The title of this column is a little tribute to my uncle, a seventh generation Iowa farmer, who frequently commented, “Politicians are just like pigs in mud. The only thing you can count on politicians to do is to get rich.”
We are seeing way too many examples of local politicians and their politically well-connected insiders choosing to take care of each other first over taking care of the people during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Just one example is the “Pacific Stargate” debacle where very highly paid government executives displaced 28 housekeepers to collect extra money while enjoying their time as “working guests” in the Tumon Hotel and giving themselves even more money in the form of “differential pay,” even as the governor pushes hard to give them “double pay.”
In the meantime, the lowly paid 28 housekeepers who had been living from paycheck to paycheck before the pandemic found themselves out of work, out of money, and out of food to feed their children. They are desperately waiting for SNAP applications to be processed, stimulus relief checks to be sent, and unemployment benefits to be available, which, at the time of this writing, are still not.
At the time when many small businesses are closed and uncertain if they will survive, politicians are dispensing government funds to the “favored few” without public oversight, without competitive bids, and without contracts. We were warned about this more than 200 years ago when Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It should not be surprising if sometimes public officials do not heed the voice of the people and go about doing whatever they wish, using their power and authority to enrich themselves and those closely allied to them.”
Illustration by Ken Leon Guerrero
It should matter to voters because every dollar diverted from public funds into politician and insider hands is a dollar that does not go to public health, public safety, or public education. Low wage jobs being performed by highly paid government executives take jobs away from people without work, money, and food.
Recent stories indicating the administration’s whimsical use of our tax dollars have justified the people’s growing mistrust in our local government. While the administration is willing to transfer over a million dollars to hotels having cash flow problems, why aren’t they willing to transfer millions of dollars from the federal funds to prepay the stimulus checks the same way they prepaid war claims?
The problem is our fault for two reasons. The first is that we, as voters, continue to elect politicians based on relationships. That’s why whenever a politician meets a person, the first few minutes are a diligent search for a relationship connection. I remember one encounter with a politician I met in person for the first time, who spent nearly five minutes trying to find a connection before proudly proclaiming that his father and my father went into the Air Force at the same time. That was not only a total waste of time for me, but it minimized the time I had with him to learn his plans should he become an elected official.
The second reason we fail as voters is the fact that we prefer to vote for names we are familiar with, which makes it extremely difficult for new candidates to enter the field. It is also the reason why politicians introduce a lot of legislative bills that have more headline value than actual possibilities of making our lives better.
As a perfect example, I offer the series of “castration craze” bills that were popular a few years ago. Castrating convicted rapists makes a great headline, until you read the details of the bill, which few people do, and politicians count on that fact. When you read the details of the law, you will see that the entire process—the time used and money spent on drafting and passing the bill into law—was an exercise in futility. The proof that all the man hours and taxpayer money spent in this effort were a total waste is the fact that three years later not a single convicted rapist has been castrated.
It’s fortunate that every two years we get a chance to change our government. And if we do our jobs, there is a very good chance that we could change it for the better.
As voters, we need to recognize that not all senators are public servants. We do that by looking at legislation they introduce and their votes on legislation that impacts our lives both positively and negatively. Example: Bill 30-35 mandated inclusion of Guam Regional Medical Center (GRMC) into the Government of Guam healthcare coverage. It was one of the first bills passed by the 35th Legislature and it was a corporate welfare bill that cost taxpayers—most of whom don’t have healthcare insurance—over $10 million more than the previous government healthcare contract.
That was $10 million that didn’t go to public health, public safety, or public education. It also helped drive GMH’s financial situation from bad to worse, costing taxpayers millions of dollars more to keep afloat Guam’s public hospital—the healthcare lifeboat for those financially unable to fly to the Philippines, or California for hospital care—as the number of insured patients shifts from GMH to GRMC.
This year, we have seen way too many examples of “pigs in mud,” in both the administration and the legislature. It is up to us to put an end to the local political tradition of “to the victor go the spoils.”
We do that by holding senators and mayors accountable for the actions over the past two years. We know that by reelecting most of the incumbents the tradition of “to the victor go the spoils” will continue, and the people will continue to suffer.
By taking the chance to elect a majority of new faces as senators and mayors, there’s a 50-50 chance we will elect public servants over politically well-connected insiders, and hope the government will finally make serving the people instead of “using their power and authority to enrich themselves and those closely allied to them.”
Register. Study. Vote. Change our world for the better.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is the spokesperson of Guam Citizens for Public Accountability. Send feedback to email@example.com