Bill to cancel primary debated

Bill 375, which proposes scrapping the entire primary, was debated today by lawmakers, dividing senators on both sides of the aisle.

Guam senators reconvened their emergency session today after taking testimony on two bills Tuesday that would cancel all or part of the Aug. 29 primary election.

At the start, Sen. Joe S. San Agustin withdrew his Bill 374-35 which would have eliminated the uncontested primary races.

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He said he proposed the bill to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and withdrew it because he was satisfied with Tuesday’s testimony from the Guam Election Commission that they can conduct a safe election.

That left Bill 375 on the floor, which proposes scrapping the entire primary.

Bill 375-35 is a bipartisan measure introduced by Republican James Moylan and Democrat Therese Terlaje. It seeks to scrap the primary election altogether for two reasons — public safety and cost savings.

Sen. Moylan said roughly $400,000 could be saved.

“What are we going to do about starting up our economy and helping over 30,000 unemployed families? We’re hearing about this going into our 6th month and business, especially small businesses, are struggling to stay afloat. Families are struggling to stay afloat. Our GovGuam revenues have fallen and there is no plan to cut government expenses,” Moylan said.

However, fellow Republican and candidate for Guam delegate Wil Castro strongly objected to the measure, saying canceling the primary would deprive both voters and candidates of their rights. He suggested legal action would result if the bill is passed.

“Make no mistake about it. Changing the rules at the 11th hour puts everybody at risk,” Castro said.

But Senator Mary Torres, also a Republican, said she favors cancellation.

“Right now, we have a situation where 30,000 people are unemployed on Guam. Our visitor industry has no restart date right now. So the tension is very high to find savings where we can and do measures that will keep us as safe as possible,” Torres said.

In opposition Sen. Clynt Ridgell questioned how there could be savings when testimony at yesterday’s public hearing predicted a 3-way runoff in the general election for the delegate’s race if the primary is canceled.

Sen. Therese Terlaje, the co-sponsor of the bill, said: “I don’t know all the ways that it may affect candidates or voters. But I will acknowledge that it does affect them. And I have heard from mayoral candidates in those villages where the elections are contested that some of them oppose.”

She added: “And I’m not trying to be insensitive to those but just in line with my support of the bill it’s because of the unique circumstances that I believe we are under today.”
Senators did not vote on the bill today. They are in recess until tomorrow morning at 10 a.m.