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Joaquin “Jack” Marquez is steeped in Puerto Rico politics. The native Puerto Rican has spent a lifetime shuttling between Washington and the island, on a mission to resolve the issue of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status. A Vietnam War veteran, Marquez is an advocate for Puerto Rico’s statehood and can recite the commonwealth’s political history at a moment’s notice. Despite little movement in Washington on the issue in the almost 40 years since he’s been active inside the Beltway, he is doggedly determined to persuade Congress to address Puerto Rico’s future, because the current status “not only denigrates the colonized but stains the soul of the colonizer,” he says. A former head of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration in the late 1970s and ’80s, Marquez is now a lobbyist at Drinker Biddle & Reath, but refuses payment on statehood issues, although he does paying tax work for the Puerto Rico Bankers Association and the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association. As president of the Puerto Rican American Foundation, a lobbying group that advocates for Puerto Rican self-determination, Marquez is quietly laying the groundwork to get his mission accomplished in the next Congress. He is far from alone. Lobbying for Puerto Rico has been a lucrative trade for the past 15 years as the New Progressive Party, which calls for the commonwealth to become the 51st state, and the anti-statehood Popular Democratic Party continue to jockey for support, spending millions of dollars a year to influence Congress. Yet this time around, lobbyists for the statehood party say they have the best chance in eight years to persuade Congress to pass legislation allowing a referendum that would permit Puerto Ricans to vote on whether the island will continue as a commonwealth territory or eventually become a state or even an independent country. “Everybody is lobbying quietly,” says Marquez. “Commonwealthers are spending millions of dollars using lobbyists; statehooders have paid lobbyists. Also, there is a lot of private effort just to get the issue of self-determination [discussed].” Despite the momentum, statehood supporters have seen setbacks this year. As members look toward the midterm elections, they remain more focused on bringing home money for state projects than tackling a politically sensitive issue that could tilt the political balance of Congress. And the charged immigration dialogue pushed Puerto Rico’s statehood issue to the back burner. Puerto Rico’s predominantly Spanish-speaking population also has been a stumbling block. “The House is discussing whether English will be the official language,” says Eduardo Bhatia, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. “There is a lot of confusion injected [in the debate]. We’re running all over the House and the Senate basically clarifying the misconceptions that [Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner] Mr. [Luis] Fortu�o and some of his statehood lobbyists [are spreading].” But statehood lobbyists say they are continuing to put pressure on Congress, after a White House task force in December recommended that Congress move ahead with a Puerto Rican referendum. “It is a great unresolved problem of American democracy,” says Jeffrey Farrow, a former Clinton administration aide. “With 3.9 million people [who are] U.S. citizens who do not have a vote in the government, it’s not democratic at the national level.” ALTERED STATES Control of the governorship and legislature in Puerto Rico regularly changes hands, and so too do lobby shops. In 2000, the last time the Puerto Rican political parties flipped the governorship, pro-statehood lobby shops such as now-named DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, now-named McKenna Long & Aldridge, Johnston & Associates, and now-named Alvarado, Gerken & Bennett lost their lucrative retainers. DLA Piper, for one, according to public records, billed Puerto Rico almost $2 million in lobbying retainers in 2000. Puerto Rico’s status has been an issue of contention since it became a U.S. territory, in 1898. Though the commonwealth party enjoyed majority status for decades, since the mid-1980s the statehood party has continued to grow, and now Puerto Ricans are split almost evenly between the statehood and commonwealth parties. The last time this issue received major play in Washington was 1998. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) introduced legislation that called for the commonwealth to vote on its future status. But lobbyists had a difficult time convincing Republicans that the projected six representatives and two senators from Puerto Rico would not be Democrats. Despite a 209-208 vote in the House that saw Republicans such as former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) voting for the bill, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) was not swayed, and the bill did not exit the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. In 2004, Puerto Ricans elected commonwealth and statehood candidates for the top two positions for the first time in the island’s history. The governor, An�bal Acevedo-Vil�, is pro-commonwealth, while Fortu�o, the resident commissioner � Puerto Rico’s representative to Congress who, like D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, doesn’t have voting rights � is from the statehood party. That has divided the lobbying effort of the two and created tension between their offices. Despite budget shortfalls, the Puerto Rico governor’s office is expected to spend a little more than $3 million on lobbying this year, with commonwealth lobbyists including former Rep. Toby Roth Sr. (R-Wis.) of the Roth Group, Charles Black Jr. of BKSH & Associates, Harry Katrichis of Arent Fox, and Francisco Pavia of Winston & Strawn. Last year these three shops reported making $1.25 million in lobbying fees from Puerto Rican government-funded clients. Meanwhile, the statehood party continues to shore up support in Washington by using lobbyists such as Mickey Ibarra of Ibarra & Associates, Manuel Ortiz of Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Jonathan Slade of MWW Group, and Jose Fuentes, now at Akerman Senterfitt. Last year these outfits billed at least $1.6 million, according to public documents from cities and groups lobbying on Puerto Rico. The statehood party, as the minority party, also uses a large grass-roots network that it has cultivated for years, joining organizations such as the National Council of La Raza. Pro-statehood party and Puerto Rico Senate President Kenneth McClintock has been making the rounds around the United States, most recently speaking at a League of United Latin American Citizens‘ national conference. “Over the last 12 to 14 years the debate has reached the levels it has reached because of the statehood organization penetrating these local U.S. and Washington organizations,” says Bhatia, the Puerto Rico governor’s top D.C. aide. Just as the statehood lobbyists are working the Hill, so too are the commonwealth representatives. And, unsurprisingly, they view the situation in a completely different light. According to Bhatia, there is little momentum. The commonwealth party has companion bills in the House and the Senate that call for a constitutional convention at which party officials would decide how Puerto Rico would be organized. “The governor really doesn’t want anything to happen,” says Fortu�o. “Rocking the boat is moving away from the status quo, and they really don’t want to move.” D.C. PAYING ATTENTION Statehood lobbyists say they are priming for the hearing that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) is expected to hold in September. The pro-statehood lobby has bills in the Senate and the House that call for implementing the recommendation of the Bush administration task force, which is to hold a vote on whether Puerto Rican citizens want to remain a commonwealth. The House bill introduced by Fortu�o goes further, as it would implement the task force’s second step, which defines the commonwealth’s options should its citizens choose to change its status. Puerto Rico’s efforts, of course, echo those in the District concerning its own poor-cousin status. Ilir Zherka, executive director of DC Votes, a nonprofit focused on D.C. statehood, says his organization is monitoring the Puerto Rico legislation. But he’s paying more attention to the hearing on the District’s status, which Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) has slated for Sept. 14 before a Judiciary Committee subcommittee. Zherka is hoping for a markup before the end of the session. “It’s going to be difficult,” Zherka says. “It’s an uphill battle, as everything involving the District seems to be, but we’re committed to doing it at this point.” Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s pro-statehood lobby is taking a longer view of the issue and wants to use the co-sponsors of its bills early next year to really push the issue to a vote. In the Senate, Sens. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) and Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) have sponsored a bill that lobbyists say could help tip the scales in their favor. “Put together a Republican and a Democrat of like mind and this is an issue to really receive more visibility and attention soon,” says Ibarra of Mickey Ibarra & Associates, who is lobbying for the Puerto Rico Senate. Lobbyists see the changing winds with more Hispanic members in Congress and by trying to frame the issue as a civil rights and humanitarian cause. “I think it’s going to come to a boiling point in 2007,” says Maurice Ferre, the former mayor of Miami who has been working with Martinez’s office on the legislation.
Anna Palmer can be contacted at [email protected].

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