Santorum Family Parades in Puerto Rico Amid Questions on English and Statehood

Mar 15, 2012 6:01pm

OLD SAN JUAN, P.R.- With a jazz bland blaring island music and a narrator touting Rick Santorum’s conservative credentials in Spanish, the Santorum family led a pop-up parade in their honor down a main thoroughfare here this afternoon.

Santorum, his wife Karen, and five of their seven children jumped out of their SUVs and were instantly swarmed by a mix of press, Puerto Ricans, and American tourists.

While the family made their way down the cobblestone streets, behind a band playing Puerto Rican music, and a green banner reading “Made in America,” supporters changed ”Rick Santorum, Rick Santorum!”  in an island accent.

The Santorum family stopped to take photos and sign autographs both for those who can vote for him the Republican primary in Puerto Rico  Sunday, and for Americans who seemed surprised when then ran into a presidential candidate while vacationing.

Carlos Rodriguez, Santorum’s deputy state director, was the designated narrator and as the family made their way down the winding streets of Old San Juan, he told the crowd, “Vote for Rick Santorum.”

“Puerto Rico, the first Republican candidate is here today,” he said. “San Juan, vote for Rick Santorum, he’s the conservative candidate.”

A wide smile crossed the candidate’s face as he tried to shake hands with as many voters as possible, a startling and colorful contrast to his much quieter appearances in front of small crowds at the Pizza Ranches of Iowa and the two-hour town halls of New Hampshire.

Supporters wearing Rick Santorum T-shirts danced down the street. As the former Pennsylvania senator’s Secret Service detail tried to secure the area, a massive group made its way to the bottom of Old San Juan, where cobble stones meet the glistening ocean.

When the family reached the water side, Santorum was asked again about some controversial comments he made while campaigning here Wednesday.

English, he told a local newspaper,  should become the “principal language” of the territory if Puerto Rico wants to be the nation’s 51st state.

Today, he told reporters, “English should be taught here and everyone should speak English here.”

“It’s something that I think is essential to be an American period,” Santorum said. ”Whether you’re going to be a state or not, people should speak English. And English should be a common language among all Americans. Period. And the idea that somehow or another it should be the only language — it’s not the only language in California, it’s not the only language in Arizona, it’s not the only language in New Orleans — we understand that people of different cultures speak different languages, but we have a common language, and that’s what I was saying yesterday.  To suggest that maliciously, I would add, (that) someone would maliciously write that I said that, was really unfortunate.”

He told reporters before leaving the island that the original story was “crap.”

Statehood is a crucial issue on the island-one that has divided the people here —and during the two days Santorum spent campaigning for the territory’s 23 delegates, he was frequently asked about the issue.

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and most Republicans on the island are supportive of statehood.

Residents of Puerto Rico can vote in partisan primaries, but not in general elections.

At two different town halls Wednesday, Santorum was asked to take a stance on the issue of statehood.  While saying he would be “supportive,” he refused to pick a side. “That’s a decision the people of Puerto Rico have to make and so far they’ve chosen not to make it,” he said.

At a town hall geared toward business leaders, the candidate was pressed by a voter to take a stronger position.  ”We’ve heard candidates say we will leave it to Puerto Ricans,” the voter said. “That is a very comfortable position because it is like what Pontius Pilate did because he just washed his hands,” he continued.

But Santorum again refused to take a stronger stance.

“I’ve said it repeatedly that I think that if you want to be a United States citizen and you want full participation, then you have to become a state,” he said.

“But I can tell you that’s a decision that every state makes and it is their responsibility as a people to make those decisions,” Santorum said. “It is not my responsibility to make those decisions for you.  When you say ‘what am I going to do?’ I would accept, and would work to facilitate Puerto Rican statehood, but that’s a decision –I mean I don’t know how to say it any other way –it’s a decision the people of Puerto Rico have to make.”

Santorum travels back to his home of Virginia Thursday to accompany his family home before campaigning in Missouri and Illinois Friday. Mitt Romney will stump here Friday.

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