Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño Differs With Romney On Sotomayor And With Santorum Over English Requirement

Mar 16, 2012 10:39am
ap rick santorum puerto rico lt 120315 wblog Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño Differs With Romney On Sotomayor And With Santorum Over English Requirement

Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP Photo

ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:

Listen to Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño and you can almost hear the voice of Mitt Romney.

“I love metrics and hard data,” Fortuño said, winding up to his prediction about whether Romney, who he has endorsed, is headed toward a contested convention. “I don’t see it in the numbers. I’ve looked at it, and it is such an impossibility.”

However, in an interview with ABC News ahead of this Sunday’s primary in Puerto Rico, Fortuño’s echoes of Romney did not extend to his view of one of the island’s most beloved figures: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Sotomayor, whose parents are of Puerto Rican descent, has become a punching bag for Romney in recent weeks. His campaign released a television and radio ad criticizing Rick Santorum for voting to confirm her to a circuit court judgeship in the 1990′s and in an interview with a Puerto Rican  Puerto Rican radio station on Thursday Romney called her “an activist, a liberal jurist.”

“I prefer people who follow the Constitution and do not make law as a judge,” Romney told a reporter for the island’s Noti Uno news station.

Fortuño, who has served as governor since 2009, used very different words to describe the Latino jurist.

“Justice Sotomayor’s nomination was a momentous occasion for Puerto Rican Americans,” he said. “We’re all proud of her accomplishments.”

Fortuño declined to say whether it was a smart idea for Romney to run the ads, but acknowledged, “When you’re running a national race, what you do in one part of the country may affect you in another part of the country, and that’s just the way it is.”

“You may be in one part of the country talking about farm subsidies and it may be actually viewed in one way in one part of the country and in a different way in another part of the country,” he added. “That’s par for the course. It’s bound to happen. I am proud to have a Puerto Rican American holding that position.”

Romney, who is traveling to Puerto Rico on Friday to begin a 24-hour campaign swing there in an attempt to win the majority of the territory’s 23 delegates, follows on the heels of opponent Rick Santorum.

Santorum and Fortuño have known each other for years, but the popular Puerto Rico governor, who is regarded as a rising star in the Republican Party, chose to endorse Romney ahead of the Florida primary in January.

While campaigning in Puerto Rico this week, Santorum sparked a controversy when he told a local newspaper that English would have to be the “main language” in order for the island to become a state.

“There are other states with more than one language, as is the case with Hawaii, but to be a state of the U.S., English should be the main language,” Santorum said in an interview with the El Vocero newspaper on Wednesday.

Fortuño disagreed, saying that the issue of language “should not be politicized.”

“Since the very beginning of the 20th century, English and Spanish have both been official languages in Puerto Rico. We’re proud of that,” he said. “I don’t think language should be used in any partisan context or certainly regarding status.”

Here are more excerpts from ABC’s interview with Gov. Fortuño:

What is the mood among the Republican electorate in Puerto Rico that awaits Mitt Romney?

Fortuño: “I sense a lot of expectation and excitement. Last time around when we ended up having our primary in ’08 essentially the nominee had already — it was obvious who the nominee was going to be. So we didn’t even have a primary, we had a caucus with delegates and that was it. This time around it’s different. We’re in the midst of the primary season — we’re at the beginning of the primary season and people are excited. I expect that we will have a nice turnout. … And our primary will have a unique flavor.”

You and Senator Santorum are friends and have known each other for years. How did ultimately decide to endorse Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum?

Fortuño:  “Any of the different candidates, all I can say is that they are fine men of great character and intellect. So, I have nothing negative to say about any of the Republican candidates. Having said that, however, my obligation is to decide — if I’m going to endorse anyone — to decide who do I think would make the best president and who do I think as president will assist us in Puerto Rico in a better way. From my point of view, I believe we need the proper leadership moving into the early part of this decade and given the economic and fiscal challenges we’re facing someone with the experience that Governor Romney brings to the table is uniquely positioned for the presidency. From the purely local point of view, I have said that I made my decision based on Governor Romney’s commitments in three specific areas.”

“The first one is his support for a stronger national security along America’s Caribbean border. Most Americans will think that border security has only to do with securing the southwestern border with Mexico. We don’t feel that way here. We feel that border security has a lot to do with us as well. It is as if you were going to lock your front door and leave the back door open. We are experiencing in the Caribbean region a surge of illegal drug trafficking from smugglers in South America and that is creating a very serious public safety situation, not just in Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean in general, but it affects every major metropolitan city or area between Miami and Boston. So, I believe this is a national security imperative that has to be addressed. He has pledged to support a stronger national security along what I call America’s Caribbean border.”

“Secondly, job creation. Even though we have made tremendous strides locally in the last year or so after our longest recession in history — almost six years long. Our recession commenced in the beginning of ’06 and got much worse after the financial meltdown at the beginning of ’08. … He has pledged to, as president, bring about a number of pro-growth economic development initiatives and he said Puerto Rico will be included along with the 50 states in those initiatives because he recognizes that jobs in Puerto Rico are American jobs.”

