Caribbean Matters: US media ignores Puerto Rico’s June gubernatorial primary

While U.S. media continues to focus on all things Donald Trump and the upcoming presidential election, the politics of our Puerto Rican colony continue to take a backseat. 

There was some coverage of the presidential primaries that Puerto Ricans hold every four years, despite not being able to vote for president (which we covered here in early May). But it’s far more important to pay attention to the battle for governor of the island, as well as the primary for resident commissioner, who serves as the nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives.

Politics on the island are changing, given the rise of new coalitions and new political parties. Massive 2019 protests against former Gov. Ricardo Rossello led to his resignation. Then Gov. Wanda Vázquez, who endorsed Trump, wound up being dumped from her own party’s ticket when Pedro Pierluisi won the primary against her in August 2020, signaling growing discontent with the political status quo. But the two main parties on the island are still dominant—and the primary for the governor’s race in the current ruling party pits incumbent Gov. Pierluisi against the current nonvoting delegate in Congress, Jenniffer González-Colón.  

RELATED STORY: Caribbean Matters: The winds of political change are blowing in Puerto Rico

Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

I’m not saying there is no coverage of this important race. Spanish-language media have produced a host of both print and television stories. But that doesn’t help readers who don’t read or speak Spanish, including many stateside Puerto Ricans. Politico did a story in November 2023 which set the stage, profiling the two candidates who are both members of the New Progressive Party or Partido Nuevo Progresista, known as PNP. As I often point out when discussing Puerto Rican politics, do not be fooled by the word “progressive” in the party’s moniker. It ain’t.   

Politico’s Gloria Gonzalez wrote an article titled, “The fierce fight to lead Puerto Rico.”

The candidates are campaigning for a job that’s complicated by Puerto Rico’s territory status and the fact that primary control of its finances is outside the purview of the governor. Instead, that power rests with an unelected oversight board after the territory’s historic, multibillion-dollar bankruptcy filing in 2016. And Puerto Ricans are angry and frustrated by the state of their battered infrastructure, particularly the territory’s notoriously unreliable and incredibly expensive power system.

Though they are both members of NPP in Puerto Rico, the two politicians have forged separate alliances in Congress: González-Colón is a Republican who supported former President Donald Trump — even earning his praise. Meanwhile, Pierluisi caucused with Democrats during his eight years as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner.

The New Progressive Party or Partido Nuevo Progresista has been one of the major political parties in the territory, alongside the pro-commonwealth status Popular Democratic Party or Partido Popular Democrático. But the NPP has lost members amid the emergence of the Citizens’ Victory Movement or Movimento Victoria Ciudadana party, which supports a constitutional assembly to determine Puerto Rico’s status, and the Project Dignity or Proyecto Dignidad party, which does not advocate for any particular status.

WBUR’s “On Point” featured an in-depth English-language discussion on the upcoming primaries hosted by Meghna Chakrabarti. Her guests were Susanne Ramirez de Arellano, political reporter and former news director for Univision Puerto Rico, and Jorell Melendez Badillo, who is an assistant professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “Puerto Rico: A National History.”

Puerto Rico's big political shakeup Puerto Rico is in the middle of a major gubernatorial race — who wins  could have a big effect on the territory.

— Denise Oliver-Velez 💛 (@Deoliver47) May 26, 2024

Runtime for the podcast is about 47 minutes, and I hope you will take the time to listen to it.

I introduced Juan Dalmau, the gubernatorial candidate for the Puerto Rican Independence Party or PIP here in March, and the Citizens Victory Movement or MVC candidate for resident commissioner, state Sen. Ana Irma Rivera Lassén, in a story about her battle against Black hair discrimination. The two parties have formed an alliance.

In the podcast, Melendez Badillo also cautions people to be aware of the rise of the new right-wing party on the island, Proyecto Dignidad, or Project Dignity. Its members are ultra-conservative Christian and virulently anti-abortion, and have introduced anti-trans legislation.

