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Santorum: I Am Your "Senador Puertorriqueño," But Don't Talk to Me in Spanish

03/19/2012 10:25 am ET | Updated May 15, 2012

When it comes to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, there are a couple of unusual aspects about the political relations between the "mainland" and that beautiful Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico ("self-governing commonwealth of Puerto Rico") a Commonwealth that may one day become our 51st state. (Puertorriqueños are scheduled to vote in November on a referendum to decide whether they want to pursue statehood or remain a self-governing U.S. commonwealth):

First, the four-million Puerto Rican people have no voting representation in either House of the U.S. Congress. They do have a "non-voting representative" in Congress, an elected Resident Commissioner.

Second, while the people of Puerto Rico can vote in the presidential primaries and can elect voting delegates to the national nominating conventions, Puertorriqueños not residing on the mainland -- any of the 50 states or the District of Columbia -- cannot vote in the general presidential elections.

Thus it should be no surprise to regularly see both Republican and Democratic presidential wannabes doing their pilgrimage to Puerto Rico for the primaries to garner delegates -- and money -- but to see no trace of them during the general election.

For example, Vice President Dick Cheney paid a two-hour whirlwind visit to Puerto Rico in 2006 to collect $300,000 and Senator Barack Obama paid a three-hour visit in 2007 to collect $200,000.

So there we have GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum Wednesday and Thursday in Puerto Rico hoping to attract as many of Puerto Rico's 20 delegates as he can.

But something funny -- or rather embarrassing -- happened while scavenging for delegates in Puerto Rico.

While Romney -- also on the hunt for delegates -- has given some positive vibes to the idea of Puerto Rican statehood, Santorum didn't mince words when discussing conditions for Puerto Rico to become a state, and in doing so he not only mangled the Constitution, but also managed to inaccurately interpret U.S. law and to offend many Puertorriqueños.

On Wednesday, Santorum said that if Puerto Ricans want their Estado Libre to become a state, they must make English their primary language. He also suggested that under American law, English must be the main language.

In an interview with El Vocero Santorum said:

Like any other state, there has to be compliance with this and any other federal law... And that is that English has to be the principal language. There are other states with more than one language such as Hawaii but to be a state of the United States, English has to be the principal language.

However, the U.S. Constitution does not designate an official language, nor is there a requirement that a territory adopt English as its primary language in order to become a state.

His suggestion that under American law, English must be the main language, is "not true" said the New York Times.

According to the Times:

Mr. Santorum reaffirmed his view to reporters after his first event Thursday, at a school for children with special needs. He said English was the language of opportunity and he expected most parents would want their children to learn it, but that it was not available in many schools.

Later, at the Capitol, he said that some in the local media had misreported his comments to suggest that he wanted English as the "only" language, which is not his position. Nonetheless, he alienated one potential delegate, who said he would not back Mr. Santorum after hearing the comments.

The Santorum campaign then moved into damage-control mode, with Henry Neumann, the co-chairman of his campaign here, trying to soften Mr. Santorum's views, saying that Mr. Santorum had only meant that it was important for young people to learn English.

But the damage may have been done.

Puerto Rico has about 4 million people and its population can vote in partisan primaries but not presidential elections. Puerto Ricans on the mainland have the same voting rights as other U.S. citizens.

Santorum's statement may fall flat with Puerto Rican Republicans, who have always argued that issues of language and culture should be controlled by state governments and not the federal government.

It also could alienate the 4.2 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland, including nearly 1 million in presidential swing-state Florida...

Santorum also said that he does not support "at this time" allowing residents in territories like Puerto Rico to vote for president, although he said he was open to analyzing alternatives, such as allowing their votes to count in the popular vote but not in the Electoral College.

While one may overlook Santorum's ignorance of Dutch euthanasia laws, it is not too much to expect that the man who claims to have been referred to by many as "Senador Puertorriqueño" to be at least conversant with U.S. law when it comes to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.