Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress on Thursday called for Washington to make the U.S. territory the nation’s 51st state.
The call is not new as Puerto Ricans have voted in numerous plebiscites over the past decades. But a 2018 November ballot referendum to divide California into separate states has again drawn attention to the possibility of adding more stars to the U.S. flag.
The last two states admitted to the Union, Alaska and Hawaii, were added in 1959 when Dwight Eisenhower was president.
“It’s time,” said Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, Puerto Rico’s current non-voting Resident Commissioner in the United States House of Representatives. “We want the same rights but also the same responsibilities as a state with equal footing and equal responsibilities.”
Gonzalez-Colon restated her position during a panel discussion at the Republican Party of Florida Sunshine Summit at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center in Kissimmee. The Central Florida municipality and region has become a home for thousands of Puerto Ricans who have relocated to Florida in the wake of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria last year.
Gonzalez-Colon reminded the GOP gathering that support for Puerto Rico statehood has been supported by previous Republican presidents, including Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, and has been part of Republican National Committee platforms since 1940.
The California Three States Initiative will be on the Golden State’s ballot on November 6, 2018. A “yes” vote supports tasking the state’s governor with asking Congress to divide California into three states.
Assuming California voters approve, it would still be Congress’ decision to reject the idea altogether or to determine how many states to carve out of California. In that debate, Puerto Rican statehood could come into the picture.
Another member of the panel Thursday disputed the perception that admission of Puerto Rico as a state would add a blue state, giving Democrats two U.S. Senate seats.
Jose Fuentes, a former Puerto Rico attorney general, cited polls showing that as many as 54 percent those Puerto Ricans who are registered to vote as Democrats identify themselves as conservatives.
“Let’s talk facts,” said Fuentes. “Puerto Rico would clearly be a conservative state.”