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McNinch issues report card

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by Sabrina Salas Matanane

Guam - University of Guam Professor and Political Analyst Ron McNinch speaks to the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay and grades Guam's government giving the Guam Judiciary a "B", the Executive Branch an "A-" and the Guam Legislature a "C-". For the legislature's grading he sites an overall lack of focus, misalignment of the role of legislature to other governing areas, the seeming false belief that quantity of bills matters, too much overlap in functional legislative matters, and an obsession about the military buildup to the detriment of both community and buildup itself.

Grading Guam's Government

About every year in January, I talk to the Rotary Club of Tumon Bay on major political issues. Last year, I raised some stir by talking about compact migrants, crime and their impact on the criminal justice system. Now this is a common view and many members of the public readily understand it. This year I  will talk about the three branches of government in brief, grade them and mention a few key points. I will then follow up with five basic social, economic and political truths for Guam.

The Guam Judiciary: B

Overall the judiciary has done exactly what it is supposed to do.  Unlike many other state level judiciaries, the Guam judiciary has a large law enforcement based bureaucracy that muddles its role somewhat. Quite often these roles are served at the county level by sheriff offices. On purely judicial aspects, the judiciary would receive a solid "A" rating, but the problematic law enforcement role drops the rating to a "B". This might be improved by better coordination with the executive branch.

The Guam Executive Branch: A-

Governor Calvo and Lt. Governor Tenorio have done exactly what they need to be doing. They immediately asked the legislature to join them in joint efforts on behalf of the people of Guam and this opportunity wasn't taken for the most part. To its credit, Adelup has sought a very active policy of communicating with the public to help keep the public informed.  The Governor and Lt Governor have avoided the courts and stuck to pragmatic solutions as first options.  There have been a few missteps, but overall they have done well. A special "A"  Honorable Mention to Arthur Clark, the Governor's policy advisor.  He has done exactly what policy advisors are supposed to do.

The  Guam Legislature: C-

One of the neat things about my job is that I read nearly every bill and resolution the Guam Legislature processes. I also read the Guam Code cover to cover and the Guam Organic Act every year. I hate to say it, but I actually enjoy all this reading. There is an old saying, "love your Congressman, hate the Congress."  This is very true of the Guam legislature, there are very good examples of great senators in the legislature and then there are some fallen angel types in the legislature. This creates a sort of high and low with very little in-between, thus the" C" rating .  Great senators include Senator Respecio,as majority leader and Senator Blas theminority leaders. Both Senator Tom Ada and Senator Tony Ada are low key and do exactly what they are supposed to do.  Two new senators, Dennis Rodriguez and Mana Silva have done well.  The problems that plague the legislature as a body include:

  • An overall lack of focus;  For example, the Speaker also chairs the Education committee, the largest budget item in the budget. While this oversight area has a large support staff,  it is difficult to manage two major dominant legislative roles. In the past, Speaker Forbes shared this committee as a co-chair with a democrat senator and this sharing model might be a better one to consider. This might improve focus.
  • The misalignment of the role of the legislature to other governing areas; The legislative disaggregation or splitting up of roles and functions throughout the government has also created critical gaps in the governing process. A reversion to more simple authority systems may work better. IE put education under the Governor or the legislature itself.
  • The seeming false belief that the quantity of bills matters;  During 2011, 404 bills were introduced! Senators should be limited to 24 bills per term or about one per month. That would mean a maximum of 360 bills total in any given legislative term.
  • Too much overlap in functional legislative matters and the executive. Examples include the very narrow veto override margins and acting governors appointed directly from the legislature. Guam has the closest thing to a parliament in the US system due to these factors.  Either change the internal rules to require13 votes to override vetoes or return to 21 senators. Work with the governor and create a system to allow non-legislative acting governors. (IE Form an approved list of stand-in acting governors, stop legislative meddling in the executive branch.) I personally favor returning to 21 senators and keep the legislative budget the same.
  • Finally, obsessing about the military buildup to the detriment of both the community and the buildup itself.  The build up was an opportunity for Guam to rationally plan in the long term. Instead the legislature seemed to rely mainly on social media for its direction in this area. Guiding government using Facebook is the worst form of leadership. Our citizens deserve better.

