The Problem With the Colonies


Dennis Sanders

Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Minneapolis, MN.  You can follow Dennis through his blogs, The Clockwork Pastor and Big Tent Revue and on Twitter.  Feel free to contact him at dennis.sanders(at)gmail(dot)com.

Related Post Roulette

23 Responses

  1. Avatar Maribou says:

    @dennis I hope this proposal gains more traction in mainstream culture. As a Canadian, I feel like a dope for having just assumed all these years that Puerto Rican residents would get to vote for President even though I knew they didn’t have congressional representation. Thank you for educating me.

    It really is ridiculous and antiquated for the situation to be as it is.Report

  2. Avatar J_A says:

    I feel like a […] for having just assumed all these years that Puerto Rican residents would get to vote for President

    Don’t feel that bad. It’s an understandable mistake because the territories do vote in the primaries, so you get to hear about campaigns going on in there.Report

  3. Avatar Damon says:

    First off, IIRC, ALL territories have been treated similarly, along the lines of “we know better than you do” how to manage that piece of land. PR actually has a better deal I expect that the western US territories that later became states.

    But, none of that really matters. I fail to see why the US should “bring them in” vs “let them go”. In the age when people clamor for independence, the US maintaining territories is foolish and a waste of resources. Make em independent.

    Oh, and DC is a federal city.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I feel like we should require people to voice their feelings on this proposal — specifically support or opposition — without knowing how the residents of the various territories are likely to vote.Report

  5. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Thats a pretty good solution if you can’t give them full statehood. It should at least give them enough political and electoral power in Presidential elections not to be totally screwed. My preferred solution is to make them states or counties of states if their population is too low for states. Join Guam, the Northern Marianna Islands, and American Samoa with Hawaii, make DC and Puerto Rico full states, and the Virgin Islands with Florida.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Just out of curiosity, why would you attach the Virgin Islands to Florida instead of to a State of Puerto Rico, given where they’re located?Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Michael Cain says:

        There’s a cultural component, as Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands have a distinct history from each other and how they became part of the US. It’s not like USVI has a cultural affinity towards Florida, but Florida is already such a melange that it’s less likely to completely overwhelm USVI in the bipolar relationship.

        (or more prosaically, if San Juan is the capital of USVI, Spanish will be instituted as the official language of government, which USVI has no history of) (though according to Wikipedia, 17% of the territory speaks it).Report

  6. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    A Senator to represent the N. Marianas Islands, which has a population that is about 1/10 of the smallest state with two, seems a bit much, especially since I’m somewhat unhappy about the distortion produced by the electoral college. In fact because the House of Representatives pegged the number of Members at 435, smaller states now get a slight edge there as well. (There’s one CA rep per 700,000 people, but ND has only 450,000 pop)

    Of course, that doesn’t apply to PR. I find it strange that it isn’t already a state. I find it doubly strange that there is a large contingent there that apparently don’t want to be a state, and would rather just continue on with things as they are.Report

    • Yes, no more statelets or things that resemble statelets, please. PR is populous enough to be a state. DC is in the statelet category — shrink the federal district to a minimum of federally-owned land and cede the rest of it back to Maryland. As others have suggested, attach the odd bits and pieces to existing states.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I definitely think Puerto Rico needs to be its own state. (and if we need to some some Quebec like cultural regulations, so be it). I’m also fine with giving DC statehood, as the physiographic reasons for having the area of the seat of government wholly managed by that government have been made obsolete by technology.

    Like others have said though, the rest of the territorial populations are just way too small (even by Wyoming/Vermont standards – about 375K combined between the remaining 4) to be given ‘equal standing’ to a state.

    Besides just appending certain territories to certain states for the purpose of Congressional representation and Presidential elections, another, kinda out there proposal, is to give the citizens of the 4 small territories their choice in which state and which congressional district within that state they want to vote in (using some process similar to absentee or the mail ballots that many states now use)

    (and something that should be done in any case is fix America Samoa’s status as an Unincorporated Unorganized territory)Report

    • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Kolohe says:

      The case against PR as a state is that it has a third-world economy (1/2 of the GDP/per capita of Mississippi) whose chief comparative advantage to the other Caribbean Islands is that it is stable and secure due to being part of the U.S., but exempt from federal individual and corporate taxes and federal regulations.

