News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 3, 2012

Will Puerto Rico be 51st state?

Arthur Foulkes
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Ready to place a 51st star on the American flag?

That’s what could be coming down the road if Puerto Ricans vote Tuesday for statehood, an idea they have rejected in the past.

Still, polls show growing interest in U.S. statehood among Puerto Rico’s 3.7 million residents. The country’s governor, Luis Fortuno, supports statehood and hopes a majority votes in favor of it Tuesday.

But even if Puerto Ricans vote for statehood, it will still require an act of the U.S. Congress to make the Caribbean island a state.

However, both President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney have expressed support for statehood.

Statehood “is a matter of self-determination for the people of Puerto Rico,” wrote Obama in a March report on the island. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has also reportedly stated his support.

“He pledged that if we ask for statehood … he would provide the leadership necessary to complete that process,” Fortuno told Fox News Latino while at the Republican convention in August.

Puerto Ricans are already considered U.S. citizens. However, they cannot vote for the U.S. president and the island lacks voting members in the U.S. Congress. Nor do Puerto Ricans pay federal income taxes. In other respects, the connections are very strong. Puerto Rico uses the U.S. dollar, its Head of State is the U.S. President, Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. may vote in American elections and the country receives billions in U.S. aid annually.

Yet it is far from clear a majority of Puerto Ricans favor becoming a U.S. state.

According to the Miami Herald, Puerto Ricans have traditionally been about evenly divided between those wanting to retain their current “commonwealth” status and those wanting full statehood. A small minority has also traditionally favored outright independence from the U.S., which acquired Puerto Rico as a result of the Spanish-American War at the end of the 19th Century. The island became a U.S. territory in 1917.

In Tuesday’s election, Puerto Ricans will have a two-part ballot question on their island’s status:

n Part 1 asks whether they want to keep or move away from the island’s current status as a U.S. territory.

n Part 2 asks – regardless of how they voted in Part 1 – whether they would prefer remaining a U.S. territory, becoming a state or becoming a “freely associated nation” with links to the U.S.

A May 2012 poll found 45 percent of Puerto Ricans didn’t fully understand those somewhat complicated ballot questions, according to a publication of the National Constitution Center, an educational organization based in Philadelphia. In that poll, only 36 percent of Puerto Ricans supported statehood.

However, according to Puerto, a more recent poll found Fortuno is ahead in a race to remain governor and that statehood was leading the three options presented on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The voters of Puerto Rico have been asked three other times – in 1967, 1993 and 1998 – whether they supported statehood. In each case, statehood failed to win a majority.

But Fortuno believes this time will be different and he has been widely quoted making the island’s case:

“We fought in every single war with courage and valor since we were made citizens in 1917. … How can anyone say, ‘I don’t want to hear what you have to say’”?

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or