Melendez Badillo recently wrote “Puerto Rico Is Voting for Its Future” for Time magazine:

The traditional parties have overlooked their differences to challenge the MVC-PIP alliance, taking legal action to seek to delegitimize and exclude the alliance’s candidates from the electoral process. They succeeded in decertifying some key MVC candidates like Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassen, who is running for the position of Resident Commissioner in Washington, D.C.

Yet the MVC-PIP’s messages have enduring appeal. In recent years Puerto Ricans have faced a fiscal crisis that affected salaries and the price of goods, and stagnated the economy. There are electrical outages on an almost daily basis. Soaring poverty—particularly affecting children—makes life in Puerto Rico difficult, triggering the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States and abroad.


One of MVC’s most important platform points involves the creation of a new constitutional assembly, which could redefine the future of Puerto Rico’s political status and bring an end to more than five centuries of colonialism. Such an assembly would provide Puerto Ricans with the opportunity to decide for themselves what the future of Puerto Rico looks like, freed from the constraints of the visions advanced by the traditional political parties.

If the MVC-PIP alliance increases its vote share in the 2024 elections, changes may be on the horizon. Perhaps they are already here; as these electoral processes take place, Puerto Ricans are not passively standing by. There are countless grassroots groups that are already enacting, imagining, and living the future they so desire in the present. They are also working towards the decolonization of the country. Many groups, such as La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción, Urbe a Pie, and La Sombrilla Cuir predate the protest movement and do not focus on electoral politics. They have instead concentrated on transforming the conditions and everyday lives of Puerto Ricans. It was grassroots organizing that amplified the 2019 protests and that have provided the energy for the creation of these new political parties.

Note: the disqualification of candidates mentioned above was reversed by the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals.

The Puerto Rico Court of Appeals on Tuesday reversed a Court of San Juan ruling that in March disqualified a number of candidates from the Citizen Victory Movement (MVC by its Spanish initials) and the Dignity Project (PD) political parties for failing to collect endorsements.

The Appeals Court noted that the plaintiffs who filed the suit to disqualify the MVC and the Dignity Project candidates did not have legal standing nor did they demonstrate to the court that they had a sufficient connection to and harm from the law or action challenged.

Mainland media is not the only problem. Polling on the island seems questionable, due to candidate erasure.

#PuertoRico's mainstream newspaper (owners long been affiliated w/ pro-statehood party @pnp_pr) publishes poll that leaves out @RLSenadora. An Afro-Boricua who is openly Lesbian & repping an insurgent movement, Senator Rivera Lassen's candidacy is historic. cc: @HigherHeightPAC

— Melissa Mark-Viverito (@MMViverito) March 6, 2024

Bonita Radio translation:

Senator Ana Irma Rivera Lassen demanded @ElNuevoDia to speak out about the "act of omission and invisibilization" by not including her as a pre-candidate for Resident Commissioner in the poll they published today.

"They have a great job and a great responsibility: to ensure that every person in Puerto Rico is fully informed about all their electoral options. Only through transparency and inclusion, truth and justice, can we aspire to a truly participatory democracy and the country we dream of and deserve."

For those of you interested in polling, there sadly isn’t much that is up to date. However, this data from March does indicate younger voters shifting toward the new alliance—which does not bode well for the two major parties. What that will mean in November is not clear, though from my perspective even if the alliance can’t pull off a win, they are moving Puerto Rico in a progressive direction.

This is one of the most important political charts you'll see this year. According to a new poll, *among voters ages 18-44*, pro-independence candidate @juandalmauPR and his alliance with @VictoriaPorPR have a MAJOR advantage in the 2024 Puerto Rico governor's race.

— Boricuas Unidos en la Diáspora (@BUDPR) March 3, 2024

Professor Rafael Bernabe is an elected representative of the Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana in the Puerto Rican Senate who co-authored “Puerto Rico in the American Century: A History Since 1898” with César Ayala. Bernabe shared his perspective with Jacobin in a conversation with journalist, author, and professor Ed Morales.

