Brooks’ exit sparks solid 3-way auditor’s race

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Guam – It’s official. The Guam Election Commission has now stamped its seal of approval on three candidates for public auditor. They are as follows:

Hechanova
  • Acting Public Auditor Yukari Hechanova – Hechanova assumed headship of the Office of Public Accountability in early June, following the resignation of elected Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks.
Crisostomo
  • Doreen Crisostomo of the University of Guam’s School of Business and Public Administration – This is Crisostomo’s second political campaign for Public Auditor.
  • BJ Cruz – Cruz serves as both Speaker of the 34th Guam Legislature and as Chairman of its Committee on Appropriations and Adjudication. Cruz is a former Guam Supreme Court Justice and Governor’s legal counsel.
Cruz

The three-way race wasn’t approved without a debate over the candidacy qualifications of Cruz, a career-long Democrat. The elected public auditor is that rare nonpartisan office that is, nevertheless, unavoidably connected to Republican and Democratic politics.

Yet Election Commission Legal Counsel Vince Camacho insisted during a Commission meeting held late Saturday afternoon that the purpose of the statute on a public auditor candidate’s qualifications for office is to ensure an independent person runs and is elected. He said the distinctions between Democrat, Republican, and Independent do matter, in order to comply with ethics and to avoid partisan conflicts of interest.

“Of course it matters! Otherwise, why would that be in the statute?” he asked. “It’s not when you take your term of office that ‘oh, yeah, I think I’m gonna change my color after I win’,” he said.

“So, ‘today I’m a Democrat…when I’m running for a nonpartisan office, but if I win, then I’m going to change. If I don’t win, then I’m gonna stay.’ So, at the end of the day, if you don’t care what party the person is related to, then that sort of invalidates the qualifications.”

But by day’s end, it seemed that Independent Commissioner Patrick Civille’s arguments won. Lauding Counsel Camacho for his high standards for the office of Public Auditor, he pointed out that a person’s party affiliation is acceptable, as long as that affiliation is cast aside when the candidate is running for a nonpartisan office.

“Actually, I almost like what counsel is saying, because what he’s doing is…he’s saying the only person who qualifies is a lifelong independent—my constituency! I love it, because they are the only people on island who are not affiliated with one party or the other!” Civille exclaimed.

But he demurred.

“I have a feeling we’re going too far…the reality is…every public auditor to date has been affiliated with a party at some point, and, as we see now with Brooks, she continues, she is picking up again, her party affiliation, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

An attorney at law himself, Civille also reminded fellow commissioners that even Guam judges with known party affiliations are appointed to local courts, without a fuss.

On Saturday, the Board of Commissioners approved Cruz’s candidacy by a narrow vote of four to three, split along party lines—the tie broken by GEC Chairwoman Alice Taijeron. In so doing, the Commission’s majority also defeated questions about Cruz’s eligibility to run based on his senatorial incumbency. The law restricts the eligibility of a current elective office holder from seeking a separate elective office before his or her term expires, but makes an exception in the case of a special election like the upcoming auditor’s race, which this year coincides with the August 25th primary. Commissioners also OK’d Hechanova to run, after she missed the official filing deadline over an apparent misunderstanding about her own candidacy’s qualifications, revolving around whether or not she would have to resign her current post before declaring her candidacy.

Executive Director Pangelinan said each candidate must sign a certificate of qualification to endorse that they meet the requirements of their chosen candidacy, and that—so far—all three auditor candidates are in the clear.

The special election was prompted by the resignation of Public Auditor Brooks, who quit the nonpartisan office after nearly two decades of service connected by unbroken back-to-back election wins, sometimes running unopposed. She vacated the position in order to run for Congress as a Republican. Brooks is also a former Republican senator and one-time GOP contender for the Lt. Governor’s Office.

Most races on the primary ballot are partisan. And, to be fair, the Election Commission adheres to a two-part random selection process to determine the numerical order in which each candidate’s name will appear on a ballot, whether partisan or nonpartisan. First, in the case of partisan candidacies, Guam Election Commissioners representing Republicans and Democrats randomly pull candidate names from a basket to determine the order in which those candidates are to blindly pull numbers to determine their ballot placements. Second, the candidates pull their numbers. A  similar process is followed for nonpartisan candidates.