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Puerto Rico: A Survey Of CT’s Leading Democrats On Their Views

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Last month, CTLatinoNews.com contributor David Medina  wrote an opinion piece where he stated that liberal politicians should be asked on the record several questions regarding Puerto Rico.   Among them, if Puerto Rican residents should have the sovereignty to determine their political status, including statehood; and about the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, known as the Jones Act, which forces products going into Puerto Rico be brought in by U.S. ships, increasing the cost of goods on the island.

Since the column specifically asked only liberals to take a clear stance on various governmental and economic  issues that have been only heightened in the nearly ten months since Hurricane Maria leveled the island and because this issue is of great interest to our readers,  CTLatinoNews decided to survey the state’s five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and its two U.S. Senators as well as the two Democratic gubernatorial candidates  on the questions posed in the column  (http://ctlatinonews.com/2018/06/14/op-ed-time-for-liberals-to-lay-their-cards-on-the-table-about-puerto-rico/) .

The questions posed required a Yes or No answer and explanation if they desired. They are:

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?
  2. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume — yes or no?
  3. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?
  4. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?
  5. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?
  6. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?
  7. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

We are pleased to offer our readers their  unedited responses, and in the exact same format as received by CTLatinoNews.com, so you  can make  your own determination on their views.

United States Senator Christopher Murphy (seeking re-election this year)

Puerto Ricans are Americans, and Congress needs to do what’s best for our fellow citizens. The current political status of Puerto Rico inhibits the Puerto Rican people from freely and fully participating in American life. The political status of Puerto Rico is not for me to decide – it’s a question for the citizens of the island. But I simply don’t believe that Puerto Rico can ever truly succeed economically if they continue to suffer second class status within the U.S. Congress. With no vote in Congress, and no ability to make up for the intentional lack of investment to which Washington has subjected Puerto Rico, there is little chance that the island’s economy can take off.

Now, we must do all we can to help Puerto Rico recover from last year’s devastating hurricanes, and I’ll continue to push for funding as a member of the Appropriations Committee. I was very skeptical of the extremely low initial death toll estimates offered by government officials. I support efforts to investigate the discrepancy between current and original estimates and to provide a full accounting of the true human toll of the hurricanes. In the immediate aftermath of the storms, I supported the temporary waiver of the Jones Act after hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall to speed up the shipment of critical supplies, but I continue to support the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 because it still supports critical U.S. maritime and shipbuilding capabilities while protecting national security interests.

And Congress must stand up for Puerto Rico in the ongoing debt crisis, which will only be made more difficult after the storms. Like then-Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and then-Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla, I supported creating the Financial Management and Oversight Board in 2016 through the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA). At that time, Puerto Rico’s gross public debt was reported at $72.2 billion, and Governor Padilla stated in a televised address that “the debt is not payable.” I continue to closely scrutinize the board’s activity to ensure that Puerto Rico has every tool it needs to recover from the hurricanes.

United States Senator Richard Blumenthal (not up for re-election this year)

Having visited Puerto Rico twice since Hurricane Maria, I have seen first hand the deep devastation and ongoing humanitarian crisis there. Congress has a duty to ensure the federal government fulfills its obligations to our fellow American citizens on the island—including assuring that Puerto Ricans are afforded the same rights enjoyed by all other Americans.

Long-term investments in Puerto Rico’s infrastructure are needed now—in reliable energy, water, schools, hospitals, transportation and other vital facilities necessary to a modern, functioning economy. I am an original co-sponsor of S.2165, the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2017. This comprehensive bill would instruct the federal government to immediately address these humanitarian challenges by mobilizing all necessary resources and assets to restore power, provide clean food and drinking water, safe shelter, and access to health care.

I have serious concerns regarding the Fiscal Control Board’s role, and Congress must act to ensure no federal relief funds are diverted to paying creditors.

The Trump Administration must be held accountable for its shameful response, directly contributing to thousands of deaths on the island. I have co-sponsored legislation to establish a National Commission to investigate the federal response to ensure these failures are never repeated, and that Puerto Rico receives the long-term rebuilding assistance it is owed.

