As the euphoria dies down, the people of Guam are waiting to find
out what the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration will bring
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero delivered her first State of the Island address on April 11, presenting an optimistic outlook: “The state of our island is what I am able to affirm today and it is this: We are here now, and the State of Our Island is promising.”
The governor’s optimism is highlighted by her administration’s $966 million budget proposal for 2020, which is $10 million above the current fiscal year’s level. Guam is in better financial shape compared to last year, according to her financial team. The team has reported a monthly tax collection that it said was higher by 1.3 percent, or about $5 million, than projected.
Other than the enactment of the recreational marijuana law, the Leon Guerrero administration, in its first 100 days—a marker that is often used to judge nascent administrations — has yet to score a major coup.
The governor’s state of the island address was an echo of her campaign spiels. “Fiscal discipline will be the hallmark of our administration. In all that we do, we will always strive to be worthy stewards of the public trust people expect of their leaders,” said Lou Leon Guerrero, former president of the Bank of Guam.
And the pressure is on her to prove what a banker can do. “Since taking office nearly a hundred days ago, we have assembled an effective and highly experienced fiscal discipline team to re-ignite fiscal responsibility and fairness with regard to the manner in which our government collects taxes,” Leon Guerrero said.
Leon Guerrero is the first successful Democrat to win the top executive post in Adelup in 16 years. Being Guam’s first female governor with Guam’s first LGBT lt. governor, Josh Tenorio — working alongside a women-dominated Democratic legislature — brought gender euphoria. And the people of Guam wait in anticipation to find out what such distinction has come to offer.
Currently, her biggest challenge is navigating the same federal issues that her predecessor contended with, such as the H2 visa restrictions that exacerbate Guam’s labor deficit, the dispute over the real cost of hosting Compact of Free Association citizens, and the long-delayed war reparations that put Section 30 in jeopardy.
“The administration has managed to tackle local and federal issues concurrently and at various levels. This is a good start,” Minority Leader Wil Castro said. But overall, he said, “It’s too early to assess any real progress. I haven’t seen a plan against which to grade (the administration).”
In her state of the island address, the governor asked for patience. “Our island is in a period of transition - a time of change and a time of renewal,” Leon Guerrero said. “Our people need to be confident that their governor is making decisions to keep our finances stable and to prepare for the future.”
The upcoming budget deliberations, Castro said, “will flush out the administration’s priorities against competing priorities,” and subsequently define its character.
One of the salient features of the administration-proposed FY2020 budget is the revival of the 2-percent set-aside, which Leon Guerrero said, will lead GovGuam to “a responsible path toward eliminating our deficit and addressing the long-standing problems that have led to our cash flow challenges.”
The governor said the 2 percent set-aside will enable the government to build cash reserves — through deposits into the long dormant Rainy Day Fund— of up to 10 percent of general fund average spending.
But at this point, this is just a sketch. Castro said, “Next year should give us a baseline of action and data upon which we can make any meaningful statement about where we are headed.”
Dr. Robert Underwood, former president of the University of Guam, awaits to see the changes Leon Guerrero and Tenorio will bring. “I think the average person is waiting to see what's coming up in addition to fighting fires in the hospital and things like that,” he said. “The job is not just to fight fires and correct mistakes from the past. The job is to try to figure out what a new world would look like, what a new Guam would look like. I don't think we're quite there yet.”
Acknowledging that the new administration has a lot on its plate, Underwood said it's too early to make an assessment, especially when information leaves a lot to be desired.
“The first task of any leader at that level is to communicate effectively and regularly and to communicate policy— not just opinions,” the former congressman said. “I think we're not really sure what policies are being contemplated. We've heard a lot of opinions, but I'm not sure we've heard a lot of policies. That would be my first major concern.”
As a former congressional delegate for Guam, Underwood understands how difficult it can be to gain the trust of all citizens. “The new administration is meeting the expectation of their supporters. I think they're not meeting the expectations of their political opponents,” he said.
Underwood also believes that one of the biggest advantages of Leon Guerrero and Tenorio is their support. “The strengths of the administration are obviously connected to the fact that is a lot of energy,” Underwood said. “The energy is fueled by the fact of having the first woman governor. That's a very significant achievement, so there's a lot of support for that. The governor herself is an experienced executive in terms of running the Bank of Guam, which is another strength.”
However, Underwood believes that Leon Guerrero should expand her identity beyond being the first maga’håga. “Their weakness remains in communicating what are they there for other than being the first woman governor and fixing the problems inherited from the previous administration. I'm just observing,” Underwood said. “I think previous administrations weren't so free to share opinions. People who sit in policy decisions should have opinions. They need to understand that when they share an opinion people are looking for the policy implications in that. If you share an opinion, people won't give you credit for just sharing it. If you’re governor or senator, you're not just there to have opinions, you're there to carry out a policy.”
“Their weakness remains in communicating what are they there for other than being the first woman governor and fixing the problems inherited from the previous administration,” says Dr. Robert Underwood, former congressman.
Underwood feels that Leon Guerrero and Tenorio can work harder at informing the public. “When people say transparency and openness, maybe there's not a clear understanding of what it means. Transparency and openness isn't just saying what's on your mind,” Underwood said. “Transparency is having insight into allowing people to see how your government or administration works, like an available website. I don't think they have an official website up yet. If you are the view of modern leadership and your website doesn't have information, that’s not compensated for by sharing your opinion with media outlets all the time. Openness and transparency are related but aren't the same thing.”
Underwood knows that big change takes time in order to be successful. “The staff at Adelup are probably overwhelmed because they have to fill vacancies for boards and commissions,” Underwood said. “One way to communicate what your administration is about is to fill those boards and commissions quickly and on a timely basis. That's evidence that your staff is looking for people and consulting people to join boards and commissions. Maybe we all have amnesia and we think we're starting over every time and we forget what it was like in 2011 when Governor (Eddie) Calvo took over.”
The Leon Guerrero-Tenorio Transition Team is certainly working hard to ensure a success. “Transforming the government of Guam bureaucracy will require patience, diligence and determination. The directors they have selected have pledged their commitment toward this end,” wrote transition co-chair Dr. Laura Souder over email. “The new administration represents a change in the philosophy of governing and also reflects the Democratic Party agenda. It is people and community focused.”
Souder said she has great faith in the new administration and the changes to come. “Their biggest strength is that the governor and lt. governor have vastly different experiences which create a balanced partnership and governance strategy,” Souder said. “One thing that I have heard truly distinguishes them is that they have reached out and visited the departments and agencies. They have talked with GovGuam employees and have solicited their collaboration in making the necessary changes in procedure and practice that are required.”
Souder believes the new administration is doing its best to connect with the public. “The governor and lt. governor are committed to transparency, efficiency and relevant and reliable service to the people of Guam. Their platform articulates the hopes that shape the direction they want to take,” sa