Since being elected to office in 2019, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) – better known as AOC – has not shied away from taking controversial positions, even if it puts her at odds with members of her own party. From supporting the Green New Deal’s extreme proposals (for instance, curbing cow flatulence) to comparing climate change to World War II, or thinking that spending $2.2 trillion on infrastructure did not go far enough, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is not what you would call a deliberative member of Congress. But on the question of Puerto Rican statehood, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez has been channeling her inner James Madison, urging greater deliberation and the eventual formation of a committee to “study the issue.”
Perhaps it’s that committed progressives like Rep. Ocasio-Cortez fear that Puerto Rican statehood may result in more Republicans, and fewer Democrats, serving in Congress. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that these fears are not unfounded.
In the past, Puerto Ricans have elected conservative governors, supported socially conservative referendums, and in 2020 re-elected their Republican-caucusing Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón to serve another term in Washington. After years of top-down economic policies that have left the Puerto Rican Island in a deep economic funk, many voters on the island are looking for a change that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all. And that’s nothing to say of the Puerto Ricans that have moved to the mainland.
According to 2020 presidential election exit polls, the Hispanic vote – particularly along the heavily Puerto Rican I-40 corridor that runs through central Florida – was crucial for the Trump campaign to win the Sunshine State. Progressives chalked this off to an aberration, but these trend lines have not changed – in fact, they may be hardening.
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Just a few weeks ago, Rep. Mayra Flores won a special election in Texas’ 34thcongressional district – a heavily Hispanic district that has not voted for a Republican in over 100 years. And according to a recent poll, President Joe Biden’s approval rating among Latino voters has cratered to 26%.
Puerto Rican statehood is an opportunity for Republicans to lead by welcoming new voters into their fold while also standing up for democracy and self-rule.
While liberal politicians like AOC and Rep. Nydia Velázquez – another New York member of Congress leading on Puerto Rican issues – claim that they are being deliberative to fight back against “neo-colonialism,” Republicans should support efforts to let Puerto Ricans on the Island decide between statehood or independence. The good news is that even in deep partisan strife, Republicans and Democrats are coming together to cobble together legislation to determine Puerto Ricans’ future.
The most promising is the Puerto Rico Status Act which brings together the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act supported by many members of the “Squad” and the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act, supported by several Republicans including Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón and Florida representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Maria Elvira Salazar. The main difference between the two bills is that the Puerto Rico Self Determination Act would create a “convention to discuss options with federal officials, the definition of slow walking.
The Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Act meanwhile would Congress accept the results of a non-binding November 2020 plebiscite, which statehood won, 52%-48%. If signed into law, it would result in a ratification vote by the people of Puerto Rico to accept admission into the United States as the newest State of the Union, the opposite of slow walking.
As a proud conservative from Puerto Rico who cherishes self-rule, limited government, and the idea that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed, it is time to pave the way to welcome Puerto Rico as our 51st state. The people of Puerto Rico have voted in favor of statehood repeatedly. Congress, including members like AOC, should not get in the way of doing what’s right.
Jorge Martinez is a Republican strategist and former Justice Department spokesperson.