Note to readers: this news analysis reflects the thoughts and views of the editorial staff of Pacific News Center, but does not necessarily reflect the thoughts and views of PNC’s parent company, Sorensen Media Group.
Former Guam senator and stalwart Republican Frank Blas, Jr. is suddenly the talk of the town as a possible candidate for governor or lieutenant governor in the latest trail of chatter following Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio’s legal troubles approaching a November general election in which Tenorio is the GOP’s only candidate for governor. The following article examines where Tenorio’s case now stands and how Blas might fit into a Republican picture of the next administration.
Guam – Ever since the local prosecutor’s office filed criminal misdemeanor charges against Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio at Superior Court last Monday, Sept. 17, rumors have run rampant that Tenorio could be replaced as the Republican candidate for governor, because his reputation has suffered, that he could be in danger of moral turpitude—and therefore in legal jeopardy as a candidate. But how any replacement scenario would unfold legally is not yet clear, especially in the absence of any statement from Tenorio that he wishes to relinquish his candidacy.
The purported fears among some Republican kingmakers stem from the shocking details spelling out what allegedly happened on the July night Tenorio grabbed Police Sgt. Carl “CJ” Cruz’s service pistol. Those details are written in an eight-page declaration submitted with the criminal complaint against Tenorio. Insofar as these court documents are public record and have been broadcast, published, and discussed widely, they may have severely compromised the Republican Party’s ability to retain Adelup, as the Calvo Administration closes out 16 consecutive years of GOP executive authority over the island.
Republican fears may be based as much on shifting public opinion as on the spirit of the law, the prosecutor’s ability to assert it, and the court’s capacity to interpret and apply it either sooner or later. The questions Republicans must wrestle with are legion but boil down to such central political inquiries as (1) does Tenorio have enough clout to win, and (2) even if he does beat a splintered Democratic Party this November, will he enjoy the popular mandate necessary to successfully implement more Republican policy if write-in candidates gain ground and disillusioned voters stay home?
A beleaguered candidate’s glimmers of hope
Yet there are mitigating considerations working in Tenorio’s favor, not the least of which is the fact that anyone so charged is presumed innocent until proven guilty. And anyone who has followed Ray Tenorio’s political career knows that he is a careful, goal-oriented planner and ceaselessly energetic achiever. That he has never lost an election is a testament to his relentlessness.
By any measure, it is looking more and more like the next elected attorney general will inherit the Tenorio case if it goes to trial. A newly elected attorney general will presumably measure the circumstances with fresh eyes and a get-up-and-go fueled by a sense that his performance in this unique case will be an early indicator of his efficacy as the government’s chief law officer.
Tenorio’s arraignment hearing is not until Oct. 3, barely more than a month before the general election. It is doubtful that any trial determining guilt or innocence on the question of moral turpitude or any jailable offense would even begin before the Nov. 6 general election.
As candidate for attorney general Leevin Camacho pointed out to Pacific News Center on Sept. 18, relative to the charges leveled against Tenorio by Attorney General Elizabeth Anderson’s Prosecution Division, “at the arraignment…that will be whether or not he wants to assert his right to a speedy trial. And if he’s not incarcerated or in custody, he will have to have a trial within 60 days.” Presumably that could mean a late-November trial start.
While local election law clearly disqualifies any prospective candidate for governor who has been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, Tenorio’s guilt or innocence of any crime isn’t likely to be determined by the Superior Court until after the general election and a speedy trial, assuming that a trial ever takes place.
Guam’s first elected attorney general and current candidate for AG Doug Moylan told PNC on Sept. 18 that Tenorio could move to dismiss the prosecution’s case or even strike a plea agreement. If the case proceeds to trial, Tenorio will face a jury of six, instead of 12, because the charges brought against him are all categorical misdemeanors, not felonies.
Even so, Moylan and others believe that Tenorio is in both political and personal jeopardy—political because public perception of the gun grabbing incident could derail his chance of success at the polls; personal because the court could suspend his right to freedom as a citizen.
The website legaldictionary.net states “moral turpitude refers to conduct that shocks the public conscience, or which does not fall within the moral standards held by the community.
“In many areas, conduct of moral turpitude may be used to determine the honesty or trustworthiness of a candidate for office, an applicant for certain types of job, and witnesses at trial.”
Again, while election law prevents the candidacies of individuals found guilty of a crime of moral turpitude, no guilt has been established before the general election, nor is it likely to be established or refuted until after the election, assuming a trial ensues within 60 days after Tenorio’s arraignment.
And whether Tenorio is elected governor or not, his removal from office as governor or lieutenant governor would be predicated on a high bar, inasmuch as the Organic Act of Guam requires a public referendum in which “at least two-thirds of the number of persons voting for such official in the last preceding general election at which such official was elected vote in favor of a recall”.
Furthermore, that number must “constitute a majority of all those participating in the referendum election” itself. Further still, such a referendum can only take place with “(a) a two-thirds vote of the members of the Legislature in favor of a referendum, or (b) a petition for such a referendum to the Legislature by registered voters equal in number to at least 50 per centum of the whole number of votes cast in the last general election at which such official was elected preceding the filing of the petition.” (See The Organic Act of Guam, Subchapter 2 Executive Branch 1422a. Initiative, Referendum and Removal.)
It would take a compelling level of public dissatisfaction and political will to achieve a recall.
In the absence of any clearly expressed, unified desire of the Republican Party to replace or undermine its gubernatorial candidate at this stage—much less a clearly defined legal strategy to do so— questions abound.
