The Bizarre and Uneasy Alliance Between Mitt Romney and Luis Fortuño Still Makes No Sense

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AT JULIORVARELA.COM

August was supposed to be a great month for Puerto Rican Governor and pro-statehood Republican Luis Fortuño.

He was supposed to claim victory for changes to Puerto Rico's constitution. He did not, essentially setting himself up for an unsuccessful re-election bid in November against an opponent who quite frankly is not the strongest of candidates.

Puerto Rican Republican Governor Luis Fortuño

He was supposed to start proclaiming success in his push to turn the Puerto Rican economy, but he can't. Even after close to four years in office, Fortuño and policies have basically moved the island's unemployment rate from 13.8 in January, 2009 to 13.7 in July, 2012, after it was as high as 16.6% in May, 2010. During his four years as governor, the Fortuño administration has seen the following happen to the island:

January, 2009: Puerto Rico had a labor force of 1,349,246 people. 1,163,674 people were employed. 185,572 people were unemployed. That would be a 13.8% unemployment rate.

July, 2012: Puerto Rico now has a labor force of 1,267,154 people. 1,093,903 people are employed. 173,251 people are unemployed. The overall unemployment rate is now at 13.7%.

Therefore, since Fortuño took office in 2009, Puerto Rico has seen a 7% decrease in its labor force (loss of about 82,000  people) and a 6% decrease in the number of employed people (a total loss of 80,000 jobs). Where are these people going? Very likely to places like Florida. In fact, they are going to Florida in growing numbers, as the latest US Census can confirm:

And that is where the Mitt Romney campaign comes in.

Unless you are totally shut off from the national election, to paraphrase the late Tim Russert: FLORIDA, FLORIDA, FLORIDA. Romney 2012 knows fully well that its candidate must make inroads into the Puerto Rican vote in Florida if it even thinks it has a chance of winning. So, being the out-of-touch campaign strategists that they are when it comes to the Latino vote, why not promote Fortuño?

Here is the problem with that. Think about it. The Puerto Rican population is migrating from the island to Florida because there are no jobs in Puerto Rico. Who has been at the helm of the worst economic crisis in Puerto Rico since the Great Depression? Luis Fortuño. There is no question that Fortuño has become a polarizing figure in Puerto Rican politics, and to think that his presence would help Romney's efforts along the Interstate 4 corridor is unrealistic. Yay, the governor who forced me to leave the island is now telling me to vote Republican!

What is so ironic about this is that Fortuño has become a lot like President Obama, in the fact that both of them have to answer to stagnant economies and no true net changes in employment. Fortuño is quick to blame the previous administration of the opposing party, just like President Obama. But while Romney 2012 has no problem criticizing the President's policies, it has always perplexed me why he would even roll out Fortuño. Hey, everyone, let's celebrate the leader who has not created jobs for his own people and has seen people leave for better opportunities in the United States! Let's hear for the guy who put a lot into pushing for changes to the Puerto Rican constitution, only to lose because people in Puerto Rico know how to Facebook and Twitter with the best of them! Right now, Luis Fortuño is damaged political goods, and his presence in Tampa will do nothing to move the needle with I-4 Puerto Ricans.

But I guess this is all about a deal. Fortuño has already assured anyone and everyone that Romney has promised the governor that if Puerto Rico were to vote for statehood in its upcoming November plebiscite (and that is one BIG IF)Fortuño were to win his re-election (another BIG IF) and if Romney were to become President Romney (a tossup IF), Romney would formally recognize the island's desire to become the 51st state of the Union. That is the deal, and the unknowing US online media who has no clue about the complexities of Puerto Rico's status (for example, does it even know that Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi—the Fortuño administration's Resident Commissioner in Washington and the governor's Number 2 guy on the ticket—is a pro-statehood Democrat who has distanced himself from both Romney and Fortuño?) eats up this whole public relations charade.

So instead of actually exploring Fortuño's record and his growing unpopularity on the island, we get comments of how much fun Puerto Ricans love to party from Ann Romney and how Fortuño represents the new Latino Conservative (the same Latino Conservative who got billions in federal stimulus money to actually improve the situation on the island somewhat). Instead of stories that speak of a Puerto Rico that continues to see a rise in crime and a rise in income inequality, we get the shouts of "¡Buenas noches, Puerto Rico!" in Tampa. Forget the issues and the direction Puerto Rico is heading. This is all about getting the holy grail of statehood and it is also about what Fortuño will do and where he will go AFTER he loses in November.

