Opinion: the 51st state?

Last Tuesday’s election night was full of excitement culminating in the reelection of President Obama. However, this news overshadowed many other important election decisions that have the possibility to create public policy changes not only in Michigan, but throughout the country as a whole.

First, there has been a lot of talk on Facebook and Twitter about the possibility of Puerto Rican statehood. People are wondering about the statehood petition process, the potential change of the U.S. flag, and the fact that the island nation of nearly 4 million overwhelmingly speaks Spanish.

To clear things up, the statehood process is not all that complicated. Article IV Section III of the Constitution says that Congress has the authority to administer new states, but it gives few details on how to do so. A referendum is held by the territory asking its citizens if statehood is desired. If this vote wins, the territory submits a formal petition to the U.S. government. Both houses of Congress must pass this petition by a simple majority vote, and then it awaits a Presidential signature. No territory has ever been denied statehood.

The fact is that some people who are welcoming the 51st state may be jumping the gun. The ballot in question was interestingly written with two questions: the first asking if the territorial status should stay the same; the second asking people to vote for either statehood, independence, or a free association with the U.S.

The first question was narrowly voted “no” by a majority of 54%, meaning that Puerto Ricans want a change in the status quo. The second question resulted in 805,155 (61.13%) for statehood,  438,896 (33.32%) for a free association and 72,978 (5.54%) for complete independence. On the surface it looks as though Puerto Ricans want to become the 51st state.

However, 470,032 voters, who presumably do not want a change at all, left the second question blank in an intentional move. Many claim that by asking both questions simultaneously, voters who do not want a change were actually forced into voting for a change on the second question.

It is unclear at the moment if there is a true majority of Puerto Ricans who desire statehood, but the island may regardless take the opportunity to attempt to become the 51st state.

Marijuana legalization was another big story from last week’s election. For the first time marijuana was legalized in two states: Colorado and Washington. Marijuana will be treated similar to alcohol, meaning that only those 21 years and older could possess it. Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level and it is still not known how the federal government will react to this.

In Colorado, the success of the ballot initiative can be attributed partly to the state’s successful implementation of the medical marijuana industry. In Michigan, the cities of Detroit, Flint, Ypsilanti and Grand Rapids all voted to decriminalize marijuana. Marijuana remains illegal in the state, but small amounts of possession in those cities will only result in fines. The decriminalization move will allow police to focus on more important crimes.

L.G.B.T. supporters also gained some ground in this election. The states of Maine, Maryland and Washington all legalized same-sex marriage. Earlier this year President Obama became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage. Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin will become the first openly gay senator in U.S. history.

Veteran Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii will become the first Hindu congresswoman in U.S. history. Her election is a step forward in the direction of religious diversity amongst our legislators.

Meanwhile, Michigan voters shot down the emergency manager law that was implemented by Gov. Rick Snyder. They also voted against all five ballots initiatives, despite heavy spending by private interest groups to promote the proposals.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons


  1. Actually, the Emergency Manager law was originally signed into law by Gov. Blanchard, Gov. Granholm used it in Benton Harbor and Gov. Snyder expanded the powers.

    More than two decades of Emergency Financial Managers in Michigan
    The authority for the Emergency Financial Manager (EFM) is laid out in Public Act 72 and was signed into law by Democratic Governor Jim Blanchard in 1990. Recently Republican Governor Rick Snyder signed a bill that expanded the powers of the EFM. In both the earlier legislation and the revision recently enacted, there are checks and balances by various agencies to assure compliance with the law. The implementation of an EFM is only conducted when the condition of a city or municipality has eroded to the point of financial insolvency. Last year, after much consideration, Governor Jennifer Granholm (D) and her Executive Team appointed an Emergency Financial Manager for Benton Harbor.

  2. I’m Puerto Rican and the questions were clear, there were two questions, the first said that if you wanted to continue the colonial status (ELA), if you answered “yes” did not have to answer the second question,and for those who answered “no” then had to choose which status wanted in the second question (statehood, independence or sovereign ELA). It’s not clear to those who do not want statehood, this is the first time I hear that blank ballots are added to an option to give a result, you can’t count an intention.

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