The Democratic House leadership has announced plans to ram through a bill to stack the deck in favor of statehood for Puerto Rico. Amazingly enough, several ordinarily sensible conservatives, including House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence, are poised to help them. The collaborators ought to reconsider. Arguments in favor of political self-determination may seem reasonable, but the bill in question actually tramples self-determination in favor of an underhanded political power grab.
The single worst part of H.R. 2499, dubbed the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, is that it would allow former Puerto Ricans to vote in a pro-statehood advisory referendum even if those former residents are already registered voters in a U.S. state. Instead of voting “early and often,” this might be called the “vote here, there and everywhere” stratagem. It is fundamentally undemocratic at its core.
At its root, the bill is deliberately designed to unfairly make it harder for Puerto Rico to keep its current status as a territory with special benefits rather than as a state. It does so by setting up a complicated two-step voting process that helps proponents of all other options - statehood, full independence or some sort of weird hybrid - gang up against the option of remaining as a territory. Several previous referenda have shown that the option of remaining a territory is the first choice of a plurality of Puerto Rico’s residents, but this system effectively would take that first choice off the table.
There also is the problem that Puerto Rico is a predominantly Spanish-speaking land. No other state has ever joined the union without having English as its only official language.
Some, like Mr. Pence, might see a move toward statehood from the standpoint of a Jack Kemp-like outreach to people trying to grab the American dream. However, the late Republican leader himself surely would be turned off by the underhanded features of this legislation. He also surely would listen to his fellow New York representatives of Puerto Rican descent, both Democrats, who oppose this horrible bill. Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez and Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, all have objected to various aspects of the proposal.*
Ms. Velazquez, who favors a constitutional convention in the territory to decide how to approach the issue, testified before a House committee last summer on the bill. “The process promoted by those bills,” she said, “has been perceived to be skewed in one form or another. It is now time to break this cycle.”
There is no good reason for any member of Congress to support such a skewed process.
* Correction: Contrary to an earlier version of the editorial, Rep. Jose E. Serrano (D-NY) is a supporter and co-sponsor of H.R. 2499, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act.