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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Who won in the fiery debate?

Lou Leon Guerrero and Ray Tenorio sparred again on Tuesday night for the last big debate before the Nov. 6 gubernatorial race, exchanging taunts and rehashing their longstanding talking points, even repeating verbatim spiels they had made in previous forums.

Recurring themes figured at the Great Debate hosted by the University of Guam. Tenorio squandered eight years in office, Leon Guerrero said. Leon Guerrero, whose family owns the Bank of Guam, has conflicts of interest, Tenorio said.

In the end, neither of the two gubernatorial candidates said anything new. The result was anticlimactic

The incumbent administration did a great job raising the quality of life on Guam, said Tenorio, who is running with Tony Ada under the Republican banner.

Not to be outdone, Leon Guerrero plugged the “People’s Bank,” whose success she argued is testament to her financial management skills.

If she became governor, Leon Guerrero said, she would relinquish financial matters to her lieutenant governor, Joshua Tenorio, to avert any conflicts of interest.

The Bank of Guam holds the government of Guam’s account. “She will be recusing from any decision that involve the Bank of Guam,” Josh Tenorio said.

But that won’t work, Ray Tenorio said. “It is clear Lou Leon Guerrero has no fundamental knowledge of how the government of Guam finances work,” the lt. governor said. “Operating the government of Guam finances is a daily activity. By delegating the authority of GovGuam finances to Josh Tenorio, then maybe Lou and Josh should switch places.”

For the most part, election debates are a political show, a beauty pageant of sort that displays each candidate’s demeanor — perhaps, giving voters a sneak preview of how the candidates respond to pressure. Write-in candidate Frank Aguon should have been on stage as well, Lt. Gov. Tenorio said in his opening statement.

Still reeling from the gun-grabbing episode that hounds his campaign, Tenorio was subdued. He stood in the middle of the stage as he answered questions— a well calculated blocking to sync with his mantra: “I am on the ground with you while Lou is on the 10th floor of the Bank of Guam building.”

Leon Guerrero stood behind the podium, occasionally agitated; her Republican opponent clearly got on her nerves.

The dramatic fireworks began early on even at the candidates’ opening statements, each launching zingers at each other during the three-segment debate.

Tenorio presented his pro-life ideology as the center of his campaign. “This election has become far more important than any other. It is about the moral direction that you would choose,” he said. "You need to look at the 10 commandments. Thou shall not kill. Lou supports abortion, I support life."

Leon Guerrero, who skirted the abortion issue in a previous debate, finally mustered the courage to defend her position, giving a categorical “No” when asked if she would support a bill that would make abortion illegal on Guam.

The government must stay out of such personal decision, she said. “The issue of abortion is very complicated, very emotional and very traumatic for a woman,” she said. “I strongly advocate and support protecting a woman’s right to choose what she chooses for her reproductive health."

While Leon Guerrero has steered clear of Lt. Gov. Tenorio’s gun-grabbing gaffe, she has been the subject of the Republican camp’s advertised attacks. “No attack ad has educated a child; no attack ad has solved a crime,” she said.

But some say her recent invoking of her birthplace – “I was born and raised here, Ray”— as her qualification for the Adelup job may have posed a PR crisis to her campaign, and Tenorio employed it to accelerate the diversity issue.

“Why does your bank employment profile not reflect diversity? Tenorio asked.

To which Leon Guerrero replied: “We have Filipinos, Haoles, Chinese, Chinese, Japanese,” Leon Guerrero said. “So, Ray, get your research right; get your facts straight.”

In rebuttal, Ray Tenorio said “look at both the reality and the rhetoric.” He reiterated that the Bank of Guam “does not represent the cross section of society.”

More exasperated at this point, Leon Guerrero replied: “No one here knows more about the People’s Bank than myself. I know my employees, Ray.”

On the subject of funding the University of Guam, Leon Guerrero said she would give the university “everything that they need” and accommodate whatever budget UOG would ask for, saying she trusts that the institution is run by people who know what they need and know what they are doing.

But Tenorio reminded her that the government of Guam includes other agencies. “A good leader has to ensure that the operations of the entire government is funded through a balanced budget,” he said. “We are a government. We don’t run like a bank. We run like a government. I know Lou has been out of the government for a long time, but the way we have to manage finances, we take care of everybody.”

Leon Guerrero lashed back at Tenorio, citing the administration’s failure to collect $200 million in delinquent taxes and returning $44 million in federal funds that could have otherwise been used for social services.

Tenorio explained that the funds returned to federal government were funds that did not have find local match. “We would not want to start a program only to stop it later because we could not meet the matching need,” he said.

Going back to the issue of conflict of interest, Josh Tenorio turned the tables on Ray Tenorio, reminding the lieutenant governor that he sent a bill to the legislature that gave himself, and other government officials, hefty pay raises.

In closing, Leon Guerrero said the administration “can’t fix our island’s problems because they refuse to acknowledge these problems even exist. After eight years of their failed leadership… Families don’t feel safe in their homes; and Last year 5,280 people got so tired of looking for work they lost hope, gave up, and left the job market entirely. And yet, our opponents say the numbers are better. Can a number keep us safe when there are half as many police officers protecting us as there were in 1998?”

Tenorio begged to disagree: “From education to supporting law enforcement, we kept $100 million in drugs off the streets and out of our kids’ hands.”

Resident pundits declined to say who won in the fiery showdown. "We'll find out on Nov. 6," UOG professor Ron McNich said.

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