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People celebrate together after the 5pm hour which was when Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico, agreed to step down from power on August 2, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor agreed to step down after protesters spent days asking for the resignation of Gov. Rosselló after a group chat was exposed that included misogynistic and homophobic comments. (Photo by Jose Jimenez/Getty Images) 
People celebrate together after the 5pm hour which was when Ricardo Rossello, the Governor of Puerto Rico, agreed to step down from power on August 2, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Governor agreed to step down after protesters spent days asking…

Puerto Rico’s Shadow Congress saga: Ricardo Rosselló is sworn as statehood lobbyist

Meanwhile, his eligibility continues to be challenged in court for not living in PR or DC while running for the position.

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Puerto Rico is currently dealing with the takeover of its electrical grid by LUMA Energy against the majority of the island’s wishes. It also continues to slowly recover from Hurricane Maria and Irma from nearly four years ago, as aid still hasn’t been fully distributed — after delays by the U.S. and inaction by its local government. 

Now, Puerto Rico’s former governor is setting up for a political comeback of sorts, as the newly-elected member of Puerto Rico’s congressional shadow delegation to push for statehood at the Capitol. 

The move by Ricardo Rosselló comes less than two years after his resignation. 

In 2019, the former governor resigned in disgrace after massive protests erupted in response to his mismanagement, failure to respond adequately after various natural disasters, economic decline, and after leaked messages surfaced where he exhibited homophobia and joked at the hardships following Maria. 

Puerto Ricans’ anger reached a boiling point, and his government collapsed.

A million people took him down, out of a population of 3.4 million. 

Flash forward two years later, it only took 80,000 votes out of an electorate 2.3 million strong — that’s 4.5% of Puerto Rico’s voting population — to bring Rosselló back to a powerful lobbying committee in favor of Puerto Rico’s statehood.

The former governor was a write-in candidate in this “shadow congress” election pushed by the pro-statehood New Progressive Party (PNP), following last November’s non-binding plebiscite vote, where the option for statehood narrowly garnered the most votes. 

Just two months after Rosselló was elected as a statehood delegate, a judge disqualified him from being certified for the position because he didn’t fulfill the legal requirements to run. That is, he resided neither in Puerto Rico nor Washington D.C. at the time. 

“Consistent with what has been stated and in harmony with the guidelines of our Supreme Court, which has said that ‘we judges should not be so innocent as to believe statements that no one else would believe,’ we resolve that the defendant, Ricardo Rosselló Nevares, did not comply with the residency or electoral domicile requirements,” wrote Judge Rebecca De León Ríos in her court decision. 

“As a result, his election was invalid, unofficial, and had no legal consequences,” she continued.

Still, Rosselló was recently sworn into his position at a ceremony this week by the State Elections Commission (CEE) of Puerto Rico. He posted various pictures of the ceremony that took place on July 7, while his eligibility continues to be challenged in court. He maintains that he didn’t need to “check all the boxes” to run for office because he was a write-in candidate. 
 

It also seems he will see more financial benefits than even formally-elected congressional officials on Capitol Hill, should his certification remain without further contest. 

In a recent report, El Nuevo Dia made it clear that these newly elected lobbyists won’t have a limit to the private income they can receive. 

Puerto Rico’s Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA) will not place income limits from the private sector that statehood lobbyists can obtain. As the situation develops, some lobbyists may declare that they will not accept a salary for their work, while at the same time accepting money from private entities.

In comparison, Puerto Rico’s elected senators and representatives, who earns a base salary of $73,000, cannot generate more than 35% of their income from other sources

El Nuevo Dia reports that the four delegates elected to lobby in the lower House and the two who will lobby in the Senate will have an annual salary of $90,000, with up to $30,000 to cover expenses such as travel costs. 

The discrepancy is huge. And while the answer to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory is unlikely to resolve this term or even the next, the movement for statehood has found serious consideration for the first time. 

The issue is that those fighting for the transition, the New Progressive Party and others, are essentially committing self-sabotage. Bringing back Rosselló, who the Puerto Rican people decisively ousted, does not bode well. 

This is without mentioning the PNP-backed loopholes U.S. residents on the mainland and developers in Puerto Rico have pursued to dodge taxes. There is worry among onlookers in support of statehood that their cause will become tarnished with this, and now the re-emergence of Rosselló’s name. 

The issue of Puerto Rico’s status has long-divided Puerto Ricans and members of Congress in search of the most appropriate way to proceed. 

Most support either the PNP's stance on statehood or the Popular Democratic Party’s support of the island’s current commonwealth or colonial, status. A smaller portion — the Independence Party — supports Puerto Rico’s independence from the United States.

New York Reps. Nydia Velázquez and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are leading the push for self-determination through the Self-Determination Act, which is not explicitly against statehood. 

Rather, it insists that its method of having Puerto Ricans vote for their own delegates to determine their future is more democratic, rather than a simple “yes or no” vote that doesn’t outline a plan, consequences of such a plan, or who would be in charge of undertaking it.

On the other side, there's the Jenniffer Gonzalez and Darren Soto-led Puerto Rico Statehood Admission Act.
Both bills remain under ongoing hearings and deliberations.

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