An inside view of island politics
Politics in Guam is less about policy than it is a full-contact sport. Most island voters don't care about policy. They view politics as just another sport, rather than a selection process by which we choose the men and women who will decide the rules that govern so many aspects of our daily lives. These voters just want their team to win.
Let's take a look at where the major league players –the gubernatorial candidates –are at this point in the runup to the August primary, which is barely 65 days away.
There are four Democratic Party teams vying for Adelup this year. Nearly five dozens Democratic candidates plan to run for the legislature.
But the Democratic Party of Guam has completely failed to organize traditional village pocket meetings and rallies, making it hard for candidates to gain traction and visibility — some say, intentionally. This does not help Sen. Frank Aguon Jr. and his running mate Alicia Limtiaco who run a surprisingly low-profile campaign in the highest profile gubernatorial race in recent memory.
Nonetheless, many believe the race will come down to Aguon versus former governor, Carl Gutierrez. No campaign manager, campaign staff, or headquarters apparently, Aguon Limtiaco also face funding challenges. This hampers their sprint to the August finish line, forcing their ticket to rely heavily on earned media. That's what they call it when a candidate makes news.
In the wake of a series of whistleblowers testifying before the legislature about rampant corruption and mismanagement at Guam Memorial Hospital, Aguon has milked earned media better than any of the other candidates. However, Aguon will need to hustle his ground game if he intends to best Gutierrez who has been running his for the past three years already.
Carl Gutierrez has spent three years rallying his legendary grassroots support. While the only candidate with an established ground game, his campaign, however, shows little interest in talking to voters who are not already supporters. Gutierrez is less vulnerable than the other teams to the abandonment of candidates by the Democratic Party.
His choice for running mate, former GPD chief Fred Bordallo Jr., recalled better days and bolstered interest in his campaign initially. However, Gutierrez's refusal to take on the hot-button issue of government corruption (a topic he once had exclusively to himself) wastes a three-year head start and has effectively plateaued his campaign, making the race for Adelup more competitive.
Despite being a former governor and an experienced campaigner, political watchers wonder about what appears to be a drifting campaign with no discernible plan for winning, other than relying on cult of personality politics to carry the team across the finish line. Still, there is movement among island business leaders wanting to hedge their bets and spurned Republicans quietly making their way over to Gutierrez. Political wisdom has it that whoever comes out the winner in the Democrat primary will be the next governor of Guam.
Gutierrez's bewildering decision to “play it safe” and avoid hard talk on real issues could make the difference in what is expected to be a very tight finish in August. But the real question on everyone's mind is, "What will Carl do?" if he loses. With some observers speculating that may be the reason he no longer wants to address the growing government corruption scandal that he warned voters back in 2010 and again in 2014.
Bank of Guam president Lou Leon Guerrero and running mate, political novice Josh Tenorio are the big surprise this election season - and for all the wrong reasons. Sitting atop the fattest political wad of cash in this race, the tight-fisted banker reportedly has been reluctant to spend any money, insisting on waiting until September to cut loose resources to bolster her campaign. But that changed when the wealthy banker's own internal polling showed the former senator and neophyte running mate trailing a distant third behind Aguon and Gutierrez.
It could have something to do with a rash of negative news stories involving past drug use by her running mate and an unsavory connection to the scandalous Department of Correction drug smuggling ring. Or what is widely perceived as the “In” campaign's ability to connect with people due to a lack of "authenticity.”
Then there are the fiesta gripes about the people surrounding the Lou&Josh campaign, including individuals closely associated with the current administration who were involved in some of the most notorious scandals of the Calvo-Tenorio administration, and an uncomfortable closeness, for many, with the island's controversial Neo-Cat movement.
The collapse of the “In” campaign marketing strategy has not helped. Admittedly, the campaign acknowledged the need to “build a base,” but then did little to actually do that, and less than two months out from the primary, Lou and Josh are still slowly introducing themselves to voters who are less impressed by big signs and hollow promises than in previous years.
Senator Dennis Rodriguez Jr. and David Cruz, another political first-timer, are the least likely team to cross the finish line in August. Rodriguez, the youngest candidate, has chosen a non-traditional politician to run by his side in hopes of drawing those sick and tired of old politics -- and this bloc is not small. Rodriguez, who is of Filipino descent, is, naturally, a darling to the Filipino community and thus likely to clinch the Dededo bloc.
But positioning himself as "Carl Lite" was a bad ploy. Choosing a running mate with a questionable eligibility status doesn't help. Having his controversial former campaign manager in the middle of the biggest government corruption scandal since Ricky Bordallo, however, is the nail in the coffin of this dark horse gubernatorial run.In the final analysis, there's not much to say about the Rodriguez-Cruz campaign except, "Adios!"
(Views expressed in this op-ed column do not represent the editorial position of the Pacific Island Times )