It’s a truly well-worn cliché that politics is truly Guam’s favorite sport. I’m pretty sure I stole the concept from the late Pacific Daily News editor (and fellow Wisconsinite) Joe Murphy. And Joe probably swiped it from his predecessor.
In any case, the season is in full swing on the highways and village streets across the island. There are the waving, sign-holding throngs of candidate supporters at particularly favored sites, such as the ITC or tri-intersections at the Micronesia Mall or the GCIC Building on Marine Corps Drive. The attention directed toward passing motorists, the name recognition from signs and the sheer endurance of wrists and ankles of these human billboards is supposed to translate into big vote totals in November, or so the candidates orchestrating these efforts hope.
But a more challenging aspect of the search for votes plays out on smaller back streets of the island as canvassers go about the work of sniffing out potential voters, wherever they may reside, to inform them of the many virtues of candidates X, Y or Z. These folks, bearing bundles of leaflets and briefed with talking points aimed at curious or ready-for-an-argument voters, get a self-guided tour of parts of a Guam they’ve likely never seen. In many cases, it’s a sort of ‘how the other half lives’ experience, including shacks hidden in the jungles and abandoned, junk strewn houses and yards in the middle of otherwise prosperous-looking neighborhoods.
Canvassers are also well advised to be alert to another reality of Guam neighborhoods, rich or poor: the dogs, confined, or otherwise free to challenge any or all pedestrians, regardless of their mission.
In fact, Guam’s true neighborhood crime-fighting tool isn’t saturation police patrols or armed vigilantes. It’s those dogs. And dogs — running loose or behind a fence — are not tuned into the need for political communication.
Whether it’s snarling, hungry-looking pit bulls in Machanao or harmless looking Chihuahuas in Yigo, leaflet distributors are well advised to seek out owners to intervene for them with their canine guards.
Village mayors and other officials make various claims about progress in controlling dogs, but actual residents and observation tell stories of kids and joggers being chased down streets. Others complain they’re afraid to walk around their own neighborhood. How canvassers deal with these feral critters roaming the streets is pretty much up to them. Caution and a solid umbrella may help and they’re entitled to hope those with owners are fed regularly.
Canvassers learn fast to make noise to attract owners. If no one is home or answering the door, leaflets go on the gate or the door knob. And never — in line with federal law — in the mailbox.
Did I say “harmless?” Just the other day, a canvasser was showing me a nip mark on her ankle from one of these doggies. Given the bite location low to the ground, it clearly wasn’t from a rottweiler or some other kind of big breed that generally induces fear in the dog-averse.
Successful politicians learn very fast that person-to-person contact is a valued part of winning and staying in office. There’s little question in my mind that any of the current crop of office-seekers who canvass in Guam villages are being reminded first hand or by their supporters on the front lines that the island’s dog problem hasn’t quite gone away.