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Lawmakers blast Brevard move to oppose Puerto Rican statehood

Four state House members, two Republicans and two Democrats, are fighting a symbolic effort by the Brevard County Commission to oppose statehood for Puerto Rico.

They are Republican Reps. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs and Rene "Coach" Plasencia of Orlando, and Democrats John Cortes of Kissimmee and Shevrin Jones of West Park in Broward County. In their letter to the county commission, all four identify themselves as being of Puerto Rican descent and say the county's proposal is unnecessary, improper and counter-productive. (Only Plasencia represents part of Brevard).

"Your constituents elected you to tend to county matters," their letter reads. "Not only is the issue of Puerto Rican statehood outside your jurisdiction, but it it improper for you to attempt interference in the democratic process in Puerto Rico. Ninety-seven percent of the island's voters supported statehood. You should be focusing on Brevard County issues, not attempting to thwart the will of the Puerto Rican electorate."

The resolution, to be voted on Tuesday by the county board, is sponsored by a former Republican state legislator, John Tobia of Melbourne Beach, who's one of five Brevard commissioners. His resolution says the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico faces $123 billion in debt that is "in large part a result of socializing private industry," and that making the island the nation's 51st state would shift much of that financial burden to American taxpayers. Tobia, a college professor with two degrees from the University of Florida, was a lawmaker from 2008 to 2016 who frequently voted against the GOP leadership's bills and budget items.

Tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have migrated in recent years to Orange and Osceola counties that border Brevard on Florida's Space Coast, and the lawmakers warn tthat "alienating them makes no sense." Many of those new Floridians identify with the Democratic Party, which ran high-profile voter registration and mobilization efforts along the I-4 corridor in the 2016 presidential election.