Puerto Rico Profile: Senator Miriam J. Ramírez, MD
February 23, 2001
Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer is one of the newcomers in the Puerto Rican legislature this year. Though no stranger to island or national politics, the former gynecologist sought public office for the first time in November. She won an at-large seat in the Senate of Puerto Rico despite the fact that her party suffered several major electoral setbacks.
The November 2000 elections were not an auspicious occasion for Puerto Ricos New Progressive Party (NPP). Sila Calderon of the Popular Democratic Party (PDP), won the election for Governor. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá, also of the PDP, replaced NPP incumbent Carlos Romero Barceló as Resident Commissioner in Washington. To complete the near sweep, the PDP won a majority in both houses of the Puerto Rican legislature as well as among the mayors of Puerto Rico.
Many reasons have been put forth for the NPPs dramatic loss of power after eight years of political dominance, including recent corruption scandals and negative public opinion regarding outgoing Governor Pedro Rosselló. Some have even suggested that the election was a repudiation of statehood for Puerto Rico, a position that Rossello and the NPP had strongly promoted since taking control of the government in 1993.
Nevertheless, Miriam Ramírez, a die-hard advocate of the NPP and an ardent supporter of statehood for Puerto Rico, won a Senate seat with relative ease. She received more votes than several high-profile incumbents within her party, beat out a couple of PDP candidates, and finished eighth in a contest for eleven available positions.
Perhaps the success of Miriam Ramírez stemmed from the fact that she was anything but a political novice. Long before she launched her campaign for the Puerto Rican Senate in 1999, Miriam Ramírez was deeply involved in politics and public service. However, she took a circuitous path to get there, living for many years abroad, spending a career in medicine, and involving herself in mainland party politics.
Miriam Ramírez has a family history of political involvement and government service. Her grandfather, Candido Ramírez, was a prominent supporter of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico, and he rubbed elbows with many of the political leaders of his time, including Luis Muñoz Marín, Felisa Gautier de Rincón, and Rafael Martínez Nadal.
Her father, while not directly involved in politics, spent a long and fruitful career in the service of his country. A retired Colonel in the United States Army (and later a Senior Superior Court Judge in Puerto Rico), he served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He knew some key mainland politicians, and his daughter proudly shows visitors a photo of him with President Eisenhower, taken in the late 1950s.
Miriam Ramírez spent much of her childhood abroad, as her family moved between military assignments. She has acknowledged the toll that such a life can take on a child. "As the daughter of a military man," she has said, "I know the sacrifices needed, not only of the service men, but also their families."
Yet she benefited from her years abroad, attending high school in Europe and returning to Puerto Rico in 1967 with a medical degree from the University of Madrid. She began practicing obstetrics and gynecology, first in San Juan. In 1974, she moved with her late husband Dr. Tomas Ferrer, MD, to Mayagüez, where she raised five children. Around this time, she delivered a baby named Domingo Arroyo. That boy grew up to be a Private First Class in the United States Marine Corps. He also became the first American soldier killed in Somalia during peacekeeping efforts there in 1993.
Dr. Ramírez became seriously involved in politics in the late 1970s. Even though her family had long been associated with the Republican Party and the Puerto Rican statehood movement, her many years abroad had distanced her somewhat from politics in Puerto Rico and the United States. As the 1980 presidential election campaign began, however, Miriam Ramírez felt it was time to act.
Dismayed by events like the Iran hostage crisis, she felt a Republican would do a better job in the White House than President Carter had done. She backed George Bush for the 1980 Republican nomination, but he was defeated by Ronald Reagan. Yet when Bush became Reagans running-mate, and then his Vice President, Dr. Ramírez support paid off. Still a practicing doctor, she became a personal friend of Vice President Bush, attaining more access in Washington than most of Puerto Ricos elected leaders.
Throughout the 1980s, Miriam Ramírez balanced her medical practice and family responsibilities with her accelerating political involvement. She became National Committeewoman of the Republican Party of Puerto Rico in 1982. Two years later, she founded Puerto Ricans for Civic Action, an organization devoted to promoting a congressionally sanctioned process of self-determination for Puerto Rico. Dr. Ramírez then drafted a petition to demonstrate the support behind statehood in Puerto Rico. She collected 350,000 signatures before sending the petition to legislators in Washington.
In 1992, Miriam Ramírez lost an ally in Washington when Bill Clinton defeated President Bush in the presidential election. However, the ascension of Pedro Rossello as Governor of Puerto Rico sent the statehood movement into overdrive. Dr. Ramírez spent the next six years as a key advocate of statehood, testifying on several occasions before the U.S. Congress in support of a congressionally sponsored status plebiscite.
Due in part to the contributions of Miriam Ramírez, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act of 1998, also known as the Young Bill, passed the House of Representatives. The bill, which proposed a congressionally sanctioned plebiscite on status, was not voted on in the Senate, setting the stage for the local plebiscite of December 1998, authorized by Governor Rosselló. In that contest, statehood was the overwhelming choice among the four status options outlined in the Young Bill. However, a fifth option, "None of the Above," received enough protest votes from a variety of interests to garner a narrow majority.
In the aftermath of the 1998 plebiscite, Miriam Ramírez did not retreat from politics. Rather, she decided to run for the Senate of Puerto Rico, where she could move from being a political advocate to being an elected leader. She said at the time that running for the Senate seat "fits with my overall objective of seeking full equality for Puerto Ricans with their fellow U.S. citizens of any of the fifty sovereign states."
Dr. Ramírez also continued to work for Puerto Rico through mainland politics. At the 2000 Republican National Convention, she was instrumental in crafting a plank in the party platform that recognized the U.S. governments role in sponsoring status referenda for Puerto Rico.
Dr. Ramírez New Progressive Party may have lost some key battles in last Novembers elections. However, now that she has won a Senate seat, and with a Bush back in the White House, the future might not appear quite so bleak to Miriam Ramírez de Ferrer.