A New Alliance Could Change Puerto Rican Politics

Rafael Bernabe: When you look at what has happened in the past fifteen years in Puerto Rico, it’s not too hard to see the reason La Alianza came about. The economy of Puerto Rico went into a very deep depression in 2005. If you look at the numbers, the economy of Puerto Rico has been in a depression. We have had fifteen years of economic stagnation, no growth whatsoever. About two hundred thousand jobs have vanished; thousands of people have had to leave the island because they can’t find them. They can’t live here. And at the same time, you have all of these terrible corruption cases in the government. The result of that crisis (which people feel very deeply), the fact that the two major parties have not been able to offer any alternative to that crisis, and that they are increasingly corrupt machines has meant that the support for these two political parties is decreasing sharply.

These parties combined used to get around 97 percent of the votes between them. The PIP got 3 percent, and they got the rest. And now that’s down to like 64 percent: the PNP gets 33 percent; the PPD got 31 percent. These political parties have basically collapsed over the past ten years. In 2016, [ousted former governor] Ricky Rosselló won the governorship with 42 percent of the vote, which was already low enough, and then he was not even able to complete his term because the people got so fed up with his government that they mobilized and they overthrew him. It’s the closest thing we’ve had to a revolution in Puerto Rico. People were in the street mobilizing for twenty days nonstop and forced the governor to resign. In the election in 2017, the PIP jumped from 3 percent to 14 percent. And the MVC, which was participating for the first time, gets 14 percent, which is an indication that people are very much open to new alternatives. So the rise of the vote for the MVC and for the people is very much part of the same process, because many of the people who were on the streets trying to get rid of him were seeking new alternatives. Now that we are in an alliance, we have come together in one single force.

He discussed the politics of the alliance:

Ed Morales: You’ve said that the degree of leftism and progressivism between the two parties is very similar. That is to say one party is not necessarily more about socialism or workers’ rights than the other?

Rafael Bernabe: I would say neither party is a socialist party. They are both pro-labor, pro–women’s rights, and pro–LGBTQ rights. They both defend that public services should be essential, that services should be publicly owned, and the guarantee that includes electricity, water, education, and health. Both parties support the creation of public health system. These are by any account left-wing parties, progressive parties, whichever term you want to use.

In the MVC, there are people who are socialists, myself included, and everybody knows that we are socialists and it’s no secret, but there are many people who are not socialists. And we agree to struggle for certain immediate reforms and things that working people need to defend the environment, that we need to defend women’s rights and so on and so forth. As a socialist, when I have the opportunity and the occasion, I explain why I am against capitalism. I think in the end we have to abolish capitalism in order to solve our fundamental problems. But I always make it clear that I’m speaking for myself. The MVC as such is not a socialist movement. It includes people who are and people who aren’t socialists. If you look at the program of these two parties, they’re very similar.

We are getting a chance to watch coalition-building in real time. Now if only we could get more coverage. 

Join me in the comments section below for more on the upcoming primary, and for the weekly Caribbean News Roundup.

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Caribbean Matters: The severe impact of climate change on the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico

While many media outlets only seem to pay attention to the U.S. Virgin Islands these days when discussing Jeffrey Epstein’s infamous private island of Little St. James and Puerto Rico when it comes to Bad Bunny concerts, it is important that we take note of the reality that both U.S. colonies in the Caribbean are on the front lines of climate change.

The islands have been hit with scorching, record-breaking heat over the past summer, drought, flooding, erosion of the coastlines, damage to coral reefs, and waves of foul-smelling seaweed called sargassum. Climate change greatly affects the health and safety of those who live in the areas, not to mention the economic impact.

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Caribbean Matters is a weekly series from Daily Kos. If you are unfamiliar with the region, check out Caribbean Matters: Getting to know the countries of the Caribbean.

When discussing the impact of climate change on the daily lives of Puerto Rican and Virgin islanders, one aspect that I don’t often see mentioned are the are health-related impacts, both mental and physical. Writer, reporter, photographer, and producer Pearl Marvell published this report for Yale Climate Connections about the damage extreme weather does to areas already impacted by colonization and systemic inequality:

Puerto Rico has seen an alarming increase in deaths over the last two years caused by cardiovascular conditions, diabetes, and mental health conditions like overdose, alcoholism, and dementia. There are a number of reasons for this, but the Fifth National Climate Assessment released last month warned that more intense and frequent hurricanes and other extreme weather events caused by climate change will likely bring more illness, higher mortality, and an overall decrease in quality of life to citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

“Perhaps we are among the least responsible for climate change, but we are being among the most impacted,” said Pablo Méndez-Lázaro, one of the lead researchers of the chapter. 


