After months of rescue and recovery, a Harvard University study reported that more than 4,600 people may have died as a result of Hurricane Maria – far above the fewer-than-100 number originally reported. Therefore, Puerto Rico should become a state, according to CNN.
“In the wake of Hurricane Maria, the island territory of Puerto Rico is making a new push to become a state within the next three years,” according to a CNN story.
It then quoted Puerto Rico’s non-voting representative in the U.S. House, resident commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who introduced a bill this week that calls for Puerto Rico to transform from a territory to a state by 2021.
“The catastrophe left behind by Hurricanes Irma and Maria unmasked the reality of the unequal treatment of the Americans living in Puerto Rico, forcing the Executive to approve waivers and Congress to make exceptions so that we could receive help,” Gonzalez-Colon said in a statement. “My colleagues saw firsthand the effects of this unequal treatment due solely to our territorial situation. Statehood is nothing else than Equality; and this Admission Act provides the means to put into effect the values of democracy and respect upon which our nation is built.”
It did not report that all states get special dispensation from Congress after hurricanes, that presidents routinely declare disaster areas and take other measures to free up aid or that the New York Times said federal aid had “eased” its “financial situation.”
Similarly, CNN says 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood in a nonbinding referendum last year, and it even admits that “only 23 percent of voters cast a ballot.” But it does not mention the turnout itself represented a victory for statehood opponents. Voter turnout in Puerto Rico averages better than 80 percent but was 60 percent or so below normal because opponents of statehood and of Gonzalez-Colon’s bill organized a boycott of the election.
Opponents called for the boycott because it purported to measure whether residents preferred to remain a commonwealth or become a state, but the ballot for the plebiscite did not offer voters the choice of remaining a commonwealth. The ballot offered only statehood, independence or nationhood in free association with the United States.
CNN left some other assertions unchallenged as well.
Gonzalez-Colon told the network: “For some issues, we are considered a domestic territory, for others we are a foreign country. Those differences in federal law have to end. If not, the economic situation and the civil rights issues will not improve until we put a stop to this.”
It did not note that many of those differences favor Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans pay for Social Security, but beyond that, only U.S. government employees there have to pay income tax. Almost all money taxed in Puerto Rico – and it’s a lot; residents pay a 33 percent income tax, and the island’s 11.5 percent sales tax is the nation’s highest – stays in Puerto Rico.
Even then, its $9 billion budget is not balanced, and it has not paid bondholders for five years. Opponents say $5 billion in tax revenue would be lost if Puerto Rico becomes a state.
Finally, CNN does not challenge Gonzalez-Colon’s assertion that Puerto Rico would be a battleground state electorally. It pointed out that Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s governor, met President Trump at the White House to make the case for statehood and Trump joked the process would go quickly because “Ricardo is going to guarantee us two Republican senators.”
But this is not the case. The names provide a hint – almost all its residents are split between the Popular Democratic Party and the New Progressive Party.
Moreover, Puerto Rico is a demographic that seems ripe for Democrats. Fewer than a quarter speak fluent English, 40 percent are below the federal poverty line and 70 percent access federal health care.
“They’re all Democrats down there,” said Hector Ferrer, president of the Popular Democratic Party. “If Puerto Rico becomes a state, you will two Democratic senators and five Democratic members of the House.”