Two intersecting events occurred in this past election which ought to raise a most interesting question for the coming Congress. The first was, naturally, the Presidential election itself, wherein incumbent Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney, in no small part by winning almost 70% of the Latino vote -- prompting many Republican pundits to speak of how their party must remake itself in a more Latino-friendly image, or face its doom as a party in the face of rejection by that demographic, which is now the fastest-growing population of American voters. The second event is the passage by the first-ever majority vote in a referendum on statehood for the Latino territory of Puerto Rico. In that referendum, sixty-one percent backed statehood, nearly doubling the thirty-three percent who voted for a loosening of ties, and dwarfing the five percent who sought disunion. Now, some will surely crab about the meaning of the vote in light of the two-question ballot, which sought to disentangle those who wanted no change from those who wanted some kind of change -- forty-six percent voted in that first ballot to maintain the status quo, though a clear majority desired some kind of change. But for those who wish a reason to consider moving the statehood debate to the national level, the die has been cast solidly enough.

And here is where these issues intersect, for the ball is in the Republican's court, as it were. The Republican Party can both get ahead of the question and be perceived as favorable to that Latino population by pushing for statehood. Unquestionably, there are some counterintuitive notions in that proposition. In fact, the official position of the last three Republican presidential candidates -- Romney, John McCain before him, and George W. Bush -- has been to favor the admission of Puerto Rico as a state. Now, there are likely a great many rank-and-file Republicans who loathe the concept of admitting to the Union a state with a dominant Latino culture (never mind that New Mexico is now such a state, and several others in that region will soon be, as well). There are, after all, genuine racists -- in both parties, but more concentrated on the Republican side of things. And there are non-racists whose legitimate concern that Puerto Rico will instantly supplant Mississippi as 'the poorest state' will be interpreted as racism naetheless. And at a more macroscopic level, it is arguable that in the short term, such a vote would add to the likely Democratic electoral count and increase the seats held by Democrats in Congress.

But the number of votes at issue there is far less than the number of electoral votes and Congressional seats to be lost in the face of a consistently hostile Latino population. And though no new state has been admitted to the United States for half a century, history teaches us that there are different ways that the perceived electoral effects might be addressed -- perhaps balancing out the new admission by the creation of a new state within the Union crafted by carving off a similarly-sized slice of the Texas panhandle, or from the comparatively conservative Idaho-bordering stretches along the Eastern ends of Washington and Oregon. We've made states through such mechanisms before, and can do it again.

However it is accomplished, the admission of Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state is now more a matter of 'when' than 'if.' And, unlike immigration reform, it is something which can be accomplished quickly, sharply, without a great deal of haggling over policy minutiae, something which will make a big and historic and well-remembered splash in the news. Something that will possibly reverse some of the perception of hostility to Latinos which was taken from Republican opposition to Obama's first Supreme Court pick, the coincidentally Puerto Rican (by way of New York) Sonia Sotomayor. This may well end up being a pushback issue, where weaker spirits prevail, but the best thing the Republican Party can do for its brand right now is to lead the charge in support of admitting Puerto Rico as an equal participant in the Union.



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