(A version of this story was published in the print edition of ourAugust 2018 issue)
They were all dressed for their big job interview. Polished opening statements and confidence filled the ballroom when the gubernatorial candidates bragged about their accomplishments and laid out their platforms before the Guam Chamber of Commerce during an hour-and-half forum at the Guam Hilton Resort & Spa on July 25.
The growing crisis at the Guam Memorial Hospital and the recurring budget shortfalls take center stage at this year’s gubernatorial race. They have been the albatross of every administration and every election cycle promises a fool’s paradise. GMH has just lost its accreditation and stands to lose Medicare funds. The government of Guam is facing a projected $160 million revenue hole in fiscal 2019.
Despite the general cynicism, this year’s race for governor offers a wider variety and apparent policy distinctions. It’s a tough fight. This year’s gubernatorial race marks a stark contrast to the humdrum political scene in 2014, when the Democratic Party struggled with a dearth of willing candidates to challenge the incumbent Republican governor, Eddie B. Calvo, who eventually clinched a second term.
In the Aug. 25 primary, Calvo’s heir apparent, Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, is running unopposed, with former Sen. Tony Ada as his choice for lt. governor. Four Democratic tickets are jostling for nomination, reviving the people’s party’s old political fervor. Sen. Frank Aguon is running with former U.S. Attorney Alicia Limtiaco; Sen. Dennis Rodriguez has teamed up with educator David Cruz; former governor Carl Gutierrez is running with former police chief Fred Bordallo; and former senator, Lou Leon Guerrero, with former court administrator Joshua Tenorio.
Though sectoral endorsements of political candidates are not normally a trend in local campaign field, the Guam Citizens for Public Accountability has taken on this task. In a 33-minute video message, Ken Leon Guerrero, spokesman for the group, gave thorough assessments of each team as he endorsed Aguon as the group’s choice for the top executive post.
Leon Guerrero took Tenorio to task for calling the 33rd Legislature into a special session and ramming a bill that gave huge pay raises for the government. “Those pay raises is one of the things that pushed Guam into its current financial situation,” he said.
Leon Guerrero said the group does not favor the “IN” Team either, warning that as a corporate head, Lou Leon Guerrero would be “a repeat of the Calvo administration” that runs the government like a business. “The government is not a business. The role of business is to make profits; the role of the government is to provide service.”
Rodriguez’s reputation as Calvo’s “point man in the legislature,” Leon Guerrero said, has blotted his record, specifically in terms of “supporting every administration’s attempt to borrow.” Leon Guerrero also hounds Rodriquez about the controversial quid pro quo tax settlement between the administration and the senator’s parents.
As for Gutierrez, Leon Guerrero said he has not heard any new ideas from the former governor. “All ideas from him start with ‘When I was governor.’ Well, I got news for you: times have changed. The situation has changed. When you were governor, everybody had a fax machine. Today, nobody has a fax machine. Former Gov. Gutierrez needs to be former governor.”
And as far as Leon Guerrero is concerned, Aguon is the only passable candidate, whose redeeming points include his move to roll back the government pay raises, his fight against the GRRP, and the corruption at the CLTC among others.
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A crowded primary on Guam is often speculated about with a familiar theory— or political myth? — that Republicans will orchestrate the outcome of the general elections by choosing the weakest and easiest-to-beat Democratic candidate at the primary. Historically splintered, the Democratic Party is deemed at a disadvantage on the premise that supporters of a losing team switch to the Republican camp in the general elections. Does that explain why Adelup has been the Republican's turf for the last 15 years? If so, then the Republican Party is banking on Tenorio’s performance on the campaign trail to keep its grip on Adelup.
The BOTA platform is largely based on the existing policies of the Calvo administration, of which Tenorio has been a part for eight years.
Tenorio was born on Feb. 8, 1965 in Orlando, Florida, where he was raised by his birth father until he was sent to a foster home in Tennessee. His mother, then Helen V. Eubank, married Romeo Mantanona Tenorio and brought Ray with her to Guam when he was 10. Tenorio worked as a police officer for 14 years and later served as a senator from 2003 to 2011. He took office as lt. governor in 2011.
