The governor of Puerto Rico discussed the lessons he’s learned throughout his career surround his time at GW Law at the School of Media and Public Affairs Wednesday.
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi reflected on his experience raising a family, completing his law school education as Puerto Rico’s chief prosecutor and governing the territory during the COVID-19 pandemic. The event featured introductions from President Thomas Leblanc and Law School Dean Dayna Matthew, and kicked off the GW Law Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration in conjunction with the Latino Law Association.
Pierluisi began the discussion recalling his entry into the political field, remembering how his father’s work ethic as Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Housing inspired him to take an interest in politics early in his teens. He said his father’s leadership and determination to provide affordable housing for the Puerto Rican people made him determined to pursue public service himself.
“I always thought I would end up serving in government,” he said. “I didn’t have a plan except that I knew I wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of any opportunity which would arise allowing me to serve them people.”
The event was held in a hybrid format, and about 25 people attended to watch in person.
Pierluisi said while his time at the law school was fulfilling, his experience included difficulties like learning how to improve his English and managing his young family after getting married right after completing his undergraduate degree. He said he refused two job offers from the Puerto Rican government during his first year because he thought the relocation would be difficult for his family.
“I still speak English with an accent as you can notice, but it was still quite rusty then,” he said. “So it was a challenge to go to class, and they would call on you – and I guess they still do – to talk about case law and whatever.”
Pierluisi said during his time at GW Law, he received the Lyndon B. Johnson Scholarship in Congress to work for the assistant to Baltasar Corrada del Río, the Puerto Rican resident commissioner. He said the experience with the resident commissioner was his first interaction in public service, which pushed him to pursue the position one day and represent Puerto Rico.
He said he served in Congress as Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner from 2009 to 2017, and he ran for the governorship in 2016 but lost in a tight race.
“I thought that my political career was over when that happened because I was already in my late fifties,” Pierluisi said.
He said he re-entered politics when he was appointed to serve as secretary of state within minutes of the resignation of former Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 amid revelations about vulgar and homophobic comments he had made in a Telegram group chat. Pierluisi said he was appointed as governor the following day – a decision that hadn’t been ratified by the legislature and led to his removal five days later.
Pierluisi five-day stint preceded his later election as governor in 2020.
“I was out of a job, so once that happened, I said I may as well run for governor,” Pierluisi said. “I’m ready. So I ended up running and running in the middle of the pandemic, and I tell you that’s really different.”
Pierluisi said he’s proud of his current accomplishments as governor, like pushing Puerto Rico’s 75 percent vaccination rate to the second highest of any state or territory in the U.S. He said he introduced vaccine mandates for schools and businesses and will continue to expand the mandates to new sectors like tourism, healthcare and entertainment.
He said GW Law taught him that success is the result of hard work – a lesson that will apply to any job, even through his leadership in guiding Puerto Rico through the pandemic.
“One thing that I learned in law school is a way of analyzing that you can use not only in law, and that it’s going to be with you forever,” he said.