Why Puerto Rico Matters; Island's Presidential Primary Encourages New Understanding
Byline: Flavio Cumpiano, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
On June 1, all eyes will be on the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico as the island plays a key role in determining the Democratic presidential nominee. With 63 delegates, Puerto Rico will have an impact in this year's presidential election for the first time ever. But even as this wave of attention grows, most Americans are unfamiliar with Puerto Rico and its politics. With the spotlight on us, Puerto Ricans are excited to introduce our unique role in the United States to the rest of the country.
Some say that politics are the preferred sport of Puerto Rico - though our international basketball team, which handed the U.S. Olympic team its first loss after NBA players' inclusion in the Olympics, also has quite the following. Our voters are passionate and engaged, with local and national politics receiving heavy media coverage and generating continuous debates. Everyone has an opinion, and most Puerto Ricans are not shy about expressing theirs.
Because Election Day is a holiday or held on a Sunday, voter participation is markedly higher than in the U.S. mainland. Approaching 80 percent turnout, it is among the best in the world. So as the mainland media marvel at increased voter interest in the presidential race and the candidates boast of attracting new voters, we are glad others have begun to follow Puerto Rico's lead. In fact, Democratic leadership in Puerto Rico voted this year to switch our traditional caucus system to a primary to maximize turnout.
For the past 50 years, Puerto Ricans have enjoyed a mutually beneficial commonwealth partnership with the United States that gives us some special privileges designed to fit Puerto Rico's unique circumstances. With our passion for politics, the fact that Puerto Ricans will not vote in the November general election might seem an enigma. It actually marks one of the trade-offs of our commonwealth relationship with the United States.
Just as residents of Puerto Rico do not pay federal income taxes, but contribute to Medicare and Social Security, island residents also do not vote in federal elections but are welcomed by the Democratic and Republican parties to seat delegates at their national conventions. Similarly, Puerto Rico's representative in Congress, the resident commissioner, serves on committees in the House of Representatives but has limited voting rights.
The economic benefits of our commonwealth status are arguably its biggest asset. With a GDP of $75 billion, Puerto Rico is the strongest economy in the Caribbean and is a regional leader in education, manufacturing, research and development and professional services. …