Guam Republican candidates press for checks and balances in government
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
By Aurora Kohn
The Republican Party’s senatorial candidates stressed the need for the Guam legislature to fulfill its role to keep the executive power in check and to use its oversight function to monitor the administration’s use of public funds.
“I could not tolerate the way the legislature in the 35th was basically giving our governor full powers to be able to lord over this emergency and really do a lot of damage to our community,” Sen. Chris Duenas said, recalling that his decision to run for senator in 2020 was driven by his concern about the lack of checks and balances in government.
Duenas is the author of Bill 11-36, titled “Separation of Powers Act,” which was recently vetoed by Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero. The legislature failed to override the governor’s veto of the bill that would have required a legislative review of the governor's extension of her emergency powers.
The Guam Association of Realtors hosted a virtual forum for the Republican candidates on Wednesday.
Four incumbent Republicans-- Duenas, Sen. Telo Taitague, Joanne Brown and Frank Blas-- are seeking reelection. Three former senators-- Jesse Lujan, Mana Silva-Taijeron and Sam Mabini-Young-- are hoping to return to the session hall.
They are joined by Thomas Fischer, Vincent Borja, Bistra Mendiola, Joaquin "Ken" Leon Guerrero, Ian Catling, Michelle Taitano, Sandra Seau and David Crisostomo on the Republican Party's senatorial slate.
Fischer said some of the tax increases on real estate and businesses would not have been necessary had the legislature conducted oversight over the way government funds are spent.
Duenas and Fischer are in favor of repealing the 100 percent tax levy on real estate with improvements valued at $1 million or more.
Republican candidates are also in favor of rolling back the business privilege tax.
Leon Guerrero said the tax increases imposed by the legislature violated a public law “which requires that any increase in tax or bond issuance go before the general public and go into a referendum or a general election.”
If elected, Leon Guerrero said he would prioritize rolling back tax increases.
Catling said Guam’s business community is asking for the rollback “because they want to survive these trying times.”
Taitague said with a surplus in revenue “we can afford to roll back the BPT.”
She vowed “to fight against policies that spend revenue before they are even realized” and “to remind decision-makers of our duty to set aside funds for emergency situations and to live within our means.”
Addressing the affordable housing shortage, Mabini-Young said it is necessary to amend the building code.
“Our residents are not what we had 20-30 years ago. Many are now looking at different options like co-housing, home-sharing, secondary homes or extensions,” she said. “We need to have our policies to be able to allow landlords to have those as options.”
Mabini-Young also said the government should hire only those who are qualified “to be able to have the vision to make the changes and to have operations where there is a lot more efficiency for agencies that directly affect our housing condition.”
Mendiola said she has been compiling failed bills that have been introduced in the last two years. She cited, for example, the bills related to seller’s disclosure and accessory dwelling units, which she said needed to be reintroduced and passed.
Lujan said zoning and permitting laws need to be amended to allow multiple dwellings on agriculture-zoned land. “We don’t have a big call for agricultural use of land but we do have a shortage for family dwellings," he said.
Duenas batted for a more robust legal bureau within the legislature. “When you have a robust legal bureau and a legislature that’s professionalized, you have a lot more research," he said.
The senatorial candidates support the military buildup and agree that it provides economic opportunities for the local community.
Silva-Taijeron recalled that during her first term, the legislature “pressed to be included in the conversations happening with regard to the development.”
She said she will continue to advocate for the local community’s involvement in the discussions and the planning” and to ensure “that jobs and economic opportunities are available to our people.”
On the subject of Guam’s political status, Borja endorsed statehood to make more benefits available to local residents. If elected, Borja said he would prioritize strengthening the local economy.
Mendiola noted the need for further education on the steps that Guam will have to take before deciding on its political status. She is proposing a commonwealth status similar to the CNMI or negotiating a better deal for Guam.
Lujan prefers statehood, which he said would allow Guam to “exercise more power over its destiny while under the protection and financial security available to a state.”