As readers of this blog may know, in October, 2009, I moved my residence from Key West, Florida to Catano (suburb of San Juan), Puerto Rico.
At nearly 82 years of age, I’m still not very fluent in Spanish which is OK in everyday life in Puerto Rico where many Puerto Ricans are quite fluent in English but, as explained below, does impair my active election participation even though I’ve been a lifelong member of the Democratic Party.
To be sure, the Democratic and Republican parties do exist as such in Puerto Rico BUT neither appear in most Puerto Rican election ballots or contests.
The two major political parties appearing on the ballot in Puerto Rico for more than the last half century are the Popular Democratic Party (PPD) and the New Progressive Party (PNP), neither of which are directly affiliated with the island’s Democratic and/or Republican Parties.
The PPD, created in 1938, is generally described as economically and socially liberal and more philosophically akin to the Democratic Party and (but) it is a current proponent of increased sovereignity for the island although still associated in some form with the United States. The PPD is also said to support island elimination of federal limits on food stamps, expansion of SSI for the elderly and the handicapped, and removal of recent changes in Federal Tax Law 936 which had previously lowered by 60% the exemptions that corporations could claim from taxes on profits and urged that the old law be restored to its original form (giving corporations the 60% tax exemption on proftis).
The PNP, created in 1968, is generally described as the more conservative party (more favorable, for example, to privatization and the reduction of government employees). The PNP’s winning 2009-2012 elected Governor, Luis Fortuno, is pro-statehood (desiring that Puerto Rico’s status be changed to becoming the 51st US state as opposed to its current status as a commonwealth or free associated state). Fortuno is a member of the US Republican National Committee; has been active in the island’s Republican Party; endorsed Mitt Romney for President in 2012 and Fortuno and his wife were active in the 2012 Republican National Convention. But labelling PNP as strictly Republican is thwarted by Fortuno’s selection of Pedro Pierlusi as his running mate candidate for Resident Commissioner in the US House of Representatives. In the US House, Pierlusii caucuses with the Democratic Party and (but) is pro-statehood and a member of the PNP. Fortuno also successfully nominated island senatorial incumbent Kenneth McClintock to his cabinet as Secretary of State (and, in effect, Lieutenant Governor). McClintock is actively pro-statehood, but he is also clearly a Democrat and he was co-chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 successful island Presidential primary campaign.
Now as to my own vote in the 2012 general November election, I would first note that, as with all islanders, I could not vote for the US Presidency where, with some reluctance, I would have definitely voted for a too centrist, too conservative (from my point of view) Barack Obama.
Puerto Ricans can participate in island-wide presidential election primaries or party caucuses (either of which as selected by the Democratic or Republican Parties). As noted above, however, Puerto Ricans cannot participate in the actual presidential election (unless, of course, the island becomes the 51st state). For example, in the 2008 presidential primary, the Democratic Party candidates were on an island-wide ballot which Hillary Clinton won with 263,120 votes for her and 121,458 votes for Obama. In 2012, however, there was no Democratic primary and Obama was nominated for re-election by selection of most of its 67 delegates to the DNC convention at caucuses at 8 some island senatorial districts. (There was a 2012 Republican primary won, of course, by Mitt Romney.)
In November 2012, there were island elections of a governor, a resident commissioner (in the US House), and state legislative candidates, as well as a separate ballot for municipal mayors and council persons, in all of which I was eligible and did vote. In addition, there was also a separate ballot issue on island status. On the latter, voters were first asked whether or not they wanted to continue the island’s existing, present status as a free associated state. Regardless of how one voted on that question, the voter was then asked to vote on his or her preference among 3 alternatives to current statud, i.e. (1) statehood, (2) complete independence, or (3) some sort of modified sovereign state more independent but still associated with the US. On the first question (continuation of current status), 940,981 persons voted “No”, 801,708 people voted “Yes”. On the second question containing 3 alternatives, 824,195 persons voted for statehood (favored by PNP); 449,679 persons voted for some sort of sovereignity (favored by PPD); 74,812 voted for complete independence; 480,000 left the second question blank. The 2012 general election results were 879,947 votes for the winning governor-elect, PPD’s Alejandro Garcia Padilla (a Democrat), and 867,129 votes for the incumbent PNP Luis Fortuno (a Republican). Illustrating the narrowness of the 2012 island election, Fortuno’s PNP running mate, Pedro Pierlusi (a Democrat) won re-election with 885,586 votes versus 864,170 votes for PPD;s Rafael Cox Alomar. I also understand that in my municipality, Catano, the PPD challenger for mayor narrowly defeated the incumbent PNP incumbent.
As to my 2012 vote, I voted for statehood although I’m somewhat skeptical that the US Congress will agree to grant statehood to Puerto Rico and this give our US citizens the right to vote in presidential elections and garner 2 US Senators and 4 or 5 members of the US House of Representatives. Further, although the PPD is against statehood, I voted straight PPD for island and municipal elections because PPD is more historically aligned with the national Democratic Party and shares economic and social values more closely aligned with my own views.
I am not but would gladly join the island Democratic Party and/or PPD but I fear that my lack of Spanish fluency would my joinder and/or participation.
Finally, it is my opinion that the island status issue vote was clearly for statehood, with continuation of current status a close alternative, and PPD’s choice of some sort of modified, associated sovereignity was a distant 3rd with at best 25% of the vote, and independence garnering only 5% of the vote at best.