Sen. Clynt Ridgell: Bridging the racial gap
He’s “half Chuukese, half white” and grew up on Guam, which he considers his home. For the island’s Micronesian community, Sen. Clynt Ridgell presents a potential for redemption for a group of people who want mend their image, tainted, as they see it, by the misbehavior of a few bad apples.
The former TV journalist is well aware of all that. As the first Guam senator with ties to Chuuk, Ridgell is looking to change things, starting with that perception.
“I understand the responsibility that I bear and the importance of this office,” the 40-year-old senator said in an interview. “Ultimately, my focus will be to do the absolute best that I can to represent the best interests of, not only the Chuukese or FAS people, but all people who live on Guam and call Guam home.”
His goal is to “fight racism, discrimination and inequality every step of the way," and “to bridge the gap between Guan and the FAS community.” These are the people he knows best— his friends since childhood.
Ridgell’s mother is from the island of Ta, where “the simplicity of life, the closeness to nature, the subsistence lifestyle, the beauty and peacefulness of the island have stuck with me to this day.
Ridgell earned a bachelor’s in communication from the University of Guam. He went to high school at Guam Evangelical Christian Academy. Prior to his journalism career, he worked as a claims adjuster at Nanbo Insurance and a loan collector/loan officer at Wells Fargo. He then joined KUAM as videographer, ad salesperson and then, reporter. He served as director of policy planning and community relations for the Judiciary of Guam. Most recently, he was a reporter, anchorman and news director at Pacific News Center. He married Therese. They have two children, Inina and Inatua.
Ridgell believes that working with key members of Chuukese/FAS groups to help solve the recurring problems within their individual communities on Guam will, by extension, help solve some of the challenges the islander community is facing. Ridgell has met with various organizations and individuals within the FAS community to learn about things that could contribute to finding permanent solutions to some of Guam’s challenges.
"I’ve met with the new FSM Consul General, Theresa Filepin and folks at the Micronesian Resource Center,” Ridgell said. “I had a joint meeting with the MRC and Guam Police Department to talk about strategies that can be used to prevent and deter crimes, particularly among the youth. GPD Sgt. Paul Tapao is eager to work with the FAS community to find solutions.”
He also met with the Micronesian Student Associations of Simon Sanchez, Okkodo, Tiyan High, George Washington and Southern High. These sessions also included Guam Department of Education Superintendent Jon Fernandez, two GPD representatives and Eddybo Wengu from the MRC.
Before getting elected to office, Ridgell knew the political and everyday terrain ahead would be a steep climb. “I expect there will be challenges," he said, "but my goal is to work hard, and to work with others to overcome the challenges and find the solutions. This includes solutions that will create a more robust economy for Guam, with new industries, new jobs and new revenues.”
Ridgell said agriculture was one of the five main points in his platform. While Guam's economy is propped up by the pillars of tourism and military, he said, it should not stop there. “Guam needs another pillar to its two-pillar economy," he said. "This third can be agriculture. It will create a new industry, new jobs and new revenues.”
As part of that, Ridgell’s newly introduced "Guam Cannabis Industry Act,” proposes to legalize recreational marijuana and regulate and tax the adult use of cannabis for those aged 21 and over. “I believe this will kickstart the agricultural revolution on Guam, and in turn, provide the much needed proverbial ‘shot in the arm’ our economy sorely needs,” the Talofofo resident said. “This will create opportunities for local businesses and local farmers. It will create a series of products that are truly made on Guam.”
Ridgell said Guam must grow its own food, or run the risk of a food shortage. “We import 90 percent of our food,” he said, “and from a food security standpoint, this is not good. If the shipping lanes are ever cut off, we will run out of food. We’ve seen our vulnerability as recently as last week, when there was a problem with one of the two main shipping companies. The shelves began to thin out."
As for working with the FAS group Ridgell said: "In all my meetings with these stakeholders, I stress the importance of cooperation, unity and connecting the various organizations and leaders.”
Ridgell added that his meetings seek “to get everyone to work together to discuss strategies for both improving the quality of life in our community, as well as strategies to ensure that our people are productive law-abiding members of the community. This includes strategies that seek to improve education, employment opportunities, self-esteem, pride within our community, and to improve and promote a positive image of our people.”