Puerto Rico spoke loud and clear last night, but did anyone listen?

Here's two things you might not know: One, there's a primary in Puerto Rico. Two, Marco Rubio won it. By a lot.

Yep, that's right. Last night, Marco Rubio won Puerto Rico's GOP primary in a landslide.

It's Rubio's first major victory and his second outright victory in the race so far. It earned him 23 delegates and put him marginally closer to potentially someday maybe posing some sort of actual threat to GOP powerhouse Donald Trump and hot-on-his-heels Ted Cruz.


Marco Rubio campaigning in South Carolina. Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images.

Why such a huge win for Rubio in Puerto Rico?

Rubio is the only GOP candidate to visit Puerto Rico so far, as well as the only one to openly support statehood for the U.S. territory.

For Puerto Ricans, this is a significant position to take. The island is over $70 billion in debt and has defaulted on debt payments twice. As Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro García Padilla told CNN, "We're out of cash."

People protest outside Wall Street in New York against cutbacks and austerity measures forced on severely indebted Puerto Rico. Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

The tanking economy is causing a mass population exodus from the island to the mainland. Fewer Puerto Rican residents to pay taxes means more debt, and the whole crisis has been ominously referred to as a "death spiral."

If Puerto Rico gains statehood, it will be able to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy with federal protection, meaning the island could restructure its debts, negotiate in court with bondholders, and cover about a third of its debt.

If not, Puerto Rico and its citizens will remain in the economic crisis indefinitely.

Primaries are the only chance citizens of Puerto Rico get to make their voices heard — they aren't allowed to vote in the general election.

A 115-year-old Supreme Court decision (blasted by John Oliver last year) ensures that no U.S. territories are allowed to vote in the general election.

While Republicans in Puerto Rico voted clearly in favor of Rubio, assigning their delegates last night (as they will for the Democrats in June), this is really the only chance Puerto Rican citizens have to let politicians running for president know what's important to them.

A vacant building in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images.

Why would Rubio care about Puerto Rico if it can't help him win the general election?

Well, Florida has a population of over 1 million Puerto Ricans. Courting Puerto Rico helps Rubio secure the swing state's 99 delegates.

But frankly, Rubio doesn't have to worry too much about Florida. It's his home state, and pending another meltdown of epic proportions at the GOP debate on Wednesday, his win in Florida is all but clinched.

Rubio campaigning in Florida in 2010. Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

It's pretty easy to make campaign promises to a population that doesn't vote in the general election.

Hillary Clinton promised Puerto Rico voting rights in 2008 and got 68% of the Democratic primary vote there. Mitt Romney promised statehood in 2012 and got 83% of the GOP primary vote that year.

Presidential candidate Mitt Romney shakes hands with Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño at Isla Grande Airport in San Juan in 2012 ahead of the Republican primary. Photo by Christopher Gregory/Getty Images.

We never got to see whether either of their promises would come true, but Puerto Rico has consistently and overwhelmingly supported candidates who promise more representation, regardless of their political affiliation.

In this election cycle, candidates including Hillary Clinton have supported giving Puerto Rico bankruptcy protection, but only Rubio (and, formerly, Jeb! Bush) have campaigned in favor of full representation for Puerto Rico with a 51st star on the flag.

Will the next president be the one who finally recognizes Puerto Rico's primary votes for what they truly mean?

Or will the territory remain a stepping stone for politicians to use on their journey to more "important" political contests? Will 2016 be the year that Puerto Rico is rescued by the U.S. government? Or will our collective memory once again forget about the territory and its citizens until another candidate needs delegates in the next election cycle?

Last night, Puerto Rico was granted five minutes in a room with a nation that has a thousand other things on its to-do list. Its citizens spoke clearly once again — whether they're heard remains to be seen.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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This article originally appeared on 03.19.15


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