Puerto Rico Governor’s Exit Shows Feckless Political Class

Governor Alejandro García Padilla rode in on opposition to fiscal austerity, but he only delayed and exacerbated the inevitable. (VoceroPR)
Governor Alejandro García Padilla rode in on opposition to fiscal austerity, but he only delayed and exacerbated the inevitable. (VoceroPR)

EspañolPuerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla made the not-so-surprising announcement on Monday that he would not seek reelection. He joins a long and growing list of island governors who do not last beyond one term. In the end, the same things that got him elected essentially got him fired, as members of his own party began demanding that he step down in recent weeks. More on that in a moment.

It began with Sila Calderon (2001-2004), the island’s first female governor and in the opinion of many (including this author) among the worst the island has ever seen. She decided not to run for reelection after a series of events led to her personal life being on display, with a very public divorce and remarriage while in office.

She was followed by Anibal Acevedo Vila (2005-2008), who was charged with corruption by federal authorities and went on trial while in office. He was not convicted, but he lost his reelection bid to Luis Fortuño.

Fortuño (2009-2012) got to work trying to right size the island’s government by cutting thousands of government workers, only to face thousands of government union protests and strikes. That is how García Padilla got into office.

García Padilla aligned himself with the unions and promised no layoffs of government employees. Instead, he raised taxes, again and again. He also raised rates on electricity and water, but even that could not avert the loss of at least some public employees. He had no choice but to begin closing schools, as Puerto Ricans by the tens of thousands fled the island in the midst of a difficult and extended recession.

His efforts, which included emergency legislation to cut spending and reduce union benefits (which unions were none-too-happy to accept), also failed to stem the tide of deficit spending and the monstrous debt — officially at US$73 billion. In the end, he played every political card he could muster to no avail. His policies failed because his policies, like so many before them, failed to address the island’s primary problems.

Instead, he declared the island’s debt “unpayable” and began blaming hedge funds and the US federal government for the island’s problems. The commonwealth began a slow process of defaults and drawn out negotiations with creditors, in addition to a push for inclusion in federal bankruptcy statutes.

To make matters worse, a series of corruption cases came to light this year that included special contracts using federal education funds to organizations linked to his party. That was followed by the recent arrest of one of his party’s primary fundraisers and others associated with him and his administration with promises of “more to come” in the coming weeks.

During a debate while campaigning against Luis Fortuño for the governor’s office, García Padilla demanded that Fortuño “not be a coward.” He was to look at and apologize to a public employee fired by Fortuños policies.

The people of Puerto Rico got no such apology from García Padilla in his address announcing his plan to not seek reelection.

While this week plenty of potential gubernatorial candidates are sharpening their knives to take advantage of the political vacuum, I urge the candidates, from all parties, to begin to lay out clear and concise plans on how they intend to fix the island’s problems.

More important, regardless of political affiliation, I urge voters in Puerto Rico to demand that kind of plan. So far, the only person who has given any details at all has been Alexandra Lugaro, who is running as an independent. Her plans fall short, in my opinion, but at least she is pointing in the right direction.

A new governor won’t change the condition of Puerto Rico, at least not until the Puerto Rican government fundamentally changes the way it does business and who it blames and holds accountable for its own failures.

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