From his speech in Tampa this week, we get a different view of a Puerto Rico from Fortuño. Cut taxes! Keep government small! Double-digit unemployment! People leaving the island I lead! Oh, wait…

 

In the end, all the Puerto Rican pride in the world could not hide the fact that the Romney campaign is trying to pander to Puerto Rican voters in Florida and the US every time it rolls out Fortuño as an example of success (and yes, we know, pandering to Latinos has become a tactic of both the GOP and the Democrats). As for Fortuño? It is clear that this is all about political opportunism and partisan loyalty. By not being truthful about what is really going in Puerto Rico and becoming "proof" that the GOP has new Latino stars, he is once again disrespecting and ignoring the people he serves. We thought he learned that lesson two weeks ago when he suffered a stunning defeat in the polls.

You would think he would be more humble about it. Guess not, since in a few months Luis Fortuño will be out looking for a new job.

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Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He will pen a weekly column on LR each week. Recently, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS' Face the NationNPR, and The New York Times.

Charges of Voter Fraud by Puerto Rico’s Pro-Statehood Party Taint Local and GOP Primary Results

In politics, when your opponent lashes charges at you, you pretty much know that it is part of the game, but when those in your own camp start making the same charges,, chances are you have major problems to resolve. Such is the case of Puerto Rico's New Progressive Party, the island's pro-statehood party, whose leader, governor Luis Fortuño, made sure that his PNP put on a good show and prove to Mitt Romney that Romney would win Sunday's GOP primary in a landslide. Fortuño delivered, as the final Puerto Rico results confirm. Romney got 82.85% of the vote (99,909), Santorum got 9,676 (8.02%), independent Buddy Roemer came in third with 2,670 votes and 2.21% of the vote, while Newt Gingrich won 2,462 votes (2.04%) and Ron Paul earned just 1,476 votes and 1.22%. As for Fred Kruger, nice job to beat out Paul, and you gotta love the fact that Roemer beat out Newt and Paul.

However, there are now charges that the PNP and the Republican Party of Puerto Rico committed voter fraud. El Nuevo Día reported the following on March 19. A delegate for Ron Paul and an observer to the primary process both said in written statement that the were not enough election officials at the polling sites, some sites had opened late or changed their hours without notice, and there were not sufficient ballots in some sites. The charges also went to say that this was just part of the PNP's electoral machine to deliver a resounding victory for Romney.

Another article this week quoted the island's PPD (Popular Party) Election Commissioner, who said that such a fraud was embarrassment to the primary process. The commissioner also added that the PNP's endorsement of Romney (through Fortuño as the party's leader) put other Republican candidates at a disadvantage.

"This could be fraud in our electoral process and we would be seen as fools in the process of the Republican primaries," PPD Election Commissioner Eder Ortiz said.

The PPD also sent an email to supporters saying that these fraud charges inflated voter numbers by 50,000 and they shared the following chart to make their point (this applies to the local elections). Basically, the PPD charges that the PNP added votes to the rolls and that there was little oversight.

In the meantime, the PPD confirmed that 200,000 PPD supporters voted in the local primaries.

Pierluisi Won’t Attend Fortuño-Romeny Pro-Statehood Rally Tomorrow in Puerto Rico

José A. Delgado, the Washington correspondent for El Nuevo Día, Puerto Rico's largest newspaper, tweeted that Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi (a non-voting member of the US Congress), a Democrat who is also a member of the island's pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP) will not be attending a local PNP rally tomorrow that will feature Republican candidate Mitt Romney and Puerto Rican pro-statehood and Republican governor Luis Fortuño.

The reason? Romney's ads against Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is of Puerto Rican descent. Pierluisi, in essence, is the Washington representation of the Fortuño administration. This is like if the Vice President of the United States decided to not attend an event that the President and the Democratic Party would be running. Fortuño has publicly endorsed Romney, but he also met this week with Rick Santorum, who has no idea that the official languages of Puerto Rico are Spanish and English. Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of Puerto Rican politics.

Puerto Rico holds its GOP primary this Sunday March 18. Puerto Rican voters can participate in the primary, but they cannot vote for president in November if they claim residency on the island.

This is what Delgado tweeted out in Spanish this morning:

 

Delgado followed up with a report in END.com. The report was written in Spanish and we have provide translated excerpts of the article done by our editors:

After having criticized ads that questioned the Puerto Rican Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic in the United States Supreme Court, [Pierluisi's office] has stated that Pierluisi would not go to a PNP leadership to promote the Romney's presidential candidacy Romney.

In 2008, Pierluisi… was [Puerto Rico's] co-chair of the campaign of President Barack Obama.

"If [Romney] is seeking support from the Tea Party, he may advance in the Republican primary, but it will not win the presidency," said Pierluisi in a recent conference call.

Pierluisi's office confirmed today that "although the Resident Commissioner is urging active PNP participation in the primary, he will clearly not share the stage with any of the Republican candidates for president."

Originally, Republicans calculated that Puerto Ricans could have between 300,000 and 400,000 voters participating in the GOP primary. They have recently lowered their expectations to about 100,000.