Acting speaker could lose her gavel

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Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje may have been shut out of the incoming legislature's speaker's chair, but she insisted in a November interview that she would be undeterred as a service-oriented senator whether she retains her place on the platform or not.

Guam – So what happened to Democratic Sen. Therese Terlaje, anyway? The talk of the town is that the incoming leadership of the 35th Guam Legislature is already pretty well set. But the one person many voters expected to be a shoe-in for speaker is nowhere to be found on the list of top posts already rumored to be filled in the month-long lead-up to the first week of January.

On November 13, Acting Speaker Therese Terlaje told PNC she was interested in being confirmed speaker of the 35th Guam Legislature, but that she would defer to the political process. PNC interviewed Terlaje on the topic, and while she expressed a desire to preside, she said she was equally committed to the lawmaking craft wherever the chips were destined to fall.

PNC: I would imagine you’ve been approached by everyone about becoming speaker, so I don’t want you to speak prematurely, but it just seems like a no-brainer. You’re Acting Speaker now. You were Vice Speaker during the current legislature before BJ [Cruz] left, and no one knows the rules, and no one knows the law quite like you on that floor.”

TERLAJE: “Thanks for that, but I want to respect the caucus and majority senators that got elected; they will make a decision. I don’t want to preclude any of the discussions that might take place. I’m willing to serve in any capacity. I’m hoping they will trust me to be their speaker, but whether that’s what happens or something else happens, I’m open.”

Anymore, it’s looking more and  more like something else already did happen—especially now that as many as three independent, inside sources close to the legislature have confirmed that this is the lineup that caucusing senators have voted into place thus far:

Speaker: Senator-elect Tina Rose Muna Barnes (D)

Vice Speaker: Sen. Telena Nelson (D)

Committee on Rules Chair: Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee (D)

Legislative Secretary: Senator-elect Amanda Shelton (D)

Again, these top leadership roles have each been verified off the record. No one will say on the record whether these are the selections so far. And, besides, no such position can be set in stone until the 35th Legislature convenes on leadership roles and committee assignments in January. Meanwhile, caucusing on standing rules and such reportedly continues to this day.

PNC reached out to sources on and off the record. Here are several official responses from various members of the incoming Democratic leadership.

Sen. Terlaje’s office: No comment.

Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee: “I’m not at liberty to say.”

Senator-elect Joseph “Pedo” Terlaje: “We cannot confirm the selection of any leadership positions for the upcoming 35th Legislature.”

Senator-elect Clynt Ridgell: “We’re still in caucus, so I don’t have anything to report.”

Sen. Joe S. San Agustin: No response.

Senator-elect Tina Muna Barnes: No response until Tuesday evening, following PNC News First’s 5:30 evening telecast.

“I would be honored to serve the People of Guam in this capacity,” Barnes said. “And I’m certain that each of my colleagues in the coming majority would do well in this role, as well. I will be happy to comment on this matter once an announcement has been made.”

So, for all practical purposes, mum’s still the word among likely leaders of the next legislature. But, as they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. And talk is rampant that the top four assignments will go to Barnes, Nelson, Lee, and Shelton, in just that order.

Yet Acting Speaker Terlaje is the Legislature’s top popular vote earner and currently chairs the Committee on Culture and Justice. Prior to her election to the legislature, she spent many years as counsel to the lawmaking body and has a reputation for being outspoken, hardworking, and rigorous in her commitment to progressive legislation for the common good—a reputation perhaps less inclined to play politics and more inclined to do the people’s work.

Whether that reputation has anything to do with why her name is figuring less prominently amid the chatter about top leadership posts is anyone’s guess and perhaps better suited for the opinion columns, especially when senators themselves are so reticent to say for certain who gets top billing on the marquee of the next legislature.

PNC: “But no matter what committee you’re in charge of, no matter what your authority on the floor, you are undeterred?”

TERLAJE: “Oh! Undeterred! That’s right! It takes a lot to deter me! And I think I get frustrated sometimes, ‘cause I’m human, but, you know, I don’t want to be frustrated. I want to just work hard…it feels very comfortable that if one road block comes up here, I’m just going to work harder and find another way.

“But I think what’s most important is, I just want them and all my colleagues to be able to trust me, to know that I’m going to be fair…and I want the legislature to earn the trust of the people of Guam.”