His political career has coincided with the growth of pro-statehood sentiment in Puerto Rico. This is reflected in the results of the three plebiscites that have been held on the island's political status in the past 33 years.
In a 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. A second vote in 1993 reduced Commonwealth's margin to only 2 points (48% to 46% for Statehood, and 4% for Independence). In a third plebiscite in 1998, statehood garnered the same as it had five years earlier (46%) but this time all the other options on the ballot, namely Commonwealth, Independence, and Free Association, each won less than 3%, while a "None-of-the-above" column on the ballot won 50%. Of all the available options, statehood won overwhelmingly.
MAYOR OF SAN JUAN
In 1968, Romero-Barceló 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-Barceló 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-Barceló 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-Barceló to be 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.
In keeping with his campaign promise, during his first term Governor Romero-Barceló set aside Puerto Rico's political status question in order to concentrate on reviving the island's economy and building its infrastructure.
Governor Romero-Barceló's administration moved to bring tax relief to the island's middle class and working class, reformed industrial tax incentives, so that the until then exempt corporations would pay some taxes, and initiated major improvements in the physical facilities of the island's schools, hospitals, and recreation and sports facilities.
He was re-elected in 1980, but he lost both the House and Senate, becoming the only elected Governor in Puerto Rico's history who has had to govern with the Legislature under control of an opposing party. Under these very difficult circumstances, he continued with his agenda.
Governor Romero-Barceló also led the successful fight to gain extension of the federal minimum wage to include all workers in Puerto Rico.
Just as his fellow Mayors recognized in Carlos Romero-Barceló a leader among leaders, so did his fellow Governors. In 1981, Governor Romero-Barceló was elected Chairman of the 19-Member Southern Governors Association.
RETURN TO PRIVATE PRACTICE
Following two terms as Governor, Carlos Romero-Barceló returned in 1985 to the private practice of law, while maintaining an active presence in various island and national political circles. In 1989, he was re-elected as President of the New Progressive Party and led the party's delegation before the U.S. Congress in 1989-91 while political status plebiscite legislation was being considered.
Though that process did not result in a congressionally-sponsored referendum, in 1991 the New Progressive Party won a 54% majority in a locally-sponsored referendum related to amendments to the territorial constitution.
In 1992, Romero Barceló 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 New Progressive Party and the newly elected Governor, Pedro Rosselló.
On taking office in January 1993, Romero-Barceló 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." That voting privilege was eventually taken away when the Republicans Party won a majority in the House of Representatives in 1994. The Resident Commissioner also participated in floor debates and votes in House committees.
As Resident Commissioner, the island's sole seat in Congress under territorial status, Romero-Barceló represented 3.8 million American citizens, six times that of any of his former fellow House colleagues; but as a Member of Congress representing a territory, he was not allowed to vote on the floor of the House. Nevertheless, he belonged to committees where he had the same privileges of other Members of Congress, including the right to vote in Committee.
Romero-Barceló served on the Resources Committee and the Education and the Workforce Committee, previously known as 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 was also a member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Congressional Arts Caucus.
Early on his term, he 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 inclusion in national health care programs, particularly health care reform initiatives.
In the 1996 elections, Romero-Barceló was re-elected to a second four year term to serve as Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico. He won by more than 70,000 votes.
During the 106th Congress, Romero-Barceló served on the Committee on Education and the Workforce and its Sub-committees on Employer-Employee Relations and Early Childhood, Youth and Families. He also served on the Resources Committee, its Fisheries, Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans Sub-committee and its National Parks and Public Lands Sub-committee, on which he was the Ranking Democrat, making it the first time in the history of Puerto Rico that a Resident Commissioner acquires such a high-ranking position within a Sub-committee.
Carlos Romero-Barceló is married to Kate Donnelly of Long Island, New York, who mastered the Spanish language after moving to Puerto Rico. Mrs. Romero authored a book on Puerto Rican cooking entitled "Cocinando desde La Fortaleza" (in English Cooking at La Fortaleza), and has been an outstanding campaigner for her husband and a beloved First Lady. The Romero's have three sons and one daughter; Carlos, Andrés, Juan Carlos and Melinda, and six grandchildren.
Romero-Barceló graduated form 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 practiced law as a trial lawyer, mostly in the Federal courts for ten years before running for Mayor of San Juan.
Following two terms as Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero-Barceló returned to the private practice of Law, Public Affairs, Real Estate and Consulting, while maintaining an active presence in various island and national political circles.