Amid turmoil Murphy’s visit to Puerto Rico: compassionate but cautious

Governor-Elect Phil Murphy spent Friday in Puerto Rico. “We are going to send a clear message that we have not forgotten our fellow countrymen,” he said. He arrived during a tumultuous time with Congress putting its final touches on the tax bill. He was greeted warmly by P. R. Governor Ricardo Roselló who in a press conference with Murphy, attacked congressional members for abandoning the island’s needs. Amidst this charged atmosphere Murphy shared his disapproval of the tax bill, offered to help Puerto Ricans seeking refuge in New Jersey, and discussed other forms of assistance. His visit, one of listening-and learning, was very different from Christie’s trip in 2014 to Mexico.

During the press conference Rosselló launched a blistering attack against hypocritical Congress members who promised to help the island but did not, and he threatened a campaign against those members using Puerto Rican voting power in the US. His primary concern was against the tax bill’s inclusion of a 12.5% excise tax which would have a devastating impact on manufacturing jobs on the island. Rosselló had hoped for other measures to help PR’s economy.

Murphy responded by indicating that NJ, NY and CA, along with Puerto Rico, were the most negatively impacted by the Republican tax bill. He said he was praying that enough sensible Republicans would understand what they are doing. He added “This is not over. We have to do everything we can, including using the pulpit, demonstrations, and courts.”

Embedded in Rosselló’s frustration is the belief expressed in a Wa Po opinion piece that “Puerto Ricans never asked to be colonized, never asked to be denied their Puerto Rican citizenship and never asked to have U.S. citizenship imposed upon them. Puerto Ricans are not fellow American citizens; they are colonial subjects of the United States.” Such discontent can only be heightened by Congress’s approach. It can only be resolved by becoming a full-fledged state or an independent country. However neither seems likely given that the U. S. Territory is in deep recession and trying to restructure a portion of its $73 billion public debt.

With large parts of PR still devoid of electricity and anger growing over the government missing the power restoration deadline, Murphy highlighted energy issues as a way to help restore the island. PSE&G President and CEO Ralph Izzo was a member of the visiting delegation, but what role his firm might play is unclear.

During a meeting with the Puerto Rico Commissioner of Safety and Public Protection, Murphy said he would stand up to the challenge of sheltering temporarily displaced individuals coming to New Jersey. He finished his trip in a shelter in San Juan where he listened to the residents’ stories (on the left). “It’s tough,” Murphy said. It might have been better if he visited instead a rural area where he viscerally could have seen the predicament pictured in the preview image above.

Murphy’s visit to San Juan was in sharp contrast with Gov. Christie’s trip to Mexico. Murphy’s visit was a low-key, cautious, listen-and-learn opportunity. Christie in 2014 sought to enhance his foreign affairs credentials. He promised to increase exports to Mexico and create jobs for New Jerseyans, very little of whicht panned out. He also made numerous large public appearances. Murphy expressed concern and support, but publicly was vague on specifics, such as what he would do to help Puerto Ricans in NJ. He did not seem to make any promises he could not keep, but neither did he present any bold proposals. He did explain, We want to go back and say, ‘This is what we saw and these are three-to-five steps that we have to take’.’

The delegation also included (left) state Sens. Nilsa Cruz-Perez, D-Camden; Nellie Pou, D-Passaic; and  Teresa Ruiz, D-Essex; and Assemblywomen Annette Chaparro, D-Hudson; Annette Quijano, D-Hudson Union; and Yvonne Lopez, D-Middlesex; and others. Prior to arriving the senators on Facebook expressed their solidarity with Puerto Ricans and a desire to learn how they could assist recovery efforts. Assembly women did likewise.

Read also about: The immediate impact of the storm, what remains to be done, and what Murphy can do in NJ and in Congress.

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