      Unless PR statehood would continue special treatment not afforded any other states, it would further shrink the economy. What PR needs is more autonomy, not more economic decisions made with far wealthier places in mind. I believe the current trade-offs of in-betweener status will continue indefinitely though.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

        The IMF classifies (classified, prior to Irma and Maria) Puerto Rico as one of 39 “advanced economies”. I have seen estimates that as a state, Puerto Rico’s economy would receive net ~$20B more annually from the federal government to spend on goods and services. That’s one of the reasons some conservatives in Congress give for not allowing PR to become a state.Report

        • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Michael Cain says:

          IMF designated PR as an advanced economy because of U.S. tax breaks for manufacturers to locate on the island. These were controversial as manufacturing jobs started to locate overseas and Clinton signed the gradual phaseout of these incentives (1996- 2006). Useful graphs at link:

          IMF requires some level of industrialization to be an advanced economy, but PR’s was dependent on mainland corporate welfare which shrank, and now manufacturing is not that important to be an advanced economy anyway. PR’s talent is moving to the mainland for the variety of opportunities of an advanced economy.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to PD Shaw says:

            I’m just pointing out that you’re saying “The IMF is wrong, PR is a third-world economy not an advanced economy.” (I note that with essentially no electric grid, the Commonwealth government and the electric utility both broke, that may well be true today.) If the difference is that PR got assistance from the US federal government, well, the estimates I’ve seen are that as a state PR would get a lot more net assistance than they have as a non-state.

            For example, Mississippi is poor so the feds pick up 70%+ of their traditional Medicaid expense. As a non-state, Puerto Rico gets a fixed amount for Medicaid based on how Congress feels that works out to about 55% (and which, post-Maria, may simply run out). As a state, by formula that would jump to about 80% on day one with no chance (absent Congress rewriting the Medicaid rules) of running out.

            State vs non-state economy is a hard comparison.Report

            • Avatar Dark Matter in reply to Michael Cain says:

              State vs non-state economy is a hard comparison.

              Somewhere there are people far more interested in this with a lot more resources to chase the answer around, they probably are in PR.

              The “Statehood” people don’t argue math. The “Independance” people also don’t argue math. It’s widely assumed in PR (according to my father who lives there) that either of those options are fiscally really awful.

              It’s certainly possible I’m wrong and there’s math out there which shows happy trails for one path or the other, but judging from the behavior of everyone involved, I think not.

              On the other hand I’m kind of committing the “appeal to authority” fallacy here and it’s not even an authority I’m pointing to.Report

            • Avatar PD Shaw in reply to Michael Cain says:

              To be clear, I don’t agree that IMF designates third-world economies, so the accusation that I think IMF is wrong about it is incorrect. My point was that IMF’s designation of PR as an advanced economy is partly based upon manufacturing output that resulted from 50 years of federal subsidies for such businesses that has been phased-out and left the economy shrinking year after year.

              I believe PR is a third-world economy because it has less than half of the gdp per capita of the poorest State (45% of MS) and the gap is widening: I would also add per capita income ($40,593 in MS $18,626 in PR (2015))Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kolohe says:

      (and if we need to some some Quebec like cultural regulations, so be it)

      “Guys. Let’s open with the good news. Parts of the US are finally getting language laws!”Report

  8. Avatar Michael Cain says:

    On the Presidential vote thing — I suggest that you have a better chance of getting an Amendment changing to direct popular vote passed than you do adding Senators, Representatives, and EC votes for non-states.Report

  9. Avatar Lyle says:

    Note that delegates etc can vote in committee and have been able when democrats hold the house to vote in the committee of the whole house here is a link to the details: The committee of the whole house is a committee of the whole with looser rules than the regular house order.
    A some what wild idea would be to group the territories with the states with the least population for example the usvi with Wyoming (the usvi has 1/5 the population of Wyoming)
    Since the delegates are all democrats when the republicans take over the house they remove the committee of the whole house because these votes would all be against them.Report

  10. Avatar j r says:

    It’s time for American territories to be heard, to be treated with more respect. They are Americans and they need to be treated as such.

    I don’t disagree with this statement or with the proposal, but I think that it partially misses the real issues. The Puerto Rico issue is much more about how Puerto Ricans see themselves than it is about how the rest of America sees the island. That is, Puerto Rico is pretty evenly split between people who want the island to become a state and people who want it to become an independent nation. As far as I know, that is the main tension that needs to be resolved.

    I don’t know much about the rest of the U.S. territories, but what we should probably do with Puerto Rico is to hold some kind of binding referendum and push the island either towards statehood or independence, depending on the outcome. Such a referendum would also be a good case to use ranked voting. I doubt that this will happen anytime soon, though.Report

  11. Avatar Silver Wolf says:

    I think statehood is a bigger issue than most would think, especially for the “I’ve got mine, screw you” wing of the American population. It is more than just representation, and many lawmakers probably see nothing but red ink in that idea.

    My suggestion would be to identify one “non-state entity” with proportional representation in the house, two senators for all of it and a vote for President. If the makeup of “non-state entity” changes, the rules stay the same.

    If you make PR a state, where do you stick the star on the flag? 51 is an awkward number.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to Silver Wolf says:


      Six rows of stars, alternating between eight and nine stars per row.Report