The 32-chapter national assessment, which will be published in Spanish in the coming months, is filled with information on the effects of climate change and potential solutions in the United States. This is the first assessment to fully assess the devastating effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma on the islands in 2017. Chapter 23 focuses on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, examining the climate crisis in the context of the sociological, psychological, and historical situation of this region. It paints a more nuanced and complex picture than the fourth assessment in 2018, which focused on the effects of climate change on rainfall, coastal systems, and rising temperatures.

Back in 2016, the federal Environmental Protection Agency published this fact sheet on the USVI and climate change. It covered issues such as ocean warming and sea level rise, coral reef damage and ocean acidification, storm impact on homes and infrastructure, the shrinking of forests, and interference in agriculture productivity which could affect food supplies. We have seen the EPA’s predictions for human health impact come to pass:

Hot days can be unhealthy—even dangerous. Certain people are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Rising temperatures will increase the frequency of hot days and warm nights. High air temperatures can cause heat stroke and dehydration and affect people’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. Warm nights are especially dangerous because they prevent the human body from cooling after a hot day. Although reliable long-term temperature records for the U.S. Virgin Islands are unavailable, the frequency of warm nights in nearby Puerto Rico has increased by about 50 percent since 1950.

The U.S. Virgin Islands’ climate is suitable for mosquito species that carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. While the transmission of disease depends on a variety of conditions, higher air temperatures are likely to accelerate the mosquito life cycle and the rate at which viruses replicate in mosquitoes.

The warm marine environment of the Virgin Islands helps promote some water-related illnesses: Vibriosis is a bacterial infection that can come from direct contact with contaminated water or eating infected shellfish. Ciguatera poisoning comes from eating fish that contain a toxic substance produced by a type of algae found in this area. Higher water temperatures can increase the growth of these bacteria and algae, which may increase the risk of these associated illnesses.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Dengue cases are rising, and not just in the Caribbean

Far too many mainlanders not of Puerto Rican or Virgin Islands ancestry only think of the islands as a tourist destination. The USVI economy is far more dependent on tourism than Puerto Rico’s. Tourism and related economic areas in USVI account for more than half of its GDP, whereas in Puerto Rico it is far less, according to data from the Financial Oversight Board:

While Puerto Rico’s tropical climate, sandy beaches and thriving culture attract close to a million visitors each year, tourism is not a leader when it comes to economic activity on the island. Despite a popular belief that tourism is a significant contributor, this industry only represents about 2% of the island’s GDP. That share has grown 1% over the last 5 years, which is significantly less than the 15% growth reported within the industry during the same period in the mainland United States.

The USVI, however, winds up being caught between a rock and a hard place. Island leaders and residents promote tourism for economic survival while at the same time attempting to mitigate its environmental harm. Shannon Garrido wrote for Pasquines:

It took the United States government an entire decade to grant the largely African-descended population American citizenship. US Virgin Islanders have remained unable to elect the President of the United States or have a voting delegate in Congress. Needless to say, residents have little to no power in dictating the United States’ use of their land, and upon the turn of the 20th century, this has had significant environmental effects.

The island of St. John is home to the 29th US National Park and was founded by Laurance S. Rockefeller, grandson of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. As a result, exploitation and protection for the enjoyment of wealthy and white visitors are at the expense of the island and its native inhabitants.

This unsustainable trend continues, and the USVI is facing environmental pressures from increased tourism that threaten vital natural resources. This type of development impacts the environment in multiple ways, especially through sediment pollution, increased demand for sewage treatments, and direct ecosystem damage from an increased number of tourists.

