March 16th, 2012
05:24 PM ET
11 years ago

Romney on English for Puerto Rico statehood

San Juan, Puerto Rico (CNN) - Minutes after his plane touched down on a Puerto Rican airport tarmac, Mitt Romney said he would not require the territory to make English its official language as a requirement for statehood.

"I don't have preconditions that I would impose" if Puerto Ricans voted to become the nation's 51st state, Romney told members of the media Friday, addressing the issue for the first time in person. English and Spanish are already the dual official languages on the island.

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Romney's position on preconditions puts him at odds with his rival, former Sen. Rick Santorum, who said early this week Puerto Rico would need to adopt English as its official language before being eligible for statehood.

Santorum's comment was met with outrage from some locals, and Romney's campaign seized on the issue as a key difference between the White House hopefuls. Santorum refined his position on Wednesday, saying that "English needs to be the principal language" for the territory to be considered for statehood.

Romney has not argued for similar conditions on statehood. While he has previously said English should be the official language of the United States government, he he has said states should determine their policies. Romney addressed the language issue at a CNN debate in Jacksonville, Florida.

"I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is," Romney said at the debate, in January. "I also believe that in our schools, we should teach kids in English."

But Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded: "Governor Romney supports making English the official language of the United States government. This should have no impact on Puerto Rico's statehood effort, English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for over 100 years."

Regardless, in a tweet, a spokesman for Santorum's campaign accused Romney of flip-flopping and pandering to Puerto Ricans ahead of its Sunday primary.

Santorum spokesman Matt Beynon tweeted: "So Romney once supported English as national language, then goes to Puerto Rico and says no language req on statehood. #FlipFlop? #Pander?"

His communications director, Hogan Gidley, noted broad support for English as the nation's official language, and said in an email to reporters, "How can Romney say he supports English as the official language of America and not believe Puerto Rico should speak English? If he'll spend the whole election being untruthful about his positions – it makes you wonder what else he's being untruthful about."

Residents will vote on proposed statehood later this year. Romney, who is backed by the territory's governor, Luis Fortuno, said he would support an effort by Puerto Ricans to become a state.

Romney was also asked Friday about his criticism of Puerto Rican Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, which has roiled some Puerto Rican voters.

"In looking at Justice Sotomayor, my view was that her philosophy is quite different than my own, and that's the reason why I would not support her as a justice for the Supreme Court," Romney said. "Had I been in the Senate - I was not in the Senate - I would be happy to have a justice of Puerto Rican descent or a Puerto Rican individual on the Supreme Court, but they would have to share my judicial philosophy. That comes first."

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Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney • Puerto Rico • Rick Santorum
soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    Who cares what they speak. Give the island back to Spain. It's a waste of our money.

    March 16, 2012 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  2. Peace

    By the way are they voting during General Election? If not why are they important during primaries and not during the general?

    March 16, 2012 05:41 pm at 5:41 pm |
  3. Myviewis

    I don't see why people don't understand that Puerto Ricans are fighting for a language that is not Puerto Rico's language to begin with. Spanish is of Spain not Puerto Rico. People need to remember that English is the language of the United States as a result of the English colonization, English speaking settlers in the 17th century. Spanish is the language of Puerto Rico as a result of the Spanish colonization, Spanish speaking settlers. The Taino Puerto Rican Indian language ceased to be spoken. Hawaii in 1990 were given the right to preserve, use their indigenous Hawaiian language. The difference with Puerto Rico is that the indigenous language of Puerto Rico is Taino not Spanish as Spanish was introduced to them by the Spaniards. How hard is it to understand this?

    March 16, 2012 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  4. Russ

    Talk about pandering. Let's see Santorum upset a lot of people with his English requirement. Puerto Rico isn't going to become a state under my Presidency anyway.....OK listen up people unlike Santorum I won't require English to be your official language. Vote for me!!!

    March 16, 2012 05:47 pm at 5:47 pm |
  5. Truth and Nothing But the Truth

    Ok, great give the island back to the Taino Puerto Rican Indian's who can resurrect their lost language and build a strong thriving Indian casino culture we can all go to enjoy. Just get this island off the US governments list of properties to babysit and send money to.

    March 16, 2012 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  6. Randy, San Francisco

    This is not even an issue in many European countries where it's citizens are multi-lingual.

    March 16, 2012 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  7. Four and The Door

    Good call, Mitt. I do have more confidence in Mitt Romney's judgement than what we have seen from Rick Santorum. I just worry that Santorum tends to get caught up too much in the politics.

    March 16, 2012 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  8. Woman In California

    Once again, Willard is at it. All things to all people.

    but they would have to share my judicial philosophy. That comes first."

    What else would "they" have to share Willard? Your cult, your beliefs, your way of doing things?

    No thanks, I plan to send this wanna be dictator back to his "philosophy" as fast as I can.

    Obama 2012

    March 16, 2012 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  9. Sniffit

    "I don't see why people don't understand that Puerto Ricans are fighting for a language that is not Puerto Rico's language to begin with...How hard is it to understand this?"

    None of that was hard to understand. What's hard to understand is what your point is. Is your point that PR's contemporary cultural identity and its peoples' understanding of their heritage is merely rooted in hundreds of years of spanish language and influence that was only the rsult of colonization, so it's not legitimate to defend it against what would essentially be reverse colonization? That because it was partly the result of military colonization hundreds of years ago it has no inherent value or worth and can and should be glibly discarded if they want to become a state? Is that your point?

    Well then, applying that "logic", I guess if the GOP/Teatrolls have their way, we'll all be forced to assimilate and speak Chinese at some point when China buys up all our lands and corporations from the American fat cats growing China's economy by outsourcing all our jobs...while our economy suffers for it.

