- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2012

D.C. officials have bandied about a number of strategies in recent months to increase the city’s voting rights in Congress or achieve statehood, but one stands above the rest in terms of novelty — strategize with Puerto Rico.

Voters in the island territory are scheduled to decide on Nov. 6 whether they want to remain an unincorporated U.S. territory or not. In a second question, voters are asked to choose from three alternatives: statehood, complete independence or “nationhood in free association” with the United States.

A pro-statehood vote would only indicate popular support for the idea before it goes to Congress.

D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, noted that significant changes to the nation’s structure tend to come in politically balanced pairs, such as the admittance of Alaska and Hawaii to the union in 1959. A Puerto Rican push for statehood, if it comes to pass, should compel the District to make an aggressive push for statehood as a two-part deal with Congress, he said in a phone interview from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

“We ought to form a strategy with them,” he said. “You can’t predict how these things are going to work, but it gives political cover for what everyone wants.”

Mr. Evans said he and D.C. political analyst Mark Plotkin spoke about the concept with delegates from Puerto Rico this week.

“They were intrigued by the idea as well, but we’d have to wait until after Nov. 6 to do anything,” he said.

Much like in the District, where views on statehood are weighed against a limited expansion of voting rights in Congress or the retrocession of D.C. land to Maryland, political factions in Puerto Rico have a long history of debating whether the statehood is better than the status quo. The island rejected statehood in similar votes in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

But Puerto Rico’s ambitions for statehood, should they pursue them, have gained favor from stateside Republicans in recent weeks. The GOP’s 2012 platform “supports the right of the United States citizens of Puerto Rico to be admitted to the union as a fully sovereign state if they freely so determine.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno, a Republican ally, told the Daily Caller that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently looked him “in the eye” and expressed his support for a potential bid for statehood from the islands’ citizens.

The Republican Party’s platform was not so kind to the heavily Democratic District, flatly stating: “We oppose statehood for the District of Columbia.”

In Charlotte, the 2012 Democratic Party platform does not explicitly mention statehood for the District but supports all the hallmarks of it, such as congressional representation for its residents and the right to makes laws and form a local budget without interference from Capitol Hill.

The District’s closest shot at representation in Congress arrived as a two-part deal in 2009, when lawmakers hammered out a pact to introduce a new House member for the District alongside a new member from Republican-heavy Utah, although officials scuttled the plan when a Nevada senator tried to undo the city’s gun laws as part of the arrangement.

A Puerto Rico-driven deal would not be the first time D.C. officials set their sights on far-away lands to compel changes on Capitol Hill, which is about a five-minute drive down Pennsylvania Avenue from city hall.

In January, Mr. Gray and several D.C. Council members traveled to New Hampshire to testify in support of a D.C. statehood resolution in the state’s House of Representatives. The resolution failed to gain support at the committee level and got walloped on the House floor in Concord, N.H.

Rep. Tony Soltani, a Republican from Epsom, told the floor that the District “has a history of mismanagement” and asked about the rights of America’s friends south of Florida.

“I wonder why my friends from Puerto Rico … are not being called upon to be a state,” he said from the podium. “What about Northern Marianas? Guam? Viva Puerto Rico!”

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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