Senator Bob Dole died this week at the age of 98 after 79 years in public service. He was the top-ranking member of his party in Congress for 11 years, ran for both Vice President and president, and received a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Senator Dole is remembered for his support of the food stamp program and other efforts against hunger and poverty, of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and of the National World War II Memorial. He was an honorary member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, a veteran, and the author of One Soldier’s Story.
He was also a supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico.
Long-term support for statehood
In 1987, Dole made a statement about Puerto Rican statehood. “It is time to give the citizens of Puerto Rico the opportunity to vote on statehood,” he said. “There is one thread weaving through the rich history of Puerto Rico…Puerto Rico’s unsettled political status.”
Dole was introducing a bill to allow a yes/no vote on statehood for Puerto Rico. “Statehood, independence, or any status cannot and should not be forced on the Island and the U.S. citizens who reside there,” he said. “The decision must be made first by its people and then by the Congress of the United States.”
Dole proposed that the federal government should pay for the vote. His bill, S 1182 in the 100th Congress’s Senate, did not pass.
“It was not long ago,” Dole said, “that Alaska and Hawaii were viewed as distant, exotic lands.” His point was that people who see Puerto Rico as too distant (though it’s closer than Hawaii or Alaska) or too foreign to be a state are echoing the outmoded attitudes of the past.
“I can think of no better way to honor the dreams of our founding fathers,” the statement concluded, “than to give our citizens in the Caribbean the opportunity to vote on statehood.”
President Obama’s administration appropriated funds to pay for a plebiscite in Puerto Rico, but those funds have not yet been used for that purpose. Instead, Puerto Rico took the initiative and held a yes/no vote on statehood in November 2020. A clear majority voted for statehood.
As Senator Dole said, the decision had to made by the people of Puerto Rico and then by Congress. Puerto Rico has made the decision through a democratic act of self-determination in the 2020 plebiscite, which confirmed the two previous votes for statehood in 2012 and 2017. Now Congress must act.
Please let your representatives in the House and Senate know that you want to see action on Puerto Rico’s statehood vote.