BOTA signs prompt legal, ethical concerns

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Tenorio-Ada gubernatorial team's "Mandana Task Force" campaign sign on the edge of Tiyan near Barrigada's tri-intersection. (Photo by Jeff Marchesseault, PNC News.)

The Republican gubernatorial ticket represented by current lieutenant governor Ray Tenorio and his running mate Tony Ada launched a new series of roadside campaign signs and online ads over the weekend. One edition in particular is raising red flags about legality, morality, timing, and the use of government resources for the benefit of incumbent candidates.

Guam – It’s the appearance of impropriety. A couple of large new “BOTA Tenorio-Ada 2018” campaign signs erected along roadways in Agat and Barrigada is spurring questions about what’s proper, appropriate, and legal in promoting local political candidacies for elective office.  The main image on the identical signs is the back of a figure who appears to be a Guam police officer garbed in paramilitary gear and facing a Guam Police Dept. vehicle marked with GPD insignias. The word glowing on the back of the officer’s black vest is “POLICE’ in white all-cap letters. The tough drug-interdiction language of Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio’s vaunted “Mandana Task Force” police group occupies the lower right corner and reads:

#BOTAforOurFuture

“We won’t rest until every drug dealer is taken off our streets.”

-Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio

Committee to Elect Tenorio Ada, P.O. Box 27420, Barrigada, GU 96921. Emily Unpingco, Treasurer

It’s an instance of public assets and an officer of the law mixed with private political campaigning. Is it a violation of the law governing political activities of public employees, or just politics as usual?

It’s not necessarily the use of a tough-on-crime message that has some folks wondering whether the campaign signs constitute a violation of the Mini-Hatch Act or an act of poor judgment. It’s the use of a uniformed police officer’s image to actively campaign for Tenorio-Ada 2018 that may matter more, insofar as it could suggest the government sides with a certain incumbent political candidate or hints that a police force’s favorite candidate should be feared.

The concern is no different from the reason men and women in military uniforms are prohibited from being portrayed in political campaign ads—the haunting specter of a government of the people devolved into a police state. Peering more closely at the sign, one notices that a Guam Police Dept. badge is peeking out from behind the Tenorio-Ada campaign seal on the lower left corner of the signs.

Actually, the law states that a person holding elective office is exempt from the litany of prohibited activity under Mini-Hatch, including the part that says “an employee shall not use his official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with or affecting the result of an election.” As an elective officeholder, Tenorio is presumably exempt from this rule.

But another section of the same law raises ponderable questions. It states that “employees of the following government entities are prohibited from taking an active part in political management or political campaigns.” That prohibited group of employees includes “the sworn police officer”. The question for some may be whether the photo of a GPD officer’s back really constitutes “active campaigning” or is simply fair game as a marker that helps illustrate an incumbent’s accomplishments in office.

But these signs sprouted up over the weekend, straight after Gov. Calvo excoriated a news reporter for even suggesting that he and Ray Tenorio’s special press-conference launch of the “Mandana 2.0” expansion program last Friday at Adelup could possibly be politically timed and motivated. This—at a juncture when political observers characterize Tenorio’s campaign for governor as a movement flailing in damage-control mode, now that Tenorio’s been charged with several criminal misdemeanors in connection with his police gun-grabbing incident last July.

“I was just wondering if the timing of this task force coincides with the publication [of] the lieutenant governor’s Superior Court case?” the reporter asked Gov. Calvo during the Mandana 2.0 press conference on Friday.

“That’s the strangest question I’ve ever heard,” Calvo snapped back. “How dare you ask that question! No offense to the media. Um, we have criminal activity that is going on. If you think this is politicized, you don’t know me as a governor.”