The 34th Legislature’s unfinished business

Sen. Tom Ada (D) extends farewell remarks at the Guam Congress Building in Hagatna on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. (Image from the Guam Legislature's YouTube channel.)

Guam – With half a dozen retiring senators expressing heartfelt goodbyes on the floor of the senate chamber on Wednesday evening, it would be easy to assume that this week concludes the business of the 34th Guam Legislature.

After all, adjournment of this week’s session arrives just in time for lawmakers and their staffers to finish shopping for Christmas and celebrate the holidays before reelected senators return to work for the 35th.

But, as Committee on Rules Chair Regine Biscoe Lee (D) reported in her Issues Session Update on Wednesday evening, “Session is adjourned subject to the call of the Speaker.”

“The majority leader’s motion was to adjourn subject to the call of the Speaker. That motion carried,” Biscoe Lee texted PNC late Thursday afternoon. That means senators could be called back into session before the 34th’s official closure.

“There are still bills pending for session, as [Sen.] Tom Ada [D] stated he has a public hearing Friday [Dec. 28], so not sure if he will ask for session for that bill and, no, we did not sine die,” Sen. Wil Castro (R) texted PNC on Thursday evening. “If there [are] any veto bills[,] we can still override. We still have a chance of going into session next week.”

“In accordance with the Organic Act, the 34th Guam Legislature will cease upon the [start] of the 35th,” Biscoe Lee wrote.

“We are adjourned subject to the call of the speaker. The last day is on Jan. 6th,” Sen. Dennis Rodriguez (D) told PNC.

“I’m only aware that there was a closeout meeting with all of the 34th member offices,” Sen. Mary Camacho Torres (R) told PNC. “That meeting occurred last week but I didn’t attend personally.”

“And I believe it had to do with discussion about personnel and assets of the legislature that will need to be transferred to the inventory,” she said.

The beat goes on…

Meanwhile, non-session business remains before current lawmakers. An Education Financial Supervisory Commission meeting is set for Thursday, Dec. 27 at the Guam Dept. of Education Superintendent’s Conference Room in Tiyan. Sen. Ada will preside over an informational briefing at the Guam Congress Building on Friday, Dec. 28, in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee on Environment, Lands, Agriculture, and Procurement Reform. The legislative calendar indicates that the briefing will concentrate on Chamorro Land Trust Commission resolutions. Plus, senatorial congratulatory resolution presentations continue today.

Senatorial goodbyes

As retiring and non-returning senators made their way for the exits of the Guam Congress Building, before adjournment Wednesday, six among their ranks reflected on their rewarding experiences serving the people of Guam.

“We [did] the best we could,” Sen. Rodriguez told legislators. “You fight as hard as you can, you get into disagreements, you get into…not-so-good relationships temporarily strained between our colleagues in here, but I know this is something all of us know that we move past.”

“In this short time we’ve worked to uplift our families and our communities to [enlist] this important legislation affecting public safety, health, and economic development,” outgoing Republican senator Tommy Morrison said.

“Together with the people of Guam, my office championed the legislation that helped pay for much-needed repairs to sports recreation facilities across our island.”

Sen. Fernando Esteves (R), who did not  run for  reelection and who’s now making his way for the wings after only one term in office, reflected positively on his sometimes contentious relationship with Sen. Michael San Nicolas (D), who won his bid for Congress this year.

“The silver lining, I think is, despite all our disagreements, I believe Senator San Nicolas and I had always agreed on the need for accountability, and I think we both—even though we’ve taken different positions at times—have been very strong on that need in the government,” Esteves told colleagues before relinquishing the floor Wednesday evening.

San Nicolas allowed his young son, Kaleb, to deliver most of his parting remarks, which included San Nicolas’ gratitude for serving with colleagues as well as a touching child’s delivery of the Lord’s Prayer.

“On behalf of all of us, it’s been the honor of a lifetime to serve the people of Guam,” Kaleb said. “Si Yu’os Ma’ase.”

“Thank you very much,” Sen. San Nicolas told fellow lawmakers, as the chamber erupted in applause.

Sen. Tom Ada (D) praised Kaleb’s speech as the finest of the evening. “I think everything has already been said. I certainly share the same sense of satisfaction that many of the other members have expressed. I might say, though, that probably the best remarks were made tonight by young Kaleb, and I certainly can’t top that,” Ada said.

“I’ve served now for 18 years, and I knew I wasn’t going to be in here forever. The question was ‘when do you exit?’ And I think that during this last election, having seen the candidates, or the new members that were voted in, I knew that it was time to go. I knew that it was time to go, because we’ve got some new star players that have now been elected by our people.”

Sen. Jim Espaldon (R), whose late father, Dr. Ernesto Espaldon, once served in the Guam Legislature, recalled his dad’s instructions to him and his siblings.

“My father would always say this island has been good for our family. And he would look at each and every one of his children and say, ‘you need to figure out how you’re going to give back to this island,’” Espaldon said.

Sen. Frank Aguon, Jr. (D) was seen leaving the legislative chamber just as Morrison was recognized as the first retiring senator to offer his reflections.

Recalling Cruz’ service

The eighth non-returning member of the 34th Legislature is former Speaker and Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations and Adjudication BJ Cruz, who cut his term a few months short in order to run for Public Auditor.

After presiding ably over a grueling, post-Trump-Tax-Cuts budgeting process leading to eventual passage of the 2019 budget act, which lapsed into law without Gov. Calvo’s signature, Cruz was free to concentrate on a campaign.

Prior to the special election to replace Public Auditor Doris Flores Brooks, Cruz pushed publicly to improve the government auditing process after budget hearings revealed that government lockbox funds had been raided in violation of local and federal law. Brooks left office before her then-current term expired in order to run for Congress, a race she lost to Michael San Nicolas in November.

Cruz won the auditor’s race in a special election that coincided with last August’s primary election and now serves as elected Public Auditor and head of the Office of Public Accountability at the DNA Building near the Judicial Center, where he once served as Guam Supreme Court Chief Justice.