RELATED STORY:  Caribbean Matters: Danish history, slavery, resistance, and colonialism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

This news report from TRT World details many of the current climate issues, especially threats to the coral reefs:

As the US Virgin Islands continue their long recovery from the devastation caused by the 2017 hurricanes, there's increasing concern about the possible impact of climate change. Experts fear that global warming is not only increasing the intensity of hurricanes in the region but is also having an adverse affect on the islands' marine life.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, the non-voting delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from the USVI, was interviewed briefly in the report. While many Americans got their first look at her when she served as a floor manager for former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial, it’s important to point out that she has not ignored climate change as a major issue for the people she represents.

Here’s her brief floor speech on climate change from Sept. 26, 2019:

Mr. Speaker, this week, the United Nations is hosting its Climate Action Summit. Robust funding and sound policies are needed to ensure we effectively combat climate change. Threatened by increasingly more frequent and extreme changes in our climate, territories like the U.S. Virgin Islands stand at the front line of this quickly escalating climate crisis.

Within the past decade, my district has reduced fossil fuel use by 20% and has become a regional leader in clean energy. States and territories have also passed regional and state-specific legislation to combat climate change, but we need a comprehensive, forward-looking national plan to address this threat to our children and our children's children.

 While we don't yet have all the tools to address rapid climate change, we must create them through increased Federal investment in research, development, and deployment of emerging technologies. Across the nation, climate change is threatening our economy and our lives. Hurricanes like Irma and Maria collectively cost $140 billion, according to NOAA, and, most importantly, they cost thousands of lives. America must lead the charge to preserve our planet.

Fast forward to July 24, 2023, when Plaskett shared this statement on the inclusion of the USVI in the government’s seasonal drought outlook:

“My office successfully worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include the Virgin Islands in the U.S. Drought Monitor in 2019, which provides a general summary of current drought conditions and provides access to permanent disaster relief programs related to drought. As a result of the new inclusion in the CPC Drought Outlooks, our farmers will now have access to additional resources that can assist with their planning and preparation for adverse conditions, as well as their maximization of expected favorable conditions. The Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency alongside environmental monitoring volunteers, the farming community, the University of the Virgin Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands Drought Coordinator, Christina Chanes, worked in partnership to collect, compile, and analyze data on precipitation and particulate matter. This community-wide effort played an instrumental role in the Climate Prediction Center’s decision to include the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Operational Drought Outlooks.

“Given the immense impact of weather on agriculture, skillful weather forecasts provided by CPC Drought Outlooks are of tremendous importance to farmers for effective decision making on critical matters, including which crops are most likely to flourish in the predicted growing season, how much of each crop to grow, whether to irrigate, the timing of planting and harvesting and whether to purchase crop insurance.

“This is a critical and timely development for the agricultural community in our territory. It is my hope that the data and resources provided by the Drought Outlooks will be a well-utilized resource by our local farmers and those in the Virgin Islands agriculture sector.”

My question about this is: Why was the USVI not included until 2019, and only in the monthly outlook in 2023? 

There are efforts underway in the USVI to preserve and replenish the coral reef system. This video from the Nature Conservancy documents them:

While I think many people have the impression that climate change is only a concern for those who dub themselves “climate activists,” it’s an issue that most Puerto Ricans worry about. Politicians running for office in Puerto Rico and in mainland areas with large Puerto Rican communities should take note of this recent report from the Yale School of the Environment:

Residents of Puerto Rico are among the most worried in the world about climate change according to a new study by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC).

The study, conducted in partnership with Rare and Data for Good at Meta, found that 93% of Puerto Ricans said they are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about climate change; 84% said climate change will harm future generations “a great deal”; and 61% said climate change will harm them personally “a great deal.” Puerto Rico also had the highest number of respondents in the world who believe that climate change should be a high government priority.

Republican climate change deniers, listed in this opinion piece by Glenn C. Altschuler in The Hill, will hopefully be turning off mainland Puerto Rican voters in the next election as a result:

Not one Republican in Congress voted for the Biden administration’s bill to combat climate change. The percentage of rank-and-file Republicans who think global warming is caused by human activity has declined over the last two decades. These days, 70 percent of Republicans say climate change is a minor threat or no threat at all.

Democrats running for office should take note.

