Notes – Senatorial Candidate Forum on Social Issues

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Guam Chapter, and the Division of Social Work at the University of Guam hosted a senatorial candidate forum on social issues this evening at the CLASS Lecture Hall at the University of Guam.
The purpose of the event is to hear candidates’ vision for the future on critical issues affecting our island community. According to the NASW, “Social workers understand social problems and know human relations, and the commitment to improving the quality of life brings a vital perspective to public decision-making.  Social workers across the country serve in a range of political institutions, from school boards to city and county offices and state legislatures. There are six social workers in the US House and Senate.”
In order to facilitate this process, social work students developed a questionnaire to assess candidates’ positions on current, relevant issues (see attached questionnaire).  Questions addressed issues such as the deportation of convicted, non-US citizens; the chemical castration of sex offenders; political decolonization; the militarization of Guahan; raising the minimum wage; pedestrian safety; Ban the Box for criminal employment; and gender neutral restrooms in GDOE schools.  Candidates’ responses were then scored for congruency with the social work position on these issues. Candidates with 63% or greater congruency were invited to participate in this forum.        
The list of candidates participating include:
Tom Ada
Frank Aguon, Jr.
Jermaine Alerta
Tina Muna Barnes
Benjamin Cruz
Fred Bordallo, Jr.
James “Jim” Espaldon
Regine Biscoe Lee
Rory Respicio
Therese Terlaje
Mary Torres
Nerissa Underwood
Judith Won- Pat Borja
At this forum, candidates will be given the opportunity to discuss their positions on the aforementioned issues, as well as their strategies as we move Guahan into the future. 
Following, some notes from my perspective in the audience —
Underwood – First Generation bill, for FAS migrant students to attend university (university at the time had a prohibition on any of its scholarships going to FAS citizens)
Cruz – don’t want Guam to become another Ferguson!
Alerta – there might be some bad apples, but you can’t let that spoil your perception of an entire people group
how migrants coming to Guam can be best assimilated?
Association of Pacific Islander Legislators – Guam, Hawaii, CNMI, FAS, etc. – Won Pat and Respicio are members; Won Pat is a member of many Micronesian women’s organizations, Chuuk, Yap, Pohnpei, Marshalls
very strong culture here but also a very strong Western influence, certain cultural norms
cultural differences, barriers, like not looking someone in the eye
must educate people before they come on the government requirements, registration, cost of living on Guam, community expectations and norms, etc.
JWP: as an educator, whenever immigrant children would come in,from Korea, CNMI, etc., find someone who could converse with them in their own language, appropriate orientation, and then also, for a new teacher, program which military also continues, very effective, connect them with an existing family to adopt them, show them the ropes, find them a place, do that kind of orientation
The forum is being moderated by the president of the Guam chapter of NWSA
Diverse genders, non-comforming, transgender umbrella, rights – often segregated, threatened, harassed, in educational settings.  How can Guam address that?  NBU – educational institutions must create policy.  Must begin with gender-neutral bathrooms.  DOE already has a policy in place and have begun taking steps to address it.  Facilities.  Procedures.  Must continue to foster our cultural values to accept those who are a little different from us.  Marriage Equality law, NBU was author.  LGBTQ people are our teachers, nurses, judges, attorneys, safety officers, and we trust them.  Why did it take us so long to give them equal rights?  Couldn’t even understand why individuals based on gender identity would not be allowed access to the bathroom of their identified gender. Transphobic arguments made no sense.  Sermons heard in her evangelical Christian church treated transgender people as lepers.  We have forgotten that at the center of what makes all of us whole is that unconditional love, just that capacity to love each other no matter who they are, who we are, and to realize that we are all of us imperfect, but we can reach out to those who are suffering
Jermaine Alerta – our culture taught us, you allow people to be who they are, you have that amount of respect for them, his classmates in school were transgender, you want to make others as comfortable as possible and be accepting. We never want to put an individual in any situation where they feel they have to be someone they’re not, outside their own skin, can’t be comfortable enough to do what they want to do.  It’s the behavior of our culture that we’re very accepting here on Guam.  I think we’ll see great strides made.  It is a facilities issue as Sen. Underwood said.  Single-use restroom may be the ideal compromise.  Hospitals have those.  We don’t want people to be unable to use the restroom, that would lessen the value of who people are.  We are a very accepting culture.
