You know it would was bound to happen. After being anointed by Fox News two years ago as an rising star in the Republican Party, Puerto Rican and Republican Governor Luis Fortuño is now being courted by the Wall Street Journal’s William McGurn as a possible Vice Presidential candidate for the 2012 Presidential race (Note: Fox Corp also owns the WSJ.)
Last week, Fortuño went on record to say he was committed to his job as Governor so the likelihood of a Fortuño running for VP is slight, but the fact remains: McGurn is well, clueless about the dynamic of Puerto Rican politics and its complex colonial relationship with the United States.
So in the interest of giving McGurn a crash course in the world of Puerto Rican politics and reality, we offer this analysis of his political fluff piece. (You can read the whole column here.)
Let’s begin with this excerpt:
Of course, a Fortuño vice presidential nomination is not without its possible downsides. For all the governor’s reforms, Puerto Rico’s economy continues to struggle. (Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher also had some grim years before their own economies picked up.)
In his third year as governor of Puerto Rico, the island’s latest unemployment rate as of October, 2011 is 16.1% (source, US Labor Department) When Fortuño began his first month as governor of Puerto Rico, the unemployment rate was 10.9%. So, if we have our math correct, that is a 5.2% increase in the island’s unemployment rate. For McGurn to suggest that Fortuño’s Puerto Rico is just facing some “grim years” like Ronald Reagan is beyond comprehension.
In addition, McGurn fails to even mention the exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island to the mainland. Here is what the 2010 US Census has to say about Puerto Rico’s population, which has declined over the last 10 years since 2000. In fact, Puerto Rico experienced its first population decrease since the 1970 Census. Here are the numbers from the US Census:
So, to summarize it for McGurn, his suggested choice for Vice President of the United States is governing a country with growing unemployment and a declining population. His administration, which McGurn applauds for its small government free market thinking, might have cut back the island’s public sector work force (in a way that would make Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker look like an AFL-CIO leader), but it has done very little or nothing to add any new jobs to fill the massive loss of jobs.
The reason is that Puerto Rico has no sustainable economic sector that could counter-balance the dramatic cuts in the public sector.
But let’s hone in a bit more on McGurn’s glowing praise for Fortuño’s toughness when it comes to government jobs.
Even as McGurn touts Fortuño’s actions to eliminate public sector jobs at the beginning of his administration, it should be noted that the largest sector (and largest growing percentage increase of jobs) on the island is still…. public sector jobs. Government jobs increased 3.2% in October, 2011, tying it for information jobs for the same month. The following chart from the US Labor Department reflects this:
A few other things to note about these statistics when it comes to public sector jobs:
- In January, 2011, there were 262,600 government jobs in Puerto Rico. The figure for October, 2011 is 268,100.
- In October, 2011, 1,071,100 people were employed in Puerto Rico. Of those total jobs, 268,100 jobs were government jobs, which is a 25% rate. So as much as Fortuño is seen as the private sector champion of the GOP by McGurn, 1 in 4 of all the jobs in Puerto Rico right now are still government jobs.
Grim years, indeed, Mr, McGurn. Government jobs being created while the country languishes at double-digit unemployment Are you saying this in 2012 Fortuño will pull a Puerto Rican miracle? We doubt it.
The murder rate is approaching record levels, largely because a crackdown on America’s southern border is pushing much of the deadly drug and weapons trade through the Caribbean.
All of a sudden, according to the Wall Street Journal, Puerto Rico has a drug and crime problem because there has been a push lately on the US Southern border, thus creating a scenario in Puerto Rico that will see its largest homicide rate on record. However, what McGurn fails to explore is this: Puerto Rico has had a drug problem since the 1970s, and the Fortuño administration has only paid lip service to improving the island’s crime rate (also convenient of McGurn to overlook the recent DOJ investigation of civil rights abuses by the Puerto Rican Police that Fortuño has tried to place political blame on others).
To be fair to Fortuño, his government is not solely responsible for the crime rate being so high these days, that is a product of decades of failed political leaders who have never truly solved what has become one of the island’s ugliest marks.
So where does this leave American voters as they begin to learn more about Fortuño? The reality is that 35% of the island thinks that the Fortuño government is doing a good job.
