By Phil Keating
Published August 02, 2019
Who will be Puerto Rico’s governor at 5 p.m. Friday? With just hours to go, no one seems to know for sure, which could create a constitutional crisis in the U.S. commonwealth.
Current Gov. Ricardo "Ricky" Rossello caved after 12 days of demonstrations last month, agreeing to resign at 5 p.m. today. Rossello’ was caught up in a texting scandal on the island, involving him and 11 of his allies, all men, making crude, sexist, homophobic comments about people and also making fun of Hurricane Maria victims. The nightly protests ended up evolving to include allegations of government corruption and misuse of tens of millions of dollars-worth of hurricane disaster relief funds.
According to Puerto Rico’s Constitution, if the governor resigns or dies in office, the line of succession automatically goes to the secretary of state. But Puerto Rico has no secretary of state right now, because he resigned already. On Wednesday, Rossello nominated Puerto Rico’s former non-voting representative to the U.S. Congress, Pedro Pierluisi, to become the next secretary of state, and thus the governor when Rossello’ resigns, but it appears both chambers of Puerto Rico’s legislature will not confirm him in time, if at all.
Puerto Rico’s House is meeting on Friday and could confirm Pierluisi by 5 p.m. But the Senate also has to confirm the nominee, and the Senate president, Thomas Rivera Schatz, on Thursday, delayed a vote until at least Monday, while also indicating there weren’t enough votes to confirm Pierluisi at this point.
If there is no secretary of state when Rossello resigns, next in line to become governor would be Secretary of Justice Wanda Vaszuez. She said Sunday that she didn’t want the job. However, she has since indicated that she would be willing to become governor. So by today, perhaps, she could become the next governor. Perhaps.
The next in line is Secretary of Finance Francisco Peres. But at 31, he’s too young. The Constitution requires the governor to be 35.
And then there are the other theories bouncing around the island, such as Rossello backing off his promise to leave office at 5 p.m. and remain governor. Or that the House on Friday does confirm Pierluisi and he attempts to assume control, without the Senate weighing in. That would then trigger a weekend of chaos and confusion, as lawmakers take it to the courts.
Bottom line: uncertainty reigns supreme on the island of 3.2 million U.S. citizens.