Martin Omalley
Democratic presidential candidate and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley poses for a photograph with "Rainbow the Macaw", during Market Square Day in Portsmouth, New Hampshire June 13, 2015. O'Malley delivered a strong position on Puerto Rico last week,and the island's leaders hope that other presidential candidates will be parroting his ideas as a bankruptcy bill works its way through congress. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Democratic presidential candidates are weighing in on the Puerto Rican debt crisis following a public plea by Puerto Rico’s governor, Alejandro García Padilla. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley was the first to do so in a detailed statement; that was followed by a cryptic tweet from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. As we wrote last week, Puerto Rico doesn’t have any electoral votes, but outmigration has pushed millions of Boricuas into Florida, a key battleground state. García hasn’t hidden this fact; he has publically called on Puerto Ricans to pressure presidential hopefuls into supporting concrete measure that would help the island swim out of it’s ocean of debt. His chief demand: Let Puerto Rico file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

"While Governor Garcia Padilla has taken the courageous first steps to steer Puerto Rico through this crisis, we must act now to avoid Puerto Rico's economic collapse,” O’Malley said in a statement. “First, Puerto Rico should be able to negotiate with its creditors just as states can under the U.S. Bankruptcy code. Congress should approve Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi's legislation that would allow for this to happen.”

That legislation, the Puerto Rico Chapter 9 Uniformity Act, corrects what one expert called “a typographical error in bankruptcy code.” That error might have been a significant factor for investors who currently own the debt that Puerto Rico is trying to dump. Critics of the bill argue that those who invested will lose out. Presidential candidates, however, have little to lose. Bill sponsor Pedro Pierluisi (Puerto Rico’s nonvoting congressional) wants to pass the bill by September, so it’s not a bill that candidates will ever actually sign. It’s also not a bill that HIllary Clinton or Martin O’Malley would have to vote for: Neither of them currently hold public office.

Despite the low stakes, Hillary Clinton hasn’t come out with anything more specific than that vague tweet. What does “real support” mean? Clinton won’t answer the question, to the chagrin of every Latino journalist everywhere (Julio Ricardo Varela, author of the response to Hillary below, is founder of Latino Rebels, who’ve been a great resource for Puerto Rico news during the crisis).

In a rare feat for Republican politicians weighing in on issues important to Latinos, Jeb Bush has actually been way ahead of the Democrats on this one. Last April, Jeb Bush told a crowd in Puerto Rico that he supported Chapter 9 protection for Puerto Rican institutions saying “Puerto Rico should be given the same rights as the states,” according to Bloomberg.

O’Malley did up the ante, saying that in addition to bankruptcy protection, the island deserves health care subsidies and protections equal to those of the states.

“Second, as I've stated before, the Department of Health and Human Services must end the inequitable treatment of Puerto Rico under Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. High costs and low reimbursement rates are a huge burden to Puerto Rico's budget and millions of U.S. citizens are at risk of losing care,” O’Malley said in his statement.

The former Governor has been on an all-out offensive to capture the Latino vote. O’Malley supporters point to his strong record in Maryland, where he supports in-state tuition for Dreamers; contrast that to Clinton, whose murky 2008 position on driver's licenses got her in hot water with immigration activists. (O’Malley also flip-flopped on that issue, but ultimately signed a bill supporting them). Even if Clinton is merely a recent convert to pro-immigrant politics, she’s outmaneuvered her opponents to become the most visible candidate for Latinos.

So far, the 2016 election has been like an auction for Latino support, with candidates on both sides of the aisle anxiously bidding. Bold moves like those of O’Malley’s might force inertia candidates like Clinton to stake out a position.

Update: Bernie Sanders Also Supports Puerto Rico Bankruptcy Protection

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, came out in support of bankruptcy protection on Tuesday, joing O'Malley's call for Puerto Rico to have the same debt restructruting options as the states. The candidate told the Washington Post “restructure its debt in a rational way that does not harm its people, ordinary investors or pension funds in the United States.” In comments issued on Tuesday, he said that Puerto Rico's debt crisis was due to “the policies of austerity and the greed of large financial institutions.”

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