Rep. John Larson (1st District)

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?

I believe that when it comes to the political status of the island, it must be the residents of Puerto Rico who determine that direction and the U.S. Congress and Executive Branch should respect that decision.  I personally have supported legislation providing a path for Puerto Rico to become a state should they choose to proceed, but ultimately it is up to voters on the island to choose their path and for the U.S. government to respect their choice.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume — yes or no?

Particularly in the wake of the devastating hurricanes, I think we must be doing everything we can to help the island rebuild and assist families in resuming their lives in the wake of this humanitarian tragedy.  I supported the temporary waiver of the Jones Act in the wake of the hurricanes to allow expedited delivery of goods to the island to respond to the emergency and favor continuations of those types of waivers if needed.  The Jones Act has played a key role in our national security as all vessels traveling between U.S. ports have to be vetted by the Department of Homeland Security, it ensures that we maintain robust domestic maritime capacity, and it protects our nation’s economy and thus I have not been supportive of its repeal.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

I have long advocated allowing Puerto Rico the same bankruptcy protections that every other state has and cosponsored and pushed for legislation to that effect to allow Puerto Rico to restructure its debts.  Republican leadership however refused to bring that bill to the floor.  At the time it passed, I said that the PROMESA Act is not the bill that I would have drafted, and the inclusion of the Fiscal Control Board is in large part why I said that.  Republicans, who controlled both the House and Senate, only allowed for a path forward to Puerto Rico restructuring their debts with the a Fiscal Control Board included.  In fact many House Republicans (103 to be precise), voted against the bill because they either felt like Puerto Rico shouldn’t be helped at all or that the Fiscal Control Board wasn’t stringent enough.

I will continue to fight to make sure Puerto Rico has the ability to resolve its economic crisis, compounded by the hurricanes, and will also continue to advocate for issues not addressed in PROMESA like Medicare and Medicaid disparities, access to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and importantly, continued disaster relief.   Unfortunately however, Republican leadership has given no indication that they will take up these types of commonsense measures along with putting to a vote other important issues like addressing gun violence, improving and enhancing Social Security, and robust infrastructure improvements.

4. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or   no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

As stated above I believe that Puerto Rico should have access to the same bankruptcy protections all other states have.

  1. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?

Yes.

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

I support an investigation of the federal response to the Hurricane Maria, including the discrepancies that have come to light in terms of the way that the number of deaths resulting from the hurricane were reported.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it? Please see answer to question 1.

 

Rep. Joe Courtney (2nd District)

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?

Yes, I believe that decisions about the governance of Puerto Rico should ultimately fall to the people of Puerto Rico to decide. I believe it is time for Congress to permit the people of Puerto Rico to decide what the island’s status should be.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume — yes or no?

No. I do, however, support temporary waivers when needed, such as in hurricanes and other emergencies.

Note: Jones Act does not require all goods shipped to Puerto Rico to be carried on US vessels. It required that goods carried between two US ports be shipped on US vessels. The island is serviced by foreign shipping vessels as well. GAO found in a 2011 report that two-thirds of the ships that bring goods to Puerto Rico were foreign vessels. Further, studies by the GAO have found no evidence that the Jones Act increases the costs of delivering cargo to Puerto Rico via US vessels.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

Yes, while I continue to support the temporary fiscal oversight board established under PROMESA to make difficult decisions about Puerto Rico’s finances, I would like to see the board dissolved after its mandate is achieved.

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

Yes, I support Puerto Rican statehood should that be what the people of Puerto Rico ultimately choose for themselves.

  1. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?

Yes

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

I support a full investigation of government’s handling of rescue and recovery efforts in the aftermath of the 2017 hurricane season.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

As stated in question 1, I believe that decisions about the governance of Puerto Rico should ultimately fall to the people of Puerto Rico to decide. I believe it is time for Congress to permit the people of Puerto Rico to decide what the island’s status should be. I support statehood for Puerto Rico if that’s what citizens on the island ultimately choose for themselves.

