There are two basic spheres of public policy in the United States. Domestic policy deals with internal matters. Foreign policy deals with policy between and among nations. In the last 17 or so years, Guam has pursued improving political conditions nearly exclusively along foreign policy lines. In reality, there is little or nothing this approach can or will do to improve political conditions on Guam.
Article IX of the Treaty of Paris in 1898 reads in part, “The civil rights and political status of the native inhabitants of the territories hereby ceded to the United States shall be determined by the Congress.” This is in direct line with Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution which reads in part, “The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.”
Following World War II, the Guam Congress petitioned the U.S. Congress for an Organic Act and U.S. citizenship. In 1947, this petition was under consideration. In 1949, the Guam Congress renewed this petition. The Guam Congress then adjourned until the U.S. passed the Organic Act. This walkout prompted action. In 1950, U.S. citizenship and an Organic Act were granted to Guam. By the way, around the same time, American Samoa was also offered citizenship and an Organic Act. Local leaders there lobbied against the measure at the U.S. Congress.
The Guam Organic Act and U.S. citizenship were requested by Guam leaders. These political rights were not thrust on a naïve citizens. A critical, yet largely unused tool in the Guam Organic Act is paragraph 1423k, which allows the governor or Legislature to petition the federal government. This likely was put in as a safety valve to prevent further walkouts.
Since 1950, Guam has evolved politically in a number of ways. The Organic Act was amended to allow governors to be elected, a delegate to the U.S. Congress and a Guam Supreme Court. The U.S. Congress has also provided for Guam to develop a constitution and considered a commonwealth request.
The constitution was approved by the U.S. Congress. We could likely dust it off and approve it today. All a constitution does is allow us to move our political furniture around. It doesn’t change our political status.
The question about political status is actually very simple, though some want to argue it is far more complicated. The real issue is the future. Do voters here want Guam moving closer or in sync with the United States, or do they want to move in another direction? If the answer is closer or in alignment with the U.S., then rational incremental steps can be taken to improve things. If the answer is another direction, similar steps can be taken. In general, the vast majority of voters align or want to move closer to the U.S. It is pretty basic.