“While we’ve made great strides together, there are still more things to do. Like the private sector, the public sector will always have challenges,” he said in his opening remarks at the Guam Chamber of Commerce.
Ada, a former senator who has been working behind the scene with the Calvo administration, solidifies Tenorio’s Republican agenda.
“While others will talk about building a brighter economy, Governor Calvo and I, along with you, have done it. Others will promise to grow tourism, but together we have done it,” Tenorio added. “The question you must ask is, ‘Among the people up here, who do you trust to continue this progress that we made together,’ because everyone up here, has had a chance to address these issues.”
The Tenorio-Ada team will be a referendum on the Calvo administration. But his challenge as a candidate is to repair the reputational damage he caused to his own campaign as a result of the drunken gun-grabbing incident— quite reminiscent of the gavel-grabbing scene at the Legislature in 2008 — at the 6th Annual Pleasure Island BBQ Block Party in Tumon on July 7. According to a complaint filed with the Guam Police Department, Tenorio grabbed Police Sgt. Carl Cruz’s firearm and pointed its muzzle to the police officer. He later apologized for what he called “a teachable moment.” Such incident, just the same, gave rise to the "Anybody But Tenorio" campaign.
Into the Future
Rodriguez takes pride in being the youngest gubernatorial candidate, who is serving a third term in the legislature, where he advocates health care issues. Often referring to himself as “not a politician,” the 40-year-old senator further attempts to recoil from the stigma of traditional politics by bringing into his team an unassuming obscure educator who is a virgin in politics. Dave Cruz recently quit as director of instruction for the Junior ROTC program at John Kennedy School following a controversy over his employment while running for public office.
The Rodriguez-Cruz team’s 10-step action plan, billed “Into the Future”— a platform that offers the most detailed and actual solutions —includes the elimination of deputy director positions and political hires with a corresponding goal to reduce government spending by $51 million.
The team “will bring the corrupt to justice, shepherd in an export-based economy that grows wealth within poor and middle-class families and transform the government drastically,” the Todu Guam campaign states in a press release.
At the Chamber forum, Rodriguez said his administration would form the Office of the Inspector General tasked with “a full investigation into police corruption upon every office and agency entrusted with police powers.”
Born to Filipino parents, Dennis Sr. and Sonia Sison Rodriguez, the young senator is a graduate of Father Duenas Memorial School and ran his own wholesale and retail business before joining the legislature as research analyst for then Sen. Tina Muna Barnes. Rodriguez proved the appeal of his youth when he became the top voter getter in the 2012 senatorial election. However, his perceived alliance with the Calvo administration and the alleged back-door deals, seems to be a political burden on his campaign.
A Reason to Believe
Amid the community’s dwindling faith in the government of Guam, Aguon is running a campaign with the most optimistic slogan, “A Reason to Believe.” According to the Aguon-Limtiaco campaign’s website, the team’s platform is anchored on creating “fundamental, meaningful transformation in governance that secures the financial solvency of our island, streamlines the operational efficiency of our government, improves community responsiveness, promotes economic diversification, and realizes a people-centered government.”
A veteran in the legislature, Aguon is serving his seventh term as senator. He proved his political popularity when he topped the senatorial election in 2014, a promotion from his second place in 2012. He took a hiatus from the legislature when he ran for lt. governor as Carl Gutierrez’s running mate in 2010.
Aguon was born on June 21, 1966 to the late Francisco Blas Aguon, Sr. and Marcelina Leon Guerrero Aguon. He was raised on a farm. He received his bachelor's degree in 1988 from the University of Denver. He had served as director of the how-defunct Department of Commerce, and enlisted in the Guam Air National Guard in 1999.