JWP: doesn’t understand why we need separate restrooms for boys and girls at all.  In other countries, no such thing, makes it so much easier.  No need for urinals.  Simple sharing of restrooms.  Need to change our mindset and go with the flow, we’re not so uptight as they are in the US.  We’re not going to have a problem.  If anybody’s going to try to harass someone, someone else will step right in and take care of that.
Tom Ada – “We want to be inclusive and all of that.”  But he remains uncomfortable with sharing bathrooms
UN Article – declaration on non-self-governing territories – JWP: as an educator, we first must do a comprehensive educational plan, need funds for it, so we can have the commission be able to speak to an educated public, each taskforce must have monies.  Islandwide effort to populate the Registry, need up to 75% registered before holding a plebiscite.  Take it into the high schools, starting at ninth grade level, when they graduate they will be educated and ready to vote.  Forums, research, education.  Need to reorganize task forces.  Independence has lots of young dynamic individuals, gung ho, ready to go, but being asked to teach about other task forces as well.
Respicio: must be a self-determination plebiscite.  Dave Davis lawsuit.  Attorney Julian Aguon, to argue to the court that the right to express oneself on this is fundamental to the human rights of the Chamorro people.  Has been hard to get everyone to agree what the plebiscite process should even look like.  Reminded Gov. Calvo that as governor he has to follow statues and processes.  Has Gov. Calvo been able to do the educational campaign?  He recognized we weren’t ready in the spring, need more educational campaigns.  Need a process where everybody can agree.  Once status is chosen and constitution is developed, all voters of Guam get to ratify that constitution.  How will this constitution be ratified?  If statehood is chosen, need to open negotiations with Congress.  If independence is chosen — must ask Congress / colonizer to relieve you of that relationship?  75% of what?  What number of registrees is acceptable?  Working very aggressively to figure out by statute how we’re going to move this process forward.  Must be an aggressive educational campaign.
Therese Terlaje: these are THE  most important questions in this election, though they aren’t being asked so often.  I’m an impatient person, don’t want to wait for ninth graders to graduate from high school to vote.  Yes, I am running for a colonial government office!  But our colonial government  is impacting our ability to really achieve self determination every day.  Demand of your government today and every day what impact they are having to impede our self determination?  At stake is control of Guams resources.  Really, really important!  Without control of our aquifer, which is so rare, we cannot develop our economy.  We have precious resources we’ve not even begun to look at, minerals in ocean, energy resources unique to islands, so who controls your resources is crucial.  This election is very important for your self determination.  Don’t elect people who will give away so easily our resources.
Jermaine Alerta – why cannot people who’ve lived here, like grandfather, fifty years, been integral part of community, share in plebiscite?  Need very strong educational campaign, personally not as informed about free association or independence as should be, default idea is just statehood.  We need to learn more about it, the community collectively, not just high schoolers or government initiatives.
NBU: the Chamorros are the only ones who should exercise the right to self determination.  My mom made that very clear for me.  We exercised our right by choosing to leave the Philippines, an independent country, and come here to be closer to the States.  We have already exercised our right to self determination.  So I believe this right should only be exercised by the Native Inhabitants.
BJC: cost of living continues to rise steadily, second highest per consumer in the US, will raising the minimum wage improve the quality of life on Guam?  BJC, yes, no one who works a full time job should be living in poverty.  Democratic colleagues have all joined him in that.  Introduced a bill and passed it in two thousand seven.  in two thousand fourteen, a bill to increase the minimum wage in three stages, but not enough of a supermajority, had to compromise.  Unfortunately the administration has not gone through with its study in time, this September, and isn’t due for completion till December.  We do have enough evidence to show that an increase in the minimum wage is no apocalypse, when in twenty fifteen we increased the minimum wage, the unemployment rate went down.  Twelve hundred new jobs created in twenty fifteen, average earning per week rose, so not a negative impact, inflation rate for food, housing, and gas actually declined, DPHSS said number of people on welfare had gone down and the director attributed that to the increase in the minimum wage.  Lots of strong statistical support for increasing minimum wage.  Doing this in stages to prove he’s not doing this just for election pandering, increases will take place in non election years.  Democratic national platform calls for minimum wage increases.