Nevertheless, one prospective candidate has already announced that he’s open to running as governor or lieutenant governor on a Republican ticket. Whether that means a write-in candidacy or not is unclear. Here’s an analytical look at the unfolding situation.
By way of review
Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio showed up unannounced at Newstalk K57 radio studios on Thursday, grabbing hold of the wheel in a bid for governor that veered off-road onto rocky terrain when Tenorio allegedly grabbed for Police Sgt. Carl “CJ” Cruz’s loaded handgun six times in a row and waved it around a crowded public event at whatever point he finally snagged the chambered pistol in a state of drunkenness last July in Tumon.
And now that this former cop, former senator, and current second in command at Adelup is suddenly facing several criminal misdemeanor charges in connection with the incident, Tenorio outwardly claims a hundred percent confidence “that the courts will find me completely innocent” because his intent as Public Safety Chairman of the Government of Guam was to correct and teach an officer of the law to always properly holster his own weapon—this, when court records state that the officer’s handgun was already properly secured.
A brother’s defense
“And even in the testimony in the documents that were submitted…it stated that the lieutenant governor engaged the lock latch that was on the holster,” Bill Cruz told K57’s Patti Arroyo on Friday morning. “On that particular holster, there is no strap, so that thing is locked. So the lieutenant governor right there is lying.”
Bill Cruz is the brother of Police Sgt. Cruz.
For some, Ray Tenorio’s bluster and bravado is reportedly wearing thin. The Republican party of Guam may be fronting like it’s still a hundred percent behind Tenorio’s gubernatorial candidacy—and maybe as much as half of the party still is—but the backstory is that the other half sees Tenorio as political dynamite with a short fuse, even though the lieutenant governor continues to receive the unqualified public support of Gov. Calvo, as well as Tenorio’s own gubernatorial running mate.
“And I stand by Ray Tenorio. There is no one more committed to improving the life for all Guamanians than Ray,” says former senator Tony Ada in a campaign video advertisement. Ada is the “Ada” running for lieutenant governor on the Tenorio-Ada Republican ticket.
Nevertheless, Tenorio’s reputation as a loose cannon may be why voters are seeing so few official endorsements of his Republican bid for governor among the local GOP’s incumbents and most recognizable leaders. The hearsay is that Tenorio is too hot to handle.
Blas ready to play ball
So, in walks former senator and Republican legacy wildcard Frank Blas, Jr., a man with gubernatorial aspirations of his own, telling Newstalk K57’s Patti Arroyo on Friday that Tenorio’s gun safety story just doesn’t add up.
“He was trained as a police officer—that that weapon by his side is almost sacred, and that that’s the last thing you want to use to be able to call a situation,” Blas said. “And…that you protect that with everything that you got.
“And it would have been a different situation—I’m not saying that, you know, Sgt. Cruz didn’t recognize or realize what was just gonna happen,” Blas said. “But a lot of times the reaction is—once you start to feel it—[you] address that in a very quickly and efficient manner to the point where…I’m very grateful…that there will not be use of deadly force. Because if [circumstances are different], I’ll put you on the ground, and then I’ll ask who you are after that.”
A family businessman and scion of former lieutenant governor Frank Blas, Sr., Frank Blas, Jr. inherits from his late father a reputation for a cool head and a steady hand. It’s a demeanor now purportedly craved by certain members of a local Republican Party who are fed up with the gun-grabbing, gavel-grabbing, over-borrowing, overspending, and contractual opportunism, as much as they are with the fast-and-loose taxation and revenue collection that are sometimes associated with the likes of Calvo and Tenorio.
No stranger to talks with party officials about the viability of his candidacy for Adelup in recent years, Blas has indicated publicly within the last several days that he’s ready, willing, and able to run for governor or lieutenant governor, but only if he gets the full party’s surefire support.
“So you were not approached by anybody in recent months, from the party?” Arroyo asked Blas on air Friday, seeking clarification.
“Yes, I was. Yes, I was,” Blas made extra clear. “And I said, ‘OK, we’ll have that discussion when we can have that discussion.’”
“Would you be able to tell me who in the party approached you?” Arroyo asked, but Blas was mum on identities.
“Nah, I would rather keep that out,” he said.
“I think there’s more to the contingency plan that the Republican Party may or may not admit to,” Arroyo said. “But there are people, including yourself, who are on the other side of what appears to be some kind of plan by the party in case this does go sour for Ray Tenorio.”
“Yeah, thank you, Patti,” Blas said. “Let me make it very clear. I didn’t initiate the plan. Apparently, I’m part of somebody’s plan. But I said, ‘look, this plan isn’t going anywhere until the…party accepts—endorses this!
“I’m a party man and I will have that discussion, but if this is just for the sake of, you know, people saying things and whatnot, as opposed to ‘this is what’s best for the people of Guam’, then we got to get it prepared.”
Since general election ballots were slated to be mailed out over the weekend in accordance with federal law, it’s unclear how any possible ballot corrections would be handled if Ray Tenorio were to be removed from the Nov. 6 ballot for any reason. But if the Republican Party were to change course and get behind a write-in ticket, with or without Tenorio on the ballot, such would not require ballot changes.
Blas’s public re-ascendency in the wake of the criminal filing against Tenorio may portend another possibility for the contender. The Organic Act of Guam requires a person succeeding from the lieutenant governorship to the governorship to “appoint a new Lieutenant Governor, with the advice and consent of the Legislature.”
With Blas’s name back in the mix, anything is as possible as the art of politics says it is.