Suggestion: The legislature can call a simple Constitutional Convention and pass a basic organic focused constitution. Don't change anything because the Organic Act is already an accepted federal document. Just add an amendment clause. After it get approved, hold an amending convention to pass a bi-cameral system with better defined roles. Also, the single 2 year cycle is too short. Senator BJ Cruz had the courage to talk about extending the cycle, but there is an Organic Act limit on it. The legislature could have remedied this term item long ago by creating a Guam Constitution. Then using amendments incrementally change things.

Truths

Before I mention some truths, can you handle the truth?  In Rotary, the first point in the 4 way test is, "Is it the Truth?" Well, here is the truth.

1)      Guam needs the US military far more than the US military needs Guam. If you don't believe me, take a look at the Philippines example from the early 1990s. The US simply moved Clark AFB and Subic activities elsewhere.And they did it in just a few months.  Guam is not the only game in town, there are plenty of regional alternatives.  On Guam, the military actually functions out socially and economically as a group of very stable and reliable tourists. The legislature failed to understand this critical point. I believe Senator Guthertz has tried very hard to promote a positive relationship with the military and she has a strong pro-US record.  She has also sought to work with Governor Calvo on these questions, but one or two senators alone is not enough. Guam citizens value their US citizenship and linkages to the US far above any  theoretical future political status. Not only is citizenship valued, Guam citizens are very patriotic and very loyal to the United States. Some of our elected leaders may try to claim otherwise. This small group is simply out of touch with the vast majority of voters.

2) The truth is, "Guam is full" from a social services and free lunch standpoint. As an island territory Guam should work with the federal government and establish a residence commission that restricts and limits who can live here. Unless a person has a job or means of support such as a supportive family, don't let them move here. Don't allow sex offenders or felons from the mainland move here unless they have permission. Don't allow mentally ill people to board planes to come here unless they have a family here to care for them. Don't allow compact migrants to migrate here, unless there is enough room for them systems wise. This includes those with chronic illnesses. The US military largely pays for themselves and the military wouldn't have created this sort of burden.  Instead, we shun the self-paying military who come with Section 30 funding  and open up our doors to unfunded liabilities of everyone else, even if they are undesirable or even if they tax our support systems. One upside of the Navy security clearance between 1945 and 1962 was that it kept the riff-raff out of Guam. Compact migrants are vital to our economy, we just need better controls on certain negative aspects of residence.

3) I just finished a two year review on social networking and public policy on Guam. With friends on Facebook, you don't need enemies. But using social media to guide government decisions is tantamount to letting intoxicated teenagers wreck your family car week after week.  About 32% to 42% of Guam related public and political activity in this area is either fake or fact challenged. The primary mode of real public support on Guam remains people talking to people that they actually know. Leaders need to be reminded they cant simply "unfriend" you. You are real and you talk to real voters who live here. This is where real political effect remains.

4) Regarding the military buildup, we failed in Round One. There was a clear disconnect between what a small number vocal elected leaders were saying and what a strong majority of the voters in the community thought.  The legislature in particular during this timeframe sought to make less than 20% of the voting public happy to the detriment of the other 80%. The 80% is just finding this out. Leaders failed to note that the same loud people were dominating every village meeting related to the buildup. Average citizens were cut out of the input process by these dog and pony show types.  Also information was taken at face value assertions with little fact or valence checking.  

5) Finally, the current political status process is very unhealthy and detrimental to Guam on a number of levels. I don't care for lawsuits and to be frank, given the dominance of preference for US citizenship across the board, this is actually a fairly moot question in most respects. I think Ed Alverez is doing fine on the decolonization side, I spoke to him at length last May. But the unhealthy part is that the legislature has failed to simply correct flaws or false impressions in the existing process. There are ways to make a Chamorro registry and do it right. There are ways to very legally, fairly  and transparently handle the political status questions and vote.  But the methods chosen many years ago simply don't do that. For example, we have likely the highest interracial marriage rate in the US and many people here have blended racial and ethnic backgrounds. But, there is a naked racism related to this current political status process.  Its simply unhealthy on all levels. The public deserves better.

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