Please join me in the comments section below for more on Caribbean climate change issues and for the weekly Caribbean news roundup.

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Republican screwups on infrastructure hurt people from Kentucky to Michigan to Mississippi to NYC

The running joke of the Trump presidency—okay, one of the running jokes—was the constant pronouncements of an upcoming “infrastructure week” or that some kind of infrastructure deal was in the offing. Nothing. Ever. Happened. Meanwhile, ask the people of Jackson, Mississippi—who watched as the government at every level failed for decades to invest in keeping their city’s water system up to date, with some residents unable to access water for weeks—to find humor in Trump’s failure to deliver. We’ll come back to that story below.

Once again, infrastructure is the word flying around Washington, D.C., and it’s no longer a joke. There are ongoing conversations in the House and the Senate. We’ve seen a bipartisan deal announced laying out the framework on funding what’s called physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), the urgent need for which will be our focus here. However, let me add that our government—with or without support from Republicans—absolutely must fund equally vital human infrastructure needs such as child and elder care, job training, and education, elements that are just as important in making our economy stronger. As President Biden pointed out in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on June 29, “the human infrastructure is intertwined with our physical infrastructure.”

Finally, the grownups are in charge.

For anyone who still needs convincing, the consulting firm McKinsey laid out the data on the benefits of serving the common good by investing in our country’s physical infrastructure: there is little doubt about the value of investing in good infrastructure. In 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that every dollar spent on infrastructure brought an economic benefit of up to $2.20. The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers has calculated that $1 billion of transportation-infrastructure investment supports 13,000 jobs for a year. Beyond the numbers, infrastructure is critical to the health and well-being of the country: the United States could not function without the roads, bridges, sewers, clean water, and airports previous generations paid for.

As you can see below, after a nice bump early in the Obama-Biden years thanks to the 2009 stimulus package, infrastructure spending dropped off and fell to generational lows under the guy who followed them.

It would be impossible to provide even a partial list of the necessary infrastructure projects across the U.S., although this article does a nice job presenting a number of the highest priorities. The Biden White House has produced fact sheets that sum up each state’s physical infrastructure needs, demonstrating what it hopes to accomplish for Americans all across the country.

Images of the horrific water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are burned into all of our minds, but another city’s water-related tragedy may be less familiar. In Jackson, Mississippi, a city of 160,000 inhabitants, over 80% of whom are Black, the majority went without running water for weeks after a brutal mid-February storm. How brutal? An engineer at the state Department of Transportation expressed the following: “I sincerely hope that in 25 plus years from now, we are still talking about this event as the ‘worst one ever.” Even a month after the storm had passed, over 70% of people were still being told to boil their water before using it.

Why did the storm wreak such havoc in Jackson specifically? Because of a century-plus old municipal water system whose vulnerabilities were laid bare by the storm—which also pummeled Texas, killing hundreds and perhaps as many as a thousand people while knocking out that state’s power grid. Jackson residents reflected on the crisis in interviews with Good Morning America.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba specifically blamed Mississippi Republicans, who have dominated the state’s politics for decades, for failing to fund the necessary infrastructure repairs that would have mitigated damage from the storm: “I think that you find less willingness from the state to support a city like Jackson, because they don't necessarily feel that the demographics of Jackson, or even the politics of Jackson resemble the majority opinion.” In other words, they didn’t care one iota about a city full of Black Democrats.

The governor of Mississippi recently murmured something about assisting the city in looking around for low-interest loans. Yip-frickin-ee. The mayor estimated the cost of truly solving the problems faced by the city’s water system—Jackson’s water also has a lead problem rivaling that of the aforementioned Flint—at $2 billion. The Biden plan proposed to send what will hopefully be enough money to make things right for the people of Jackson.

Beyond Flint’s problems, there are dams all over Michigan that are simply falling apart. In May 2020, the Sanford and Edenville dams burst after heavy rains, flooding surrounding areas. Regarding the Edenville dam—aged 96 years—federal regulators revoked its license to generate hydropower in 2018, but the state regulators apparently dropped the ball in subsequent years. Overall, the dams failed because of “years of underfunding and neglect.”

