Guam Congressional Hopefuls Participate In Candidates Forum

3 candidates challenging incumbent Bordallo for House seat

By Shawn Raymundo

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, August 24, 2016) – At Wednesday’s candidate forum at the University of Guam, congressional hopefuls from both political parties sat side-by-side to present their platforms and views.

In lieu of holding debates between the candidates within their respective parties, Democrats Guam Delegate Madeleine Bordallo and Tony Babauta, the former assistant secretary of the Interior Department; and Republicans Margaret Metcalfe, Gov. Eddie Calvo's liaison to his Washington, D.C., office; and former Gov. Felix Camacho agreed to the cross-party forum.

For the three challengers campaigning to replace Bordallo, it was an opportunity to outline how they differ from the seven-term incumbent while pushing their ideas for representing Guam on Capitol Hill.

Bordallo highlighted all that she’s achieved in her 14 years in D.C. and how she plans to utilize her seniority as a nonvoting member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Jabs at Bordallo

Although the candidates agreed not to debate, it didn’t keep them from taking several jabs at Bordallo. A common theme during the forum was a “change in the air,” as Camacho put it, pointing out Bordallo’s tenure as a career congresswoman.

“We’re in an era of change,” Camacho said during his closing statement. “Never before have you seen four candidates running for delegate. Change is in the air.”

Camacho served two terms as governor and was a four-term Guam senator.

Metcalfe, who lost to Bordallo in the 2014 General Election, shared a similar thought, stating Guamanians can no longer afford to elect Bordallo for another term.

“We do not have the luxury to continue to elect failed career politicians who have let us down time and time again,” Metcalfe said. “It is time for us to pick up that mantle in Washington. We can’t wait 15, 16 years and hope someone will get this right.”

Noting that her 14 years in Congress has opened the eyes of many federal lawmakers and officials to the island’s problems, Bordallo used much of her time toemphasize her accomplishments and stress the importance her seniority has in the House of Representatives.

“I want to say that I have been 14 years in the United States Congress. I have been quite successful with getting things done for Guam,” she said. When I arrived 14 years ago they didn’t know much about Guam. They thought I was a representative of Guatemala.”

Bordallo added that her congressional colleagues have a special nickname for her.

“I’m not known as Madeleine Bordallo, I’m known as Miss Guam,” she said, adding that they often say, “‘Here she comes, what does she want again?’”

Babauta, a former staffer for Bordallo’s office, questioned her seniority.

“My competitor has talked about and touts her seniority in office. But I ask you, what’s seniority without depth of the issues? … What is seniority without passion?” Babauta asked. “I’ve spent 16 years in Washington, D.C., and I’ve worked with passion on these issues.”

Amid the vitriol, the candidates often agreed on several matters, such as improving health care for veterans and making the federal government pay for Guam’s Earned Income Tax Credits, which are tax refundable benefits for people who have low to moderate incomes.

Compact migrants

Regarding the candidates’ thoughts on how to address concerns with compact migrants, both Babauta and Camacho had similar views, such as getting more regional leaders involved. They said they would open up more dialogue with federal officials and leaders in the Freely Associated States.

“We need to take a positive approach and realize we are all part of community here. Many people from different walks of life are calling Guam home,” Camacho said. “This is the island of opportunity. We need to work together to find solutions and make it work.”

Stressing that compact migrants are significant to Guam’s economy and community, Bordallo said she’s worked to increase funding to help migrants become more integrated into the island’s education system and workforce.

Metcalfe touched on the latest issue of Calvo's policy to free convicted migrants and send them to their home islands, and the dollars it could save. She said she's been advocating the government focus on addressing compact citizens who aren’t following Guam’s laws or the compact agreements.

Priorities

As to what the candidates’ priorities would be if elected, the four generally agreed to focus on receiving adequate compact reimbursement and other issues, such as Guam war reparations.

“Compact, compact, compact,” Metcalfe said. “Unless we are able to control the negative impact of the compact, we cannot sustain our society, our culture, our economy. Our way of life is at risk. We have to work this out, make sure we can control our expenses, go to our federal partners and make them responsible.”

Babauta and Camacho again agreed on their top priorities — addressing the recent spike in H-2B visa denials, which is preventing skilled foreign workers form coming to Guam.

“It’s going to affect our construction industry. It’s already affected our health industry and that has to be the No. 1 issue that I pursue,” Camacho said.

“A lot of attention needs to be put to our H-2B visa problem,” Babauta said. He also said he would pursue ways of getting Guam’s veterans increased access to medical care.

Bordallo said she’s not a single-issues congresswoman. She said she's taken a multi-purpose approach, tackling several problems, such as war claims, compact funding and the military buildup.

Military buildup

The four candidates also had varying degrees of views on the military buildup, but generally they’re all in support of it, with the caveat that the Department of Defense and other federal officials continue to work closely with island leaders on the progression of the Marine relocation and ongoing military construction.

Camacho, who was governor at the time the buildup was first announced, recalled advocating for a “mutually beneficial” outcome.

“I always requested that it had to be mutually beneficial to the American patriot inside the fence line and the American patriot outside the fence line, meaning the people of Guam,” Camacho said.

Bordallo said she’s supported the buildup so long as it also was a win-win situation. She also noted the benefits of the military buildup in light of recent provocations from North Korea and recalled her efforts to get the THAAD missile defense on island.

“We have been holding DOD accountable and they have been cooperative,” Bordallo said.

Babauta also stressed that the buildup needs to mutually benefit Guam, but said so far it doesn’t seem like it has been. A delegate, he said, should find ways of getting the federal government to subsidize some of Guam’s community projects.

“It’s been very heavy on the DOD side and military side and seems to have fallen short on the community side,” Babauta said. “The delegate need to find the opportunities going forward to find what federal funds can be used to supplement outside the gate.”

Pacific Daily News
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