Statehood for Puerto Rico?

Was it a referendum or not? The UK left the EU on a 51-48 vote - which was/is a pretty damn massive change.

In 2020, 65% of eligible voters cast a vote for President. Biden won around 51% of that 65%, so I guess a majority don’t Biden as President (of course by that same logic, a majority don’t want Trump either). At some point, you have a vote and you go by the results. We didn’t in 2012 and apparently we aren’t planning to in 2020 either.

I think it’s time we got out of the Territory business. Apropos of Paul’s suggestion above, all Territories should be offered a ranked-choice ballot:

  1. Statehood.
  2. Full Independence
  3. The Compact of Free Association (like the Marshall Islands and others)

Ranked choice to ensure an outcome, one-time, no super-majority required, and the status quo is not an option. Obviously any Territories that pick #3 will have future chances to change to #2 as the COFA is a time-limited thing subject to renewal every so often. Vote and be committed to carrying through on the result. No moving the goalposts.

OK, we should get out of the territory business why exactly? Because it looks bad on a map? Because territories are neither fish nor fowl? If the people of a territory are cool with it, and if the United States is cool with it, what argument do you have against it?

Human affairs are messy. That is just how it is.

I have to agree with Paul_in_Saudi here. Suggestions like Zakalwe’s are designed to force a change. But what is people are legitimately happy with the status quo, or have at best a very weak interest in changing it? While I hope that PR will one day definitively choose statehood, I also see no reason it shouldn’t be their choice and no reason whatsoever that other Americans ought to force it.

Now, there is one quirk: potentially, many Puerto Ricans who now live in one of the States that make up the United States might well want Statehood for PR, but because they live in the continent, Alaska, or Hawai’i they don’t receive a vote*. Arguably their opinions have some moral force.

*For some reason that sentence sounds really weird in my head.

That loops back to the idea of cultures and ethnicities having some say, some relevance, to government arrangements. The old half-serious argument that the definition of a “country” is “a language with an army.”

Geographical boundaries are increasingly meaningless in a highly mobile and connected world. But they have the advantage of being drawable bright lines.

Overall, as to the various ostensibly reasonable challenges @Zakalwe brings up I say this: the public at large almost always mumbles its answer to any question. In the whole, it’s distracted, confused, and abstentions due to sloth, ignorance, or boycott are commonplace and often the plurality choice. It’s also highly subject in any referendum to not answering the question actually asked, but instead to offering a symbolic thumbs up or down gesture towards whoever’s the current president / governor / PM or what they think of the economy that week.

With all those vagaries all we can say about a vote result like e.g. Brexit is that the thoughtfully arrived at answer to the actual question asked is 51% +/-25% of the votes cast and 35%+/- 33% of all eligible voters.

Under the reality of those circumstances there ought to be a very high hurdle to making large scale changes with unknowable second- and third-order consequences. And I say that as a Progressive aiming to deliberately and rapidly create a better future through wise public policy. Imagine what a true Conservative in the classic sense (slow/low change = good) would say.

Pious fictions about the will of the majority being seen in a 50%+1 vote outcome are just that: fictions.

We have 4+ million people that we call citizens but tax without representation (hmmm, I think I’ve heard that phrase before somewhere…). They are citizens, but only because we let them be and we can change it whenever we want - with a simple majority of Congress plus Presidential consent. The Constitution applies similarly. Want 2nd Amendment rights? Well…maybe…for now, but we might change our mind tomorrow.

It’s…hypocritical for the (at least used to be) leader of the free world to be one of the last remaining colonial powers.

And for those saying clear majority, super majority, high hurdle, etc. Pick a number. Set the target, otherwise you just leave wiggle room to string them along forever. A referendum’s outcome shouldn’t be like porn. “Well, I can’t define high hurdle, but I know it when I see it!”

