Fortuño calls for status vote next August
If a second status vote is required, it will take place on the same day as the general election in November 2012, he added.
“These are issues of enormous importance that you will decide directly with your vote,” Fortuño said during a special televised address.
While the governor said he preferred to hold the legislative reform referendum on the same day as the general election to save money, the measure didn't win sufficient support, with Popular Democratic Party (PDP) lawmakers voting en masse against it, so the referendum has to be held on a separate day, according to the island Constitution. Therefore, the administration decided to hold both votes on the same day.
As for the status legislation, the governor said he first wanted congressional legislation for a status plebiscite. Although the U.S. House approved legislation authored by Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the U.S. Senate failed to take up the measure.
Fortuño said he then tried to work with the PDP and the Puerto Rican Independence Party on a consensus bill. While a tentative agreement was worked out with the PIP, the PDP again failed to back the plan.
“Inaction can't be an option,” Fortuño said in announcing that he would file status legislation Wednesday. “This is the most important, transcendent issue we will have to vote on as a people.”
“Neither the Congress nor the president can impede the people of Puerto Rico from expressing themselves democratically about their status choices,” the governor said.
The governor said the measure would follow the outlines of the decision by the New Progressive Party Governing Board, which signed off on a two-stage plebiscite process. The first referendum will ask voters whether they want to maintain the current commonwealth status under the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution or whether they prefer a nonterritorial option.
If more voters check that nonterritorial option, a second vote would be held giving people three status options: statehood, independence or free association.
While statehood and some independence supporters are likely to back the plan, PDP officials were criticizing the status proposal even before the governor’s address ended.
House Minority Leader Héctor Ferrer, the PDP’s resident commissioner candidate, said Fortuño is trying to divert attention from his administration’s record by calling for status action during the height of next year’s campaign.
“He is trying to gather the statehood forces behind him, but I don’t think this plebiscite can save Fortuño or Pierluisi from defeat,” Ferrer said.
“This represents a triumph not only for the independence party, but for the citizens of Puerto Rico,” said PIP Executive President Fernando Martin, adding that the plan essentially mirrors what the independence party has been pushing for the past five years.
Last week, President Barack Obama said he believes the island will remain a U.S. commonwealth unless there is a “solid indication”of support for statehood.
“If it split down the middle, or 51-49, I think Congress’ inclination is going to be not to change, but rather to maintain the status quo until there is greater indication there is support for change,” Obama said.
The 122-page report released in March by the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico’s Status emphasizes the island’s economic and social issues, but opens with a seven-point series of recommendations on the century-old status dilemma.
The task force recommended that all relevant parties — the president, Congress, and the leadership and people of Puerto Rico — work to ensure that Puerto Ricans are able to express their will about status options — statehood, independence, free association and commonwealth — and have that will acted upon by the end of 2012 or soon thereafter.
The task force leans slightly toward a two-tier plebiscite process that “allows the people of Puerto Rico first to vote on the question of whether they wish to be part of the United States or wish to be independent, and then to choose between the available status options, as limited by the outcome of the first vote.”
“If the process produces a clear result, Congress should act on it quickly with the president’s support,” the task force said.