Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje says having a more diverse membership will make a difference in representing the public’s interests in government. Pacific Daily News
Guam’s next Legislature, which is historic because of the large number of women elected, also is a diverse group, representing a wide range of ethnicities, trades and professions.
“That diversity and the composition of the Legislature, I think, is what’s going to be our strength,” according to acting Speaker Therese Terlaje, D-Yona. Terlaje, an attorney is one of 10 women elected to serve in the next Legislature, according to the unofficial results of the general election.
Democrat Clynt Ridgell, the first senator-elect of Chuukese descent, said the recent election is a testament to the diverse nature of the island community and he believes diversity can also be its greatest strength.
He said he will stand up against racism and will promote respect of different cultures.
‘A voice for the FAS community’
Chuuk is a part of the Federated States of Micronesia, whose citizens can live, travel and work on U.S. soil under a treaty between the United States and the Freely Associated States, which includes the FSM.
“I will be a voice for the FAS community and will work hard to improve race relations. I will stand up and speak out against racism or racist rhetoric every step of the way, but I will also engage with the FAS community to ensure that we show respect and love to the people of Guam,” Ridgell said. “We must give respect and love in order to receive respect and love.”
Terlaje noted incoming lawmakers include a school teacher, a cultural anthropologist and a businessman.
“This should be a body full of different people,” she said. “So I think we’re going to see a lot of bills and discussions on bills that focus on the environment, bills that focus on historic properties, focus on relations between the people of Guam, and how we can help all the community on Guam live together, rise together.”
Senators love the diversity
Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee, who was re-elected for a second term, and who is the current chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Guam, said she loves the diversity and appreciates the legislative process and the way ideas and solutions are vetted by the body.
“A more diverse body will seek to ensure a variety of perspectives are considered,” Lee, D-Tamuning, said.
“I don’t think you’re going to see drastic facade changes or anything like that, but what I do think we can expect from this new Legislature is that everybody who got elected is coming in with a diverse background so we are going to get some diverse issues and they’re coming in with very strong plans already,” Terlaje said.
Strong candidate for speaker
Terlaje received the most votes among legislative candidates in the general election. That fact, and her experience as a senator and as legislative counsel, make her a strong candidate for speaker in the next Legislature.
The Guam Election Commission will certify the election results after it receives all absentee votes by Nov. 21.
Ridgell said in Micronesian culture, which includes Guam’s, women traditionally held a lot of power.
“Micronesians were traditionally matrileneal societies, so I think it’s only fitting that the prominence of the women of the island has been restored,” he said.
Democrats will also hold a 10-5 majority in the 35th Legislature. This super-majority guarantees veto-proof bills if Democrats vote along party lines.
An automatic recount will be held in the senatorial race because of a vote difference that falls below the 2 percent threshold. But because the recount will involve two Democrats, the result would not change the super-majority.
The Legislature’s Democrats plan to hold caucus after the results are certified. During those discussions, they typically make committee assignments and determine who should serve as legislative officers.
Tax hikes not first option
Terlaje, who voted against most bills proposing to increase taxes this year, said tax increases should not be the first option every time the government anticipates a revenue shortfall.
She said she looks forward to Gov.-elect Lou Leon Guerrero’s promise of making sure the Department of Revenue and Taxation will get all the help it needs to collect taxes.
“I think everybody knows if we can support Department of Revenue and Taxation to do its job, then hopefully we don’t ever have to look at tax increases again and we just have to look at whether we are collecting what are supposed to be collecting right now,” Terlaje said.
Before the new Legislature comes in, Terlaje hopes the current body will be able to pass pending bills that prioritize Medicaid funding and promote transparency in government.
Terlaje cited as an example her Bill 372, which seeks to promote transparency within the Guam Environmental Protection Agency, among other things, by requiring the agency to timely publish all notices of violation, orders of compliance, notices of defense, voluntary compliance agreements and referrals to the Office of Attorney General for prosecution.
Reporter Haidee Eugenio covers Guam’s Catholic church issues, government, business and more. Follow her on Twitter @haidee_eugenio. Follow Pacific Daily News on Facebook/GuamPDN and Instagram @guampdn.
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