McGurn also seems to have forgotten the island’s credit downgrade this year. Add a publicly embarrassing student strike that made international headlines, and recent polls that show Fortuño losing to his main challenger, and McGurn must really think that Fortuño’s policies of high unemployment, drain of talent, a growing drug problem (can we say narco-state?), and you wonder what Puerto Rican utopia is McGurn describing?
Now, McGurn makes a point that Fortuño could indeed run for VP since he is an American citizen and that the Constitution doesn’t prohibit him. That is true, but what McGurn seems to forget is that if Fortuño were to maintain his residency in Puerto Rico, he would be able to vote for himself in a federal election since Puerto Ricans living on the island cannot vote in presidential elections.
So, in essence, if Fortuño were to get a VP nod, he would have to claim residency on the mainland, very likely in Virginia, where he used to live. We don’t think that those GOP voters who questioned the citizenship of President Obama would embrace with open arms a candidate from a US colony where Spanish is spoken?
McGurn goes on to bring out a few accomplishments of Fortuño, including the approval of the very controversial Gasoducto by the US Army Corps of Engineers, which has yet to reach complete approval. He fails to mention that this project, known as the Gasoducto, is facing strong and emotional opposition from groups on the island.
But perhaps the McGurn does his best with his closing:
Though there’s no constitutional prohibition against Mr. Fortuño’s serving as U.S. president or vice president—Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917—perhaps the biggest issue is simply that the governor is not well known here. In our media-driven age, that means he would likely face a ferocious public vetting like the one directed at Sarah Palin when she was announced as John McCain’s running mate. In other words, some of the same things that are exciting about a Fortuño VP nomination could make it a distraction.
Then again, the payoff is potentially much higher than the risks. It is no dismissal of Marco Rubio (who has said he’s not interested in the VP slot) to observe that, as a Puerto Rican, Mr. Fortuño might enjoy greater appeal among the broad Latino community than a candidate from a traditional GOP constituency such as Cuban-Americans. In short, he might inspire a critical and fast-growing demographic to give the Republican Party another look.
Unfortunately, McGurn is getting some misguided advice by whoever in the GOP is trying to capture the essence of what it is to be Puerto Rican in 21st century America. McGurn fails miserably in putting Fortuño’s place within the political context of the island. The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States ever since the island was invaded in 1898 and became territory is colonial.
The island nation of Puerto Rico has become dependent on an American political system that has converted it into a welfare state, living off federal money and handouts. Fortuño came in as the savior, the reformer, but his approach has been polarizing: instead of trying to work with parties (which is a trait that the vast majority of political leaders in Puerto Rico have been negligent), he plays the “politiquería” (same old politics) that pits Puerto Ricans against each other, both the ones who live on the island and the over 4 million people of Puerto Rican descent who live on the mainland.
Fortuño might be the smartest governor Puerto Rico has ever had, but he lacks the leadership qualities that have made Puerto Rican politicians a running joke for decades. If you think Americans don’t like the US Congress these days, visit San Juan and listen to what people have to say about their politicians.
Yes, Fortuño should be credited for understanding that this welfare system is no longer viable in a new world, but his idea is almost Napoloeanic: slash and burn and ask questions later. His policies have divided Puerto Rico more than ever, to the point that most Puerto Ricans concur that Fortuño’s legacy will go down as one of the saddest chapters in the Puerto Rican politics.
It is no wonder that as Fortuño faces a critical re-election bid where he currently trails in the polls, his tone is starting to shift to a more moderate one. Unfortunately, the damage has been done and unless the jobs (and the talent) come back to the island in the next 11 months, Puerto Rico will be clearly worse off than it was in 2008.
The Fortuño public relations campaign to redefine his image and change the conversation so that he is seen in a more positive political light has begun. Besides articles in the WSJ, he is starting to appears in tourism commercials on US TV touting the beauty of what the island offers, as if Puerto Rico right now is some escapist island paradise.
And they say on the island, Puerto Rico does it better, as in higher unemployment rates than any other state in the Union, higher murder rates, and higher social unrest.
But maybe McGurn is right. Maybe the GOP does want Fortuño as its VP choice.