Vice Speaker Telena Nelson insults the people of 41 states who have part-time state legislatures when she claims part-time senators will be biased in favor of their businesses or industries; and insinuates that the voters are too dumb to recognize when that happens.
Sen. Nelson may think that only biased people will run for office in a part-time legislature, but how is that different for the full-time senators who raise tens of thousands of dollars to get elected, and are expected to take care of the campaign donors? She obviously has forgotten the very biased votes cast by our full-time senators to rig the government health care insurance benefit program in favor of Guam Regional Medical City, a vote that cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
She has obviously forgotten about the very biased vote to send 100 people on a one-week vacation to Hawaii, instead of using the money to do something very unbiased like buying 17 drug-sniffing dogs to start doing something to reduce the free flow of meth out into the island that is destroying thousands of families. Or to buy 10 police cars to get more police officers out into the villages to cut down response times to home invasions and burglaries, making our villages a little safer.
She has forgotten the very biased vote to make the 5% business privilege tax forever.
But the people of Guam are waking up to the fact that this "full-time legislature" is only a "full-time pay legislature." As a community advocate who has been engaging with senators for years, I can't even count how many times senators are not available because they are at wakes, weddings, funerals or fundraisers.
Guam's full-time legislature is a very good example of the bad examples cited in Parkinson's Law, which proclaims: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." How else can we explain how the Legislature can introduce close to 268 bills in a year (one bill a day excluding weekends) and only pass 61 into law?
How else can you explain using legislative resolutions to campaign for re-election using government funds? I say campaign for re-election because what other justification is there for passing a resolution congratulating someone for retiring, for a birthday, for bowling?
We remember how the "full-time legislature" decided they were so much better than everyone else on the island that they held a secret session and gave themselves a massive retroactive pay raise just in time for Black Friday.
This Legislature still has not earned back the people's trust.
The biggest reason why 41 states have part-time legislatures is "part-time" expands the candidate pool. It opens public service possibilities to many of the best and brightest in a community, not just those who are looking for a full-time job.
I have approached many of the best and brightest in our community about running for the Legislature, and they do not want to risk losing their careers or businesses by being senators. However; they are willing to serve if the Legislature is part-time; as it was for decades when many of Guam's best laws were written by some of the best and brightest in our community, who took time to serve the public as a part-time senator.
There are three things the Legislature will not approve because it cuts into their job security: 1.) a part-time legislature – which will cut their pay, making it necessary for them to get another job to make ends meet like many in our community; 2.) eliminating the primary election, which will make it easier for new faces to compete against incumbents; and 3.) a return to 21 senators, which dilutes their individual power, making it harder to raise large donations.
You can tell which senators are public service-minded and which senators are looking for job security by asking them their positions on a part-time legislature, eliminating the primary election, and returning to 21 senators.
We can't depend on the senators to do what's in the best interest of the people when it affects their pocketbook. The Legislature is supposed to be the people's house. It's time we started managing it better.
Managing the “people’s house” better takes two acts. The first is to vote for new faces in the 2020 election and get rid of politically well-connected insider influence. The second is to sign the petitions later this year to add a real "Citizen's Legislature Reform Initiative" to the 2020 ballot to do the badly needed things to improve our government that the senators won't do:
1.) return to a part-time legislature;
2.) eliminate the primary election; and
3.) return to 21 senators.
Only when we remove professional politicians working for job security and politically well-connected insiders from the “people’s house” will we have a legislature that is concerned and acts to protect the people.
Ken Leon-Guerrero is with the Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.