Midterm elections on Guam are typically a low-intensity affair. And while the 2020 vote was no different, its results have assumed a political characteristic that will reshape Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero’s power.
A banker, a nurse, a former senator, Leon Guerrero was deemed to be the leader who would take Guam to the right direction. She is the first Democrat to win the island’s chief executive post in 16 years. She is Guam’s first woman governor, backed by the Democratic Party-controlled 35th Guam Legislature dominated by women lawmakers as well as women justices and judges in the judicial branch. The official company rendered her a promising position when she first walked into Adelup. This tiny rock in the Pacific drew the world’s attention for having a government run by a sorority, a political novelty that eventually wore off.
While her first year in office was a long honeymoon period, the coronavirus year has challenged her authority. She was confronted the medical sector’s rebuke for her seemingly tentative maneuver during the early onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, her top-down Covid-19 restrictions on businesses, schools and public gathering spots have extremely polarized the community. Not enough zest, some complain. Over the top, others protest.
The Republicans won’t take it sitting down. They chance their arms to clip the governor’s emergency powers. All the while, Speaker Tina Muna Barnes remains the governor’s loyal ally despite her tendencies to keep the legislature at arms’ length.
Sarah Thomas Nededog, chair of the Guam Democratic Party, believes the government has managed the crisis well. “I think our Guam leaders have done a good job accessing funding, prioritizing spending and supporting the frontlines to identify and treat Covid patients,” she said. “It’s truly a different kind of crisis that they are dealing with. There really isn’t a precedent especially one lasting for months and maybe years.”
Outside of the pandemic, she said, the 35th Guam Legislature has been productive. “There were several laws that were passed to protect the environment. These are crucial especially now in the wake of climate change,” she said.
The next two years will likely be more challenging for Leon Guerrero, what with fewer political allies in the 36th Guam Legislature.
The Democrats managed to retain a majority of legislative seats, but they had a razor-thin margin over the Republicans, who gained two seats in the Nov. 3 elections.
Although the political party system on Guam may not be as ideologically defined as it is in the U.S. mainland, the partisan disaccord can be as intense.
"While the hopes were to promote true checks and balances within the government of Guam through a majority, attaining two additional seats within the legislative body provides an 8-7 minority versus the present super minority status," the Republican Party said in a statement after the elections.
The incoming legislature will see the return of incumbents, including Sen. Therese Terlaje (D), Sen. James Moylan (R), Nelson, Telena Cruz (D), Joe San Agustin (D) Mary Camacho (R), Amanda Shelton (D), Telo Taitague, (R), Clynt Ridgell (D), Sabina Flores (D) and Joe Terlaje (D).
Four former Republican senators—Joanne Brown, Frank Blas Jr, Tony Ada and Chris Duenas, are making their way back into the session hall.
Incumbent Democratic Sen. Kelly Marsh Taitano failed in her reelection bid. Two other incumbents, Sen. Regine Biscoe-Lee, a Democrat, and Sen. Louise Muna, a Republican, did not run for reelection. Incumbent Republican Sen. Wil Castro ran an unsuccessful campaign for Congress.
For the congressional race, incumbent delegate Michael San Nicolas defeated former congressman Robert Underwood in the Nov. 17 runoff election.
With a new set of lawmakers coming in, Nededog said Guam must now set aside politics. “It’s most important to rethink and commit to working closer with the other sectors of government. Secondly. the way forward is forging new partnerships with private business and nonprofits. This one-Guam approach will go a long way in developing socio economic strategies to help us not only survive but thrive. (with additional reports from Ethan Perez)