Rick Santorum Advises Puerto Ricans to Speak English if They Want Statehood

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Puerto Ricans on Wednesday they would have to make English their primary language if they want to pursue U.S. statehood.

Santorum suggested that if Puerto Rico wanted to become a state, it would have to adopt English as its official language. Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

On Wednesday Rick Santorum, the winner of the last two presidential primaries, traveled to Puerto Rico and met with Gov. Luis G. Fortuño.

Santorum didn’t wear his usual sweater vest was gone, he was turned out in a dark suit and power tie, probably in the attempt to llok more presidential.

According to The New York Times, the two men did not answer questions from reporters, but allowed photographers to take pictures.

Later Santorum said in an interview with El Vocero newspaper that he supported Puerto Ricans’ right to self-determination regarding the island’s political status.

In November Puerto Ricans, who recognize both English and Spanish as their official languages, are scheduled to vote on a referendum to decide whether they want to pursue statehood or remain a self-governing U.S. commonwealth, reports Reuters.

“We need to work together and determine what type of relationship we want to develop,” he told the newspaper.

But at the same time Santorum specified that he did not support a state in which English was not the primary language.

“Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law,” Mr. Santorum said in the interview. “And that is that English has to be the principal language.”

Probably Mr. Santorum had in mind that if he were president, he would seek such a federal law, but there are no requirements now for a territory to adopt English as its primary language in order to become a state.

In fact such a statement contradicts with the U.S. Constitution., the Constitution does not designate an official language, nor is there a requirement that a territory adopt English as its primary language in order to become a state.

Santorum’s statement may deprive him of votes from Puerto Rican Republicans, who have always argued that issues of language and culture should be controlled by state governments and not the federal government.

Puerto Rico’s pupolation is about 4 million people and its citizens can vote in partisan primaries but not presidential elections.

It also could alienate the 4.2 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland, including nearly 1 million in presidential swing-state Florida.

What is more, Santorum’s statement puts him into a more difficult position, as two other presidential hopefuls, Romney and Gingrich, have both said Puerto Ricans must decide their future for themselves.

Mitt Romney has even said that if they choose to pursue statehood, he would help them achieve it.

Gingrich is going to send his daughter, Kathy Gingrich Lubbers, to campaign on his behalf in Puerto Rico on Thursday and Friday. She is fluent in Spanish and was expected to hold a town-hall style meeting.

Romney, who is scheduled to travel to Puerto Rico on Friday and stay during the weekend, won the endorsement of Governor Luis Fortuno, who is also the head of Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party.

“I’m looking forward to the time when the people of Puerto Rico make their decision about becoming a state,” Romney said. “Wow, we’ve got some friends here.

“I think it’s in November you’re having a referendum and I expect the people of Puerto Rico will decide that they want to become a state and I can tell you that I will work with [Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño] to make sure that if that vote comes out in favor of statehood, that we will go through the process in Washington to provide statehood to Puerto Rico,” he said.

Meanwhile, Santorum’s campaign has indicated their wish to hold a one-on-one debate with Romney.

In a comment to The Huffington Post‘s Jon Ward, communications director Hogan Gidley said, “What we were pointing out, we were talking about debates. In ’08 when it became a two-person race, Hilary and Obama had a few one-on-one debates. Just pointing that out. I’m wondering if someone calls for that this time.”

Earlier on Wednesday, The Daily’s Dan Hirshchhorn tweeted that, “Santorum camp starting to push the idea of 1-on-1 debates with Romney, a la Clinton vs. Obama in 2008. ‘we’ve earned the right’ 1 aide says.”

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