 

Rep. Rosa DeLauro (3rd District)

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did? — yes or no?

Yes.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume by as much as 50 percent — yes or no?

This law helps to preserve American jobs and our national security. The Act does not restrict foreign goods from being shipped to Puerto Rico from foreign nations—it merely prohibits foreign shipping companies from moving goods between the United States mainland and Puerto Rico. I understand the concerns people have about the Jones Act. However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) studied the effect of the Act on Puerto Rico and reported that modifying the Act might not lead to lower shipping prices for Puerto Rico, but could have a horrible effect on US shipping companies. I do support a temporary waiver in times of emergency.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

No. Although the Fiscal Control Board is imperfect, and not the debt-restructuring measure I would have liked to see, it was necessary to gain bankruptcy-like protections in other parts of Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which is the law that established this board.

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

Yes. Nevertheless, even if the majority in this Congress was willing to act, they would not do so until Puerto Rico clearly states their desire to become part of the Union.

  1. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?

Yes. The audit will help us understand how this debt was accumulated and what measures we can take for the future to ensure an economically sound Puerto Rico.

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

Yes.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

No. This determination should be left up to the people of Puerto Rico.

 

Rep. Jim Himes (4th District)

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?

Yes. I will support the will of the people of Puerto Rico – U.S. citizens, the vast majority of whom have voted for statehood – should a bill conferring a status change on the territory come before the House of Representatives for my consideration and vote.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume by as much as 50 percent — yes or no?

This is a broader conversation. I have supported suspending the Jones Act temporarily during natural disasters – including most recently last year during Hurricane Maria. Regarding a full repeal, I would need to see a specific legislative proposal. Currently, one exists in the Senate – sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), but no such legislation exists in the House.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

No. Creation of the Fiscal Control Board was a negotiated provision included in the bill – PROMESA, which I voted for – that allowed Puerto Rico to begin restructuring its debt while ensuring vital social services continue. While I don’t agree with all of the Board’s recommendations, I believe that it is critical to sustaining Puerto Rico’s long-term fiscal health. I also believe that repealing it would amount to reneging on a negotiated compromise.

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

Yes. I believe if the people of Puerto Rico support statehood, which they overwhelmingly do, then Congress must bring forth and vote on legislation to grant it that status. I don’t believe there is a realistic course to achieve this change given the current makeup of the House of Representatives.

5. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?

Yes.

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

Yes.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

No. I fully support the will of the people

Rep. Elizabeth Esty (5th District, not seeking re-election)

There are vibrant Puerto Rican communities across Connecticut, with many families still having direct ties back to the island. Nine months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the people of Puerto Rico are still continuing to rebuild their lives.  Congress has failed to address the seriousness of the situation and to provide the necessary aid vital to their recovery. We have a moral duty and obligation to support and assist fellow American citizens, no matter the situation.

Despite the setback Puerto Rico has faced in the last year, it is imperative that Congress recognize and honor the will of the people and their political priorities regarding statehood. As Puerto Rican citizens are American citizens, Congress should uphold its duty to carry out the will of the people and support the results of these elections. While it is important to balance the needs of families, communities, and businesses here, it is vital that Congress and President Trump come together to address the very real concerns and have a critical dialogue on the top priorities of the citizens of Puerto Rico.

 

Ned Lamont /Democratic organization endorsed candidate for Governor

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?

Yes, the Puerto Rican people should freely decide how to govern themselves.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume by as much as 50 percent — yes or no?

Yes, if this guarantees Puerto Rico more buying power for purchasing goods at a lower cost.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

Yes, after Puerto Rico has stabilized its financial deficit.

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes or no — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

Yes, Congress could pass enabling statutes granting Puerto Rico the same benefits as other states. The Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico can work in conjunction with other Congress members to petition support for such enabling law.

  1. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity — yes or no?

