America / Politics

The 52nd State

Now that Puerto Rico might break our 53-year streak of a 50-state Union, who should bear the torch as the proverbial 52nd state?

I suggest the Mariana Islands.

Most of you are asking, “But James, where is that?” This is an island chain in the Pacific currently made up of two political entities you may have heard of: Guam, a U.S. territory, and the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), a U.S. commonwealth. The two are ethnically linked by the Chamorro culture and language, but have been politically separate since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, when the U.S. acquired Guam and Germany bought the rest of the islands. Germany’s possessions then went to the Japanese after World War I, who in turn lost them in World War II. The U.S. held the NMI as part of a strategic trust until the mid-70s, when the islands voted for political union with the U.S. But reunification with Guam has been complicated by Guamanians’ suspicion that people in the NMI cooperated with the Japanese during the war. A vote in 1969 to reunify the two entites failed, despite overwhelming support in the NMI. Reunification is being discussed again in the public forum, and this will improve the region’s position should it seek statehood.

One of the biggest challenges to a Marianas statehood is its tiny population. The state would have a population of about 213,000 (159,000 in Guam, 54,000 in NMI). However, that may be a low estimate because there are a number of people from the two territories currently living outside of the islands, primarily in Hawaii and the U.S. mainland. This number could be as high as 90,000 and part of that population is likely temporary. Even so, that is less than half the population of Wyoming. It would also be guaranteed two senators and one representative, as well as three votes in the Electoral College. Yes, it would have higher per capita representation than any other state. But that is the point. The entire point of the Electoral College or equal representation in the Senate is to enhance the political voice of geographic parts of the country which would likely be ignored otherwise. The status quo gives these territories only non-voting representation in the Congress. Statehood and voting representation could give the territory the attention it needs. For example, there has been a desperate need for investments in infrastructure—especially with the increasing military presence in the islands. Yet the islands have found themselves being used for political purposes by congressmen lacking solid knowledge of conditions there. For example, Hank Johnson (D-GA) hypothesized in 2010 that Guam might “tip over and capsize” under the weight of a proposed Marine base combined with the effects global warming. There was, in fact, widespread support for the base on the island (there is an agreement that all income taxes paid on Guam go to the territory rather than the federal government).

Once we get past wringing our hands over the state’s population, we can also see that the American grand strategy would benefit from a new Pacific state. One of the primary objectives of President Obama’s foreign policy is to reinforce the United States’ position as a Pacific power. Guam is the westernmost point of all U.S. territories in the Pacific, and what could be a better move in that direction than establishing a permanent presence within 2,000 miles from the Asian mainland? It would make an excellent statement that the U.S. is invested in its ties with the region. Furthermore, bringing the strategically important points of Guam, Saipan, and Tinian into the Union permanently would strengthen the U.S. military position in the Asia-Pacific region. I have discussed the need to shore up our interests in this region here.

Finally, the question everybody is really interested in: which party would this 52nd state support? Probably the Republican one. Along with tourism, U.S. military installations on Guam and Saipan provide the overwhelming majority of the islands’ economies. Both territories have overwhelmingly Republican governments.

This is significant because much of the spotlight on Puerto Rico has been limited to the island’s political leanings. The general consensus among experts has been that Puerto Rico would be a blue state. As a result, commentators on both sides of the aisle have questioned whether a Republican-controlled House will endorse surrendering 7-9 electoral votes. If this sounds like a petty political move, it is. But this behavior is an honored tradition in American politics–some of the most important legislation of the 19th century surrounded the admission of new states on partisan grounds. Remember the Compromise of 1850? The Missouri Compromise? They allowed for the admission of California and Maine. And they really were “compromises.” I am optimistic that our two parties will work something out that doesn’t reinforce Puerto Ricans’ well-founded fears that they are second-class citizens.

While it is a long-shot, part of such a compromise could involve a balancing act of Puerto Rico’s new blue votes with the Marianas’ red ones. At the very least, Republicans should bear the future prospect of Mariana statehood in mind before automatically writing off Puerto Rican statehood. Both Puerto Rico and Guam/NMI would face significant challenges, but the benefits to American democracy should not be ignored.

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5 thoughts on “The 52nd State

  1. Nice story…I think that such a plan happening would be a great way to leave America’s colonial past behind.

    However, the blue state red state pairing may not really be in the cards. During the recent “straw vote” in Guam that occurred the same day as the rest of thr US elections, Obama got nearly 80% of the vote to Romney’s 20% (just for kicks….it didn’t count of course). Most of the non-voting Guam Delegates to Congress over the past 30 years have been Democrats. The Governors races have been a bit more close over the years…Usually 55% to 45% votes one way or the other. However even there about 60% of the governors have been Democratic (although the current Governor is Republican).

  2. That is correct, but the state under consideration combines Guam with the NMI, where the Republican Party is very powerful.

  3. That is true about the CNMI, but since Abramoff and Tom DeLay were sent to jail, one has to wonder if that influence is still there.

    I took a look at Wikipedia to find some info on Guam Party strength over the years, and this is what I found:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_party_strength_in_Guam

    Or:

    Years in Power Republican Democrat Total
    Governor 26 16 42
    Delegate 8 32 40
    Senate 18 24 42

    % of Time in Power Republican Democrat Total
    Governor 62% 38% 100%
    Delegate 20% 80% 100%
    Senate 43% 57% 100%

  4. Anyone that has read soldier memoirs, autobiographies, or specialized WWII history can understand the importance of Guam. I have never heard of the Mariana Isles, but I admire Guam’s significance to our history and its instrumental part in the Pacific Theater.

    I believe that our territories should be granted statehood.

    To me, Guam and Puerto Rico are the most “deserving”. We’ve defrauded Puerto Rico for a century now, and the Island has a big enough population to deserve a voice. Puerto Ricans are Americans first and foremost, and they deserve a place in the goverent that runs them.

    As the author brilliantly pointed out, a State of Guam would make an indisputable and perpetual “big stick” statement to any Oriental realm seeking to get too big for its britches. Most of Guam is a military setting. Our soldiers fight for our freedoms and/or our interests. While they can technically vote absentee, it would be easier just to hand Guam off and let them build a great state.

    I’d love to visit Guam one day.

  5. We should build a state out of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands and a second state out of Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and American Samoa. This would leave the District of Columbia as the only place in the USA where US citizens can’t vote. After the final ratification of the Washington DC Voting Rights Amendment, we can say “mission complete” 😉 Good luck to all of the 6 territories…

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