The Aug. 29 primary will be held as scheduled after all, following the defeat of a bill seeking its cancellation.
Senators on Friday voted 10-4 against Bill 375-35, which would have scrapped the 2020 primary and allowed all candidates to advance to the general election in November.
“While I am certainly disappointed with the outcome of the votes associated with Bill 375-35, I do respect the decision made by a majority of my colleagues, and with that I look forward to a safe and successful primary election,” said Sen. James Moylan, the bill’s main author.
“The intent of the legislation was in relation to addressing the present public health crisis and assuring that any risks associated with the spread of the virus through large gatherings were minimized. At the same time, the bill had the potential of providing a cost savings which would be much welcomed considering the present state of our economy,” Moylan said.
The bill, had it passed, would have saved the government $400,000, Moylan said.
“I took a stand for all candidates, and all voters, Republican and Democrat. I voted ‘no” on legislation that infringes upon the rights of candidates and qualified voters, and in favor of legislation that gives voters another mechanism by which they are able to exercise their sacred right to vote,” said Sen. Wil Castro, a candidate for the delegate seat who is running unopposed in the Republican primary.
During the bill’s three-day deliberation, Castro criticized the Republican-authored bill, which he said sought “to change the rules at the 11th hour” and would deprive voters of their rights to choose candidates based on their political affiliations.
Castro said he voted against the bill to ensure “that the established rules were not unfairly changed in the middle of the process.”
One of the salient concerns raised by political pundits during the bill’s public hearing was the possibility of a runoff for the delegate seat.
The Democratic Party has two delegates candidates vying for nomination—the incumbent Delegate Mike San Nicolas and former congressman Robert Underwood. The delegate seat would have been a three-way race if all candidates were to be allowed to advance to the general election.
Under the law, a candidate must earn the majority vote (50 percent plus one) to win the election—which political observers believe might be harder to obtain with multiple candidates. A potential runoff, observers warned, would offset any savings the government would realize from the primary’s cancellations.
Crossing party lines, senators heavily debated the bill during the emergency session.
“If we try to guess – flip a coin—whether or not there would be a runoff, we will not know,” Moylan argued. “In the meantime, we know we have the opportunity to save money and protect the community. There is no guarantee that there will be a runoff but we are guaranteed to save that money today.”
Sen. Therese Terlaje, the bill’s co-sponsor, said she supported the bill in consideration of the “unique circumstances” facing the community due to the pandemic.
“I don’t know all the ways that it may affect candidates or voters. But I will acknowledge that it does affect them,” said the Democratic senator. “And I have heard from mayoral candidates in those villages where the elections are contested that some of them oppose.”
Sen Joe San Agustin withdrew a similar bill prior to its deliberation and subsequently voted against Bill 375. He said he was convinced that the Guam Election Commission is capable of managing a strategically safe election as it has shown during the special election for Yona mayor which was held at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Voting “yes” on the proposal, Sen. Telo Taitague said Bill 375-35 “is not about changing the rules in the middle of the game, it’s about adjusting to the unique public health threat.”
After all, she added, the Covid-19 has already compelled the community to adapt to protective measures.
“I support the measure because I’d prefer to err on the side of caution – I’d rather be safe than sorry. Although Bill 375 cancels the primary election, it moves all qualified candidates to the general election for voters to consider,” said Taitague, a Republican.
“To the disappointment of some candidates and their political strategists, Bill 375 may conflict with their assumptions about what could happen if a primary election wasn’t cancelled; however, political considerations are the least of my concerns,” she added.
Sen. Mary Torres, also a Republican, argued that cancelling the primary would have been a practical decision given the financial hardship besetting the government.
“Right now, we have a situation where 30,000 people are unemployed on Guam. Our visitor industry has no restart date right now,” she said . “So the tension is very high to find savings where we can and do measures that will keep us as safe as possible.”
She also noted that several positions are contested, including 11 of the island’s 19 village mayors. For the senatorial positions, each party has 15 candidates seeking to fill the 15 slots in the primary.
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