TT, people who work full time should be able to take care of their family, children, their sick and elderly.  A pillar, along with EITC, universal affordable healthcare, a pillar of our society.  We must make that a pillar of our society also.  Raise our families with dignity.
RR, has oversight of labor issues in the legislature, supports minimum wage increase very much and was with BJC every step of the way.  No such thing as tip credit on Guam, tips do not count toward minimum wage though some employers have been trying to say that.  Seeking clarification from attorney general.
JWP, minimum wage is good for everyone, no business person should object, quality of life issue is so important for everyone, food, shelter, vehicle, pay medical and power bills, those are definitive quality of life issues
NBU, had a minimum wage job with tips when raising a family, fundamentally, if we take care of the needs of our community members who are earning the least, then we take care of our whole community, it will not adversely affect us at all, as a minimum wage earner, spent it all immediately, it was needed, it went right back into the economy, am all for a minimum wage increase
Question, Guam, a territory of the US, and home to about one hundred seventy some thousand people, is now being asked for more lands from the military which already has lots of unused land on Guam.  What will it take for Guam to get its lands back???
Frank Aguon, about thirty one percent of land taken postwar for DOD, to restore justice, implies there was an injustice done, reminds me distinctly of so many families that have passionately asked for help getting their properties back, some of which in fact weren’t even being used, in nineteen ninety a base realignment and some closures, Tiyan, returned to GovGuam, some other spots, too.  Federal government decided would reduce excess military footprint in general globally.  As part of the Brant Commission, US federal government made that decision.  GovGuam has Ancestral Lands .Commission to seek to return lands, pledges to return lands when they are returned to the government.  Another avenue is the federal court system.  Or to approach Congress directly.  First and foremost, any properties owned by the military that are not being used for national defense, should be identified as excess and returned to GovGuam to go back to the original landowners as applicable.  Or some properties may be appropriately assigned for public benefit, some lands in Tiyan were assigned to the airport.  Even today, some descendants of the Tiyan families are in court fighting to get just compensation.  It’s a very passionate issue for the original landowners and their descendants.  Land is very important, part of our lineage in the Chamorro culture.
Tom Ada, passionate expression on both sides of an issue, that tension is important, hopefully come up with a suitable compromise that addresses the interests of every stakeholder.  Ada says he is very pragmatic in his view, doesn’t mean to come across like a grumpy old man.  We need a military buildup, fine, do it behind the fence in the property you already have, have relocated firing ranges now on AAFB.  But additional land outside the fence has been taken away.  Has also impacted the habitat, the environment.  Military and GovGuam starting to come together.  Increase of population will increase need for water resources and treatment of wastewater.  DOD will provide one hundred fifty million to upgrade wastewater treatment plant and construct additional wells over AAFB aquifer to be shared with the community.  Ada Would like to set aside biodiversity reserve for local medicinal plants.  Firing range will harm environment, NEPA requires them to offset that with some kind of environmental preserve, might be able to promote that.
Respicio, under the constitution, land can only be taken by eminent domain, except on Guam there was a provision to bypass that, Respicio brought it to the legislatures attention and we repealed that provision.  Oversight hearings, public hearings, to bring all these issues to the forefront.  Massive military relocation from Okinawa, was originally going to add about eighty thousand people, most of legislature stood up against it, businesspeople labeled them the fab five, who were they to question this buildup?  who will absorb the twenty nine million dollar impact annually?  One Guam concept, now businesses are saying it’s wonderful, the devil is in the details, we will make sure this is a win win for everyone, no more land takings by the federal government.
TT, it’s actually much worse than has been mentioned.  Using your land for light fire training ranges, results in irreparable impacts to the land, it’s their scientific conclusions specifically spelled out in their EIS.  Irreversible damage.  Developing these plans didn’t require them to develop any environmental considerations.  Ritidian was taken by Fish and Wildlife.  They also propose to use our waters, our oceans, that is part of our land.  Irreparable damage, live training, testing, all the way up to the northernmost island in the Marianas, unique environmental components, very rare resources, plants, etc.  The CNMI, Tinian, Pagan, parts of Saipan, have continued to fight this, hired attorneys.  EarthJustice legal team.


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