Public opinion about the 2018 election has changed from hope and optimism to despair and pessimism so fast voters are suffering whiplash. We are barely six months into the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio Administration and the 35th Guam Legislature, and the gulf between the politicians and the people is widening at a frightening pace.
The first 100 days of the new government were wasted as elected officials spent too much time celebrating election changes including the first woman governor of Guam, first openly gay lieutenant governor of Guam, the first female majority in the Guam Legislature, and first female adjutant general of the Guam National Guard. There was not enough time changing things that matter to the people.
Most people believe things are getting worse as a result of the 2018 election. The budget is going up. The payroll is going up for top government of Guam executives. Bond debt is going up. Taxes are going up, and fees for just about everything are planned to go up as well.
Most depressing of all: fears that the cost of living, which is already going up at double-digit rates every year, will accelerate as the fees start increasing, putting even more pressure on families already struggling to make ends meet.
Our criminal justice system seems to favor criminals over justice, and the attorney general’s office seems more concerned about not stepping on the toes of politically well-connected insiders than protecting the people of Guam.
With the increase in meth-driven crimes like home invasions, the current revolving door at the courts, and the shortage of police officers, people do not feel safe in their homes. In the meantime, the administration has made assembling 150 office people to support the military buildup a higher priority than hiring 150 more police officers.
Our health care system was in serious condition before the election, and things have only gotten worse. While chronic disease rates climb, the politicians steered money out of government health care operations into the pockets of campaign donors. Bill 29 forces taxpayers to support financially struggling Guam Regional Medical City by taking money away from financially struggling government-owned Guam Memorial Hospital, making both hospitals' survival questionable. In the 2020 budget, the administration cut 94% of the funding for the Medically Indigent Program, which many who are working but trapped in poverty depend on. We were warned 234 years ago these things would happen, if we, as citizens, did not do our job holding politicians accountable very well.
As Thomas Jefferson said: “There is only one force in the nation that can be depended upon to keep the government pure and the governors honest, and that is the people themselves. They alone, if well informed, are capable of preventing the corruption of power, and restoring the nation to its rightful course if it should go astray. They alone are the safest depository of the ultimate powers of government.”
It is time for us, the people, to step up and do a better job managing our elected officials. That is why we are exercising the “Right of Initiative” as guaranteed in the Organic Act of Guam.
The first thing we will be proposing in a series of village meetings – end of July/beginning of August – is ELECTION REFORM. It’s time to take control of the government out of the hands of political parties and professional politicians and place it back in the hands of the people, and we do this by eliminating the primary election. We do this by making our Legislature a part-time legislature such as in 41 other states.
To make a part-time Legislature more effective than it is now, we propose to return to 21 part-time senators to share the workload. Once we start electing senators more concerned about the financial security and welfare of the people than politically well-connected insiders, we will finally have effective government.
To strengthen the criminal justice system, we will propose the creation of the elected office of the "Guam Prosecutor," transferring over the criminal prosecuting functions from the attorney general’s office. We propose to return the appointment of the attorney general back to the governor with the Legislature’s consent.
Since the government has proven itself on many occasions incapable of policing itself, we will propose a "Corrupt Practices Act" that will allow citizens to file legal actions against government officials and employees who abuse or misuse their positions.
To further strengthen the criminal justice system, we will propose that 50% of the judges will be on the ballot for retention every election.
These are things we can do and must do because they are the right things to do. Since our politicians, as a group, have proven incapable of putting the common good of the people first, we’ll just have to do it ourselves.
Ken Leon-Guererro is with the Guam Citizens for Public Accountability.