Mark Twain famously said, “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” People joke with me all the time asking if I will run for the Legislature. I usually joke back saying, “I would never want to stoop that low.” My real answer is no because it is actually really hard work to be a member of the Guam Legislature.
I say this because I have heard most of what has gone on in the Guam Legislature for the last quarter century. I generally know and keep track of the factions, splits and alliances in any given policy area. I also keep close track of the monolithic group of staff that work with and support the Legislature. The staff keep the place stable on the one hand and can inhibit change on the other.
I also study closely the experiences of senators. I particularly enjoy talking to first-term senators. Almost without fail I watch as their grand dreams of making big changes and serving the public fade in the near daily wash cycle of minor concerns. I also take a look at multi-term senators who often seek reelection as their prime directive. I believe this is one reason many of the bills created in the Legislature are simply added layers of existing laws. Some public critics complain that the Legislature really hasn’t done enough during the COVID-19 crisis. I can guarantee everyone, if there had been a "COVID-19 Law” on the books, there would have been 15 new laws in the last 18 months seeking to modify or change things. Of course, there is a general pandemic-related law on the books, the larger point is just how narrow the range of innovation is for emerging conditions. Also, there is a larger political point that by avoiding COVID-19, all of the possible blame can be attributed to the executive branch. Fortunately, we have been able to mostly make it through the COVID-19 crisis well, possibly because the Legislature was mostly dormant.
Using this point, maybe we can be more like Montana, Texas, Nevada or North Dakota. Their state legislatures hold session every other year. I know there are some folks who want a part-time legislature. How about an every-other-year legislature?
As I have said before, I prefer 21 senators to the current 15. The diversity of opinion is too narrow with the smaller number. I also prefer a split district system. Rather than having all senators at large, I prefer two-thirds to be elected from districts and the remaining third at large. But there are never discussions like this at the Legislature. It is too novel.
During the COVID-19 crisis, I have been very pleased to serve on the Guam Education Board. The work of the superintendent, teachers, parents and employees has been amazing. On a final note, Mark Twain also said, “In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards.”
Ron McNinch teaches at the University of Guam School of Business and Public Administration.