The occasion was a ‘meet the candidates’ forum put on by the Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce. While the main draw for the media was on-stage appearances by the candidates for governor and Washington representative aspirant Doris Flores Brooks, minus her opposition, Sen. Mike San Nicolas, a range of legislative and non-partisan office seekers were also on hand to talk with media members at tables in an auditorium at the Guam Sheraton Laguna Resort.
At one of those tables, gubernatorial candidate and Acting Gov. Ray Tenorio projected a lot of confidence:
“Oh, I’m going to win,” said Tenorio. Just a day after he made some local news by sending his attorney to his initial appearance on charges resulting from last July’s “gun grabbing” incident, Tenorio dismissed the persistent criticism resulting from the widespread perception that he has received special treatment in this matter as “just noise.”
“I’ve never been accused of doing more wrong things in life than when I ran for governor. Everything from doing drugs, to being charged with crimes, stuff that I’ve opposed my entire life,” the former police officer said.
And he did not miss the opportunity even in this relaxed setting to throw a zinger at his opponent, Bank of Guam president Lou Leon Guerrero. Said Tenorio, “So the world’s upside down and the candidate who’s the poorest is the Republican and the one with the most resources is the Democrat.”
Arriving later for the on-stage appearance, Leon Guerrero wasn’t exactly shy about firing back on a number of issues, including government finances.
“This administration has managed to increase our debt. We have doubled our [Guam] debt. We now pay $92 million in debt service a year which we could use for education and health care. This administration also managed not to collect taxes to the tune of $200 million and I think that’s not very prudent financially,” said Leon Guerrero, suggesting that the reluctance to collect existing taxes accounted for the Calvo-Tenorio administration’s support of a sales tax.
Tenorio said: “We’ve done a better job in collecting taxes, but that said, we also need to do a better job in building efficiencies and the ability to track data.” Tenorio said that the Guam economy had grown by a billion dollars in the past decade and in another dig at the opposition, suggested later in the forum that it had been a number of years since Leon Guerrero served in the Guam legislature and that she was out of touch with those in the local economy “who are hurting.”
“I’m talking to people who are using recycled tin and wood pallets to rebuild their house after the typhoon. I’m talking about people who can’t get water for their house and have to use a 55 gallon drum to get water for their basic needs. I am talking about the struggles of people who are not making it.”
On the economy, Leon Guerrero suggested that alternative new industries for the island—including marijuana production—could also help the economy, though she said the present administration hasn’t pursued these. She also criticized the approach of the administration to handling financial shortfalls.
“I will promise this. In reducing costs, I will not close police stations and I will not close fire stations. I will not fear [sic] the public in terms of their security and I will use E911 money” for its intended purpose. “People need to feel safe when they have a life threatening emergency.”
There are certainly things the candidates agree on, such as the need to reform the present arrangement for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) which, unlike in the states, is dumped on the local government, providing a serious drain on its treasury.
In keeping with his ‘world’s upside down’ theme, Tenorio at times sounded more like a traditional Democratic candidate, advocating free college tuition and much expanded publicly financed housing construction on government land, though both candidates clearly favored stronger and continued government support for education. And both presented themselves as strong supporters of Guam agriculture.
Tenorio repeated a familiar criticism that he’s made throughout the campaign that Leon Guerrero, as president of the Bank of Guam, has benefited from millions of dollars in Government of Guam funds exclusively deposited there. Leon Guerrero painted a positive picture of the bank’s role on Guam, ranging from home loans to leading economic development efforts. And she also gave back criticism to Tenorio
“Talk about [my] conflict of interest? How about this one? I never signed a law that would give me a pay raise. That is blatant conflict of interest.”
Leon Guerrero also disputed hints by Lt. Governor Tenorio that unlike him, she came from a wealthy background, citing instead her hard work, a supportive extended family and training as a nurse as the basis for her success.
Another question concerned efforts to increase Guam’s minimum wage. Leon Guerrero said members of the Democratic majority legislature have strongly supported this effort, which has been slowed by Republican insistence that the matter be further studied. “As governor, I will certainly work very hard to speed it up and more so, I will work to make sure we have jobs that have a higher wage structure [than minimum wage].”
Tenorio said he favored increases in the minimum wage that did not damage the local economy and suggested that the pay should be tied to increases in skills obtained by further education.
Not surprisingly, both teams were asked about how to deal with the influx of FSM residents to Guam by federal, largely unfunded or underfunded mandate. Tenorio suggested that as a Republican governor, he could better deal with the problem by interfacing with President Trump’s administration in Washington, D.C. By contrast, Lou Leon Guerrero’s Lt. Governor candidate, Joshua Tenorio suggested tapping unused compact impact money as one means to finance the costs of the migrants to GovGuam. He also reminded the audience that the children of FSM migrants who have been coming to the island for many years are also U.S. citizens “and part of the fabric of Guam.”
And on the issue of the decades long chronically underfunded Guam Memorial Hospital, which one questioner described as “being a can kicked down the road forever:”
Leon Guerrero: “You have to take politics out of it and here’s an example of taking politics out of it. When Governor Felix Camacho and Dr. Mike Cruz appointed me as a board member of the hospital, they said to us, ‘We want the hospital accredited.’ We said, ‘leave us alone, we’ll do our work and the hospital will be accredited.’ And what happened? We got it accredited within two years. That was because the governor and lt. governor did not interfere in our strategy or our direction. They did not come to us and say, ‘Hey, this is how you should do it. Hey, we think you should hire this person.’ They trusted us as the Board of Trustees. It is unfortunate and very disappointing that this administration lost accreditation of the hospital.”
Lt. Governor Tenorio said GMH had provided great care before and after the hospital won its accreditation thanks to the staff on board. “We’d like to have accreditation, of course we would. And under my administration, we’ll regain it… It’s not about politics ladies and gentlemen. It’s about supporting the people who do the job,” he said, reminding that the legislature has underfunded GMH budget requests for years.