By Aurora Kohn
Antonio Won Pat, a Democrat, was the first Guam delegate elected to the U.S. Congress, where he served from 1973 to 1985. He was succeeded by Ben Garrido Blas, the only Republican to hold the non-voting seat, who served from 1985 to 1993.
For nearly four decades, the congressional seat has been the Democratic Party’s turf.
Robert Underwood held the seat from 1993 to 2003. He was followed by Madeleine Bordallo, who served multiple terms from 2003 until she was defeated by San Nicolas in the 2018 elections.
San Nicolas, who is serving his second term in Congress, is not seeking reelection. He has joined the gubernatorial race.
This year, Won Pat’s daughter, former Speaker Judi Won Pat, is seeking to follow in her father’s footsteps. The Democratic primary slated for Aug. 27 will pit Won Pat against Sen. Telena Cruz Nelson.
Sen. James Moylan is the Republican Party’s official candidate for the congressional seat.
In separate Q&As, the three candidates presented their action plans if elected to Congress. Their responses were slightly edited for space consideration.
Even a cursory perusal of the former speaker’s curriculum vitae leaves no doubt that she spent most of her adult life in public service. But she is not done. She is running to represent Guam in the U.S. Congress.
Judith T. Won Pat is a life-long educator. Her career began in the middle school classroom, which led to her becoming a school principal. Leaving the school system to advocate for substantive change in education standards on a policy level, Won Pat was elected senator and served as speaker of the legislature for five of her nine terms.
What, in your opinion, makes you the best choice to represent Guam in the U.S. Congress?
First, I have a deep understanding of Guam and love for our people. I also have what it takes to move something from an idea to law. Some of this comes from being mentored by my father, Guam’s first congressman, and raised by parents who spent their lives in public service. I also worked for 25 years in Guam’s public schools as a counselor, teacher, and administrator. I served 18 years in the legislature, 10 of which I was elected speaker.
I understand the complexities of policymaking and I have the skill set to educate policymakers about Guam, to be a strong advocate for our community, and to bring people together—working with all stakeholders to get things done. I will bring a focused, thoughtful approach to Washington, D.C., advocating for Guam’s recognition as an important, valuable asset to the United States.
If elected, what top three rights or benefits would you work to secure for Guam’s island community?
My approach to all issues of rights and benefits for the people of Guam is to leverage our true value so that our families are secure, our economy is thriving and our environment is protected.
Everything relative to Guam’s relationship with the federal government needs to be tied to Guam’s security value to the U.S. Today, the military operates in ways that prioritize military objectives. There are thousands of military personnel prepared to move to Guam, and it is baffling that buying a home, or renting one, is out of reach for our residents.
Training ranges and on-base development are rapidly moving forward, and we are ill-equipped to protect our endangered species and the integrity of our sole-source aquifer. Leveraging Guam’s value is critical to delivering direct change that improves the lives of our people.
Do you think Guam should limit the political status plebiscite to native inhabitants? What would be your plan of action for Guam to have the opportunity to decide its political status and enact or adopt its own constitution?
It is a sad historical fact that Guam has been subjected to the longest, uninterrupted colonial history on earth. The question of Guam’s political status then was a decision that belonged to those who have been colonized in Guam. The only colonized population in Guam are the CHamoru.
The fact that laws and policies under this structure have frustrated this process does not diminish the right of the CHamoru people to decide on a sovereign status for their homeland.
A constitution before a decision on Guam’s sovereign status may confuse the questions around Guam’s political status and we must be aware of the implications that follow.
As has been seen in both Puerto Rico and the CNMI, the adoption of a constitution has been used to portray their status as “self-governing” even though both remain an “unincorporated territory” under U.S. law and subject to the plenary power of Congress.
China of late has been aggressively pursuing diplomatic and economic relations with the island nations in Micronesia. In your view, what is the potential impact of these developments on Guam? As Guam’s delegate, how would you protect Guam’s interests?
It is clear that China is attempting to develop relations in areas where U.S. policies have resulted in underdeveloped relationships. In the case of Micronesia, we see the result of underdevelopment in relationships with the U.S. in the high rate of people from those countries who are moving to Guam.
I think we need to be acutely aware of the security risk to Guam should the competition between the U.S. and China turn to conflict.
It is unacceptable that U.S. policies in relation to China—and let’s say the Taiwan issue in particular—would put Guam in more danger than other places in the U.S.
I will make it my job in Washington to make the point that U.S. policies toward China should treat Guam as though it were Los Angeles or San Francisco.
What do you think of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Vaello-Madero? Do you think there is an avenue left for Guam to secure Supplemental Security Income benefits for its qualified residents? If so, what actions would you take to secure SSI benefits for Guam residents?
If the disabled and elderly can be discriminated against, no one’s rights are safe.
The Vaello-Madero decision is a reminder that if you live in a colony, you are subject to the plenary power of Congress. The baseline question is, should permanently or totally disabled and aged Americans, no matter where they live, receive SSI? The only fair answer is “yes.”
Since Congress created this unequal treatment, only Congress can reverse the discrimination. I will make equal treatment a cornerstone of my service in Washington, D.C.
The Jones Act restricts maritime transportation of cargo to Guam to ships that are U.S.-owned, U.S.-crewed, U.S.- registered and U.S.-built. As a result of the Jones Act, Guam consumers shoulder the higher transportation costs of goods. Do you think that the Jones Act should continue to apply to Guam? How would you work for Guam’s interests on this issue?
There is little doubt that Guam would benefit from lower shipping rates if we were not designated a U.S. port for the purposes of the Jones Act, as is the case of the CNMI and American Samoa. Given inflationary pressures today, we on Guam need all the help we can get.
Past attempts to exempt Guam from the Jones Act, including the provision in the Commonwealth Act that Guam voters approved in 1987, have not been successful.
There are, however, indications of a new push in Hawaii and Puerto Rico to provide specific exemptions from the law. I will support these efforts to create momentum in Congress to specific Jones Act carve-outs. Guam’s people have a strong economic case and I would advance it in Congress.
Personally, I think that, as an island, we need to take active steps to reduce our reliance on imported foods and goods. We should focus resources to support local farming and food production, encourage circular economies, and position ourselves to embrace sustainable development.
Guam plays a key role in the U.S. political strategy in the Indo-Pacific region. Do you believe Guam is being treated fairly and justly compensated for the role it has been given? If not, what changes in Guam’s relationship with the U.S. would you work on and how do you propose achieving these changes?
I believe we need to start with the premise that Guam is important. This is the reason there is so much national security infrastructure in Guam. It is up to us to use this value in ways that are not limited to Guam’s military importance.
We cannot just let our people be treated unfairly while decisions about national security are carried out as though they are separate and apart from the security of our families and our experiences as Guamanians and CHamoru.
Our security as families, as a people, should be considered in the first instance when making decisions about national security that involve Guam. I intend to serve on the Armed Services Committee and make this point clear.