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Puerto Rico governor tabs former political rival as successor

By Nicholas Sakelaris
Puerto Rico governor tabs former political rival as successor
Gov. Ricardo Rossello will leave office Friday. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 31 (UPI) -- Outgoing Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello nominated Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi Wednesday as secretary of state, clearing a path for him to succeed the governor of the U.S. territory this week.

Rossello, who's resigning in the face of severe criticism over leaked chat messages, will leave office Friday. His nomination of Pierluisi came three days after justice secretary Wanda Vazquez, who's next in the line of succession after the secretary of state, turned down the gubernatorial post.

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Rossello and Pierluisi are Democrats at the national level and belong to the New Progressive Party in Puerto Rico. The two were rivals in the 2016 election, when Rossello won despite being a political newcomer.

Puerto Rico's chief diplomat takes over as governor if they step down or are unable to perform the job. Pierluisi's appointment requires approval from the Puerto Rico House and Senate. The House will hold a special session at 1 p.m. Friday to consider the move.

RELATED Puerto Rican Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez turns down role as governor

"After a lot of analysis and taking into account the best interests of our people, I've picked Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to fill the vacant post as secretary of state," Rossello said. "I've pondered multiple options to take over that post and the enormous responsibility it holds. The historic moment requires a person that's capable of restoring relations with all sectors, at the local and national levels."

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Rossello's term as governor was plagued with scandals, including one accusing him after Hurricane Maria two years ago of giving contracts to certain companies. He's faced calls to resign in recent weeks after hundreds of pages of message logs were leaked and showed disparaging remarks about political opponents, journalists and hurricane victims. Pierluisi is set to succeed Luis Rivera Marin as secretary of state; he also resigned over the controversy.

If accepted, Pierluisi will serve in the gubernatorial post until next year's election.

RELATED Puerto Rico leader Ricardo Rossello to resign next week

"The electoral process that will start in the coming months will serve so that other highly qualified leaders put forth their ideas and character at the consideration of the people, as Pierluisi and I did in the past primaries," Rossello said.

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