Rosselló and Pierluisi clash in last debate
On Tuesday night, the two leading candidates for the New Progressive Party’s (Partido Nuevo Progresista, or PNP in Spanish) gubernatorial nomination for this fall’s general election campaign presented themselves in front of Puerto Rican audiences to make their respective cases. The two men are incumbent resident commissioner Pedro Pierluisi and doctor (and son of former governor Pedro Rosselló) Ricardo Rosselló. The two went head-to-head for the final time before the critical island-wide primaries on June 5.
The debate, moderated by Ruben Sanchez, featured distinct question sections. The questions primarily came from education, political status, and economic issue areas. Despite seeking the nomination of the same party for the island’s governorship, the two men seemed to accentuate their differences in nearly every single issue area.
In regards to the proposed oversight board, the argument between Pierluisi and Rosselló became passionate as Rosselló went after the “colonial” nature of the board in his staunch opposition to its creation. In defense of his support for the board, Pierluisi seemed almost resigned in its inevitability. He argued that it would be useful to protect the island’s struggling public services and pensions programs. In what is likely to be an appeal to the PNP’s pro-statehood base, Pierluisi added that the board is part of the road to statehood and would push the island in that direction. Rosselló was quick to dismiss Pierluisi’s claim that the board would lead to statehood–claiming instead that it simply deepens what he perceives to be colonial ties. Pierluisi has pledged to work with the board as governor, whereas Rosselló would use the office as a platform from which to fight the board.
Pierluisi and Rosselló expressed their disapproval of the current education system, arguing for its expansion and diversification. Once again, however, they both painted different visions for the struggling education system. While Rosselló called for what he deemed “radical changes” to the education sector and the expansion of bilingual education, Pierluisi’s proposals seemed more administrative in nature. He called for longer school days and the reinstatement of a five minute reflection period in schools. Pierluisi tied the current crisis to the education system’s woes by promising to expand social security to the island’s retiring teachers as a way of resolving the crisis with pensions.
the prelude to statehood cannot be conducted by inequality
In a rare moment of agreement, the two men opposed PROMESA’s reduction of the minimum wage to $4.25 for those who are under the age of 25. Pierluisi clarified the question, saying that PROMESA does not automatically reduce the minimum wage but rather gives the island’s governor the option to do so. Though they both expressed their opposition to this move, Rosselló came away from this issue area with the most memorable response. In response the proposition to reduce the minimum wage and PROMESA as a whole, Rosselló claimed that “the prelude to statehood cannot be conducted by inequality” and that the bill is moving Puerto Rico in a direction away from statehood.
In terms of statehood, the hallmark of the NPP, the two men differed in their routes to take the island to statehood. Pierluisi, a member of the US Congress, believes that taking a Congressional route is the better option. Rosselló, however, took a more controversial stance by advocating for what he dubbed the “Tennessee Plan” –a tactic that essentially attempts to force statehood and precludes the (often) long Congressional slog of approving statehood.
The closing statements for the candidates sharpened the differences between Pierluisi and Rosselló, as they made their final appeals to Puerto Rico’s voters before Sunday’s primary. The final statements revealed a generational difference between the older statesman Pierluisi and the younger, vibrant Rosselló. Pierluisi’s closing argument centered around his support from the island’s voters, having previously been sent twice to Congress by them. He makes the case for a Pierluisi governorship by highlighting his experience and accomplishments during his time as Resident Commissioner, ending with a warning against experimentation and to vote for the proven option (an argument against Rosselló). Rosselló ended the debate with his youthful tenacity and a push for his generation to be the one that solved Puerto Rico’s crisis. Instead of working with those who created the problem, Rosselló called for the people of Puerto Rico to rise and solve the crisis themselves in order for future generations to inherit a Puerto Rico that works for them.