By Frank Whitman
The 37th Guam Legislature resumed its first session Thursday. With some unusual bipartisan negotiating, legislators voted for Speaker Therese Terlaje, who held the position in the 36th Guam Legislature, to continue in the position for another two-year term.
Terlaje, who is a Democrat, garnered nine votes – three from fellow Democrats and six from Republican members of the legislature.
Eight votes – a majority in the 15–member legislature – were needed to win the position.
The session actually began Monday with the installation of the members of the new legislature.
After senators were sworn into office and the body moved on to the selection of a speaker, the session stalled when none of three nominees for the speakership received enough votes to be declared the winner.
On Monday, Terlaje received three votes from herself and Democratic Sens. Chris Barnett and Sabina Perez, who also voted for her Thursday. Democratic Sen. Joe San Agustin received the remaining six votes from Democrats and Sen. Frank Blas Jr. received all six Republican votes.
This meant that no one had enough votes to be named speaker. Without a speaker, the legislature is unable to carry out any of its functions.
As Supreme Court of Guam Chief Justice Philip Carbullido, who was presiding over the session pending the selection of a speaker, was preparing to begin another round of voting, Perez made a motion to go into recess, which the body did.
Seventy-one hours later the session was called back into order with the first order of business being the selection of a speaker. Terlaje, San Agustin and Blas were again nominated, but Blas declined the nomination and all six of the Republicans voted for Terlaje. With the three Democrats who supported her, she had nine votes – and the speakership.
Following the session, senators told media representatives why they voted the way they did and expressed a willingness to work together and an expectation of cooperation.
“We’ve been in caucus very many days and hours and late into the nights and we’ve been working very hard,” Terlaje said of efforts to bring Democrats together. “There were just certain things that we were not able to agree on. But moving forward, I expect that we will be able, as we have in the past, to work together for the people of Guam.”
Blas said the Republicans negotiated “for an opportunity for parity, that we’re able to participate in the legislative process,” he said. “We were able to negotiate some of the language that’s contained in the standing rules so that the Republican caucus, the Republican senators that represent you in this legislature could have a better voice.”
He said Republicans were especially determined in their desire for more representation on the Committee on Rules.
Barnett, a freshman Democrat and strong backer of Terlaje, was named chair of the Committee on Rules, which oversees the progress of bills through the legislative process, making it particularly powerful.
“We also have an opportunity to choose the membership of the different committees, then to be vice chair (of the committees),” Blas said.
Sen. William Parkinson, also a freshman Democrat, and a backer of San Agustin, was asked if the disagreement over the speaker selection was indicative of a rift among Democrats “As far as I’m concerned, we fight hard we play hard, we shake hands we move on,” he said. “I don’t intend to hold any grudges or anything like that. I was on the losing side of the vote and that’s OK.”
Also during the session Thursday, Sen. Tina Rose Muna Barnes was selected to be vice speaker and Sen. Amanda Shelton was selected legislative secretary, both without opposition.