Newly elected members of the 35th Guam Legislature were sworn into office on Monday, with grand promises to reform the government, cap its burgeoning debt and cease its structural deficit.
In her inaugural speech at the Guam Congress building in Hagatna, newly installed Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes vowed collaboration with the Democratic administration, but assured that the Democratic Party-led legislature will not be a rubber-stamp body.
Guam’s policy-making process-- a reflection of the nation’s political landscape -- is historically marred by partisan politics, characterized by bickering between the executive and legislative branches of government, as each branch was typically ruled by rival political parties.
“That is not the case today,” Muna-Barnes noted.
In the 2018 general elections, Guam voters elected the Democratic Party's gubernatorial team, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio, along with mostly Democratic senatorial candidates.
“We want collaboration, instead of conflict,” Muna-Barnes said. “We want to solve problems, not lay blame; and we know the people of Guam want that too.”
Muna-Barnes, just the same, acknowledged the principle of check and balance. “Though we share the same values, hold to the same party, and consider each other family, our roles do differ,” she said.
“The legislature is a separate, coequal branch of government. We know that a hallmark of any good friendship is the ability to tell each other the truth. This means we will exercise responsible oversight. We will pass a conservative budget. We will exercise the power of the purse to benefit of our people. This is our sacred responsibility—and no one can be harder on those they love than family.”
Muna-Barnes set the goals for the legislature to develop clearer policies and prioritize critical areas of services.
“When small businesses can’t compete because they are confused by the policy we create in this hall; when people spend a day in line instead of a day at work; when government employees give up because they believe nothing will ever change; when their best ideas to increase efficiency, improve services, or inspire savings are lost because they are ignored—we must do better,” said Muna-Barnes, the most senior member of the legislative body.
Government reform is the 35th Guam Legislature’s main agenda, Muna-Barnes said. “Reforming our government will also require us to make change our friend, and not our enemy. We must do what is hard—and we must do it together,” she said.
Muna-Barnes identified the legislative priorities: investing in workforce, education, cutting the growing debt and ending structural shortfall.
“This will not be easy,” she said. “It will, as Speaker Benjamin Cruz once said, ‘require sacrifice—not sacrifice for sacrifice’s sake—but sacrifice for our sake, for the sake of our children, and for the sake of our children’s children.’”
The women-dominated legislature consists mainly of first and second termers. Muna Barnes welcomed them with a caution. "As each of you work to craft your first bills, know that a new law isn’t always the answer," she said. "The Guam Code Annotated is filled with provisions that have never been enacted—legislation intended to attract new industries, to capture revenues held in black markets, and cut costs."
As for ]regaining public trust, Muna-Barnes said, the goal requires “open, honest and subject to the white-hot light of scrutiny.”
She capped her address with a quote from former President Barack Obama: “I think of this job as being a relay runner. You take the baton, you run your best race and hopefully by the time you hand it off, you’re a little further ahead, you’ve made a little progress I want to make sure that handoff is well executed because ultimately we’re all on the same team.”
Click here to read the full transcript of Speaker Tina Muna-Barnes' inaugural address Read more in the print edition of the Pacific Island Times's February issue.