Carlos Romero Barceló

Carlos Romero-Barcelo is the first former Governor of Puerto Rico to serve in Congress. As Resident Commissioner, the island's sole seat in Congress under territorial status, Romero-Barcelo represents 3.7 million American citizens, six times that of any of his fellow House colleagues; but he is a disenfranchised Member of Congress. 

His political career has coincided with the growth of pro-statehood sentiment in Puerto Rico. 

This is reflected in the results of the two plebiscites that have been held on the island's political status in the past 30 years. 

In the 1967 vote, the existing territorial status, called "Commonwealth" held a 21-point advantage over Statehood (60% to 39%) while the Independence Party did not participate. In the 1993 vote, Commonwealth's margin was reduced to only 2 points, 48% to 46% for Statehood, and 4% for Independence. 

Mayor of San Juan:

In 1968, Romero-Barcelo was elected Mayor of Puerto Rico's capital city of San Juan. He set out to modernize and improve local government. Many of the modern methods he implemented were those he learned from other more experienced mayors while he attended meetings as a member of the National League of Cities and U.S. Conference of Mayors. 

Re-elected Mayor in 1972, Romero-Barcelo worked tirelessly to build on the progress San Juan had achieved during his first term. He also emerged as the chief leader among statehood advocates: in 1974, he was elected President of the New Progressive Party. 

In 1976, Romero-Barcelo became the first Hispanic and, of course, the first Puerto Rican, ever elected President of the National League of Cities. He became the chief spokesman for more than 15,000 municipal governments all across the United States. 

Governor of Puerto Rico:

In 1976, the people of Puerto Rico elected Carlos Romero-Barcelo their Governor. He became the fifth elected Governor of Puerto Rico to occupy La Fortaleza, which is the oldest continuously lived-in Executive Mansion in the New World. He was re-elected in 1980. 

In keeping with his campaign promise, during his first term Governor Romero-Barcelo set aside Puerto Rico's political status question in order to concentrate on reviving the island's economy and building its infrastructure. 

As soon as he was elected, Governor Romero-Barcelo moved to bring tax relief to the island's middle class and working class, reformed industrial tax incentives by putting an end to excessive "corporate welfare," so that the until then exempt corporations would pay some taxes, and initiated major improvements in the island's infrastructure, particularly in the physical facilities of the island's schools, hospitals, roads and highways, and recreation and sports facilities. 

Governor Romero-Barcelo also led the successful fight to gain extension of the federal minimum wage to include all workers in Puerto Rico. As a member of the National Governors Association, Romero-Barcelo struck up a friendship which continues to this day with his then-fellow Governor, Arkansas' Bill Clinton. 

Just as his fellow Mayors recognized in Carlos Romero-Barcelo a leader among leaders, so did his fellow Governors. In 1981, Governor Romero-Barcelo was elected Chairman of the 19-member Southern Governors Association. 

Return to Private Practice:

Following his two terms as Governor, Carlos Romero-Barcelo returned to private practice of law in 1985. He maintained an active presence, however, in various island and national political circles. Late in 1986, he was elected to the Senate of Puerto Rico and served until the end of 1988.

In 1989, Romero-Barcelo was once again elected President of the New Progressive Party. He led the party's delegation before Congress while political status plebiscite legislation was being considered from 1989-91. 

Though that process did not result in a congressional-sponsored referendum, in 1991 the New Progressive Party won a 54% majority in a locally-sponsored referendum related to ammendments to the territorial constitution. 

Resident Commissioner:

In 1992, Carlos Romero-Barcelo ran for Congress with the campaign theme "On The Road to Equality." His election coincided with a sweeping victory island-wide for Puerto Rico's pro-statehood party. 

On taking office in January 1993, Romero-Barcelo became the first representative of the people of Puerto Rico to acquire limited voting rights in the House, when it meets as the "Committee of the Whole." The Resident Commissioner also participates in floor debates and votes in the House committees. However, his vote in the Committee of the Whole was eliminated by the Republican majority in the 104th Congress, along with the vote of the other Delegates. 

During the 103rd Congress, Romero Barcelo served on the Natural Resources Committee and the Education and Labor Committee. He was elected by his colleagues to the Executive Council of the Democratic Study Group. He was the only freshman elected by both his Democratic and Republican colleagues to the Executive Committee of the Environmental and Energy Study Conference, the largest caucus on Capitol Hill. He is also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Arts Caucus. Currently, in the 104th Congress, he serves on the Commitee on Economic and Educational Opportunities and on the Resources Committee. He was elected by his peers as First Vice-Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. 

Early on in his term, he has distinguished himself as a voice of reason in the debate on the reduction of federal corporate tax exemption in Puerto Rico, as well as a tireless advocate of the island's equal participation in national health care and educational programs. As a result of his dedicated and relentless pursuit for equality, he convinced President Clinton to include Puerto Rico as a state in the Health Reform Proposal. It would have meant an $1.2 billion a year for health care in Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the Health Care Reform Bill never made it. However, the extraordinary effort made by Carlos Romero-Barcelo was not lost and he persuaded President Clinton to commit the tax revenues collected from Section 936 companies to be used to finance increased Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico, so that, the island may be funded as a state. 

Personal Data:

Carlos Romero-Barcelo is married to the former Kate Donnelly, from Long Island, New York, who mastered the Spanish language after moving to Puerto Rico. Mrs. Romero authored a book on Puerto Rican cooking, entitled "Cooking in La Fortaleza," and has been an outstanding campaigner for her husband and a beloved First Lady. The Romeros have one son and one daughter, Juan Carlos and Melinda and two grandchildren, Michelle and Andres. The Commissioner has two older sons, Carlos and Andres, from his first marriage. 

Romero-Barcelo graduated from Philips Exeter Academy in 1949. He earned his B.A. in Political Science and Economics from Yale University in 1953, and earned his law degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1956. He was admitted to the Puerto Rico Bar Association that same year. He is also a member of the Washington, DC Bar Association. 

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Dr. Cirilo Toro Vargas
Published on the Internet:  November 19, 2000.
Updated information:  February 6, 2001.