The effect on Florida if Puerto Rico became the 51st state

A vote in Puerto Rico showed that the voters were in support of becoming the 51 state.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Do you think Puerto Rico should become the 51st state?

Well, a majority of Puerto Ricans who took part in a nonbinding vote yesterday, says yes.

Critics say the voted was skewed because people opposed to statehood boycotted the election in protest, but proponents say it accurately reflects the majority of Puerto Ricans’ sentiment.

If Puerto Rico did become the 51st state it could have a huge impact on Florida politics, and perhaps even national elections. 

But experts we spoke with say it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

Christopher Munoz would like to see it happen. He’s part of a growing number of Puerto Ricans moving to Tampa Bay.

With lots of family still living there, he was very interested in this weekend's non-binding vote.

Munoz moved to Florida a few months ago to work with relatives at La Lechonera restaurant on Armenia Avenue  in Tampa when the economy in Puerto Rico made it too difficult to support his children.

“I saw I had a big chance here in the United States,” said Munoz. “It's time to make a change. Puerto Rico's been going through this for the last few years, and it's a big chance.”

Florida has seen a rapidly growing Puerto Rican population. Restaurants. Markets and small businesses have been taking root here in recent years as Puerto Rico's economy flounders.

A lot of that growth has been right along Florida's politically-charged and highly-influential Interstate 4 corridor running between Tampa and Orlando.

“We are really the place where the Puerto Rican vote is making the most difference,” said Susan MacManus, political professor at the University of South Florida.

MacManus says local, state and ultimately national elections could be influenced.  

But the decision to grant Puerto Rico full statehood is ultimately up to Congress, and frankly, MacManus says she just doesn’t see it occurring.

“The United States is under such financial pressures at the moment, and adding one more state without a lot of pressure financially to the U.S. budget,” said MacManus. “And that's not something that Democrats or Republicans are really anxious to have happen.”

Another potential roadblock might be more political than economic. The Congress currently leans Republican, and many assume a majority of Puerto Ricans would vote Democrat.

But U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat herself, says she's not convinced of that.

“Puerto Rico has elected a Republican to represent them in the United States Congress,” said Castor. “Even though many are afraid that Puerto Rico would come in with democratic leanings, I'm not sure that's the case.”

Puerto Rico is already a U.S. territory, so residents can move freely – just like Christian Munoz has.

But most, says Munoz, are proud of their homeland, and if statehood were to make things more stable economically, he thinks many would prefer to stay in Puerto Rico. 

“"I really feel that we're going to fit in. And that Puerto Ricans are ready for this change,” said Munoz.

But MacManus has strong doubts Congress is equally ready.

“I think it's still a very long, longshot,” she said. “For many years.”

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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