By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
With a fresh mandate, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio ushered in their next four years with new promises to strengthen Guam's economy as it emerged from the Covid era that was followed by massive inflation.
“This is a time to be bold. A time of upheaval and renewal,” Leon Guerrero said at Monday's inauguration held at UOG Field House.
“And as we work to find our footing in the shifting sands, we must continue to fight as a community for opportunities we once let pass because we were afraid or unsure,” Leon Guerrero said in her inaugural address after being sworn in to serve her second term as the island's governor.
Leon Guerrero, a Democrat, defeated former governor Felix Camacho in the Nov. 8 race. Surviving criticisms over her highly divisive Covid-related policies including the longest public emergency declaration, the Democratic governor gained 55.45 percent of the total votes cast against her Republican challenger’s 44.10 percent.
“As we push forward as an island, putting the pandemic firmly behind us and ending our public health emergency, it may seem intuitive to simply try to pick up where we left off, and move ahead as we intended, four years ago,” the governor said.
“But we are not where we were four years ago. And we are not, as a people, who we were four years ago. It is not possible to walk through the fire, as we have, and emerge unchanged.”
She noted that the last three proved Guam needed to "do more" to ensure its economic health. Guam has been dependent on tourism, which was hit hard when the pandemic brought world travel to a halt.
Nevertheless, the governor said, things are beginning to look good.
“Our economy is not only recovering from the pandemic, we are soaring to new heights,” the governor said.
She noted that more than 6,500 new business licenses were filed with the Department of Revenue and Taxation between 2020 and 2022.
“Our administration has joined the movement to modernize our economy, investing in industries like additive manufacturing and aquaculture, that address supply chain challenges unique to our remote geography,” the governor said.
“These industries are adaptable, sustainable, and dynamic, and the thousands of jobs created to support them will yield a workforce trained in advanced next-generation technology, that will in turn inspire greater innovation and growth,” she added.
Leon Guerrero said her administration retired the government deficit, paving “the way for measures to uplift our people in the darkest of days.” “It has empowered us to help pay for electric bills, stem the rising cost of gas, and provide pandemic support for our people where federal funds could not be extended. This is government at its best,” she added.
Leon Guerrero led the island at the time when it saw the largest stream of federal grants from the U.S. government’s Covid-19 assistance packages. Local economists estimated that Guam received about $4 billion since 2020.
“We are standing on the precipice of a new era in our island’s history. We are once again compelled to reexamine and reaffirm our values as a people, in a world that is rapidly changing,” the governor said.
“Our island made it through this pandemic on the backs of our world-class frontliners, who saved thousands of lives, using the meager resources and facilities available to them,” she added.
Tenorio, for his part, enumerated the administration's agenda, which includes the full repair of Oceanview and F.B. Leon Guerrero middle schools and the construction of Simon Sanchez High School.
"But we must also work closely with the Guam legislature and the Guam Education Board to change an outdated system that has allowed the disrepair of school facilities throughout the island for years and years. We know that our families deserve better," he said.
He said the administration will open a Veterans Center "to improve services and continue our work to expand veterans programs with federal authorities."
"And because we are a community of people that still believes our best days are ahead. We know we must all embrace sustainable development," he said.
He noted Guam's investments in solar and renewable energy to decrease the island's reliance on oil and lower the residents' power bills.
"We must expand access to safe drinking water and affordable wastewater systems by embracing new technologies and investing in infrastructure. We must respond to the increased demand for affordable housing and make housing development more cost-effective—all while protecting the safety of our drinking water. For far too many, a safe home is an ideal that feels too far away."