The Guam Chamber of Commerce held a virtual congressional forum Wednesday morning participated in by all congressional candidates.
The forum, hosted by Chamber member Ernie Galito, provided an opportunity for Sen. Wil Castro, Delegate Michael San Nicolas, and Dr. Robert Underwood to address the business community and answer questions on the economy, general business concerns, and various private sector issues.
The first question asked was: “Congress is currently discussing the National Defense Authorization Act, which provides funding for military projects located right here on Guam. If you are in office today, which sections of the NDAA, would you attempt to modify to make it more favorable for our island in our community?”
Sen. Wil Castro: “… I think one of the obligations is to find a way around the restrictive change in policy since 2016 relative not just to H2B visas but to H1 visas and all other H-visas. If I had the privilege to serve you, I would think this would be an opportune time to bring up issues relative to our military posture and to leverage opportunities for Guam’s homeland security posture to build a stronger regional position with our jurisdictional neighbors …”
Delegate Michael San Nicolas: “… We are currently in office today, we have, we have the privilege and the work to make sure that the funds keep flowing. That’s the first priority. We identified the need for us to have H2B workers to be able to work on the civilian side of the fence that has been acknowledged, over the years, as something that’s holding back our construction industry, pretty dramatically. It’s caused the cost per square foot to almost double on our island. It’s resulted in an impact on the ancillary jobs associated with construction …”
Dr. Robert Underwood: “ … The best way to amend the NDAA is to sit on the Armed Services Committee where I would offer specific ideas. Of course, I would work to extend the H visa caps for Guam and the CNMI which expire in 2023, but I would do so in a clearer fashion than even the amendment offered by the incumbent which still sort of makes it unclear as to whether DoD or DHS is the controlling element in that decision making …”
Another question asked was: Other than the military buildup, if elected, what actions would you take to help diversify our economy, both for the short-term, and for the long run?
Sen Wil Castro: “… I think the greatest potential rests in our ability to gain strategic partnerships and advantages with our northern neighbors. There’s a lot of good going on here but let me start with our domestic. You got good things going on, like the Limtiaco family producing those strategic commodities to feed not just the military, but the entire island. I think the key to economic diversity is to lift those repressive policies that currently govern trade in the territory, that currently govern how far out from the reef, we have jurisdiction …”
Delegate Michael San Nicolas: “… We can talk about diversifying our economy, all we want but we need tangibles! And that’s exactly what we’ve been delivering over the last year and nine months. Our bill for native contracting will allow for our local contractors to be able to avail of $30 billion more in federal contracts. We are also reaching out to these companies that are being affected by Hong Kong’s instability because to bring financial industries here would require very little infrastructure investing, from what we already have on the ground …”
Dr. Robert Underwood: “… I have argued that we need a knowledge-based economy for diversification. Knowledge economy is based upon the quantity, quality and accessibility of information, more than just the means of production. Included in this vision is building our digital economy. Guam stands at the crossroads of significant fiber optic cables that are barely tapped for use. Combined with the growing challenges of doing business in China, along with the ongoing instability in HongKong, there is an opportunity for Guam, to position itself as a digital hub in Asia…”
The final question asked was: “If elected, what will be your priority issue?”
Sen. Wil Castro: “… I think there’s an issue that’s been adopted by the territory that in my opinion hasn’t been closed out fully. I’d like to revisit the war claims and address the deadlines that have passed and I’d like to address the funding source. Also, I think it’s time to address the issues of Veterans Affairs specifically veteran’s health care on Guam. If elected I’d like to work with our northern neighbors to come at a partnership approach to establishing a regional veterans medical facility in partnership with the active military here …”
Delegate Michael San Nicolas: “…The biggest reason why I run for Congress and I want to definitely keep working on is supplemental security income for our people. That’s something that’s incredibly near and dear to my heart because we have so many people who would be able to benefit from that. It’s something that we can, I think, achieve. We also want to make sure we follow through on HR 1713 that we’re working on to acknowledge the fact that there was Agent Orange, or at the very least dioxin, in our military bases that made those veterans that were exposed sick …”
Dr. Robert Underwood: “… Almost all issues are equally important whether seeking relief from federal regulations or the extension of health care to the most vulnerable and educational opportunities. But the most important, after public health conditions, is our homeland economic recovery. Any recovery can only come through the creation of new jobs and new industries. In effect — diversification. If people are not working and earning an income, most other dimensions of our lives are diminished. I would also urge that money be given to entrepreneurs to invest in new industries and to take full advantage of our workforce…”