Congressional delegate candidates on Wednesday highlighted their differences and similarities on eight questions from the Guam Chamber of Commerce's virtual forum.

Incumbent Del. Michael San Nicolas and former Del. Robert Underwood, both Democrats, and lone Republican bet Sen. Wil Castro each tried to convince Chamber members they are the best candidate.

The primary election is set for Aug. 29. Senators, however, are weighing options to postpone or cancel it because of increased COVID-19 confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Guam Chamber of Commerce forum moderator Ernie Galito's first question was on which part of the National Defense Authorization Act each of the candidates would like to modify, if they were the current delegate.

San Nicolas said as incumbent, he's already made sure there was $990 million in military projects for Guam during his first term in office.

His work, he said, helped allow Guam's continued access to foreign H-2B visa workers to augment the local labor force for massive construction on island, among other things.

"The best way to amend the NDA Act is to sit on the Armed Services Committee," Underwood said.

Unlike his predecessors, San Nicolas is not on the Armed Services Committee, but he's become the first Guam delegate to secure vice chairmanship of the House Financial Services Committee.

Castro said he would work to remove restrictive federal policies in the context of the NDAA, which sets military spending. He also wants to revisit the Guam shipyard plan.

The three support extending Guam and the CNMI's H-2B visa cap exemptions.

Historic preservation

They shared different views on the programmatic agreement, which is Guam's agreement with the military regarding the island's historic preservation.

Castro, a former director of the Bureau of Statistics and Plans, said there's "deep problems" with the agreement that he'd like to address.

"I really believe that the current process of the Department of Defense conducting the archaeological work and data collection, especially with the handling of human remains, should shift to the local authorities," he said.

San Nicolas, a former local senator, said it's important to clarify that "to date, there's been no violations of the programmatic agreement."

"If there were, the local government would have recourse to be able to take the federal government to court, and file the necessary injunctions and actions in order to fault or change course, or require a review of the alleged violation," he said, in part.

He said necessary measures were taken during the recent discovery of ancient human remains during buildup construction.

"As of right now, I'm not too keen on pushing changes to the programmatic agreement," he said. "So far it's working."

Underwood, a former University of Guam president, said the procedures need to be revised in order to include more joint planning and some independent review.

"Reviewing the programmatic agreement should not be used as a tool to stop realignment construction activities, but it should be used as a tool to prevent the destruction of Guam history, such as the site of Magua," he said. "Much of the damage may have been done in previous military construction decades ago, but the protection of these sites continues to remain a DOD responsibility."

They all support diversifying Guam's economy, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that put to a standstill Guam tourism.

Underwood said Guam can become the data hub of the region because of its geographic location and the protection of U.S. laws. He's pushing for a "knowledge-based economy, which links research to technology, entrepreneurial skill in areas like coral reef research, undersea cable, information technology and agriculture."

San Nicolas said his work on getting Guam a 75% reimbursement for Earned Income Tax Credits is gaining ground.

Underwood said he would advocate a 100% EITC reimbursement.

'Which one of us?'

"Which one of us has a proven record of working with people, not just across the island?" Underwood said. "Which one has the successful experience of problem solving?"

San Nicolas said in less than two years, he's been able to fix decades-old issues with Guam's war claims that paved the way for payments to war survivors, among other things. His H.R. 1365 became law in March.

He cited more federal funds for Guam during the COVID-19 pandemic, much more than what the island had received in combined aid for past disasters.

Castro said if elected, he will revisit the war claims and address deadlines passed, funding source and the value of compensation.

In his opening remarks, Castro spoke more on the character of a candidate – "How they treat their family, how they respect their loved ones, how they work with their colleagues, and even how they dispose and deal with their enemies."

Officials of the Guam Chamber of Commerce, Guam's largest business group, hoped that the forum via GoToWebinar, gave businesses and the community in general a better understanding of where candidates stand on key issues.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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