Puerto Rico pro-statehood group releases national ad

Puerto Rico pro-statehood group releases national ad
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A pro-statehood group linked to Puerto Rico released a TV ad for the mainland market on Tuesday, just days after voters on the island overwhelmingly chose statehood in a nonbinding referendum.

"This ad highlights the unified voice of the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico, their dedication to this great country, and their desire for statehood," said Jose Fuentes Agostini, the chairman of the Federal Plebiscite Educational Program, which is responsible for the ad.

The ad makes the case for statehood, arguing that it would benefit all Americans by putting the 3.4-million-strong territory on a level playing field with states.

The ad will be released with an initial low-six figure buy in the D.C. market, with plans to expand its reach.
 
In Sunday's vote, 97 percent of voters picked statehood over the alternatives, free association or independence (1.5 percent) and the current territorial status (1.32 percent).

But opposition parties boycotted the vote, and its validity has been sharply criticized.

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The strongest pushback came from proponents of free association or commonwealth status — Puerto Rico's current designation — who said the island's pro-statehood government had put its thumb on the scale.

Voter participation in Puerto Rican elections, traditionally higher than in the states, has been trending down in recent years. Voter participation on Sunday was 23 percent, according to San Juan newspaper El Nuevo Dia.

And the referendum was just short of being federally sanctioned.

An initial proposal for a ballot presented by Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) was rejected in April by the Department of Justice. Rosselló then changed the ballot to reflect the DOJ's proposals.

While Rosselló followed DOJ guidelines, the vote was already scheduled and federal authorities did not have time to review and approve the new ballot before the polls opened.

Still, with the wide majority of votes cast, statehooders are gearing up to mount a campaign to get the results recognized in Washington.

"We are excited to be on the airwaves, and believe strongly in our cause," said Fuentes.

Under a law signed by Rosselló shortly before the vote, the Puerto Rican government will name two senators and five congressmen to go to Washington and demand to be seated.

That's a modern adaptation of what's known as the Tennessee Plan, the process by which Tennessee and several other territories were admitted as states based on local elections.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), who chairs the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, said there's no plan to receive the Puerto Rican delegation because the timeline for its arrival isn't yet clear.
 
LaMalfa's subcommittee has jurisdiction over territorial affairs and the congressionally-appointed Fiscal Control Board that has control over Puerto Rico's finances.
 
LaMalfa added that the priority for Congress with respect to Puerto Rico is to address the fiscal situation, especially given the low voter turnout.
 
But the plan's proponents argue the island's financial woes can only be resolved through a change in status, and say statehood is the only viable such change.

The island is in a decade-long recession and has lost about 10 percent of its population to the mainland, leading to increased social welfare costs for states like Florida, Texas, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York.

"The bottom line: Puerto Rican statehood would benefit all Americans, and [we'll] continue making that case to our fellow citizens and our elected officials in Washington," said Fuentes.

Updated: 2:52 p.m.