After completing his second term in office, Republican Gov. Eddie Calvo will hand over the baton to Governor-elect Lou Leon Guerrero, a Democrat, in January next year. It has been a challenging eight years for the Calvo administration, which, not surprisingly, constantly clashed with a Democratic Party-led legislature over several policy issues such as management of government finances, health care and public safety among others. The Pacific Island Times sat down with the outgoing governor for an exist interview in which he assessed his performance for the past eight years.
What do you consider your biggest legacy for the past eight years?
Gov. Eddie Calvo: The fiscal stability for our government, basic services, and improvement on these services. On a more esoteric end, building to the future with the revitalization of the village of Hagatna— restoration of nearly 4,000 years of our island’s history, at the core, Chamorro culture. It’s building a foundation of ourselves and our self-confidence. Hopefully, it continues and even becomes the nervous system of our island.
What are the areas where you consider yourself most successful?
Calvo: Looking at finances, we’ve got the highest credit ratings for both A-credit and business privilege tax. We also now have the highest credit ratings for our airport and port.
Over the past seven years, growth in durable goods — cars, washers, dryers, TV sets, personal computers— went up (a 0.2 percent in 2017 after 0.3 percent in 2016).
Originally, it took years getting tax refund money into the hands of the working people; we shrunk it down to months.
For years, many firehouses on Guam did not have firetrucks and ambulances; we made sure all firehouses have firetrucks and ambulances.
In the past, laws mandated certain pay scales for certain jobs. We came in and made good on our commitment to those laws by, finally, giving the pay commensurate with the laws passed years ago.
We’ve collaborated with the Department of Education, and graduation rates rose and every single school on Guam became accredited. That’s the first time in history of our island.
In health care, overall, we have a lot of accomplishments (including areas at Guam Memorial Hospital, even though GMH is one I would have liked to see a more positive result; especially, with its longstanding struggle with its finances.). But we improved the ICU, the emergency room, and we were in the process of moving forth with labor and delivery room.
Additionally, we have new hospitals, Guam Regional Medical City and a new Navy hospital, and lots of new clinics and diagnostic centers also sprung up. On a more spiritual end, we repaired the Plaza de Espana, we built the Guam Legislature, the Guam Congress building, the museum and we improved our parks and athletic fields.
We’ve laid ground work and foundation both in terms of our governance, with the government of Guam, and how we handle our finance and provided better services.
What areas you think you might have failed?
Calvo: The Guam Memorial Hospital. Because of its special mandate of “service to all.” These mandates—some of them through treaty, some of them mandated by the law of Guam — require GMH to take in all patients, even those unable to pay. That special mandate was further weighed down by some of the inequities, like poor Medicare reimbursement rates and issues from the compact.
What are your regrets?
Calvo: If there were regrets, I look toward our co-equal branches of the government. I believe there was a level of adversarial type of relations particularly with the legislature—more of a trust issue between us. Or, more would have been done. The next administration can learn from us and build a better level of cooperation and trust. I understand also they are separate branches of government, but we live in a — let’s face it — two-party system.
The hope I have right now is that with a Democratic governor, a Democratic super majority and a Democrat in congress, there is no excuses for any type of mistrust and partisan bickering that was maybe self-inflicted between our two branches of our government in the past.
Do you feel you have done what you set out or promised to do?
Calvo: You always want to do more. That’s why I went to Washington after Thanksgiving because I believe the federal government owes us tens of millions of dollars both from the aspects of the treasury department and health and human services. I’m trying to collect on those amounts owed before I leave office.
Compact Impact has been a major frustration for Guam over the years. Two years ago, you pronounced then FSM consul general Robert Ruecho persona non grata. He was unwelcomed on Guam (including any other FSM official unwilling to help out in your deportation program). Was that the last straw for you?
Calvo: A lot of our brothers and sisters from our other islands in the freely associated states look to better their lives, so they come to Guam. The federal government, as provided by law, has a responsibility and an obligation to reimburse the cost of living for them. For decades, the local government has been providing reports justified by the numbers to collect these reimbursements.
The federal government said they need reports satisfactory to them. We’ve asked them to tell us what to report, asked for templates, but they would not give us. So we’ve been giving them the best we can. Basically, with every $10 we show, they reimburse us one dollar. We are saying, there is a shortfall here. Over the years, that shortfall has reached over a billion dollars since the compact. The government of Guam is under a lot of financial duress for so many of these services.
Many of these folks from the FAS have done good and helped build a better Guam since coming in. Then there are also those who came in and committed crimes against the people of Guam. Some of those crimes were against the treaty also. And as a result of committing crimes over so many years, there was so much recidivism (tendency for criminals to reoffend or recommit a crime).
Over and over, they committed crimes repeating a vicious cycle. I brought this up with the federal authorities, but they told me, it’s not a priority for them.
That’s when, under my own authority, I did a program where I allowed commutation of their sentences, buying one-way tickets to their homeland. The federal government, of course, was upset with me (It’s their job). FSM government was upset with me. But I had to do what I had to do. No one was doing anything.
What are some specific things you believe your administration has accomplished regarding Compact impact?
Calvo: Obviously, that issue of deportation of criminals from Guam, I call “tough love.” But the federal government is now doing its job. We’re doing more programs that incorporate our FAS immigrants, including a homeless shelter which will help typhoon victims also from FAS.
Finally, what was the state of affairs of Guam when you came into office in 2011? What is the state of Guam today as you get ready to hand it over to the incoming governor next year?
Calvo: I want to thank the Camacho administration. When they came in there was total disaster. Gov. Felix P. Camacho didn’t even have an office with Pongsonga. He built from there. I can say with confidence as well, where he built—and he did a lot of good—now as I hand the baton over to the next governor, that we’ve improved! Not only with this government but also with the economy and this island from when I came in.