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John Tobia’s Puerto Rico anti-statehood resolution dies in Brevard, then he gets grilled

Brevard County Commissioner John Tobia‘s local resolution urging Congress to deny statehood to Puerto Rico died for lack of a second Tuesday evening, and then he endured a half-hour of criticism and belittling from residents angry about his proposal.

Tobia, a former state representative from Brevard, withstood 10 public speakers – some Puerto Ricans living in Brevard or Orange County, some non-Puerto Ricans – accusing him of being “a little politician,” of overstepping his authority as a county commissioner, of seeking to further his career at the cost of Puerto Ricans, and of introducing a resolution “with an air of racism about it.”

“This resolution is inflammatory, misleading and disrespectful to the people of Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Jorge Perez de Armas, a retired U.S. Army major and hematologist born in Puerto Rico and living in Brevard County.

One speaker spoke in favor of the resolution.

Tobia sat respectfully and did not seek to reply to the speakers, and Board Chairman Curt Smith did not ask him to.

Before the speakers, he introduced the resolution, read it, and moved for its adoption. No one seconded. Smith declared it dead. A large number of people at the meeting applauded.

Tobia told on Monday that he was concerned that Puerto Rico’s total public debts including the pension system totaled $123 billion and he did not want the United States to have to take on that debt.

Several speakers, notably Puerto Rico activist Peter Vivaldi and Anthony Suarez, president of the Puerto Rico Bar Association of Central Florida, both of Orlando, argued that debt already is the United States’ debt, held largely by United States companies, and whether or not Puerto Rico becomes a state would not transfer any of it to the federal debt or change it.

But most of the discussion had to do with speakers’ indignation that Tobias would try to address Puerto Rico in a county commission resolution. Catherine Haynes of Melbourne sought to ridicule the move by reading a list of other non-county issues he should consider, including benefits of adopting a vegan lifestyle, increasing the length of baseball games, and “What happened to Paris Hilton? Why is she no longer in the spotlight?”

Several of the speakers are Republicans like Tobia; Vivaldi accused Tobia of using rhetoric in the resolution that is similar to that used by anti-statehood U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, whom Vivaldi called socialist, adding, “using the same sentences a socialist would use is very offensive.”

Several speakers, including Perez de Armas, Suarez, retired Army Col. Dennis Freytas of Orlando, former U.S. Marshal Randy Foster of Satellite Beach, and Samuel C. Lopez of Melbourne talked of Puerto Rico’s proud history in the U.S. Military, with more per capita serving than from any state.


Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at

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