11 July 2011

Integration of Puerto Rico as a U.S. State would reduce representation of remaining U.S. states

By Stefan Antonmattei

Territory would gain 5 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives
 and 2 seats in the U.S. Senate seats 

If Puerto Ricans ever voted to become a state of the union, the island could face a formidable opposition from the very large, and very Republican state of Texas. It could also face resistance from another large populated area, the swing-voting state of Florida which in 2004 voted for George W. Bush but in 2008 voted for Pres. (Barack) Obama. Other states that would lose congressional seats, were Puerto Rico to become a state, are California, Washington, and Minnesota.

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Sun, Dr. Dudley L. Poston, Jr., a Texas A&M University professor of sociology said that were Puerto Rico to become a state, the island would gain five U.S. House of Representative seats and two U.S. Senate seats. The study was based on an analysis of the 2010 Census.

“The Congress has the final authority regarding the admission of a new state. Most assume that if Puerto Rico submits a petition for statehood, the House and Senate would pass a resolution authorizing statehood. But I really wonder if the passing of a resolution will be that easy. It will be interesting to see if the senators and representatives from the five states that will lose seats, especially the Republican-voting Texas, and the swing-state of Florida, would favor such a resolution. Texas is a bright red state [Red referring to the color given to represent a Republican state — the governor of Texas, both senators, their legislative body and many of their congressional representatives are Republican]. Seat assignment in the U.S. House is a zero-sum situation. If Puerto Rico (or, for that matter, Washington, D.C.,) became a state, some of the 50 states must necessarily lose seats,” said Dr. Poston.

A White House task force recently recommended that Puerto Rico conduct a plebiscite on its political relationship with the U.S. and decide whether the island wants to remain as a commonwealth, become a state of the U.S., or independent of the U.S. On his June 14 visit to the island, President Obama promised he would support the outcome of the plebiscite. Obama’s “support” for statehood — if that were the result — was conditional on a “substantial majority” of Puerto Ricans voting in favor of statehood. The term “substantial majority” has been used by all former U.S. presidents and congressional leaders with respect to solving the island’s status. The undefined technical definition of a “substantial majority” has never been specified in terms of what exact number or percentage of the vote it would represent.

The U.S. Census Bureau has already determined the distribution of House seats based on data from the 2010 census. According to Dr. Poston’s application of the equal proportions method to the 2010 population data from the Census Bureau, the five states that would lose representatives if Puerto Rico is added as the 51st state are Florida, Washington, Texas, California and Minnesota. Without Puerto Rico as a new state, the 2010 census data show that Texas gains four new seats, Florida two, Washington one, and California and Minnesota none. If Puerto Rico is added as a new state, Texas will only gain three new seats, Florida one, Washington none and California and Minnesota will each lose a seat.

Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico

Both Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. Alaska was seen as rich in natural resources and Hawaii, as a bridge to Asia. The current population of Alaska is 710,000 and Hawaii 1.3 million. Puerto Rico’s population is 3.7 million. Another 4.6 million Puerto Ricans live on the mainland U.S. More than 800,000 Puerto Ricans live in Florida, a key state in the general elections. Of the 308.7 million Americans living in the states, 50.5 million (16 percent) are Hispanics.

“Statehood has its benefits, both for Puerto Rico and, to a certain degree, for Obama and the Democrats. Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. tend to vote Democratic in presidential elections, particularly in New York where the bulk of the 4.6 million mainland Puerto Ricans live. But this is not the case for Florida where more than 800,000 Puerto Ricans live,” said Dr. Poston.

“Since it is unlikely that the House will increase its number of seats beyond 435, seat assignment is a zero-sum game. If a new state is added, there will not be an increase in the number of House seats. One exception to this rule occurred with the admission of Alaska and Hawaii. For one session of Congress there were 438 seats (one for Alaska and two for Hawaii). However, with the results from the next census in 1960, the House reverted back to its basic number of 435 seats. I doubt that this will occur again, that is, that Congress will allow a temporary increase of more seats for Puerto Rico prior to the 2020 census, and then revert back to 435 seats after the new (2020) census data are issued,” said Dr. Poston.

Recent plebiscites in Puerto Rico
The last two status plebiscites in Puerto Rico, held in 1998 and in 1993 — both held under the pro-statehood administration of Gov. Pedro Rosselló — did not result in a substantial majority for any particular status, be it statehood, commonwealth, or independence. In the 1998 plebiscite an option under the auspices of the pro-commonwealth status Popular Democratic Party named “None of the Above” (Ninguna de las Anteriores) won 50.3 percent (787,900 votes); the pro-statehood garnered 46.5 percent (728,157 votes); and the pro independence party won 2.5 percent (39,838 votes).

In the 1993 plebiscite, the pro-commonwealth position won with 48.6 percent (826,326 votes) versus 46.3 percent (788,296 votes) for statehood, and 4.4 percent (75,620) for independence.

The last plebiscite held in Puerto Rico was in July 2005. Only 22 percent of the more than 2 million registered voters participated. On that date 83.8 percent of the voters (464,010) voted to reduce the legislative body from two chambers to one, and only 16 percent (88,733) voted to keep the current system. To date, nothing has been done about it.

Dr. Poston is a demographer and professor of sociology in the College of Arts at Texas A&M University in College Station. He is also a Guest Professor of Demography at the People’s University in Beijing, China and a Guest Professor of Cultural Studies and Sociology at Fuzhou University, also in China. Prior to Texas A&M, Dr. Poston was a professor at Cornell University and at the University of Texas at Austin. His research interests include demography, human ecology, and the sociology of gender, with a special attention to the populations of China, Taiwan, and Korea. Earlier in his career, he studied the Hispanic population in the U.S. In 1968 he obtained his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Oregon. Dr. Poston is a Vietnam veteran where he served as a 1st Lieutenant and Captain and where he was awarded a Bronze Star.

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