If I can offer an aside, I do appreciate the discussion - even if I seem strident at times (again, sorry Paul). This thread has, if nothing else, caused me to expand my knowledge of the subject and solidified and defined a previously nebulous unease with the status quo. And for that I am grateful to you all. I am someone who feels strongly that I should know why I believe what I believe.

That’s an admirable attitude. Would that more Americans had it.

Just to be clear … I think you’ve done a heck of a job expanding on how the status quo is a f***ed up mess that ought to be changed.

And I certainly agree with your suggestion that US colonialism is an anachronism. As you say, some specific fixed path to statehood or to separation should be laid out and then stuck to as the PR citizens figure out for themselves which alternative future they prefer. As you say, a vague moving target is just an excuse for further cynical exploitation. By all sides, both in PR and on the mainland.

A problem with any big change in any area of law is that lots of people will have made, or be making, significant investments in time, money, and effort based on the idea that although the future isn’t predictable in detail, most of everything will be pretty similar 10 or 20 years from now as it is now.

e.g. … It’s certainly a truism of tax “reform” that once you trail an idea, either enact it or defeat it. If you leave it hanging out there for any meaningful number of months, you’ll freeze much of the investment upon which economic growth & productivity depends as business is more scared of ending up on the wrong side of the change/no change that might or might not happen.

As applied to PR, and I’m certainly no expert on the details though I visit the island regularly …

If PR became a state, all the status uncertainty you mention goes away. They’re really citizens forever with all the good and bad features of that. They’d presumably lose a bunch of the subsidy & special tax stuff they have, as there are plenty of other impoverished states in the current 50 who’d demand to level that playing field as part of the price of admission.

If PR became independent, its economy would quickly resemble the other Caribbean island nations. That might be a blow to a lot of that emplaced investment I mentioned a couple paragraphs ago. The politics might be factious, but they wouldn’t be hostage to US political winds so much.

An interesting question is which outcome would produce a greater exodus of current island residents to other countries, including the US, and which outcome would produce a bigger reverse diaspora as folks of PR heritage returned to the island.

It was mentioned upthread that ethnic PR folks not living on the island have some moral say in the matter. A plausible position to be sure.

An alternative POV is that anyone who votes for whatever option should be required to live through the consequences. Voting for choice A then bailing out when choice A doesn’t deliver what you hoped seems … cowardly and hypocritical. Any such requirement is obviously completely impractical, but also has a certain moral force to it. A variation on “you broke it; you bought it.” Don’t juggle the fragile bric-a-brac you’re not willing to buy.

So you don’t believe in self-determination, then. The US gets to decide that Puerto Ricans cannot vote for the status quo.

How exactly is it any of our business? If they have some jury-rigged relationship that they like just fine, well why should anyone else have a say in the matter?

Now entry into the Union is a matter for people in the Union to consider when the time comes. Forcing them to decide on either independence or statehood seems to be poking our nose where it does not belong.

Taxation without Representation is important. The argument still carries weight. That is why Puerto Rico does not pay federal income tax. (I suppose they pay other more obscure taxes. I am not sure.)

(Years ago, Newt Gingrich proposed lifting the federal income tax from DC residents as an experiment in … stuff. I liked the idea. It went nowhere.)

There’s a wiki article on the taxation issue:

I completely believe in self-determination.
1, Puerto Rico, we, the United States of America have determined that we are no longer willing to be associated with you under the current colonial terms (self-determination on the part of the US).
2. However, we are willing to let you, the citizens of Puerto Rico decide the future of our relationship outside of that (self-determination on the part of PR).

As noted by @Northern_Piper, this is not true. Please read the article.
" Contrary to common misconception,[13] residents of Puerto Rico do pay federal income taxes. As with any state, however, those Puerto Rico residents who fall below the federal tax threshold (i.e., “the poor”) do not pay federal income taxes at all. This IRS threshold was $24,400 per year in 2019 for married couples.[14][15] Considering that the median income in Puerto Rico is $20,166[16] a large portion of the population earns too little to have to file federal tax returns even if Puerto Rico was a state. The result is that the bulk of Puerto Rico residents do not pay federal income taxes. It has been estimated that close to 50% of PR residents live below the poverty line, [17] adding another reason why most residents would not have to pay any federal income taxes."

