Self-determination is a fundamental human right which the people of Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and Jefferson deserve as much as the rest of the United States.
Regardless of your politics, if you value freedom, give it to those who have been deprived of it.
There are currently two primary territories whose potential statehood looms large in the national conversation: Douglass Commonwealth, also known as Washington. D.C., and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The State of Jefferson is a third, less well-known candidate for statehood.
The struggle for D.C.’s statehood has been an ongoing battle for more than half a century. The 23rd Amendment, passed in 1961, gave D.C. citizens the ability to vote in the presidential election, with three electoral votes. This right is unique among U.S. territories, but like America’s various island territories, D.C. is represented in Congress by a non-voting member.
Puerto Rico has been a colonial possession of the United States since the Spanish-American War. Over the years, Puerto Rico has steadily gained more and more rights to self-governance. The issue of the island’s future is a contentious issue in Puerto Rican politics, with various groups favoring a vast array of different solutions.
Least known of these candidates for statehood is the State of Jefferson. Encompassing parts of Northern California and Southern Oregon, the State of Jefferson would be a predominantly rural state. The justification for the State of Jefferson is simple enough to understand: Jeffersonians feel ignored by the legislators in Sacramento and Salem.
California’s gas taxes make sense in the Bay Area or Los Angeles, but up in rural Jefferson, where the terrain already makes travel difficult and expensive, those gas taxes can be economically ruinous.
The California sheriff’s offices are unable to serve the people of Jefferson as well, as they are southern Californians. Already spread thin financially, the response times can be dangerously long. Finally, as with many rural communities, guns are very popular in Jefferson. This puts it at odds with much of the rest of the state who largely supports California's fairly strict, and sometimes arcane, gun laws.
The case for D.C. statehood has perhaps never been stronger than right now, just a month after the attack on the Capitol. As it stands now, the D.C. National Guard is not under the direction of the duly elected head of D.C’s government, but instead, the president. This fact led to a situation where the president was reportedly hesitant to call up the national guard on his own supporters, leading to the Vice President making the call. Remember that at the time of the storming of the Capitol, Mike Pence was in the Capitol, and the insurrectionists were chanting “hang Mike Pence.” If a direct assault on our democratic institutions is not enough to convince you that D.C. statehood is imperative, I don't know what is.
To put the situation with the D.C. National Guard into context, it would be like if the N.Y.P.D. were under the purview of the Governor of New York rather than the Mayor of New York. Essentially you would have an armed force under the command of a person elected by both the people policed by that armed force as well as folks not policed by that force. This state of affairs can lead to a feeling of occupation and dissatisfaction.
Furthermore, this country was founded on the basis of a protest against taxes which were not approved of by the representatives of the people being taxed. The American Revolution is popularly seen as being rallied to with the cry of “no taxation without representation,” a statement found on the license plates of D.C. residents.
The case for Puerto Rico statehood is a difficult one to make, as there does not seem to be broad agreement on what should be done. While referendums for statehood continue to pass with overwhelming support, this appears to be in large part due to boycotts organized by groups opposed to statehood.
Rather than simply offering Puerto Ricans a choice between the status quo and statehood, we should listen to the people of the island as a whole and hold a referendum with a variety of choices. The four main options are as follows: outright independence, statehood, the status quo or a Compact of Free Association.
A Compact of Free Association is essentially an agreement between the United States and one or more countries which allows citizens of both countries to live and work in either country. The U.S. is already in a compact of free association with a number of former island territories captured during World War I and II.
The Puerto Rico status referendum should happen in stages and should be binding contingent on consistent voter turnout of more than 60%. If at any point an option receives more than 50% of the vote, then that should be the fate of the island.
Of our three potential 51st states, Jefferson is the least likely to be added. Not only would Congress need to agree to it, but so would both the Oregon and California governments. Jefferson’s borders change with each proposal, and the more ambitious ones are rather unlikely to receive the California seal of approval.
A key roadblock to California giving Jefferson the O.K. is water. Jefferson is the source for the vast majority of California’s fresh water, and historically one entity having control of another’s access to fresh water is a source of frequent conflict. Given the fact that the Golden State already has frequent drought issues, a potential State of Jefferson could leverage massive compensation in exchange for water rights.
Any possibility of Jeffersonian statehood would have to be contingent on California having relatively free access to water, and even then it would need to be approved by the people of the Northern California and Southern Oregon counties.
As a Bay Area native myself, I’ve always found it weird that when people speak of ‘Northern California’ they rarely go further north than wine country. While sparsely populated by Californian standards, the most likely collection of Jeffersonian counties has a population of around 2,260,000, which would give it the same size congressional delegation as Nebraska: two Senators and three Representatives.
A common argument against adding Puerto Rico to the Union would simply be handing power to the Democratic party in perpetuity is simply false. Puerto Rico and D.C. both elect with what are called “shadow senators,” senators who are elected by the people of those territories and would assume office upon their gaining statehood. D.C. obviously elected two Democrats, however Puerto Rico has elected one Republican and one Democrat. Their “shadow representatives” are also fairly evenly split between the two parties. Jefferson would favor Republicans, though depending on how referendums turnout, it could be fairly competitive, at least in terms of representatives.
The right of self-determination is something which all Americans should respect. To oppose a state gaining statehood simply because of its likely partisan leaning is spineless and cowardly. All of the people living within D.C, Puerto Rico, and Jefferson are American citizens and deserve the same rights, dignity and respect as the rest of us. If the people of this nation are not fairly represented, the government cannot be said to hold much legitimacy.
Nick Finan is a junior political science major. Reach him at email@example.com