With Resident Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón (NPP, R) of Puerto Rico running for governor in 2024, the New Progressive Party (NPP) will see a contentious primary race to succeed her.
The Popular Democratic Party (PDP) has already backed Pablo José Hernández (D), who has already started campaigning. Three candidates have entered the NPP primary: Elmer Román González (R), William Villafañe Ramos (R), and José Enrique “Quiquito” Meléndez Ortiz (R). González-Colón, who is running against incumbent governor Pedro Pierluisi (NPP, D), is running with Román as a primary ticket. Pierluisi has yet to select a Resident Commissioner candidate for his ticket and may not select a candidate as Villafañe Ramos and Meléndez Ortiz both support his campaign.
Román served as Secretary of Public Safety under Governor Ricardo Rosselló (NPP, D) and Secretary of State under Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced (NPP, R). PDP officials have used Román’s previous experience to attack his candidacy, highlighting Vázquez Garced’s arrest on corruption and bribery charges and Rosselló’s resignation after allegations of corruption and a leaked private text chat. Still, Román is highlighting his military experience, currently working in the Department of Defense after serving as a United States Marine Corps captain.
Pierluisi attacked Román for not being a clear supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico. He also praised Villafañe and Meléndez, saying, “The two candidates for resident commissioner who support me, who support my re-election, have a proven track record in favor of stability, in favor of the equality as American citizens that we lack. The two who support my re-election both have a proven track record in favor of statehood.” A spokesperson for Pierluisi’s campaign further attacked Román for not being a member of the NPP in the past and not voting in NPP primaries or statehood referendums while living on the island. Pierluisi contrasted Román with Villafañe and Meléndez, saying, “They are statehooders by birth; they have participated in countless forums to inform and educate our people about the benefits of statehood and our ideals.”
Villafañe focused on statehood in his campaign announcement, saying, “I will address the question of the political status of Puerto Rico. This is an issue that has deeply affected our identity and development as a people. As your servant, I will fight tirelessly for a fairer, freer, and more prosperous Puerto Rico.”
Román has highlighted the importance of reforming healthcare and shifting from the Puerto Rico Nutritional Assistance Program to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. In an interview, Román said, “We need an effective resident commissioner who does not go to Washington to learn or improvise, but rather a person with experience, who knows the intergovernmental system and who has already interacted with the leaders.” He pointed to his experience in both the territorial government and Department of Defense, saying they would help him “meet with the congressional leadership and the heads of federal agencies on an equal footing.”
González-Colón pushed back, attacking Pierluisi for not having a ticket mate. González-Colón said, “First, I have to laugh because the governor’s campaign manager is more interested in my campaign than his. I think they are terrified of the person I have selected for Resident Commissioner because instead of talking about looking for a candidate for themselves, they are focused on attacking mine without knowing who he is.”
González-Colón defended Román, who has been criticized for supporting the LUMA Energy contract, by saying the accusations were merely allegations. Román denied the accusations that he approved the contract, saying the Public-Private Partnerships Authority wrote and approved the contract while he only had to ensure that the contract complied with the law. He also called for an audit of the contract.
Román is not only being attacked by Pierluisi. PDP officials filed a complaint against Román, saying he broke the Hatch Act, which prevents federal employees from running in partisan elections. Román said he was backed by a legal opinion, and the US Department of Defense later said Román could run in the election. Unlike the NPP gubernatorial primary, where González-Colón is affiliating with the Republican Party, and Pierluisi is affiliating with the Democratic party, all three NPP candidates (Román, Villafañe, and Meléndez) are Republicans, though Román indirectly said he would caucus with the Republicans because of “Republican inclinations.” Hernández, along with the PDP gubernatorial candidates Juan Zaragoza and Jesús Manuel Ortiz, are all affiliated as Democrats.Regardless of who the NPP selects, they will face a formidable Hernández. Hernández has already proposed economic reforms related to benefits, salaries, tax laws, and investments. He also called for the end of PROMESA and the Financial Oversight and Management Board. As the NPP faces a brutal primary, the PDP is focused on its agenda of “everyone” rather than an “agenda of the few.”