Will Puerto Rico Soon Become the 51st State?

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A recent debate in Florida between the Republican presidential contenders focused briefly on the subject of new statehood, namely, is there a chance that a 51st state will be added to the union soon? There seemed to be broad consensus that the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico would be the front-runner for new statehood status. And that makes abundant sense. Puerto Rico is represented in Congress and has primary elections for U.S. president (but are not granted electors to the electoral College). Residents of Puerto Rico and corporations doing business in the U.S. pay U.S. federal taxes, and Puerto Ricans are members of the U.S. military and have fought in all U.S. wars since 1898.

But there may be a challenger to Puerto Rican statehood -- the Moon, or at least a territory on the moon that someday might seek statehood. Indeed, whether you believe it or not, the subject of a Moon-state has been seriously addressed by at least one of the presidential candidates who believes that colonizing the moon and then proclaiming it a state has considerable merit politically, economically, and strategically. Yes, if I read his remarks correctly, Newt Gingrich, who hopes to become President Gingrich someday, with his self-effacing and unassuming brilliance, inspiration, and forward-thinkingness, would enthusiastically support statehood for the Moon, say, in the territory near the Apollo 11 Landing site -- the "Sea of Tranquility" -- and support its becoming the 51st state, maybe called "Tranquility."

According to Gingrich the process is really very simple. Technologically, we would need heavy rockets to carry the colonists and cargo to the moon. The U.S. probably could develop such heavy spacecraft -- maybe even a fleet of spaceships that might be called "Mayflower 2" -- to land the colonists on the moon near where Ranger 8 and Surveyor V touched down and establish there a colony for future statehood. In fact, there are several lunar real estate agencies currently in business that sell moon property in Tranquility, or maybe Serenity to the north of Tranquility. Potential investors should consult the Moon Atlas for other attractive moon properties. The colonists would then build lunar habitats in which to live and work; there are prototypes of lunar modules that can be adapted for residential use. One drawback: Moon colonists would have to wear adequate attire to withstand violent lunar dust storms and extreme temperature swings, but judging from the early Plymouth experience, colonists are pretty hardy people.

My guess is that under a Gingrich Administration, the early moon colonists likely would be composed of people who fiercely supported Gingrich's presidency -- arch-conservatives, Tea Partiers and Evangelicals. Even though this nascent moon colony would probably proclaim their commitment to liberty, equality and fraternity, I'd bet that Occupy Wall Street types would be excluded. The colonists would form a government, and enact a constitution before they could achieve statehood.

Actually the mechanics of achieving statehood really aren't that complicated. It's happened 37 times, the last times in 1958 when Alaska became the 49th state, and 1959, when Hawaii became the 50th state. The U.S. Constitution says very little about the process of admitting new states into the union. Article IV section 3 declares that Congress has the power to admit new states into the union. The constitution also provides that no state can be created out of the territory of an existing state, or from merging two states together, without the consent of both state legislatures and the federal government. For example, New Jersey could not split into North New Jersey and South New Jersey unless the representatives of the people in both areas, and Congress, agree. Nor could New Jersey and New York merge into one state (God forbid!), called, say, New Yerkey, without the legislatures of New York, New Jersey and Congress agreeing. Precedents established by the Northwest Ordinance of 1802 probably would be followed, which include a petition to Congress for statehood, the passage by Congress of an Enabling Act setting forth the requirements that must be met prior to consideration for statehood, one of which is to enact a constitution with a republican form of government. Congress must then approve statehood by a simply majority, and the president must sign the bill.

What about Puerto Rico statehood? Is there likely going to be a fierce battle between Puerto Rico and the Moon for statehood? For over 70 years the Republican and Democratic parties and presidents have supported statehood for Puerto Rico; the problem has been with the residents of Puerto Rico. A majority of the voters in Puerto Rico must first ask for statehood. But in three previous plebiscites -- in 1967, 1993 and 1998 -- support for statehood failed to win a majority, although 46.5 percent did approve in 1998, and support appears to be growing. Governor Luis Fortuno has set Aug. 12, 2012 for a new referendum on statehood.

The chances that there will be a 51st state in the near future are reasonably good. Whether it will be a territory on the moon, or Puerto Rico, is uncertain, although the odds heavily favor Puerto Rico. Of course, under a Gingrich Administration, all bets are off. But also under a Gingrich Administration there may be a push to repeal the 22nd Amendment. But that's for another article.