Opinion

Romney in Puerto Rico: a case study in political pandering

Photo of Robert G. de Posada
Robert G. de Posada
Founder, Latinos for Reform

In Puerto Rico, for the price of 20 delegates, Mitt Romney sold out his conservative principles.

There is a long history of Congress requiring English to be the language of government and schools for territories seeking to be admitted to the Union — e.g., Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma. For all of the territories that had large non-English speaking populations, Congress announced before the territories voted on the question of statehood that a change in language policy would be a prerequisite for statehood. In the case of Puerto Rico, where according to the latest Census only 15% of residents are fluent in English, the English language requirement is common sense. Puerto Rico operates its government, courts and public schools in Spanish, which sets it apart from the 50 existing states.

On Thursday, Romney called a radio station in San Juan (Noti-Uno) for an interview with a local reporter. When asked if he would support requiring that English became the principal language of government as part of a petition for statehood, Romney said no. When asked if he thought the legislature should have English as the principal language, once again Romney said no. He even opposed requiring English in the courts and public schools.

In Louisiana and Alabama, Mitt Romney is for English as the official language of the United States. In 2008, when Romney sought the GOP nomination, he was upfront about his opposition to bilingual education and his support for ending it in Massachusetts. But in Puerto Rico, he is a strong advocate of bilingualism and opposes requiring the state to make English the principal language of the legislature, courts and public schools. This only makes sense in the Romney World of Flip Flops.

But Romney took it a step further. He stated that a simple majority of 50% + 1 was enough for him to aggressively support statehood for Puerto Rico. As Rick Santorum said during his trip to Puerto Rico, “We need a significant majority supporting statehood before it’s considered. Why would we want a state where nearly half of its residents do not want to be part of the Union?”

Santorum should be commended for staying true to his conservative principles even when it was not politically convenient. Santorum could have pandered to the pro-statehood governor of Puerto Rico in order to get the 20 delegates at stake, but instead the former senator spoke the truth and told Puerto Rican voters a reality they needed to hear. Immediately after, Romney’s campaign started attacking Santorum and maliciously twisting his comments, telling voters that the former senator was advocating “English-only” and was against Spanish.

Let’s be clear: No one is talking about forcing people to speak English at home, or at their businesses or in church. The idea is that English should be the common language of the entire country and the key institutions of government should have English as their principal language. Currently, if an English-speaking American goes to a state government agency in Puerto Rico, or to a court proceeding or a public school, she will need a translator, because everything is run in Spanish. Puerto Rico even receives an exemption from the English testing requirements of federal education law. If Puerto Rico’s residents want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state in the Union, local elected officials must begin the transition to having English as the common language.