegates, is expected to play an outsize role, with Mrs. Clinton hoping for a big victory. But the perennial debate over the status of the island looms, with the two candidates staking out positions of adamant neutrality.

Rivals of the candidates have been combing policy statements for the slightest nuance that could betray support for statehood or commonwealth. Historically, pro-commonwealth politicians have loosely aligned with the Democratic Party, and the statehood side has been more of a coalition.

Mr. Acevedo is a leader of the Popular Democratic Party, which advocates maintaining commonwealth status.

Andrés W. López, a statehood supporter and a member of Mr. Obama’s campaign committee in Puerto Rico, said he was concerned that the governor’s support for Mr. Obama had created a pro-commonwealth impression that could create a backlash among Democratic voters.

“A strong public endorsement from a well-known statehood figure would remedy what I feel is a misperception,” Mr. López said.

The campaign received that backing on Monday from Pedro Pierluisi, the pro-statehood New Progressive Party candidate for nonvoting representative in Congress.

Mr. Acevedo delivered his endorsement after receiving a letter in which Mr. Obama expressed openness to a constitutional convention or a plebiscite to determine status and support for all “valid options to resolve the question of Puerto Rico’s status, including commonwealth, statehood and independence.”

Some statehood proponents have objected to a constitutional convention and to the listing of commonwealth as a viable permanent status.

Mr. Obama met Mr. Pierluisi a few weeks ago and wrote him a letter suggesting openness to the idea of statehood.

“I understand and respect the aspiration of the U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico who, like you, believe that statehood is the best status option for Puerto Rico, as I understand and respect the aspirations of those who favor other status options for Puerto Rico,” the letter said.

It did not use the word “commonwealth.”

Though most of the nearly four million Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, the territory does not have any electoral votes. The 63 delegates at play are on par with those available in the preceding contests in Oregon and Kentucky.

 

Mrs. Clinton is the favorite in the race, given her longstanding relationship with the island as first lady and, more recently, as a senator from New York, the state with the largest Puerto Rican population. Her campaign focuses on specific policies for Puerto Rico like helping manufacturing and support for equal reimbursements to hospitals from Medicare and expanding Medicaid.

Mr. Obama’s campaign focuses on broader themes of hope and change.

Many of Mrs. Clinton’s high-profile endorsements arrived before the Feb. 5 nominating contests, and Mr. Acevedo’s announcement appears to have spurred others to support Mr. Obama.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, has the support of all Democrats running at the top of tickets in November for both major political parties in Puerto Rico.

“There might be something to the fact that it is based on timing and current events rather than substance,” said Kenneth McClintock, the pro-statehood president of the Puerto Rican Senate who announced his support for Mrs. Clinton in December. “Would I have to choose now, I would choose exactly the same way for exactly the same substantive reasons.”

Although Mr. Acevedo’s action appears to have opened the gates for others to back Mr. Obama, his indictment also was an embarrassment to the Obama campaign. The governor, a superdelegate, had been courted by both campaigns, even though it was common knowledge that he was under investigation.

The two campaigns have courted pro-statehood and pro-commonwealth supporters, and Mr. Obama’s supporters are trying hard to integrate backers from both parties at an organizational level.

Marie Helene Morrow, who helped organize Mr. Obama’s fund-raiser on the island and who said she had not become involved with local politics, recounted the meeting on March 27.

“Our committee showed up, all colors, all stripes and discussed one thing,” Ms. Morrow said.

“Obama, as it should be.”


Responses

  1. […] UN The Ultimate Resource on the Internet wrote an interesting post today on Democratsâ Campaign in Puerto Rico Becomes Entangled in Statehood…Here’s a quick excerptMr. Obama met Mr. Pierluisi a few weeks ago and wrote him a letter suggesting openness to the idea of statehood. […]

  2. […] FLA Politics wrote an interesting post today on Democratsâ Campaign in Puerto Rico Becomes Entangled in Statehood…Here’s a quick excerptThe governor, a superdelegate, had been courted by both campaigns, even though it was common knowledge that he was under investigation. […]

  3. http://clintonista.wordpress.com/2008/04/26/as-for-the-symbolism-war-quod-erat-demonstrandum/


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