“Thirdly, he also made a public commitment regarding our political status. We are holding a plebiscite on Puerto Rico’s status on Nov. 6. He actually made a public commitment to respect the will of the people as expressed in the ballot box that day and to provide the necessary leadership to work with me for further implementation as required of whatever the will may start indicating that may be our future pathway.”

Was it a good idea for Mitt Romney’s campaign to run radio and television ads criticizing Rick Santorum for voting to confirm Sonia Sotomayor to a U.S. circuit court spot?

Fortuño:  “Justice Sotomayor’s nomination was a momentous occasion for Puerto Rican Americans. We’re all proud of her accomplishments. As I understand it, his ad essentially was trying to pinpoint the fact that he views Senator Santorum may say one thing and vote in another way. He didn’t want to address Justice Sotomayor’s qualifications or anything like that or her ethnicity, but the fact that he felt there was a double-talk there as I understand it.”

“When you’re running a national race, what you do in one part of the country may affect you in another part of the country, and that’s just the way it is. You may be in one part of the country talking about farm subsidies and it may be actually viewed in one way in one part of the country and in a different way in another part of the country. That’s par for the course. It’s bound to happen. I am proud to have a Puerto Rican American holding that position.”

While campaigning in Puerto Rico this week, Rick Santorum said English should be the “main language” of the island as a condition for statehood. What did you think of that statement?

Fortuño:  “Let me state very clearly where I stand on that. We’ve been part of this great nation since 1898. We’ve been natural born American citizens since 1917 and fought in every single war with valor and courage since then. Since the very beginning of the 20th century, English and Spanish have both been official languages in Puerto Rico. We’re proud of that. I don’t think language should be used in any partisan context or certainly regarding status.”

“I see the English language as an opportunity – a tool to obtain, for kids to obtain opportunities in our society that otherwise may not be there and that’s how I view it as a father. I made it a point that my kids would be fully bilingual. In my last state of the state address, I made clear that even though English is taught in every single public school here that I will make it a point to make sure that every kid that graduates from a public school here is truly, truly, fully bilingual by the time they graduate from high school. And that is a position that is supported by over 90 percent of parents.”

“This should not be politicized in any way or fashion. … Spanish for us is part of our heritage and we’re proud of that and we want to preserve it. Regardless of whether we are an independent republic, we remain a territory or we become a state, we should be fully bilingual. We should keep our Spanish and we should speak English fully. And that’s how most parents view this issue down here.”

Was there ever a time you considered supporting Rick Santorum for president?

Fortuño:  “I could have considered any one of them. … But I decided after analyzing it that Governor Romney was again better prepared to provide the leadership we need for our nation and that experience in the private sector as well as the public sector and specifically in job creation was going to be extremely handy in this campaign and in running the country. So, if I had to pick, I’d pick him. But I don’t want it to be taken as a demeaning statement toward any other candidate because it is not meant that way. But at the end of the day when you go into the polling booth you have to pull that lever even though you may like a number of them.”

Are you surprised that it’s mid-March and Mitt Romney has yet to lock up the GOP nomination?

Fortuño:  “If the primaries across the country had been stacked this time around in the same way they were stacked in ’08, I would have said, ‘yes.’ However, at this time in ’08 almost 80 percent of the delegates had been already selected and there were many more states that were winner take all. This time around it’s close to 15 percent of the delegates that have been selected so far — a lot less — and many states are proportional. It would be like comparing apples with oranges. It’s a different process.”

What’s your prediction about whether the Republican Party is headed toward a contested convention this summer?

Fortuño:  “I don’t see it in the numbers, and I love hard data. I love metrics and hard data. I’ve looked at it and it is such an impossibility that could happen really. It would make for a lot more interesting convention. I’ve been going to conventions since ’96 in San Diego and this will be another made-for-TV convention as I see it.”

What are the chances that Puerto Ricans vote to take a step toward becoming the 51st state when the statehood referendum is put to a vote in November?

Fortuño:   “I believe that will happen.”

“Puerto Rican Americans have fought in every single war with valor and courage since 1917 in greater numbers than most states. In the most recent War on Terror, we have contributed more men and women to that war that every single state but one. … The question that everyone in America should ask themselves is, if these American men and women having actually contributed in so many ways, including with their lives to our nation. Don’t they deserve to express themselves and tell us whether  they want to remain a territory or become an independent republic or become a state with all the obligations and benefits of American citizens residing elsewhere?”

“What the irony of this primary is — it is not just that we will voting here and then we won’t be able to vote in November. The greatest irony of all is that we have sent hundreds and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of absentee ballots to Afghanistan and Iraq to men and women in uniform that will vote in the primary but will not be able to vote for the commander in chief.”

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