Like in Mississippi, Michigan Republicans have controlled the purse strings for quite some time. They’ve maintained a state Senate majority since 1984, and have run the House since 2010—aided significantly by gerrymandering. From 2011 through 2019, the state’s governor was Republican Rick Snyder. While holding this trifecta of power, Michigan Republicans largely ignored the state’s infrastructure needs. In fact, Snyder, along with other members of his administration, were indicted earlier this year on criminal charges for their actions (or lack thereof) relating to Flint’s water fiasco.

On dams, the kind of flooding residents of Midland and Gladwin counties suffered is common in every part of the country. There are about 91,000 dams in the U.S. Of these, approximately 15,000-16,000 are located in spots where, if they broke, significant loss of life and property destruction would result. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has determined that around one out of every six of those dams are “deficient.” That is a problem we need to address before the next storm.

The most infuriating, most foolish example of active Republican malfeasance originated in the time before President Caligula had made the transition from reality show buffoon to destructive demagogue. It took place at the center of the region with the largest economy of any in the U.S., and concerned its most important ground transportation hub—the one that connects the island of Manhattan to the mainland by train.

We’re also talking about a problem that Democratic President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, with the support of local officials, had actually begun fixing over a decade ago. That was before New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, doctrinaire conservative that he is, metaphorically stood athwart the train tracks yelling “STOP!” It’s a very long story, but it’s one that demonstrates how Republican ideology, Republican lies, and plain-old Republican shortsightedness put the kibosh on a project that remains just as necessary today.

There is only one train tunnel—which happens to be 110 years old—running beneath the Hudson River. For many years, we’ve known that that’s at least one tunnel too few. What was then called the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project would have built a second one, enabling twice as many trains to cross into the Big Apple. Roughly 200,000 people and 450 trains traveled through that sole, aging tunnel on a typical pre-COVID weekday. Other positive effects of the ARC project would have included: “alleviat[ing] congestion on local roads, reduc[ing] pollution, help[ing] the growth of the region’s economy and rais[ing] property values for suburban homeowners.” Oh, and it would have created 6,000 construction jobs right at the point during the Great Recession when unemployment was at its peak, at just about 10%.

The work was already underway when, in October of 2010, Gov. Christie suddenly reversed himself and cancelled the project. As late as that April, shortly after his inauguration, he had reiterated his long-standing support. Why, pray tell, did he take an action that “stunned other government officials and advocates of public transportation”? Even though the federal government, along with the states of New York and New Jersey, and the Port Authority, were all contributing to the bill, Christie claimed that New Jersey would end up bearing the burden of cost overruns, and so he pulled out.

It turned out that, as per a 2012 investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Christie was, to put it charitably, incorrect in just about everything he claimed as justification for cancelling the project. Looking back, it’s clear why he did what he did, based on where the money that had been dedicated to building the ARC tunnel ended up—namely in NJ’s “near-bankrupt transportation trust fund, traditionally financed by the gasoline tax.” In other words, he took the money so he wouldn’t have to raise gas taxes, and thereby earn the ill-will of the people who put him in office. What a bozo.

As bad as that decision was at the time, it was rendered even more foolish by a little thing called Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the region in 2012. A year earlier, what had been the ARC project had been tweaked somewhat and re-proposed as the Gateway project, again centering on the building of a new Hudson River tunnel. After Sandy resulted in severe flooding, an Empire State Building-sized amount of dirty, salty water ended up in the tunnels. Repairing the damage with only one tunnel in operation would cause a nightmare for commuters.

But, after initial steps were taken during Obama’s second term that culminated in a cost-sharing agreement between the states—who together would pick up half the tab, with the federal government paying the other half—a new president took office in 2017. And he was a New Yorker, born and bred, so certainly he’d make sure the Gateway project happened. Unfortunately, The Man Who Lost An Election And Tried To Steal It not only physically abandoned his Fifth Avenue penthouse—he now makes Florida his primary home—he 100% abandoned the city that made him a household name. Progress on the Gateway tunnel ground to a halt, and the funding dried up, as Trump took an “obstructionist stance.”

