Leon Guerrero, Camacho trade barbs at gubernatorial debate
By Aurora Kohn
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and former Gov. Felix Camacho took a jab at each other during a gubernatorial debate hosted Wednesday by the Guam Chamber of Commerce.
Camacho accused Leon Guerrero of using the pandemic to deprive residents of their rights and freedoms and extend favors to her friends and allies.
Leon Guerrero countered that Camacho left the island with “the largest GovGuam deficit ever”— totaling half a billion dollars— at the end of his eight years in Adelup. She further accused him of failing to improve the lives of Guam residents during his term as governor.
Leon Guerrero, the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer, and Camacho, the Republican Party’s candidate, will face off against each other at the Nov. 8 gubernatorial race. This was their first debate since the Aug. 27 primary.
Leon Guerrero is running with Lt. Gov. Josh Tenorio, while Camacho is running with Sen. Tony Ada.
The Chamber posed prepared questions to both candidates about a wide range of issues.
At the well-attended debate held at the Hilton Resort and Spa, the gubernatorial candidates tried to outdo each other as they discussed their platforms and achievements in office.
Leon Guerrero said safety is a priority of her administration and “the way to secure the safety of our people is to put more police officers on the ground" and
establish a strong presence in Guam villages.
Toward this end, Leon Guerrero said her administration increased the salaries of law enforcement officers, provided them with additional equipment such as police cars, and brought retired police officers back to work.
For his part, Camacho said during his term as governor, he built the northern and southern police stations.
“We equipped, we hired, we promoted, we gave pay raises, we did everything we could and the police department responded very well,” Camacho said.
The former governor said “crime is on the rise” under the incumbent administration. “And there is so much fear in this community,” he added.
Camacho said he advocated a “multi-agency approach” to fight crimes and drugs. “Police officers should receive premium pay above all other public safety officers because their lives are on the line every single day,” Camacho added.
Camacho said during his two terms, there were concerted efforts to reduce the cost of governance.
“We reduced government employment by about a thousand— by attrition, by retirement. We also recognized the need to take the Guam Telephone Authority and go private because we could not keep up with technology. We consolidated agencies, we took the school lunch program within DOE and privatized it,” Camacho said.
Camacho added that there are many opportunities where services can be better provided by the private sector or through a private-public partnership.
He mentioned working with the Chamber of Commerce in identifying these services.
Camacho said the procurement of services and goods has to be improved so that it is more efficient.
Leon Guerrero said her administration has improved the efficiency of government. She said this is evidenced by more efficient tax collection and the creation of unemployment insurance.
“We streamlined processes, we have automated SMS at the port authority, driver’s license, single filing, so much so that tax returns are given back to our people within four weeks,” Leon Guerrero said.
She added that, unlike Camacho’s administration, her administration did not have to borrow money to pay tax refunds.
In rebuttal, Camacho cited the long delays in obtaining building permits and occupancy permits and criticized the current administration’s hesitance to fully open up government services.
State of emergency
Leon Guerrero said “continuing the state of emergency is a benefit to the people of Guam because it would enable the governor to quickly respond. It would also benefit us because there are federal dollars that continue to come to Guam in the state of emergency.”
She emphasized that the pandemic is not over.
Camacho said the administration’s response is no longer a public health response but a "political response."
“The emergency declaration, no governor has ever had it for this long. They have not included the Guam legislature in this. It has been a simple matter of letting me be able to circumvent the procurement process,“ Camacho said.
“As the Democrats like to say, never let a good crisis go to waste,” he added.
Camacho criticized Leon Guerrero’s failure to get the renovation of the Simon Sanchez School off the ground.
He said during his administration, he built five new schools and the Department of Youth Affairs.
“We went with a municipal lease. I convinced the DOE that I could use Section 30 money for brick and mortar. So let me put these into schools,” Camacho said.
“It also came from the compact impact monies because of the migration from other islands,” the Republican candidate said.
He added that he will use creative and tested solutions to improve school infrastructure.
Leon Guerrero responded that she is at the point of breaking ground on the Simon School project at the end of the three years, which she said was “pretty quick” compared to Camacho’s track record.
Leon Guerrero said to combat the high cost of living on Guam, she has pushed out $2.2 billion to help ease the people's burdens.
“It’s so interesting that her response is that ‘I’m going to give you more money,’” Camacho responded. “’You comply with me, you listen to me, you give up your freedoms and I will give you money.’”
Camacho said Guam has to create an industry that produces goods for export so that “money could be made on the back end” for the island.
Camacho noted that Guam plays a role in U.S. defense and subsequently becomes a target.
“Why are there two separate communities? Why is there discrimination? We should also be availed of having supplemental fuel costs reduced,” said Camacho.
Camacho said the procurement process “is very complex, very difficult to navigate and delays the progress of projects going out there.”
Camacho recommended researching other models that work and working with the legislature to bring about the necessary changes.
Leon Guerrero said everything that she had done, where certain procurement processes were not followed, complied with a public law that allows certain processes to be skipped.
She said she and Camacho co-sponsored this law.
In response, Camacho suggested a forensic audit of the American Rescue Plan’s $2 billion that was given to Guam to determine who received the funds and where they went.
Guam Memorial Hospital
Leon Guerrero said it would be more expensive to fix and renovate the Guam Memorial Hospital. Hence her decision to build a new medical complex in Eagle’s Field in Mangilao, which is centrally located.
Camacho expressed doubts that the cost of building the medical complex, as announced by Leon Guerrero, is accurate. He said that money is better spent refurbishing and improving GMH.