This Saturday, Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley will visit Puerto Rico to meet with residents of the U.S. territory and talk policy with the island’s political leaders, his campaign confirmed this morning to Latino Rebels. O’Malley would become the first 2016 Democratic candidate to visit Puerto Rico on an official campaign stop. (Republican Jeb Bush made a visit in April, before he announced his run for the GOP nomination.) Although Puerto Ricans cannot vote in federal elections, the island’s Democratic primary is tentatively scheduled for next June.
The decision by the O’Malley campaign to visit the island Saturday reflects a strategy where the former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor has taken the lead on relevant issues to U.S. Latino voters. Puerto Rico has become one of those central issues as a result of more and more Puerto Ricans leaving the island in recent years and moving to swing states like Florida. Just this morning, the Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of the country’s top Latino organizations, held a three-city press conference about the need for more federal attention to Puerto Rico.
“Governor O’Malley has proven that he will lead on Puerto Rico not just with words, but with actions,” Gabriela Domenzain, the O’Malley campaign’s Director of Public Engagement, told Latino Rebels this morning. “From being the first to advocate for specific solutions to help Puerto Rico emerge from their financial crisis, to being the first in the field to visit the island, Puerto Ricans can rest assured that the well-being of our fellow citizens on the island will be front and center in Governor O’Malley’s campaign, and the White House.”
According to the campaign, O’Malley will begin his August 1 visit at an assisted living facility, where he will discuss inequities in health care for Puerto Ricans living on the island. Later, O’Malley is scheduled to meet with Resident Commissioner (and Democrat) Pedro Pierluisi, who heads up the island’s pro-statehood party and is also a non-voting member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In June, O’Malley was the first Democratic presidential candidate to support Pierluisi’s House bill that would give Chapter 9 protection to Puerto Rico. O’Malley is also scheduled to meet with Jaime Perelló, current Speaker of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives. Perelló is also a Democrat and part of the island’s Popular Democratic Party (PPD), which currently favors the current territorial status. (Governor Alejandro García Padilla, the leader of the PPD who is facing political pressure from both his own local party and opposing parties on the island due to the economic crisis, will be attending a Democratic governors’ conference in Colorado this weekend.) The O’Malley campaign said that these policy discussions with Pierluisi and Perelló would focus on Puerto Rico’s economy, although the issue of the island’s political status might also get raised by Puerto Ricans during his visit. The rest of O’Malley’s schedule would include interviews with the Puerto Rican press and a fundraiser in San Juan.
Before heading to Puerto Rico, the O’Malley campaign said that it will be holding a roundtable discussion in Miami this Friday to meet with Puerto Ricans who have recently moved from the island to Florida.