The referendum would not be a vote on independence from the U.S.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said Friday that as Democratic candidates begin visiting the island ahead of the 2020 presidential nominating contests there is one question they must answer: whether the United States territory should become a state.
"What I want to hear everybody talk about is their stance on the equality of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico? It should be a yes or no answer. There should be no room for wiggle," Rossello said. "The only way to get that equality is through statehood, which twice in the past seven years the people of Puerto Rico have voted. That is the top simple question that I would want them to answer."
Rossello, a Democrat, spoke at the annual National Governors Association meeting in Washington. He was elected governor in 2016 after making Puerto Rican statehood a main component of his campaign. The U.S. Congress and President Donald Trump would have to approve Puerto Rico becoming the 51st U.S. state.
Though past U.S. presidents have said they believe Puerto Rico's residents should determine its future, Republican President Donald Trump last year said Puerto Rican statehood was an "absolute no" due to an ongoing feud with Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan. Yulin Cruz has criticized the Trump administration's response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017.
Though Puerto Rico nationals are U.S. citizens and send a non-voting resident commissioner to the U.S. House of Representatives, they are prohibited from voting in presidential elections. However, Puerto Rican nationals can cast ballots in the Democratic and Republican nominating contests for the White House.
Senator Bernie Sanders, who announced his own White House bid last week, named Puerto Rican Yulin Cruz a co-chair of his campaign. Former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro's first trip after announcing his 2020 White House bid last month was to Puerto Rico. Senator Elizabeth Warren visited the island several weeks after launching her presidential campaign.
Warren said during her visit that Puerto Ricans have the right to determine the nature of their association with the United States. "Puerto Rico deserves self-determination on this question."
Rossello cautioned candidates not to "shy away" from unequivocally supporting Puerto Rican statehood. "That's beautiful that you believe in self-determination but we have already self-determined," Rosselló told reporters. "It is time to take some action."