Political pundits consider his selection of Alicia Limtiaco as his running mate as a well-placed strategy. Limtiaco discovered her own political prowess following her overwhelming victory against Douglas Moylan in the 2006 race for attorney general.
At the Chamber’s forum, Aguon said he has already built the foundation for his gubernatorial plan to ease the taxpayers’ burden by introducing government pay raises rollback and liquid fuel tax repeal.
If elected, Aguon said his administration would prioritize public spending on healthcare, public safety and education.
Leon Guerrero, president of the Bank of Guam, plans to use her business expertise to clean up GovGuam’s fiscal mess. “The government of Guam’s financial house is collapsing daily and must be placed on a responsible foundation,” she told the Chamber.
Cutting red tape rather than downsizing bureaucracy is the key, she said. “Reducing size of government does not mean we are reducing the cost. We need to look at the processes of every function in the government,” Leon Guerrero said. “Decrease the steps and we get efficiency; efficiency means cost reduction and improved services.”
A registered nurse, Leon Guerrero is no stranger to politics. She served as a senator of the 23rd, 24th, 26th, 27th, and the 28th Guam Legislatures before taking over the leadership of the billion-dollar family-owned Bank of Guam in 2011. In 1998, Leon Guerrero ran as the running mate of Sen. Thomas C. Ada in a gubernatorial primary where they challenged the incumbent ticket of Carl Gutierrez and Madeleine Bordallo.
Leon Guerrero is the daughter of Bank of Guam founder Jesus Sablan Leon Guerrero and Eugenia Calvo Aflague Leon Guerrero. She earned her nursing degree at California State University, where she also obtained her master’s in public health. She worked as a staff nurse at Santa Monica Hospital in Santa Monica in California. She returned to Guam in 1980 to work at the Guam Memorial Hospital, where she became assistant nursing director.
According to the “I’m IN” team’s website, the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration’s long-term strategy involves “a comprehensive socio-economic development plan for Guam” that will be “written with input from all sectors of our community and branches of government.”
The strategy “will contain both reform of current policies and long-term investments and will establish timelines and objectives based on SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time Bound).”
Running alongside former police chief Fred Bordallo, Gutierrez holds a slogan to “Make Guam, Guam Again.” A tireless politician, the former governor has been a fixture in every gubernatorial election since the end of his second term in 2003. At the Chamber forum, Gutierrez told the business group that he is the candidate “best equipped to extricate us from this financial mess that we're facing right now.”
If given a chance to govern again, Gutierrez said, he would improve Guam’s economy by adopting the successful strategies he implemented during his previous term.
He marks the privatization of Guam Telephone Authority as his legacy. It is the hallmark of a successful transition of an inefficient government entity into a lucrative private enterprise, serving as a blueprint for other agencies that GovGuam has been failing to manage properly.
After surviving several corruption charges lodged in 2003 by then Attorney General Douglas Moylan, Gutierrez sought to revive his political career. He ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor with retired Chief Justice Benjamin Cruz as his running mate in the Democratic Party’s 2006 primary which he lost to former congressman Robert Underwoood. He went back to the campaign trail with Sen. Frank Aguon as his running mate in 2010. In 2014, Gutierrez challenged Gov. Eddie Calvo with Gary Frank Gumataotao. Despite his repeated failures, Gutierrez manages to keep his loyal followers among the grassroots. Whether it will translate in the primary this time is yet to be seen.
Born in Agaña Heights on Oct. 15, 1941, Gutierrez was the fourth of 11 children of Tomas Taitano Gutierrez and Rita Benavente Cruz. He is of Spanish and native Chammoro descent. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force immediately after graduating from high school. Following his tour in the Air Force from 1960 to 1965, Gutierrez formed CarlTom Construction Company, before entering politics in 1972. He served nine terms in the Guam legislature before becoming governor in 1995.
Given his background and experience, the former governor said, “the Gutierrez Bordallo team is in a unique position to aid in Guam relations with the United States.” The other candidates, he said, "can give you ideas of what they want to do, but I've done it.”