Yes

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

Yes, there are many unanswered questions to the loss of life on the island estimate over 4K deaths.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

There are a lot of pros and cons, but ultimately is the people’s choice.

Joseph Ganim/ Democratic candidate for Governor

  1. Do you support granting Puerto Rico political sovereignty so that its citizens can freely decide how they want to govern themselves, in the same way that the original 13 American colonies did — yes or no?

Yes.  The people of Puerto Rico should be able to determine its own future, whether that is statehood, independence, or the continuation of protectorate status under the fiscal umbrella of the United States.

  1. Do you support the repeal of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, otherwise known as the Jones Act, requiring that all goods shipped to Puerto Rico be carried on U.S. vessels, thereby increasing the cost of everything Puerto Ricans consume by as much as 50 percent — yes or no?

Yes.  There is simply no reason for the Jones Act to even be on the books, it causes nothing but more shipping restrictions and higher import costs for Puerto Rico.  It is a huge drag on the Puerto Rican economy.

  1. Do you support abolishing the Fiscal Control Board that oversees Puerto Rico — yes or no?

Yes, provided the Puerto Rican government can budget in a way that is stable and that there will be enough revenues coming in so that the government does not slip into a fiscal crisis without the financial oversight and accountability.  As a mayor who also had to deal with a financial review board when my predecessor in Bridgeport put the city under bankruptcy, I know how counterproductive these boards can be.  Puerto Rico has more than enough home grown talent to figure out a way out of its financial challenges.

4. Do you support granting Puerto Rico voting and funding equity, including bankruptcy protection, with the 50 states — yes         or  no  — and, if yes, is there a realistic course that would achieve this change?

Yes.  Puerto Ricans are American citizens and their government should have all the tools at its disposal to balance and stabilize their budget.  Bankruptcy protection is a major one of those tools so the government can find a way to pay back debts it has amassed (due to radically unfair and exploitative tax structures with companies doing business on the island) without imposing such severe austerity measures that the lives of these American citizens are put in jeopardy.  If bankruptcy protection is a tool that every state and city in the USA has available, why is it not good enough for Puerto Rico?  A realistic path forward towards establishing this as law for the island is twofold: 1) federal legislation establishing voting and fiscal equity for Puerto Rico in coordination with 2) a federal legal strategy challenging as unconstitutional these laws such as the Jones Act and the lack of availability of bankruptcy protection as harmful to citizens of the United States and a violation of the Equal Protection Clause embodied in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

5. Do you support conducting an audit of the $70 billion bond debt to determine its validity  — yes or no?

Yes.  The amount of debt incurred by the government of Puerto Rico – that its disadvantaged citizens are now stuck paying for and suffering for greatly – is a direct result of unfair and exploitative tax deals struck between major American manufacturers and the government of Puerto Rico that resulted in oversized profits for these companies and an unfairly low tax burden on the corporations.  When these one sided deals were over, the companies simply pulled up stakes and left the island with little choice but to enter into loans with very high interest rates just in order to deliver services and make payroll.  These loans would most likely be illegal anywhere else in the United States but because Puerto Rico has an artificially high cost of doing business due to restrictions such as the Jones Act and not the same financial protections as US states do, these predatory lending firms were allowed to come in and offer loans they knew the revenue-starved government would have very little chance of paying back.

  1. Do you support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate how government officials tallied and responded to the loss of life in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — yes or no?

I would support a full investigation of the incompetent and criminally negligent federal response to the Hurricane Maria disaster in Puerto Rico.  Best structure would be something similar to the 9/11 commission – full hearings in public with subpoena power to call to account those in charge of the government response.  If things rise to a criminal level, then this commission should have the authority to refer matters to federal prosecutors for potential criminal charges.

  1. Is there a benefit for Puerto Rico to remain a colony of the United States – — yes or no — and if yes, what is it?

I think Puerto Rico is a vital part of the United States and its association with the mainland should be a positive one – but the status of Puerto Rico needs to be determined by the people of Puerto Rico.

 

 

 

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