Guam Military Buildup Lobby Group Draws Controversy

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Senator says effort hinders ‘One Guam’ voice, Governor objects

By Zita Y. Taitano

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Marianas Variety Guam, May 22, 2012) – The formation of an organization called Guam USA Asia Security Alliance (GUASA) that aims to lobby for the Guam buildup in Congress has sparked debate among the island’s leaders.

Carl Peterson, one of the leaders of GUASA, and Gov. Eddie Calvo are disputing concerns raised by Sen. Rory Respicio that the nonprofit organization’s work with a U.S. lobbyist firm "could sidetrack all efforts to form a coalition of interests into a ‘One Guam’ voice."

Aside from Peterson, the organization’s other key members are Joe Arnett, of Deloitte & Touche; Paul Blas, of Seabridge; and Gerry Perez, former Guam Visitors Bureau general manager.

Peterson, spokesman for GUASA, said the group was formed in response to the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012, which cut several million dollars slated for Guam construction projects.

"There needs to be a new organization that can have a presence in Washington all the time to sell Guam or discuss Guam, making sure people understand more about Guam," Peterson said, adding the organization was officially established in late February. He also said the organization has hired K&L Gates to represent them in Washington D.C.

Guam First

Respicio, however, believes the group should’ve collaborated with elected officials, especially the Guam First Commission.

"A separate, business-only group speaking directly to the U.S. government on matters of great impact to all residents of our island, and not just businesses, should be everyone’s concern," the majority leader said.

Peterson, on the other hand, said the idea is to try and change outcomes.

"In order to change outcomes slowly, we have to have access to the key decision-makers and we have to be able to inform them. That’s what a lobbyist is supposed to do," he said, adding the Governor’s Office and Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo are aware of the group’s efforts and are working with them.

But in a statement, Respicio pointed out that K&L Gates was formed by a merger of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP with Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham in 2007. Respicio said the Preston Gates law firm employed Jack Abramoff, who pleaded guilty in 2006 to federal charges including wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud his clients, and tax evasion.

Although Peterson is not sure whether Abramoff worked with the firm prior to the merger, he said when a company merges with another company, there’s new leadership.

"What a way to try and slander a company. That’s what it is. It’s really trying to slander the company and to try to make the company look bad," Peterson said. "The bottom line is, What does that have to do with today?"

Support

For her part, Bordallo has already expressed her support for GUASA and its efforts.

"I do not believe that their efforts run counter to those of the governor, the Legislature, and the Guam First Commission. It is not only their right to organize, it is also helpful in bringing additional attention and support for the military buildup on Guam. I continue to work constantly to have a One Guam approach to officials in Washington, the Obama administration, and Congress to ensure that the buildup benefits our community," Bordallo stressed.

Calvo, in the meantime, cautioned elected officials to never use their authority to try to police private citizens since "this is not some Gestapo government." He further states GUASA is trying to help the island and commended the group on its efforts.

"They’re not asking for any government funds. They’re paying for this themselves. The Guam First Commission was created so the government could speak with one voice. We certainly have no right to regulate what private citizens say, or to limit anyone’s freedom of speech. Actually, the Guam First Commission should embrace this opportunity to partner with these citizens as we push for the buildup to happen with the greatest benefit to our people," the governor said.

Response

In response to the governor, Respicio stated he’s sorry Calvo misinterpreted the senator’s message and emphasized he’s not trying to tell people how to spend their money. However, Respicio stressed the Guam First Commission was designed to bring everyone together to the table with regard to having one voice in Washington D.C.

"The governor has also said that many times as well. Rather than defending one group of businessmen who can easily defend themselves, the governor and GFC should be defending our entire community, because that is who we are elected to represent," Respicio said, adding he has invited GUASA to the next GFC meeting.

Respicio said his concern is that special interest groups usually "pursue benefits for themselves, and why shouldn’t they? As the governor so correctly noted, they are spending their own money. But that doesn’t mean they should not be a part of the overall message that Guam sends to Washington."

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