Remarks by Kenneth D. McClintock
As prepared for delivery
May 2, 2011
The 2011 White House Report on Puerto Rico is a sincere effort at addressing many of Puerto Rico’s problems and providing both a federal as well as local roadmap to address them. It has its flaws, but they are few.
With regard to Puerto Rico’s political status, the report does not state what it cannot state – that nothing is going to happen status wise in Washington during the remaining 19 months of President Obama’s first term.
While Puerto Rico statehood is and has been a part of the Republican Party platform for decades, and several Republicans in Congress have courageously attempted to address this issue and fulfill that commitment, the current scenario within the Republican majority in the House of Representatives and the Republican minority in the Senate precludes any congressional action during this Congress on the issue of Puerto Rico self-determination.
The report fails to acknowledge that reality, but it is an acknowledgement regarding this or any issue that no White House would make halfway into its mandate.
The report does set forth a more realistic local roadmap, one where Puerto Rico can move ahead in the political status chess game to place Congress, sometime in 2013, in the position of having to move on the issue.
While the report doesn’t impose one single route to follow, it does make very constructive suggestions as to the mechanics and content of a local electoral consultation process.
Based on those suggestions, which include the possibility of a two – step consultation that will produce results that will be more understandable by, and credible to Congress, and the need to include the present relationship as an option in order to provide more credibility, Governor Fortuño has made a two -phase proposal:
First, as the leader of the governing party, he proposed a political status resolution process that includes the current status, offers a two-step consultation, and attempts to avoid intermeshing status with the partisan politics of a general election, a proposal that has been endorsed by the Party.
Second, as governor of Puerto Rico, he invited Puerto Rico’s three political status –based registered parties to seek a consensus on a political status process by May 25th.
The consensus-seeking committee, with a representative from each party, held its first meeting 8 days ago in my office and has since held a second meeting. Let us hope for the best.
It is the Governor’s desire that local legislation, preferably by consensus, can be approved by the end of the legislative session in June.
Hopefully, by the time Congress gets down to work in the spring of 2013, the people of Puerto Rico will have withdrawn whatever consent it ever gave to the present relationship and will get down to the business of matching President Obama’s interest in resolving Puerto Rico’s political status problem.
One of the more remarkable status-related aspects of the Report is the Obama administration’s reiteration of the long-standing federal policy that Puerto Rico remains subject to the Territorial Clause of the Constitution.
Before briefly addressing the fascinating non-status related sections of the Report, I would like to put on the table a suggestion of a step that the Obama administration could take to speed things along.
As you may recall, in one of the several so-called “insular cases”, Balzac vs People of Porto Rico, decided in 1922 by U.S. Supreme Court. Chief Justice Taft, also known as former President William Howard Taft, in an act of judicial legislation set aside the precedents of Lousiana and Alaska in declaring that, in Puerto Rico’s case, the 1917 grant of American citizenship did not constitute incorporation and I quote:
It is true that, in the absence of other and countervailing evidence, a law of Congress or a provision in a treaty acquiring territory, declaring an intention to confer political and civil rights on the inhabitants of the new lands as American citizens, may be properly interpreted to mean an incorporation of it into the union, as in the case of Louisiana and Alaska.
This was one of the chief grounds upon which this court placed its conclusion that Alaska had been incorporated in the Union. But Alaska was a very different case from that of Puerto Rico.
It was an enormous territory, very sparsely settled and offering opportunity for immigration and settlement by American citizens. It was on the American continent and within easy reach of the then United States. It involved none of the difficulties which incorporation of the Philippines and Porto Rico presents.’’
While it is settled that the federal Government normally defends the legal status quo, be it a law or established judicial precedent, there are exceptions, the most recent being the refusal to defend the constitutionality of the federal marriage act.
I would suggest that the Obama administration announce that the federal government will no longer support the continued validity of the insular cases and will no longer set policy based on the holding of those cases.
Having said that, let me briefly address some of the economic proposals contained in the report. If Puerto Rico adopts the Report’s proposal to establish an autonomous energy and public utilities regulatory body, the implementation of that recommendation will revolutionize the energy market and provide benefits to consumers.
The report’s endorsement of the Caribbean energy grid project should be used by Puerto Rico to turn our territory into an energy hub that will create jobs, generate economic activity, and provide regional leadership opportunities.
Finally, we should not take lightly the report’s concern for a lack of a professional class capable of recognizing the need, identifying, requesting, receiving, properly using, reporting and auditing Federal funds.
The absence of that set of skills is due in part to the deficient teaching of English in PR but the lack of understanding that Federal funds come with strings attached.
Puerto Rico should immediately accept the report’s offer to provide technical assistance to fill that void.
In closing, the Report recognizes the importance of the need to resolve our political status issue as well as the need to improve our economy.
A poor republic of Puerto Rico would rapidly look more like Haiti than Chile.
A poor Puerto Rico would have greater difficulty joining the Union.
A poor Puerto Rico only benefits those who cruelly want to keep Puerto Rico as it is.
As a believer in change, change through statehood, I believe in the need to strengthen our economy, within the constraints of our current states, as a prerequisite for status change.