Ricardo Rosselló, the outgoing governor of Puerto Rico, has called for a special legislative session to try to confirm Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia as the next secretary of state and possibly his successor.
Puerto Rico’s House and Senate are set to meet Thursday at 11 a.m. for a special session, the governor said in a statement released Wednesday.
“I’m thankful for Pedro Pierluisi’s willingness to step forward for Puerto Rico’s well-being. I trust that legislators will evaluate this appointment in a careful and responsible way for the good of Puerto Rico and the historic moment we are living in,” Rosselló said.
If the nomination is accepted — far from a guarantee — Pierluisi could become governor Friday afternoon when Rosselló has said he will step down from office.
Pierluisi, 60, served as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, the island’s sole representative in Congress, from 2009-2017. He also previously served as Puerto Rico’s secretary of justice under former Gov. Pedro Rosselló, the current governor’s father.
Pierluisi has been working as a corporate lawyer for the O’Neill & Borges law firm in San Juan. The firm represents the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico — which Congress created in 2016 to help manage territory’s financial crisis. His brother-in-law is the head of the board, known as la Junta on the island.
He took a leave of absence effective Tuesday, according to the firm’s website.
One of the more popular chants among protesters prior to Rosselló’s resignation was “Ricky renuncia y llévate a la Junta” (Ricky resign and take the Junta with you.)
“I have listened to the people’s messages, their demonstrations, their demands and their concerns,” Pierluisi said in a statement. “And in this new challenge in my life, I will only answer to the people. My goal is now to transform the energy shown by our people in constructive actions that help Puerto Rico go forward.”
“We must unite to continue Puerto Rico’s reconstruction and to ensure that our people have access to the opportunities and quality of life they deserve. It is also crucial to restore the trust of federal authorities and Congress, where I have earned respect, and to re-establish a productive relationship with the Oversight Board, based only on what is good for Puerto Rico and facilitates the end of its mandate,” he added.
In 2016, Pierluisi sought the New Progressive Party nomination for governor, running against Rosselló but he lost.
In his statement announcing the nomination, Rosselló said Pierluisi’s previous positions make him an ideal candidate to confront the current political challenges.
“This historic time requires a person able to re-establish relations with all sectors at the local and national level,” said the outgoing governor.
Rosselló also said Pierluisi will finish out his term but will not seek the governorship next year.
“His aspiration is to complete this term, so that the successes we have achieved do not fade. The electoral process that will begin in the coming months will allow other highly qualified leaders to put their ideas and character to the people’s consideration,” Rosselló said.
How we got here and what’s next
To take office Pierluisi needs to be approved by Puerto Rico’s Senate, and he may not have the votes to do so, said political expert Mario Negron Portillo.
“The issue is going to be that everything indicates that the Senate won’t give Pierluisi the votes. So we could be back to square one,” he said.
Members of Rosselló’s pro-statehood New Progressive Party had been pushing for Thomas Rivera Schatz, the powerful president of the Senate and expected new head of the party, to be named secretary of state before Friday. But Rivera Shatz and Rosselló are longtime political rivals.
Jose Melendez, a legislator from the governor’s party, told CNN Espanol this week that the party backed Rivera Shatz.
He said Pierluisi could not count on the confirmation votes in the legislature, especially given his role as attorney for a federal financial-oversight board created by the US Congress that became a target of protesters in recent weeks.
“For a long time Pierluisi had a good name in Puerto Rico. He was seen as a good guy, a consensus builder. But when he was the resident commissioner for Puerto Rico he asked for the oversight board. And now he’s an attorney for the oversight board,” Negron Portillo said.
The nomination comes after Puerto Ricans took to the streets for weeks to voice mounting frustration over years of corruption and mismanagement on issues ranging from suffocating debt to the response to Hurricane Maria.
What sparked the protests was a chat-app scandal that exposed Rosselló and 11 top aides and Cabinet members exchanging profanity-laced, homophobic and misogynistic messages about fellow politicians, members of the media, celebrities and others.
Gov. Rosselló, two and a half years into a four-year term, announced last Wednesday that he would resign on Friday.
According to Puerto Rico’s order of succession, the secretary of state is next in line after the governor. But the man who held that position, Luis G. Rivera Marín, resigned July 13 because he was a participant in a group chat at the heart of the scandal that led to protests and Rosselló’s resignation.
Wanda Vázquez Garced, Puerto Rico’s secretary of justice, would have been the next in line, but she said on Monday that she does not want to be governor.