    March 16, 2012 06:15 pm at 6:15 pm |
  10. Zer0Striker

    Well it's not like was going to vote for him anyway, but now we need to make sure he never becomes president. Using political power to force one's values on others epitomizes anti-Americanism. This is far more vile than any hardcore content I've seen on the internet!

    Obama 2012!

    March 16, 2012 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  11. nellore venkataraman

    Seems to me the question is why PR should be a state and not independent?. Half the Puerto Ricans hate the US, some even celebrated 9/11. Let them be independent and join the Mother Country Spain. They can speak Spanish to their heart's content on an empty stomach. Then of course, Spain does not want PR either!

    March 16, 2012 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  12. Wvazoe

    @ truth
    you are a plant on this site because you say things so outrageous you are not for real.

    March 16, 2012 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  13. Independent in NC

    Flip-Flop-Flip-Flop, Romney changes to whatever anyone wants to hear.

    March 16, 2012 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  14. Bob

    Andrea saul speaks while willard hides back-stage, as usual.

    March 16, 2012 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  15. TheTruthHurts

    Ignorance is bliss i guess. The US has no "national" language, in fact the on national language ever propsed for a vote was German, sorry to burst your bubble. The "US" is not due to colonization. all of the mid west and much of the south was French colonization, Flordida and all of the West was spanish, much of the north was dutch and German. The last, having sold the land to england for massive sums. Point is England was not the only colonization of the US. On the other hand we can create a standard to which other have to conform. eg there is nothing that says we have to create all spanish speaking schools with tax payer money which is a money seive. Most puerto ricans dont even want statehood because they reap all the benefits of be US citizens without having to pay things like income taxes, o and yes, "Peace" they have been allowed to vote in national elections for a while now.


    March 16, 2012 06:43 pm at 6:43 pm |
  16. Phoebus

    What I think is being forgotten is there is no official language of the united states required by law to be spoken. States can vote separately by law for an official language of the state, I believe, but it isn't required by federal law for puerto rico to speak english if they were to vote for statehood. Which I believe will not pass anyway. Puerto Rico teaches english in its schools anyway and list spanish and english as the island's languages. It doesn't matter what language used to spoken, that being the Taino indian language, so to say spanish isn't our language is crazy. Do you expect for puerto ricans to abandon spanish and speak taino? The same argument can be said about the US, fighting for a language that isn't theres because the original inhabitants of the US were native indians so the US should speak in native indian dialect.

    March 16, 2012 06:55 pm at 6:55 pm |
  17. Howard

    along with an unwavering complicit mainstream media ... Obama is able to get away with anything.
    For America's sake, hopefully, Obama will not get away with buying a reelection.
    Obama and Holder should both be convicted for the 200+ innocent Mexicans, who were
    murdered, thanks to FAST and FURIOUS !!!

    March 16, 2012 07:00 pm at 7:00 pm |
  18. Perez Esq.

    Puerto Ricans already speak both English and Spanish. What Santorum is really asking for is for Puerto Ricans to abandon its culture. To answer your question, Puerto Rico is important because half of all Puerto Ricans live in the States..... SANTORUM LOST MY PUERTO RICAN VOTE!!.

    March 16, 2012 07:10 pm at 7:10 pm |
  19. lunatuna

    Yesterday it was "hasta la vista" for Santorum in Puerto Rico! Today it's "Hola! Presidente Romney."!!!

    March 16, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  20. Tony

    The difference between Romney and Santorum is clear. Romney panders to everybody. He likes grits if you like grits. Santorum, in contrast, only panders to religious and social conservatives. Thus, Santorum keeps on bringing up issues only religious and social conservatives care about.

    March 16, 2012 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  21. NateFromIndiana

    Requiring literacy in English for statehood might very well disqualify some existing states.

    March 16, 2012 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  22. JohnH_in_OKC

    Oklahoma went over 100 years with NO official language. This was to respect our Native American citizens and small Latin American and Asian populations. Unfortunately, after 100 years, the Republican Party took control of both Oklahoma's House and Senate and passed an English only official language law. This was aimed at our fast growing Hispanic population, but was a slap at our many Native Americans. I have lived & traveled in many dual language countries - Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Belgium and Canada and found diverse language and cultures encourage cultural diversity and tolerance.
    It is obvious Santoum's s stance (along with most Republicans) supporting English-only law is based on his/their ignorance and fear of diversity. Let Puerto Ricans make their own language decisions and not be excluded from U.S. statehood, if they vote to support becoming a state.

    March 16, 2012 07:42 pm at 7:42 pm |
  23. John Smith

    People forget that ALL puerto ricans are ALREDY US citizens. It doesn't matter what language they speak, they are alrady natural Born Americans!

    March 16, 2012 07:50 pm at 7:50 pm |
  24. Marshall

    Santorum is a Torquemada in waiting, in waiting to control your life. The language flap is only the latest harangue of this demagogue. Be afraid, be afraid, be very afraid.

    March 16, 2012 08:12 pm at 8:12 pm |
  25. Larry L

    Maybe we could send some missionaries to Puerto Rico and infect them with disease. That worked for Hawaii!

    Why would Puerto Rico want to join a country that produced Rick Santorum and his followers? If Republicans actually believe in the free market they'll forget about an "official" language and realize that the dominant language will drive the market. If Puerto Ricans choose to be successful in a free market they will speak the languague that produces the best income. If that language is Spanish – maybe we should all learn to speak Spanish!

    March 16, 2012 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |