COLUMN: POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Puerto Rico, D.C. not same situation

Thomas Sanco

Over the years, the question of statehood has come up for both Washington,D.C., and the island of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has voted on statehood several times, and in 2021, the House of Representatives voted to allow D.C. to become a state before the bill failed to pass the Senate. But the two places have very different merits for receiving statehood.

The last state admitted to the union was Hawaii in 1959, preceded by Alaska just a few months before. In both cases, the people of Alaska and Hawaii had to vote in a referendum to agree to become a state, and Congress also had to approve of their statehood before their respective statehoods were signed into law by President Eisenhower.

Generally, an area is considered a territory before it becomes a state, just as our state of Oklahoma was considered Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory before receiving statehood in 1907. Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, and Congress voted to make Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens in 1917. However, Puerto Rico is considered an "unincorporated" territory, unlike other territories that became states, complicating the issue somewhat. If the Puerto Rican people chose to do so, first working with Congress to become an incorporated territory could lead to a better chance of receiving statehood status in the future.

Democrats in Congress seem to be some of the strongest proponents of statehood for Puerto Rico, even while the Puerto Rican people are divided on the issue. Puerto Rico has held a referendum vote on statehood several times. In the latest vote, in November 2020, Puerto Ricans voted only by a narrow margin - 52% - to become a state. Puerto Rico is on a similar trajectory to which other states have followed to be admitted to the union, if it can reconcile its "unincorporated" status. As time goes by, it appears the chance and the push for statehood becomes greater. Washington, D.C., on the other hand, was specifically created not to be a state. It was created and set apart to be a place where delegates from all states gathered to do the business of the nation. In fact, when it was formed, the land on which the District of Columbia resided was land donated to the federal government by the states of Maryland and Virginia.

But in 1846, the citizens of the city of Alexandria petitioned the state of Virginia to take its portion of land back from the federal government. Virginia voted to do just that, and the U.S. Congress agreed to the terms. The land that makes up Washington, D.C., is now solely the portion Maryland donated.

The merits for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico statehood are very different. We can debate the merits of statehood for Puerto Rico, and perhaps it would be better if the Puerto Rican people were more unanimously supportive of their statehood before Congress takes up the issue again, but the case for the District of Columbia to become a state is not a strong one.

Puerto Rico has a legitimate path to statehood, should the Puerto Rican people and the U.S. Congress come to agreement. But D.C., should remain a separate entity, as it has since its inception. The capital of the United States of America - no state should hold that honor. The District of Columbia should remain separate, a place where people from each state gather on an equal footing to work for the American people.

Thomas Sanco is a Cherokee County resident, who deals in vintage cars and parts.

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