Op-Ed By: Thomas R. Cuba
A new fear has crept into the Republican talking points: Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia and their status with respect to statehood. The Republican leadership and conservative talk-show hosts have decided that if statehood is approved, there would be four more senators who would always and forever be Democrats.
What the Republicans ought to be doing is trying to develop a plan to win some or all of the new seats with Republican candidates, instead of erecting barriers to statehood.
But, I digress. The point of this article is not what party any new senator may or may not be a member of, but whether or not statehood should be granted at all. The answer is akin to the two sides of one coin, or, as the title implies, of two communities seeking the same thing.
The first point to make is that D.C. wasn’t seeking statehood and Puerto Rico was, and has been for decades. The idea of statehood for D.C. arose as a Democratic Party strategy. The idea of statehood for Puerto Rico has arisen from the widespread desire of the people of Puerto Rico to achieve equal footing with the people of the other fifty states.
Ownership of both Puerto Rico and Cuba was obtained by the United States as a result of the Spanish American War which ended in 1898. Cuba was subsequently granted independence, but the people of Puerto Rico preferred to remain with the Union.
Today, the 3,500 square mile island supports a population of 3.4 million United States Citizens, who, per the curiosities of law, are unable to vote in Federal Elections. By contrast, The District of Columbia is 68 square miles supporting about 700,000 people, some of whom are residents of the states from whence they came or of other nations.
Each Representative in the House has approximately 711,000 people in his or her district. Adding the people in the two new states would not add new representatives, but would cause some changes in boundaries among other problems.
The number of members of the House of Representatives is fixed at 435 and district boundaries don’t cross state lines. The result is that the three or four seats assigned to Puerto Rico and DC would reduce the number in some other states. That alone might be enough to generate political pressure against statehood. Someone else’s power would be reduced.
To put the proposal to award statehood to the District of Columbia into a very practical perspective, doing so would be the equivalent of awarding statehood to Denver, Colorado (Population 727,000). How many other cities might follow? Might the liberal city of Austin, Texas, seek statehood in order to distance itself from the more conservative rural areas of the state?
It is worth noting, that the people of D.C., Puerto Rico, and other US territories are not completely left out, but are represented by a non-voting emissary to Congress.
The most salient difference between Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, however, is a historical one. While Puerto Rice became a U.S. Territory as a result of the war, the District of Columbia was excluded from statehood as a condition of the adoption of the Constitution of the United States.
None of the states wanted any one state to infer superiority as a result of the Capital being within that state. At the time, the new Americans were quite leery of centralized government and any hint of having a national government to which the states were minion, was an abhorrent specter. When Congress was erected, the people were to be represented by the members of the House.
But each individual state had interests, wants, desires, needs, and independence that was to be preserved, so the Senate was erected to represent the needs of the State itself, not the people. Because the District of Columbia was carved out as a place independent of state influence and all of its needs were those allowed to it by the agreement of the states, there was no need for representation in the senate.
In summary, one of these entities is a large, thriving, population of citizens with a regional identity and regional needs, while the other is a mixture. There is a small, often mistrusted group of people to be kept at arm’s length, and citizens who work in the area but have little to do with government itself.
It is reasonable to award statehood to Puerto Rico while allowing other residents of D.C. to register to vote in adjacent counties or in their home state.
About The Author: Thomas R. Cuba, Ph.D.
Raised a simple Missouri farm boy, Tom managed to attend a British Prep School before commencing a college career that would culminate in a Doctorate Degree in Marine Ecology. He also served as an Intelligence Officer in the U.S. Navy, and as a scoutmaster, SCUBA instructor, Wilderness Survival Instructor, and Firearms Instructor.
Tom has worked as an ecologist in both government and private practice, as well as a freelance nature photographer and computer programmer.
Now, a father and grandfather, Tom offers life lessons in the form of stories about the challenges people face and conquer as well as socio-political essays. To that end, his first lesson is always his favorite quote. “Failure is the whetstone of success.” ~ T. Leith Rettie, 1884.
You can read more from Tom on his site by clicking here.