By Luis Figueroa
While it seems like the 2020 elections just ended, the midterm election campaigning will ramp up over the course of the summer and into the fall, particularly given that control of both chambers of Congress are up for grabs. One of the most competitive races in the country will be here in Florida, where Senator Marco Rubio is running for re-election to the Senate.
As the campaign ramps up, there are critical voting blocs that Senator Rubio, and his likely competitors, will begin working to win over. Given the size and diversity of the state, there is a multitude of different voting blocs that candidates will work to persuade, including seniors, who lean Republican, and young professionals living in the many populous urban centers, who lean towards the middle/left ideology. Additionally, one key voting bloc that is up for grabs is the state's growing Latino population.
We saw the importance of this demographic in 2020, when then-President Trump and the current Senator Rick Scott were able to garner a larger percentage of Latino voters in critical states like Florida and Texas than any “expert” predicted. So as Senator Rubio looks to build on the gains made by Trump & Scott, he must speak to issues that the Latino’s in the state care about, and one critical issue is the political status of Puerto Rico.
Florida has the largest concentration of Puerto Rican residents on the mainland. This is because many who were born on the island moved stateside in search of a better life and more economic opportunities, and the Florida economy has been booming. Additionally, many came after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and others came to join their friends and family who had come before them.
Ironically, what many of those who came to Florida seeking, could have been found in Puerto Rico if Congress would finally move to make Puerto Rico a state.
Puerto Rico’s current territory status limits economic investments, as businesses face uncertainty about the island’s ultimate status. This contributes to a lack of good, high-paying jobs on the island. Additionally, many in Puerto Rico are frustrated because they have to abide by the laws established by Congress, but only have one non-voting representative in the entire legislative body. And while they must abide by federal rules and regulations, they can't yet vote for president.
The majority of Puerto Ricans in Florida support statehood for the island, making this a winning campaign issue. But more importantly, Puerto Rico should become the 51st state not because it would be politically expedient for members of either party, but rather because we are facing a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico treating our fellow American citizens as 2nd class citizens.
Those in Puerto Rico have gone to the polls three times since 2012 to vote on their political status. In 2012, statehood got over 60% support when voters were asked to choose between statehood, independence, or independence with free association. In 2020, Puerto Ricans again went to the polls and were asked a straightforward question, whether they supported statehood for the island, and again the majority said yes. So, it's discriminatory that Congress, which has jurisdiction over Puerto Rico’s status, has yet to take action on the will of the majority of the island's voters. Congress represents Democracy, leadership and commitment to a better tomorrow, the time to act is now.
Senator Marco Rubio understands the importance of supporting statehood for Puerto Rico. At a recent event where the issue of Puerto Rico’s status came up, both Senators Rubio and Scott agreed that statehood is the best solution for Puerto Rico. Yet, words without action don't mean much to voters. The most powerful action Senator Rubio can take now is to co-sponsor S. 780, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act. This is not only the just thing to do but would also help him show the growing number of Puerto Rican voters in Florida that he is a man of his word ahead of his reelection campaign next year.
As the Sentinel highlighted during the 2020 elections, Florida could play an outsized role regarding Puerto Rico's path to statehood. This continues to be true for the 2022 elections.
Luis Figueroa is the Principal and Founder of Gold Bridge Realty, and former Regional Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration.