CONGRESSIONAL ADDRESS 2015
Mar 12, 2015
"We cannot begin a conversation on improving the quality of life for our people without discussing the need to exercise our right to political self-determination."
Let me begin by asking everyone to rise for a moment of silence to honor the late Speaker Franklin J.A. Quitugua and Speaker Ben Pangelinan both faithful public servants for whom our island owes a debt of gratitude.
Governor; Acting Speaker; Acting Chief Justice; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Monsignor David; Pastor Bob; Military Officials and other podium guests.
My dear people of Guam,
This evening, I stand before you with humble gratitude for the trust you continue to place in me to represent our island in Congress, and to report on federal issues important to our people. I congratulate Governor Calvo and Lieutenant Governor Tenorio on their reelection as our island’s chief executives.
I congratulate the reelected members of the 33rd Guam Legislature: Speaker Won Pat; Vice Speaker BJ Cruz; Legislative Secretary Tina Muna Barnes; Majority Leader Rory Respicio; Assistant Majority Leader Tom Ada; Minority Leader Tony Ada; Senator Frank Aguon Jr.; Senator Dennis Rodriguez; Senator Mike San Nicolas; Senator Brent McCreadie and Senator Tommy Morrison on their re-election.
I also want to recognize our newly elected Senators: Senator Nerissa Underwood and Senator Mary Camacho Torres.
And finally I want to recognize our two returning Senators, Senator Frank Blas Jr and Senator Jim Espaldon.
I also want to recognize our newly elected Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson who has the distinction of being the first women appointed Attorney General. She joins a proud tradition of women firsts on Guam including the first woman in the Guam Assembly Rosa Aguigui Reyes; the first women Senators Cynthia Torres Johnston and Lagrimas Leon Guerrero Untalan; the first woman Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks; the first woman President of the University of Guam Rosa Roberto Carter; the first woman to earn a PhD Katherine Bordallo Aguon, the first woman Federal judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood; the first women US Attorney Alicia Limtiaco and the people of Guam have given me the distinction of being the first woman Lieutenant Governor and the first woman Delegate. All of you woman have contributed by being trailblazers in your fields. Nationally, I hope that a woman will break the glass ceiling and we will one day have a woman President of the United States.
Over the past twelve years that I have been in office, we have made much progress to improve the quality of life here on Guam. I am committed to working with all our elected leaders to ensure that we continue to build a better Guam for our families and our children.
As I have stated on numerous occasions before this body, we cannot begin a conversation on improving the quality of life for our people without discussing the need to exercise our right to political self-determination. Resolving our political status with the United States through a legitimate act of self-determination is the most important step that we can take to address many longstanding legacy issues we have with the federal government, and it would provide us with a stronger foundation to ensure that policies enacted serve the best interests of our people.
I have witnessed every major effort to resolve our political status, and in every instance there have been stumbling blocks that have prevented us from achieving our goals. A few weeks ago, I heard a story that puts this journey in perspective. Hannah Gutierrez was a young girl around 3 or 4 when she accompanied her father, former Governor Carl Gutierrez, to one of the meetings of the Guam Constitutional Convention. She remembered hearing a speaker making the case for statehood. Hannah asked her dad if Guam were to become a state, would that mean that we would get snow like the states?
Today however, Hannah has grown up; she is an attorney and the Clerk of Court for the Supreme Court of Guam. Look at how much time has passed and consider all that has happened since Hannah was 3. Now consider how much we have lost by not moving in a more focused and determined way to resolve our political status.
Of course, hindsight is 20-20, and we cannot dwell on our past. We can however act now, and not wait for more years to pass before we have this conversation again. Over the years we have worked to move this issue forward, but whether it has been a lack of political will or our quest to obtain the perfect process for the political status vote, we have been unable to move off of square one.
I believe that we must get on with this process, and I am urging the Governor and the Legislature to work with the Commission on Decolonization to begin the process so that we can make the self-determination vote a reality. I would also suggest that we remove the requirement to have a certain percentage of eligible voters registered before the vote can be set. I urge the Legislature to set the vote and let those who are eligible register by a certain deadline. Achieving decolonization will be a multi step process that will take time but we must begin to set the stage for this to completely play out. If we do not get this process going, Hannah may be a grandmother with little grandkids before we ever see our status quest come to fruition.
To promote our efforts to resolve our political status, in 2010 , I authored legislation, H.R. 3940, that authorized the Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs to use technical assistance grants for political status education. At that time, OIA had assured me that it would follow Congressional intent and make funds available to ensure that our people were knowledgeable of the options that would be presented to them, and understood the ramifications a change in political status would have on their daily lives.
I continue to believe that the federal government should support our efforts to resolving our political status, and I will work with OIA to ensure that these grants are made available. However, OIA has consistently asked that local leaders submit a single grant proposal to them, as the Department will not selectively decide which programs to fund. The ball is in our court, and I hope that the Governor, the Legislature, and the Commission on Decolonization will provide the leadership needed to move on this issue.
Last week President Obama was in Selma, Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the ‘Bloody Sunday’ march. For those of us who live in the territories, the Presdient’s call for full voting rights seems a little hollow when you consider that Americans in the territories cannot vote for President and do not have full voting representation on the floor of the House. Following the Selma commemoration, comedian John Oliver, in his syndicated show Last Week Tonight, had a 15 minute segment on the territories and our quest for voting rights and representation. For those of you who have not seen this segment, I urge you to look it up on YouTube because the biting satire of comedy is probably the best way to express our frustration with the status quo.
I am honored to be a part of a legal effort led by my former staffer, Neil Weare, and joined by many people on Guam including Leevin Camacho who are challenging the status quo through a current case before the DC Court of Appeals and other cases they may file to overturn the Insular Cases. I urge our local leaders and our people to join this grassroots movement and to support the “We the People” project. As President Obama said in Selma, “Because the single most powerful word in our democracy is the word “we.” We the People. We shall overcome. Yes we Can. It is owned by no one. It belongs to everyone. Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve the great nation of ours.”
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