Sunday, June 15, 2014

U.S. Territories and Statehood

What would happen if we gave statehood to our territories?

Let’s start by divvying them up into three possible new states: Columbia (Currently D.C.), Puerto Rico (including the Virgin Islands) and Pacific Islands (Guam, Mariana, Samoa, and the rest).

Now let’s break down the arguments against statehood.

First, extraterritorial arguments – these say they aren’t part of America b/c the territories are so far away. Obviously this doesn’t apply to D.C., but if Hawai’i is going to be a state it doesn’t really apply to the others, either. Guam isn’t hardly further west than the furthest Aleutian island (Buldir Island, for the curious). Puerto Rico is a half hour flight from Florida.

Second, population arguments – how many people live on these rocks, anyway? The most populous of the three would be Puerto Rico, which when combined with the 100,000 inhabitants of the Virgin Islands, would have a population of 3.7 million. Next largest would be Columbia, with a healthy 630,000 – still largest than our current least populated state, Wyoming (580,000). The smallest, the Pacific Islands, would immediately become the smallest state, too, at one half the size of even Wyoming – 291, 000. This is a valid point, to be addressed further on.

A few silly arguments, first, though. The flag! Nonsense. Here is a perfectly nice 53 star flag:

Another silly one – States’ names would be more than one word long! (Puerto Rico, Pacific Islands). Two options – give each a one word name (Puerto and Pacific) or (assuming Puerto Rico doesn’t want to be renamed) just deal. Here, I’ve even come up with the state abbreviations: CB, PR, PI. Sorted.

So much paperwork! So many changes! Maps redrawn! Yes. If you like jobs that put America to work, then you won’t mind.

But they speak Spanish in Puerto Rico! It’s their official language! As is English! And New Mexico officially recognizes both also!

Now, then, here are some positive arguments to statehood.

First: enfranchisement of over 4.6 million American citizens. 4.6 million! (Except Samoa – they technically aren’t citizens, but ‘nationals’. Obviously if made part of a state they’d become fully US citizens, which is a good thing). That’s more than the populations of our six smallest states combined (Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, Alaska, South Dakota, and Delaware – exceeded by 200,000 people.)

Money! Territories don’t pay federal income tax. (They do pay Social Security and Medicare, though.) More money for the US government! Wooo!

They want to be States! Puerto Rico passed a resolution in 2012 opting for statehood.

Okay, so, how this would work?

First, we’d need to establish one capital for each. Puerto Rico and the USVI would obviously be San Juan. Of the Pacific Islands one specific capital, of the current many, would have to be chosen. Presumably this would be Hagatna, in Guam – as Guam’s population constitutes about half of the new state's total. Columbia would be tricky – I mean, they are the current capital, right? There would have to be the designation of Columbia as both the national capitol, and as a state capitol. Not insurmountable, though. Each new state would, of course, have a governor and all the local institutions (courts, state legislature, etc.) Most have this already.

Then we need to make changes to our Federal Government. This is what I said I’d get back to before. These changes are many, but not overwhelming. Let’s start with the least obvious – the judicial branch. Chief Justice Roberts already oversees D.C., so that’s them. I would recommend including the Pacific Islands in the Ninth Circuit, currently held by Justice Kennedy – the circuit that contains Hawai’i. Lastly Puerto Rico should be added to the Eleventh Circuit, containing Florida. As territories they already have protection under U.S. courts, anyway, so that wouldn't change.

Next easiest is the Executive. All residents would be allowed to vote for the President, and run, etc. D.C. residents can already do this and have three electoral votes, so there’s that. The rest currently can’t, even though Obama gets to decide their fate. Now that’s not fair, is it? 

Then there’s the biggie – the Legislative Branch. First things first, note that these territories currently already elect a ‘Member of Congress’ who gets to sit in committees, and speak on the floor, but not vote. Just like the rest of the US they are elected every two years, or in some cases four. Obviously we’d have to cut down – Guam and Samoa, for example, would share one congressperson as the Pacific Islands.

The PI would, as the smallest state, have only one congressperson – so  would that mean every state would then get one representative for every, 250,000 inhabitants? Thus Wyoming would now have two Representatives in the House, and so forth. Now, by law, the current cap on the House is set at 435 Representatives – which if you do the math is roughly one person for every 700,000 people. By this screwy logic, Wyoming should have no Representatives at all! (Of course this potentially pleasant outcome is overruled in the Constitution.) As population grows, so must the number of representatives. The failure of the increase in seats for the past 80 years has led to gerrymandering and loopy mathematical formulas to decide what to make of the 385 seats left over once you assign the ten smallest states their constitutional share.

By admitting these territories as states, you’d have a US population of 322.8 million. We are, after all, the third largest country in the world. If you get one representative for each 250,000 individuals, you’d then have 1,291 Representatives. Of course if you went with Wyoming – one Representative per 550,000 – you’d still have 587 Representatives, if you included the new territories' populations. If the latter is more reasonable (it is) then the PI and Columbia would get one Representative each constitutionally, the current 50 States wouldn’t change their numbers, and Puerto Rico would account for 6 or 7 Representatives of the new 587.

So a few tweaks could render that easily done – change the law from a cap of 435 instead to one Representative per 550,000. The Constitution would account for PI as the only state with fewer than 550,000.

Lastly, we must consider the Senate. Every state gets two Senators – therefore the Senate’s total would be 56 persons. Really, besides adding some chairs to the Senate and House or changing rooms (we’ve changed locations on these before – multiple times) there’s not such a fuss over the Legislative branch.

Judicial, Executive, and Legislative – Federal government sorted. What would happen if we gave statehood to our territories? Our American democracy would be richer for it.

And! If we add Puerto Rico, The District of Columbia, and the Pacific Islands to the U.S. we’d have 53 States. One nation, indivisible.

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