Guam Voters Deliver Message To Legislators: Issues Matter

Nearly half of the incumbent senators lost in Tuesday's election

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 10, 2016) – Seven of the 15 incumbent senators were voted out of office during Tuesday's General Election, according to unofficial results, and the leader of a citizens group that advocated the removal of many lawmakers said the results are a sign that voters care about the issues.

"People don’t care about name recognition and family affiliations,” said Andri Baynum, chairman of Guamanians for Fair Government. “People are going to be looking at the issues.”

Baynum's group, before the election, campaigned against the eight senators it said were most accountable for preserving the controversial pay raises elected and appointed officials received in November 2014. The raises, approved shortly after the 2014 General Election, made Guam lawmakers among the highest paid in the nation.

Five of the eight senators listed by Guamanians for Fair Government were rejected by voters Tuesday, including Republicans Brant McCreadie, Tony Ada and Frank Blas Jr., and Democrats Rory Respicio and Tina Muña Barnes. Re-elected, despite the group's efforts, were Democrat Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. and Republicans James Espaldon and Thomas Morrison.

Also voted out of office Tuesday were Speaker Judith Won Pat, D-Inarajan, and Nerissa Underwood, D-Tamuning.

“As the 34th Legislature assembles, I am humbly reminded of a truly great privilege: As elected officials, we are placed in office by the votes of the people we serve to be good stewards for our island,” Won Pat, a seven-term incumbent and five-time speaker of the Legislature, said in a press release. “Congratulations to all our newly elected senators!  There is a new spirit of resolve on our island and, despite the new direction I will take, I am excited for the new change.”

Early Wednesday morning, McCreadie, a two-term senator, released a statement expressing his gratitude to his supporters.

“On behalf of my wife and I and our family and friends, we want to thank the people of Guam for allowing me to serve two terms in the Guam Legislature,” McCreadie said in his release. “It has been an honor and a privilege to represent you. I will be forever grateful. To everyone who supported me, friends, family, and constituents, God bless you.”

Out of the seven incumbents to lose their seats, five of them were included in the batch of “Mistake 8” senators who have been targeted by the local activist group Guamanians for Fair Government.

The group recently launched its Mistake 8 campaign by posting up signs depicting the heads of eight senators who have opposed efforts to repeal, or partially repeal, Public Law 32-208, the controversial statute that gave retroactive pay raises to appointed and elected officials in November 2014.

The signs included the caricatured faces of Democrats Respicio, Barnes, and Sen. Dennis Rodriguez Jr. along with Republican Blas, Tony Ada, McCreadie, Sen. James Espaldon and Sen. Tommy Morrison. Above their faces is the word “Mist8ke.”

Baynum  said voters who were turned off by the pay raise issue came out to make their voices heard.

Baynum said he hopes another attempt to repeal the raises will happen with the new slate of senators in office.

Newly elected to the Legislature were: Republicans Fernando Esteves, Louisa Muna and William Castro as well as Democrats Therese Terlaje, Telena Nelson, Regine Biscoe Lee and Joe S. San Agustin.

“A lot of them during the forums throughout the island, all of them said they would support a repeal, and I think (Sen.) Mike San Nicolas said he would introduce another repeal bill,” Baynum said. “This was a message the people sent down to the Legislature loud and clear, that they weren’t going to put up with underhanded and sneaky tactics.”

Oyaol Ngirairikl, the governor's director of communications, said there were a number of issues voters cared about during Tuesday’s election, causing them to look more closely at individual senators.

“It seems like there were a lot of different issues that brought people to the polls yesterday,” she said. “There are some among the (Mistake) eight who still are in the Legislature. And you have Sen. Nerissa Underwood, who introduced a number of bills and she was ousted. I definitely think this was an election where people were looking at issues that mattered to them and looked at the individual senators."

Leading up to election day, the Republican Party of Guam launched an aggressive ad campaign against some incumbent Democrats, including Won Pat, Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz, and Sens. San Nicolas and Underwood. One ad in particular criticized Won Pat and Underwood, who each chair legislative committees with oversight of education, for refusing to intervene in the process that led to Jon Fernandez’s pending removal as superintendent of education.

The Board of Education last month voted 6-3 to remove Fernandez after reviewing a report on sexual harassment and misconduct allegations made against Fernandez by a former student.

Oyaol Ngirairikl, the governor's director of communications, said the ads may have played a role in Underwood and Won Pat losing their seats, but added that before the ads, there was public sentiment in favor of Fernandez.

Baynum, however, was hesitant to give the Republican ads credit for impacting the results for Underwood and Won Pat, but instead called them a distraction.

“I don’t know whether that was one of the reasons although a lot of people say that’s what it is … I think the governor sent that out as a last ditch effort to distract the electorate,” Baynum said. “I think that plan worked, but for the most part they stayed focused on the issues and stayed focused on wanting new people.”

In the coming weeks, each party will go into their respective caucuses to appoint and assign the senators-elect to the Legislature's leadership roles. Democrats, who have control of the legislative committees, will also have to assign senators to those committees.

The last time the Legislature experienced a shake-up like this was in the 2006 election, when seven senators in the 28th Guam Legislature were either voted out of office or chose not to run for a seat in the 29th Legislature.

Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz had opted out of running for the 29th term, deciding to be former Gov. Carl Gutierrez’s running mate in the 2006 gubernatorial race. He would lose the in primary race to fellow Democrats Robert Underwood and Sen. Aguon, who would later lose to former Gov. Felix Camacho.

Cruz was later elected into the 29th term following the death of Republican Speaker Antonio Unpingco. Cruz won the special election to fill Unpingco’s seat, which swayed the 8-7 majority in the Democrats’ favor about halfway into the term.

Since the Legislature switched to a 15-person body in the 1998 election, the biggest legislative shake-up to occur was in the 2002 election when nine senators didn’t move on to the next term.

Despite early election polls that had many of the Democratic candidates favored to win most of the senatorial seats and take a supermajority in the upcoming term, Democrats will maintain a simple majority, but with only nine senators – one less than they currently have. A supermajority comprises 10 of the 15 seats, which is enough to overcome any veto by the governor if senators vote along party lines.

Since the 1998 General Election, when the Legislature switched to a 15-person body for the 25th term, each party has held a supermajority once. Republicans won the supermajority in that election.

Following the 2008 election, Democrats only briefly held a supermajority for the 30th Legislature, but that was until Democrat Matt Rector resigned from office in 2010 amid ethics complaints. Republican Sen. Tony Ada won in a special election that spring, reducing the Democrats’ supermajority to a simple majority of nine senators.

Pacific Daily News
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