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Florida candidates must pledge statehood for Puerto Rico - if they want our vote

Mendez-Nunez
Mendez-Nunez

The Florida political primaries are over. The Republican and Democratic parties have selected their official candidates for the governorship, as well as for the United States Senate and House of Representatives, among other positions.

If the winners want the support from the PuertoRican in November, they must pledge themselves to the admission of the island as the fifty-first state of our nation; anything else will be unacceptable.

The candidates have to pay very close attention to the needs of our community because for the first time in history, the American citizens of the U.S. Territory of PuertoRico will have the opportunity to directly influence the results of an election. Unfortunately, that power rests with those living in the Sunshine State, not in their homeland. That’s why we need statehood now, we are entitled to the same rights as any other U.S. citizen.

The ever-growing political power of PuertoRicansin Florida, now nearly a million and representing 29 percent of all Hispanic registered voters, could very well decide the election, both in the state level, as well as on the national scene. This means both candidates aspiring to reach Tallahassee in January 2019, Republican Ron deSantisand Democrat Andrew Gillum, must devote time and energy to our community.

Before endorsing any of them, each one has to publicly express his position regarding our admission. We will not accept anything less. In the very important U.S. Senate race, current governor Rick Scott has been outspoken regarding the need for Congress to grant equal rights to PuertoRicansthrough statehood. He is clear that admission into the Union is the only path to achieve a better quality of life for the U.S. citizens in PuertoRico. Our community in Florida knows his position. While Democrat Bill Nelson, who did not face a primary challenge this week, has yet to be as blunt.

Interestingly enough, control of the Senate may rest in Florida’s result and PuertoRicanscould decide the matter.

On the House side, of the state’s 27 seats, only between two and five are actually in play in the fall. Of those, Florida District 26, held by Representative Carlos Curbelo(R), are the two most contested races. District 27 is located in the Miami-Dade, which has seen a steady infusion of PuertoRicansduring the last year, mainly due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Maríain September 2017. The same applies in a lesser degree, to the 26th, a predominant Democratic district, currently held by a Republican. To win either of those seats, the candidates must gather all the support they can, that’s why our community could be a major factor.

I urge PuertoRicansliving in Florida not to accept any more promises or ambiguous statements from the candidates; only strong and clear support for statehood for the island could be accepted. This is the first time in history we can change the road to the White House in 2020. We have the historic opportunity to alter the composition of the next Congress; to select men and women that will support our admission, the right and fair path for all U.S. citizens in PuertoRico. We cannot, and we will not accept anything less than that.

The U.S. citizens in PuertoRico have suffered more than a century of colonial rule by the Congress and the White House — enough is enough.

Action must be taken and this election marks an unprecedented step towards the goal of statehood. The will of the people of the island expressed free and democratically in the ballot box in 2012 and 2017 must be granted.

Carlos “Johnny” Mendez-Nuñez is Speaker of the Puerto Rico State House of Representatives.

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