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Darren Soto cautiously eyeing Puerto Rico statehood effort

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Sunday’s landslide vote in Puerto Rico to determine statehood and perhaps add the 51st star to the American flag, was almost ignored by news media, until the last minute, because of all the political controversies emanating from Washington.

But some officials like U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat representing the 9th Congressional District had been paying close attention since the election was scheduled.

Soto, 39, the first Florida member of Congress of Puerto Rican heritage, was careful not to take sides in the referendum.

“I believe that decision is solely up to the voters (of Puerto Rico), he said in an April interview, adding,’’ But I did ask to be appointed to the Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs, just in case they asked for statehood,” Soto said.

One of the next steps to becoming a state after a vote from a territory is for its administrators to request statehood from Congress. And the first step will be to go through the subcommittee on which Soto sits.

Voters in Puerto Rico approved statehood by almost 97 percent due in part to a boycott of the referendum by the party supporting a continuation of the current commonwealth status.

“It was a good turnout, but at the end of the day it is those who show up at the polls who decide,” he said.

Soto is well aware that the Republican-controlled House and Senate may be reluctant to approve statehood because voters in the new state likely would put Democratic House members and senators into the Congress.

“I and Rep. Don Young (Republican from Alaska) will be preparing a detailed bipartisan report to our subcommittee,” he said.

Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in presidential elections, but once they move into the United States mainland, they can participate in the presidential election as well as the elections in the states in which they reside. If statehood is granted they won’t have to relocate to vote for president.

The large population of voters with Puerto Rican heritage contributed to Soto’s election November in the heavily Democratic 9th District.

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Former Ledger of Lakeland columnist Bill Rufty is Central Florida political correspondent for SaintPetersBlog and Florida Politics. Rufty had been with the Ledger from 1985-2015, where, as political editor, he covered a wide range of beats, including local and state politics, the Lakeland City Commission, and the Florida Legislature. Ledger editor Lenore Devore said about Rufty’s 30-year career: “[He is] a man full of knowledge, a polling expert and a war history buff … who has a steel trap in his brain, remembering details most of us have long since forgotten.”

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