Throughout his eight years as governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro J. Rosselló, M.D. ’70, M.P.H., concerned himself with two main issues—universal health care and statehood for the island. He succeeded in one with a reform that brought health insurance to all, yet victory narrowly eluded him in the other. In two non-binding plebiscites, voters expressed a preference for commonwealth status.
In 2000, at the end of his tenure, Rosselló chose not to seek a third term. Instead he went to Washington to teach public health at George Washington University and analyze disenfranchisement and universal health care at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Early in 2003 Rosselló announced his return to politics, and in November he won the pro-statehood New Progressive Party’s primary with 76 percent of the vote. This fall he will face two candidates in the governor’s race.
Rosselló, who trained and practiced as a pediatric surgeon after earning his Yale medical degree, comes to his third race with a mixed legacy. In his previous terms he replaced state-run hospitals and clinics with an insurance program that increased access to health care for the poor [“A New Prescription for Puerto Rico,” Winter 1999]. His health care reform had its critics—including physicians who found the capitated payments too low. Nevertheless, by 2001 more than 1.8 million of an estimated 2.1 million potential clients were enrolled in the ongoing program.
Despite his vigorous campaigns for statehood—which he believes will spur trade and investments on the island—Puerto Ricans have voted to maintain commonwealth status. And allegations of corruption in his administration have dogged him since he left the governor’s office.
Rosselló has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, but his former education secretary and the president of the island’s Chamber of Commerce were arrested in an investigation of a kickback scheme. Another executive was convicted of extorting payoffs from contractors who wanted access to cabinet members. “I know I acted in good faith at all times, not only legally, but ethically and morally,” Rosselló said in a radio interview before the primary. He has pledged to crack down on corruption, if elected. He has also vowed to seek another referendum on the question of statehood.