Could the moon become a state before Puerto Rico?
President Gingrich would work to make this barren satellite America’s 51st state. (Flickr: penguinbrush)
MIAMI — You read that headline right; the half-serious question over which entity would become the U.S.’s 51st state lingered on many people’s minds after Thursday night’s GOP presidential debate.
Newt Gingrich, the self-described purveyor of “grandiose” ideas, suggested at a campaign stop Wednesday Florida’s Space Coast that he wants to construct a permanent colony on the moon by the end of his second term in the White House. He also said he backs the idea of a “Northwest Ordinance” for space that would allow a lunar colony to apply for statehood once 13,000 settled there.
“I was attacked the other night for being grandiose,” Gingrich said, according to the Washington Post. “I would just want you to note: Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk were grandiose. John F. Kennedy was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am grandiose and that Americans are instinctively grandiose.”
Gingrich even quipped: “I think the moon primary would probably come late in the season.”
Sure, Gingrich’s idea is farfetched. But when it comes to the issue of Puerto Rican statehood, none of the GOP candidates — or President Obama for that matter, has been this glib.
A question from a Puerto Rican audience member here at the Hispanic Leadership Network’s debate-watch party in Miami, which was broadcast via satellite to the candidates, received a short shrift during the televised debate.
Only one contender, Rick Santorum (who is way behind in the polls), answered the question, and he used the same line almost every other candidate has: Let the Puerto Rican people decide.
“I take no position on that,” he said. “That’s — I would — I’ve supported, you know, the opportunity for them to make that decision.”
The response caused some in the audience to walk out of the party in disgust.
Santorum is not alone. Other GOP candidates have said the same thing.
“My choice is to let them make their choice,” Mitt Romney said during a Univision candidates forum on Wednesday.
Gingrich has in the past voiced support for a statehood referendum that would also require Puerto Rico to make English its official language (it’s already one of two, including Spanish). But, joking or not, it’s fair to say Gingrich has been more bullish about moon statehood than Puerto Rican statehood during this campaign season.
For the record, according to the Miami Herald, Puerto Rican Governor (and statehood supporter) Luis Fortuño (R) is expected to endorse Romney.
Statehood is a controversial issue among Puerto Ricans and not all support the idea. Others believe it should become independent or remain a commonwealth. But a large amount of Puerto Rican voters in the U.S. back statehood, including many who live in Florida. Puerto Rican voters are the second-largest Latino voting bloc in the Sunshine State, with approximately 420,000 living here, heavily concentrated around the I-4 corridor in central Florida.
And Puerto Ricans tend to be a swing constituency, they backed Obama in 2008 and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in 2010, meaning that they could play a critical role in the state’s Jan. 31 primary and general election.
And don’t forget, Puerto Rico will hold a GOP presidential caucus in March and carries 23 convention delegates, which could come in handy for any candidate during a protracted nominating process.
Regardless of what the candidates are saying, Puerto Rico has taken more steps toward self-determination than the moon has.
The commonwealth is set to vote in November on a two-part referendum to determine its future status.