Statehood for Puerto Rico?

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tags: statehood, Puerto Rico

Even if Puerto Rico votes “yes,” Congress must still pass a law in order to change the island’s legal status from that of a commonwealth to a state. Congress, however, seems likely to drag its feet. That’s what happened when Hawaii became a state in the 1950s – an experience that offers some interesting and relevant parallels to the Puerto Rican case.

Like Puerto Rico today, Hawaii was a developed place when its residents applied for statehood. This is in contrast with some earlier states like Ohio and Wyoming that were carved out of sparsely populated territories. Hawaii’s population in the 1950s – just under half a million – was greater than that of several other states, something that is true for Puerto Rico today.

As novelist James Michener observed, “Hawaii is by far the most advanced state culturally that has ever been admitted to the Union.” Michener was referring to the high number of firmly established schools, churches, libraries and museums there – something Puerto Rico can also boast about.

Other parallels between the two include a location outside the continental U.S. and a diverse population in terms of race and ethnicity.

Of those two points, the second was the one that drummed up resistance to admitting Hawaii as state among the strongly conservative white southern Democrats who ran Congress for most of the 1950s. These so-called Dixiecrats feared that to admit multiracial Hawaii would likely lead to two more votes in the Senate for civil rights laws and for cutting off southern filibusters against such legislation.

As a result, the first major effort to pass a law admitting Hawaii came only after the 1952 elections. In that election cycle, the Republicans rode Dwight Eisenhower’s coattails and succeeded in winning narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate. But the statehood bill failed to pass during the period of GOP control in 1953-54, due to intense southern Democratic resistance to admitting Hawaii alone, and the Eisenhower administration’s rejection of a compromise that would have admitted mostly white Alaska first.

Read entire article at The Conversation

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