The countdown is on! Just 30 days till Guam’s August 25 primary election. And with just one Republican team and four Democratic duos in the gubernatorial race, the primary matters most for contending Democrats. Nevertheless, all five candidates for governor showed up to be seen and heard on stage at a Chamber of Commerce political forum at the Hilton on Wednesday.
Guam – It was a packed house at the Micronesian Ballroom for the Chamber’s general membership luncheon. Hundreds of movers and shakers wanted to know how each candidate for governor is going to help promote profit and protect the bottom line.
For business voters, it all boils down to whether one is happy with the arc of progress achieved over the course of an administration that will wrap up eight years by the first week of January, and whether one wants more along these lines, or one wants progress in a new direction.
“Look at what we’ve done together, the Chamber of Commerce and Guam,” Ray Tenorio said. As the current lieutenant governor and only GOP candidate in the bunch running for governor, Tenorio has been the presumptive gubernatorial nominee for the Republican Party for the last two years, in his capacity as an experienced public servant and second in command of the Republican Party under the titular headship of his boss, Gov. Eddie Baza Calvo.
“In the last eight years, the private sector and this administration have grown this economy, and I have been by Gov. Calvo’s side every step of the way. New businesses and thousands of jobs were created, and we have been excited to watch your businesses grow, and this is just the beginning. Guam is now at the tipping point of unprecedented economic growth. GDP has increased by nearly a billion dollars. Unemployment has fallen from about 13 to 4 percent. Household income has risen by about 18 percent. Tourism numbers are at historic heights. New businesses have opened and many businesses have expanded. And the military buildup that we’ve been waiting for, for so long, is finally here, and will invest billions of dollars and thousands of jobs into our economy.”
That may be, but Democratic contenders for Adelup see the work of the Calvo Tenorio Administration as benefitting too few to be of further use to the people of Guam.
“This island and many of you in this room are sick and tired of the politically connected getting a leg up on everyone else, bastardizing the free market, and destroying the one thing that gives young entrepreneurs any hope of success—a level playing field, Sen. Dennis Rodriguez, Jr. (D) said. “Seeking out corporate collusion is what creates corporate corruption.”
“The problem is that when you elect your leaders, you’ve got to look closely,” former Gov. Carl T.C. Gutierrez said. “Are they conflicted? Are they conflicted?” he asked twice for emphasis. “Do they have a lot of businesses on this island? Take a look, because, inevitably, that’s what’s going to happen! There’s going to be skewing of which way they’re going to route this contract to. Why do you think five and a half years you have this protest up at Simon Sanchez [High School]? It’s not just because there was a flaw in the procurement. It was trying to be rewritten for some other ways to get the job to some other people!”
The Calvo family is widely viewed as the largest nonmilitary landholder and the owner of the most pervasively influential business empire on Guam. And it is felt that Calvo-related businesses have enjoyed undue privileges and that Calvo-Tenorio cronies have enjoyed unfair advantages throughout Gov. Eddie Calvo and Ray Tenorio’s term in office. And the problem with government nowadays, as many Democrats see it, is that any feast of corruption eats away at sound management practices.
Citing the resulting healthcare management crisis at Guam Memorial Hospital under the Calvo Tenorio Administration, Democratic contenders Sen. Frank B. Aguon, Jr. (D) and former senator Lou Leon Guerrero fixed attention on how to shore up resources and fix GMH once and for all. Asked about privatization in general and management of the ailing hospital in particular, each candidate presented ready answers.
“Excellent question, and it’s also the issue of the day, especially in light of the loss of accreditation, and then the possible loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding with CMS [Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services], come October of this year,” Aguon said. “Just coming up with solutions when we take office in January, one of the comments that I’ve shared with the governor and have encouraged him to consider is immediately transition the board, assign or select board members who are knowledgeable on management and policymaking, so that, in fact, they can take a new look at GMH.”
Leon Guerrero is a former nurse, former board trustee for the Guam Memorial Hospital Authority, former senator, and current president, chair, and CEO of the Bank of Guam. She has taken a leave of absence from the bank to run for governor. Leon Guerrero has been publicly urging Gov. Calvo to declare a state of emergency at the hospital since it was learned in recent months that its accreditation and Medicare and Medicaid funding were threatened. After the Joint Commission yanked GMH’s accreditation in mid-July, largely due to management issues, last week Calvo said he would declare a state of emergency if that became the most prudent means of getting the hospital the resources it needs.
By authority of the island’s Organic Act, such a declaration would allow the governor to spend as much as $250,000 per month on emergency needs, but Calvo also said last week that $250,000 per month is not going to cover a hospital shortfall that regularly ranges in the tens of millions of dollars. The hemorrhaging at the hospital is one of the chief reasons that on July 13, Calvo vetoed Bill 262-34, a piece of legislation authored by Sen. Michael San Nicholas that sought to repeal a two percent sales tax designed to help pay down hospital and public education costs, as well as general fund obligations. Lawmakers overrode the governor’s veto early the following week and now the new tax won’t take effect, as previously scheduled, on October 1. Among the eleven senators who voted for the repeal and the override there is a common belief that outstanding taxes in the tens of millions of dollars or more should be aggressively collected by the Dept. of Revenue and Taxation before the general public is forced to pay yet another tax.
“What I want to do at the hospital is this: I want to partner with very well renowned hospital healthcare industry,” Leon Guerrero said. “The UC [Davis Hospital] in California, Stanford [Hospital] in California—these people are willing to come out and do some privatization and partnership,” Leon Guerrero said. “What I would do is I would take the business assets of the hospital, I would privatize the business aspects of the hospital, and I would give it to somebody that can run it, can operate it, and make a profit out of it. I would say, ‘here’s the business assets, here’s the operations, you own it.’ But what I would do is I would have them lease the facility back to the government, and what I’m going to do with that money is I’m going to use it to provide indigent care in the hospital.”
Whether entrepreneurial voters prefer experience, innovation, or some combination of the two, they have plenty of choices for governor leading up to the primary election a month from now.