No Plebiscite On Guam Self-Determination Planned During November Elections

Commission on Decolonization doesn’t feel timing is right for vote

By Robert Q. Tupaz

SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, August 19, 2016) – There will be no plebiscite vote on Guam’s quest for self-determination, at least not during the upcoming Nov. 8 general election.

The Commission on Decolonization determined that in spite of renewed energy regarding Guam’s political status quest, the timing just isn’t right to hold the vote — especially with an open-ended question on a 70 percent threshold requirement.

“We waited 100 years, so as far as I’m concerned...we waited too long, but we also understand the realities of having to deal with the cards that have been dealt to us,” Calvo said. “We have a lot of momentum, but with that momentum, let’s face it — and I think we all agree — November is a date that is just a big question mark.”

The initial concern expressed during recent discussions by task force members representing the options of statehood, independence or free association with the United States, was the timeline left to conduct a fair and comprehensive education campaign.

Dr. Michael Bevacqua, chairman of the task force on independence, agreed that additional time would benefit the process.

“The basics are out there, but we need that in-depth knowledge. We need time to conduct the studies and it’s obvious that people sort of know the words involved, but they don’t really understand (the process),” Bevacqua said. “So we definitely need more time for that and hopefully we can streamline the process for educating.”

In response to Calvo’s recommendation and with support from the task forces, Sen. Rory Respicio, vice chair of the commission, moved to reset the timeline until members felt comfortable with the process and the setting of a date to hold the vote to begin the process of self-determination.

Another aspect, the 70 percent threshold required to hold the vote, remained unclear and was a primary concern moving forward.

In April, Gov. Eddie Calvo requested an opinion from the Office of the Attorney General regarding the 70 percent requirement of eligible registered voters in order for the vote to be held. The Office of the Attorney General has yet to respond.

Calvo said he didn’t expect the attorney general to issue an opinion mid-stream as a case is before the District Court of Guam about eligibility in the process. In 2011, Arnold “Dave” Davis took issue with the decolonization registry’s definition of an eligible voter as a “native inhabitant.” The restriction spurred Davis to sue the Guam Election Commission, the Office of the Attorney General and the government after his attempt to register for the decolonization process was turned down.

After a couple of dismissals, the case was remanded to the District Court of Guam for trial scheduled on Sept. 2.

Prior to the motion to scrap a timeline for the upcoming Nov. 8 general election to hold a self-determination vote, decolonization members discussed a marketing and education initiative led by Calvo’s senior policy advisor Troy Torres.

Torres gauged a timeline to host several “community conversation” gatherings islandwide in anticipation of the previous goal of hosting a vote in November.

Calvo directed that a subcommittee should be formed and the process continue in efforts to educate the island community on the decolonization processes. Torres explained that the planned events will take place islandwide in collaboration with island mayors.

Calvo explained that the atmosphere would be one of education and fiesta to celebrate island culture. A $54,000 budget was approved with $500 budgeted for each engagement to procure food.

“The idea was that we wanted people to come to (these) community conversations,” Torres said. He said with the help of village mayors, the team will invite surrounding neighbors of a selected home or venue within the respective village for the gathering. The task forces would then provide education and information to attendees.

Calvo encouraged continued community engagement going forward.

“The good news is…we’ve got 11,500 people and counting that have registered so far (on the decolonization registry),” Calvo said. “We’ve just got to keep this momentum going.”

In March, Calvo announced in his State of the Island Address that he wanted to move forward with the island’s political status quest. Calvo announced in the address that he intended to initiate the process to schedule a vote on Guam’s political status as soon as the Nov. 8 general election.

A timeline was initially set for July by the Decolonization Commission to gauge whether the island community would be ready to participate in a plebiscite on Guam’s future political status.

Calvo’s announcement jump-started an energetic discussion on the processes islandwide, though initially he faced criticism from indigenous rights groups for setting the date of the vote without commission input.

Marianas Variety
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