Thanks, @LSLGuy!

Thank you. Ignorance fought.

I find it hard to believe you’ve really looked at the make up of some of the territories and really think it’d be best for them to be states or cut loose.

The way territories are run could certainly use improvements but it would be a process not “let’s just have a vote on it already”.

I didn’t say it had to happen tomorrow for all of them. :slight_smile:

That is a challenge for sure. PR is probably the most viable as an independent nation or US State. USVI is an interesting case. Geographically right next to PR, but culturally very separate. While it would be really too small for a US State, it actually falls near the median of Caribbean countries in terms of population and in the middle third based on GDP and behind only PR in GDP per cap. I could see it being viable as a Caribbean nation (small fish, but small pond) or in the COFA.

The Pacific territories are a tougher nut to crack and I will admit to not knowing that much about them. But Micronesia and the others seem to do okay in the COFA. Guam is a real sticking point since we need those military installations for power projection.

So maybe PR gets 3 options not including status quo, but the others get 2 options (leaving off statehood). And all based on a decently long run-up (maybe 4-8 years) to allow people to internalize that change IS coming and they need to pick a future for themselves and their children.

The biggest issue to me is that, to be fair to everyone, the COFA terms would need to be defined before the vote, so that we don’t end up with a Brexit-esque mess. I have no idea how that would work, but I’m sure the State Department has smart people that can figure it out. At least I sure hope they do.

As it happens, I see Guam tried to have a plebiscite over the past year but its terms were deemed unconstitutional as it only would have allowed “native inhabitants” to vote.

All very interesting. But I wonder why, of all the historical accidents and modern issues on the US government’s plate, this one rises to the level of needing to be fixed in the next few years?

Is status quo far from ideal for all? Sure. Will status quo be untenable next year? Probably not. Do the Feds have larger closer snakes that the same amount of governmental attention, effort and money could more profitably be deployed towards? Almost certainly.

A good friend of mine often put it this way: “Do not open a can of worms until you’re prepared to eat all the worms.” That caution of course can be taken to unhelpful extremes: justifying avoiding every slightly difficult undertaking.

But it does point out that when handling a broken situation you’ve got a decent chance of making things a bunch worse before making them get better and you need to ensure you have the fortitude to see it through the valley of despair.

The below applies equally to politics although the labels would be slightly different:

1898: “We, the United States, in our exercise of self-determination, have decided to make Puerto Rico an American possession. The interests and self-determination of the citizens of Puerto Rico are irrelevant to our self-determination.”

2020: “We, the United States, in our exercise of our self-determination, have decided to make Puerto Rico no longer an American possession. The interests and self-determination of the citizens of Puerto Rico are irrelevant to our self-determination.”

So, self-determination only counts for the colonial power, not for the people of Puerto Rico.

But they have “determined” - twice. We’re the ones that keep saying that they haven’t determined enough.

Their whole political party system is set up around statehood/non-statehood. You aren’t worried at all that America deciding for them would be a little incendiary? Maybe it specifically calls for a little more consensus?

Please define “a little more”. What’s the process?

And I continue to be puzzled by how the United States giving them an actual, final, committed say in their future is “America deciding for them” (I picked on your phrase FigNorton - love the name!, but the sentiment is there in multiple posts).

Actually, I will respond to Northern_Piper.

They’ve had two votes within the last decade. In neither case did the status quo achieve either a majority or even a plurality. The people of Puerto Rico have made it clear (at least to me) that they don’t want to be a possession anymore. The question is, if not that, then what?

Well, if the major groups could agree on a straightforward question that would be a start. You have to know that “change y/n, which change a/b/c” question gives a very unclear mandate.