• The San Juan Daily Star

Dole backed statehood for Puerto Rico at least as far back as the 1970s

Bob Dole in 1996. He was the last of the World War II generation to win the Republican nomination for president.

By The Star Staff

Former U.S. presidential candidate and Republican senator Bob Dole, who died in his sleep Sunday at age 98, had a long relationship with Puerto Rico, fighting attempts by the United Nations to make Puerto Rico an independent country and introducing pro-statehood legislation.

Dole, a longtime lawmaker who overcame life-threatening injuries during World War II to become a shepherd of the Republican Party, revealed in February that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and said he was starting treatment, according to ABC news.

A former Senate majority leader and the 1996 Republican nominee for president, the native of Russell, Kansas represented an earlier version of the GOP that had come through the Great Depression and did not shy away from a muscular use of government at home and abroad. He championed expanding the federal food stamp program, bringing awareness to disabilities, and sending U.S. troops to foreign conflicts, ABC news said.

However, Dole was also one of a few members of the Republican Party who championed a change of status for Puerto Rico, supporting the archipelago’s inclusion as a state of the union.

In 1976, when he was President Gerald Ford’s running mate, the Republicans proposed a referendum and process for statehood and in 1979, when efforts were being made in the United Nations to promote Puerto Rico’s independence, he joined in the introduction and passage of a resolution stating that status was an issue for the Puerto Rican people to decide.

Despite his defense of Puerto Rico, in 1980 he dropped out of a presidential primary in Puerto Rico, favoring Senator Howard H. Baker. In 1987, then Senate Minority Leader Dole introduced a bill so Puerto Rico could hold a referendum on statehood.

Dole said at the time that the bill called for the United States to pay for the referendum, which could be held at the direction of Puerto Rico’s governor sometime between Jan. 1, 1989, and Dec. 31, 1994.

“In this year of bicentennial celebration, I can think of no better way to honor the dreams of our founding fathers than to give our citizens in the Caribbean the opportunity to vote on statehood,” said Dole, who later announced his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.

Dole said a petition for statehood for Puerto Rico had been submitted to Congress with more than 250,000 signatures.

“But the clear majority of Puerto Ricans must speak, must desire statehood, as has been the tradition for all states granted admission to the Union by the Congress,” Dole said.

In 1996, he won the Puerto Rico Republican primary, sweeping all 14 delegates in the winner-take-all contest. At the time, Dole had the support of most of the GOP leadership in Puerto Rico. His committee included at the time Republican Party Chairman Luis Ferré, National Committeeman Edison Misla Aldarondo, National Committeewoman Zoraida Fonalledas, Executive Director César Cabrera, Campaign Vice Chairman Eduardo Ballori, New Progressive Party Sen. Freddy Valentín and Finance Chairman Juan Woodroffe. Dole was also supported by island Secretary of State Norma Burgos, Senate President Roberto Rexach, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Zaida Hernández.

At press time, the local Republican Party had not issued any statement about Dole.

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