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Thomas Gallatin / Jun. 12, 2017

Puerto Rico — the 51st State?

Way too much debt, pathetic and deceptive voting numbers, and a Republican Congress all stand in the way.

On Sunday, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico voted on a referendum seeking statehood. In an apparent landslide, an astounding 97% of the votes approved of the measure (more on that below). Ricardo Rossello, Puerto Rico’s governor and a strong supporter of the pro-statehood movement, said, “The United States of America will have to obey the will of our people!” In truth, however, the governor’s statement is more idealized sentiment than it is reality.

There are three factors that should prevent Puerto Rico from becoming the 51st state: bankruptcy, voting numbers and Republicans. First, Puerto Rico has been run by a Democrat-majority legislature for years, and like many Democrat-controlled states, the island finds itself in severe debt to the tune of $72 billion. In fact, it’s on the verge of bankruptcy. For the U.S. to take on a new state with that degree of fiscal irresponsibility is neither appealing nor beneficial to the country at large. Indeed, much of the campaign push for statehood touted federal entitlements such as food stamps as a significant reason to join the U.S. In other words, a vote for handouts — the Democrat way.

Second, as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. While 97% of the votes cast is a massive percentage, it’s not all that it appears. Only 23% of registered Puerto Ricans actually voted, so less than a quarter of the electorate cares enough to vote in favor of joining the Union. A massive counter-campaign opposing statehood had called for people to boycott the vote, which may explain the low turnout number — the lowest percentage of registered voters in Puerto Rico since 1967. It would appear that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans care little about statehood.

Third, the ultimate and biggest factor against the possibility for statehood is the Republican majority in Congress. Puerto Rico is heavily Democrat and with the GOP’s slim majority in the Senate, as well as the fact that the U.S. territory would add seven Democrat Electoral College votes to future presidential elections, the expectation that Republicans would willingly weaken their tenuous hold on power is simply not rational.

It doesn’t look like the U.S. will be adding any more stars to the flag any time soon.

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