As most people focused on Arizona’s presidential election results, there was another candidate on the ballot who could have an outsized influence on the future of American politics for decades to come. Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona successfully ran for re-election and is expected to retain his position as chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. This is the very committee responsible for moving legislation regarding Puerto Rico statehood.
On November 3, as the mainland voted for president, Puerto Rico held its third vote in less than ten years regarding its political status. And for the third time, Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood for the island. More Puerto Rican voters supported statehood than the candidate on the ballot who received the most votes, by over 100,000 votes, showing that support for statehood on the island transcends political parties and has broad support.
Earlier this year, Puerto Rico statehood became an issue on the campaign trail, with President-elect Joe Biden supporting statehood for the island if Puerto Ricans decide that is their preferred path, which they did, while Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell indicated that while he was in charge, Puerto Rico would not become a state and he framed it as part of the “radical agenda” of Democrats.
Whether McConnell will still be leading the Senate depends on the outcome of the two Georgia Senate elections next month, but it is critical that those in the House with the power to do something, like Representative Grijalva, do the right thing and support legislation that would make Puerto Rico a state.
Representative Grijalva has been a fantastic champion for the Puerto Rican people, fighting for additional federal funds for the island and has maintained communication with key leaders on the island to ensure that their issues are heard. He has sponsored legislation to cancel Puerto Rico’s unsecured debt, protect pensioners on the island, as well as guarantee $800 million for the University of Puerto Rico.
He also worked hard to hold the Trump administration accountable for their lack of a federal response to the natural disasters that have occurred in Puerto Rico, particularly “the Trump administration’s irresponsible decision to withhold Hurricane Maria disaster aid for Puerto Rico [which] has restricted the island’s ability to rebuild its infrastructure.”
But there is still more work to do, and Puerto Rico statehood should be at the top of the list.
Congressman Grijalva has indicated that he would hold a public hearing on the issue of Puerto Rico statehood in 2021, but has expressed hesitance to move forward with the bill unless there is enough support from the Senate and White House. But it is critical that Grijalva take legislative action because it is the right thing to do, regardless of the level of support in the other chamber.
As it stands, Puerto Ricans cannot vote for president, but are required to live under the rules established by a president’s administration. They have no representation in the Senate, and their congressional representative, Jenniffer Gonzalez, cannot vote for or against legislation on the House floor. This is unfair for the American citizens on the island who are currently relegated to status as second-class citizens.
Not only is it the right thing to do after the recent vote, but statehood would also be beneficial to both those on the Island and the rest of the United States. As previous territories that became states have shown, including Hawaii and Alaska, becoming a state results in economic prosperity for those new states.
Making Puerto Rico a state would respect the will of the Puerto Rican people, provide true representation for the American citizens on the island, and be of economic benefit for both Puerto Rico and the mainland. Hopefully, Representative Grijalva will support Puerto Rico statehood unequivocally, and move critical legislation out of his committee to help make it happen.
Ray Rios was born in America to Puerto Rican parents and grew up in Puerto Rico from the age of 6. He is now a successful business owner in Tucson.