That brings us back to the Biden-Harris administration, which formally approved the Gateway project just over a month ago. In the last days of June, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the tunnel himself. He made clear that his boss was 100% on board, and fully understood the necessity for the whole of the American economy of the project. Shutting down even one of the two tubes in the existing tunnel for repairs without having first built the additional Gateway tunnel would mean, as the one-time Mayor Pete noted: “you would be feeling the economic impact all the way back in Indiana, where I come from.” To be more specific, a study by the non-profit Regional Plan Association found the impact could run as high as $16 billion, and cost 33,000 jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York gave thanks to the White House on behalf of the region, and took a dig at the twice impeached former Gotham-dweller: “Now we can announce that the hostage that was the Gateway tunnel under the previous administration has been freed,” and added: “We are full speed ahead to get Gateway done.” The project could begin as early as next year, or else in 2023, according to the senator. Still, Christie and Trump set the region back years—perhaps a decade. All of us are still crossing our fingers that not only will the project happen, but also that the new tunnel is completed before the old one gives out.

But of course it’s not only urban centers that have dire infrastructure needs. Martin County is in eastern Kentucky, with a population that is, incredibly, over 99% white. Since 1999, both U.S. Senate seats from Kentucky have been held by Republicans, one of them by Mitch McConnell, who has led the Republican Party in that body since 2007. In the House, Martin County has been represented by Republican Hal Rogers since 1981.

In a video produced by the Biden White House, Barbi Ann Maynard detailed what she and her neighbors don’t have, because their infrastructure is so lacking: “People talk about Eastern Kentucky is poor, and they don't really have anything. Well, how are we ever going to have anything if our government won’t invest in our infrastructure? We’re people too. We’re American citizens. And we deserve access to clean, affordable drinking water.” Running the tap at her kitchen sink, she pointed at the not at all clear liquid flowing out of it and stated simply: “this water disgusts me. I’m afraid of this water.”

Maynard described the language that has appeared “for decades” as a warning on the back of the water bills Martin County residents receive: “If you are pregnant, infant, elderly, have a compromised immune system, consult a physician before consuming this water. If consumed over many years, it causes liver damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, and twice it says increased risk of cancer.” I drink New York City tap water every day, multiple glasses of it, without thinking twice. So while my region has its infrastructure deficiencies, folks in Eastern Kentucky have it even worse in their daily lives, right now.

Maynard continued by talking about the need for roads and bridges, which are either in disrepair or nonexistent across the county, as well as other priorities. The Nolan Toll Bridge was the only way for people in the area to get to the interstate. After being damaged badly, it was closed off rather than repaired. She lamented: “When you lose bridges, roads, you lose opportunities to grow. Businesses can’t come if they can’t get their product out,” and added “because we have [a] lack of infrastructure, that causes companies to not want to come and invest in Martin County.” Maynard has been fighting for increased infrastructure spending in her county for more than twenty years, and summarized the situation thusly: “I know what we could have. I know what it could be like. And I want that for my people.”

The Orange Julius Caesar took up shop in the Oval Office in January 2017, and his party controlled the House and the Senate. Using the reconciliation process, they could easily have passed a massive infrastructure package, or even a medium-sized one, with or without Democrats. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure on Trump’s watch in 2017, he came up with little more than some paper towels to toss the island’s way. Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from Maria’s damage as well as, for just one example among many, earthquakes that revealed serious vulnerabilities in the design of hundreds of schools across the island—another major infrastructure need.

Even after Democrats won the House in the 2018 midterms, Trump still could have accomplished something major on infrastructure. Trump blew off Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fuming about impeachment. Republicans can bleat about how they believe in infrastructure, how they support infrastructure. When the rubber met the (in dire need of repair) road, they failed to deliver.

The Biden-Harris team, along with congressional Democrats, are going to do the work of funding our country’s infrastructure needs in every region, just as they’ve done the work on so many issues—ranging from carrying out a nationwide vaccination program, to rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, to passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, among other accomplishments. This White House knows that strengthening our physical as well as human infrastructure is good politics as well as the right thing to do for the American economy, and for the American people.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)