Friday, February 2, 2007

Are the legislators finally listening and getting it? Time will tell!

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Could it be that the legislature is finally starting to wake up and listen to the people who elected them? I realize that the question sounds like something out of a science fiction novel, especially when it comes to our legislature, but there was a story in the paper the other day that made me think they’ve actually been listening and paying attention to you. The House has unanimously passed a legislative initiative that would put the question of having an elected Attorney General on the ballot in November. The initiative now heads to the Senate for their consideration. If the Senate also passes the measure, it automatically goes on the ballot in November for you to decide on. In order for it to pass in the election, the initiative just needs a simple majority of voters to approve of it.

You may recall that Governor Fitial has previously stated that he is not in favor of having an elected Attorney General; in fact none of the gubernatorial candidates that talked to me favored having an elected Attorney General. I’m not sure whether they oppose it because it opens up the possibility of having an Attorney General with higher political ambitions tying up the government in lawsuits and hampering the governor’s ability to effectively govern, or whether they are afraid of being held legally accountable by someone who is only answerable to the people, and doesn’t serve only at the pleasure of the Governor. I believe things would have been drastically different in the previous administration if we had had an elected Attorney General in office. Governor Babauta might have had a much harder time violating the salary cap laws, and violating the Planning & Budgeting Act. An elected Attorney General who was serious about upholding the laws they were sworn to uphold and protect would never have sat still for such things.

Yes it’s true that Guam has had some struggles as a result of having an elected Attorney General, however I believe that the possibility of having some obstacles to work through is preferable to having a governor with no legal accountability. Many of you have also come to this same conclusion and are saying so publicly. In the public forum that happened as a result of Tina Sablan’s letter, that is one of the things that was mentioned that people feel is overdue. This is also something that has been discussed by the many groups that are starting to pop up all over the island.

People are tired of waiting for our politicians to figure out that our system isn’t working and to do something about it, and they’re willing to start taking matters into their own hands. I believe that some of our politicians may be waking up and realizing that some serious change is in the air unless they start responding to their constituents concerns, and that may be why we are finally seeing some movement in the legislature. Could it be that they are finally realizing that they need to deal with issues legislatively when the people are so fed up they’re willing to gather signatures for a popular initiative instead of waiting on their elected leaders to do the job we elected them and pay them to do?

The proof will be in the pudding as the old saying goes. The elected Attorney General issue is really the easiest, and least intrusive as far as the legislature is concerned for them to deal with. It’s not like it will make any difference to any of them whether the Attorney General is elected or appointed by the governor. Now the issues of a part time legislature, reducing the size of the legislature or moving toward a unicameral legislature are another story entirely. These are all issues that are also being widely discussed, and I believe if you did a poll, you’d find the vast majority of people feel these are issues that all need to be considered and addressed. But so far every time a lawmaker has tried to address any of these issues through a legislative initiative it has died in committee and never even made it to the floor for a vote. Now again you need to remember that even if both houses of the legislature pass a legislative initiative, it only means that the issue then goes on to the ballot for you to decide in the next regular election.

So if the legislators know that there are a growing number of people who want to move toward a part time legislature, why wouldn’t they want to put the issue on the ballot and let the people decide it for themselves? Could it be that they are placing their own selfish interests ahead of the will and desires of the people they are supposed to be representing? Are they afraid of losing their jobs and their positions of power? Are they afraid that it would encourage a whole new class of people to run for public office, people who don’t want to give up their day jobs and who aren’t running for office just for the money or the perks? Are the Rota & Tinian senators so addicted to their tax free $5,000 a month subsistence allowance that they wouldn’t even consider letting you vote on the question of a part time legislature?

Who are they really representing in the legislature, themselves or you? At this point I don’t believe any of them can seriously claim they haven’t heard about all the people who are favoring a part time legislature. So if they continue to refuse to pass a legislative initiative that would put the issue on the ballot, there is only one conclusion we can come to, they really care more about themselves and their money and power than they do about representing you. And if that were the case, then why on earth would we ever give any of them the chance to represent us in any office ever again? If they fool us once, shame on them, but if they fool us twice, shame on us!

Now I’m hoping that the elected Attorney General legislative initiative is just the first of such measures that our politicians will give us a chance to vote on in the upcoming election. I’m hoping they are smart enough to put the issue of a part time legislature on the ballot as well; otherwise we need to vote every single one of them that doesn’t support the measure out of office. And I’m also hoping that they realize it’s not wise to have our current system that allows a governor to take office without ever having a majority of voters behind him. We desperately need a run-off election law. So in other words if you have more than two candidates running for governor, and none of them get over 50% of the votes cast, then the top two would have a run off election so that you get a governor elected by a majority of the voters. We currently have a 28% governor, who can’t really claim to have a mandate from the majority of the people for anything.

While it is true that there is more than one way to get these things accomplished, by far the easiest way is for the legislature to do it’s job. It is supposed to be listening to the people who elected them and who they are supposed to be representing, and then acting accordingly. We elect and hire our legislators to deal with legislation, to listen to our concerns and then pass laws accordingly. A legislative initiative is far easier to pass and deal with than a popular initiative. But when our politicians refuse to listen to us and to do the job we’ve elected them to, then a popular initiative becomes a tool we can use to fix the situation ourselves. One thing every politician needs to realize is that if the public has to go to all the trouble of gathering signatures for a popular initiative, it means they feel their politicians have failed them, and there is really no need to keep them after that. For our politicians to refuse to entertain these other issues as legislative initiatives, it is tantamount to political suicide.

So I’m hoping that they will be addressing these other issues as well, and will show us that they do take their jobs seriously, and that they are listening to the people. Because in this political climate, people are sick and tired of the status quo, and I think they are more than willing to gather all the signatures they need to effectuate sweeping changes. The politicians can continue playing their risky little game of Russian roulette if they want to, but you’d better be seriously willing to commit suicide any time you put a loaded gun to your head.

So tell me legislators, have you finally woke up and gotten it? Are there more legislative initiatives to follow, or was the elected Attorney General initiative just a red herring trying to convince us you’re actually doing something? I’d say the ball is squarely in your court right now, and what you do with it will largely determine whether you will have a job after the election in November or not. I’d like to be optimistic and believe that our legislators are capable of change and improvement, but unfortunately I’m also a realist.

You the people need to keep speaking up and letting your voices be heard, people are listening and paying attention. It’s no longer just one of two of us calling for change, but a growing multitude. In order for real change to happen, it’s going to require determination and perseverance. The people truly do have the power; it’s just up to you to exercise it.

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

My commentary that airs on radio stations KZMI - 103.9 FM & KCNM - 101.1 FM