The question of what to do about Puerto Rico has certainly been around since the Philippine Islands were granted independence from the US in 1946. There have been periodic elections on the island as long as I can remember to allow Puerto Ricans to decide for themselves, always with the same result at least till yesterday.

The Puerto Ricans call what they have a "Free Associated State" in Spanish; in English it's usually referred to as a Commonwealth, as the Philippines were between 1935 and 1946. Puerto Ricans have their own government and elect their own governor, and a justice system based on California's, but the island is dependent on the rest of the US for a lot of things. They send a couple representatives to the US Congress, but they are only observers. Puerto Ricans are full citizens of the US. Puerto Ricans don't pay income tax if they live in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has a lower minimum wage. Move to one of the 50 states and Puerto Ricans can vote for president like anyone else. Certainly since before I was born Puerto Ricans have been divided among those who want complete independence, those who want Puerto Rico to be a state of the Union like the other 50, and those who are more or less happy with things the way they are. Those who want things to stay the way they are have always had a plurality.

One slightly disturbing quality about our US democracy is that if the folks in power don't get what they want in local elections they can keep holding elections till they get it, and then stop holding elections so it can't be reversed. This is a bit like what happened over time in Puerto Rico. Since Alaska and Hawaii became states 50 odd years ago, there has always been a strong feeling among Puerto Rican elected officials that the island should become a state as well. For as long as I can remember Puerto Rican politicians at both Republican and Democratic national conventions have proudly proclaimed the Island as the 51st state. They just could never convince the general population of the island to agree. So they keep having elections.

Puerto Rico is in the midst of a deep economic crisis, and because of the US law from 1950 that currently defines Puerto Rico's status, the Island can't declare bankruptcy and start over. If Puerto Rico were a state like any other, it could. So with that idea in mind, another election was held yesterday. The other factions thought the idea of an election was stupid, spending money on an election for a proposition that by it's own wording was not "binding" and might well not mean anything anyway. So the leaders who want things to stay the same and the ones who want independence called a boycott. The turnout was ridiculously low for such a potentially important question, less than 25% of the eligible voters. Predictably of those who did vote, the vast majority wanted statehood.

Puerto Rico's current governor wants statehood, so he's all excited today saying the issue has been decided and is telling his constituents that he's ready to send two senators and an appropriate number of representatives to Congress as soon as the details can get worked out. Well, the rest of us know it's not quite that simple. The US Congress has the final say. There is the non-trivial matter of writing a state constitution, which the US congress would have to approve. (Arizona's statehood was delayed because Congress didn't like its proposed state constitution.) There is the non-trivial matter of all that debt, which no longer could be dealt with directly by Congress. There is the matter of whether the US Congress will allow the future Puerto Rican Senators and Representatives to address Congress in Spanish (and you know that sooner or later some will want to). There is the matter of this recent election which seems like the final word to the Puerto Rican Governor, but isn't going to set well with many Puerto Ricans, and Congress likely isn't going to act unless they are convinced an actual majority on the island is okay with it. Then you have the Trump administration's bias against Hispanics, and so on and so forth. Of all the times this issue could have passed this is certainly the worst.

I would guess that Congress will largely ignore yesterday's election. It could become yet another political issue dividing this country, but likely won't become a big deal for a few years.
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