Guam – Senator Judi Won Pat’s Office has released a detailed account of the Friday morning meeting with the congressional staff members.
READ Senator Won Pat’s account of the meeting in FULL below:
GUAM LAWMAKERS MEET WITH STAFF DELEGATION
Speaker Judith T.Won Pat, Ed.D, and members of the Guam Legislature met with a staff delegation of U.S. Senators and Representatives today who wanted to learn about the issues regarding the Guam buildup and other concerns.
The nine-member delegation said their mission was to meet with the governor, lawmakers and military representatives to gain a perspective on what the challenges and concerns each body has on federal-territorial issues dealing with the buildup.
This was the first trip to Guam for the nine staff members.
Senator Judi Guthertz welcomed the delegation then shortly excused herself, explaining that because of the recent negative blowback from certain members in the community and the media regarding previous meetings which were not open to the public, she felt that she couldn’t stay.
Won Pat’s office also contacted Delegate Madeleine Z. Bordallo’s office a week before today’s meeting, requesting that it be open to the public. However, they were told that it was at the request of the delegation that the meeting be closed to the public.
Won Pat told the delegation that the legislature has always had an open-door policy with the media, but whenever a Congressional Delegation or Staff Delegation requests a courtesy visit, it was at the request of visiting senators that they be closed.
During the meeting, Matt Hermann from Delegate Bordallo’s office responded saying,
“Unfortunately we are not authorized to speak for our bosses, we certainly appreciate your need to want to have the meetings open but that causes complications on a staff level.”
Won Pat said she welcomed these meetings because Guam rarely receives first hand information on the decisions that Washington or Japan make and instead lawmakers and the people of Guam get the information from Japanese media and the U.S. military media outlets.
The Speaker brought up various issues that lawmakers have discussed previously and commented on the environmental impact statement such as the destruction of
75 acres of coral reef at Apra Harbor and how this issue has yet to be resolved.
“During the comment period, we submitted 10,000 comments and there are still concerns with our natural resources. Like your senators who fight to protect their natural resources, we too fight hard to protect our resources,” said Won Pat.
Senator Tina Muna Barnes shared her recent trip to Russia and impressed upon the delegation the importance for Homeland Security to recognize that the China-visa waiver program would bring an economic boon to Guam’s economy. Won Pat added that the U.S. should interpret this as Guam’s desire to be more self-sustaining and by Congress lifting some of the restrictions such as the Jones Act, would allow the island to build a stronger economy.
“We’re asking Congress to help us help ourselves, so that we can sustain ourselves and not rely so heavily on the U.S. government.”
Senator Frank Blas Jr. told the delegation that because Guam is so far from the mainland, that members of Congress don’t realize the impact their decisions have on the island. He invited the delegation to view their visit on Guam as one who lives here and notice for example, how expensive it is to buy groceries and compare it to their home state.
Senator Mana Silva-Taijeron urged the delegation to take back to their leaders the fact that Guam’s men and women are patriotic and for Congress to recognize this. She asked that they urge their leaders to maintain the funding level for the National Guard.
Senator Aline Yamashita shared the fact that when Guam veterans return from deployment, they return to a very dismal situation because the support system for vets is sadly lacking.
She also shared that persons with disabilities are entitled to Social Security Insurance (SSI), but Guam residents are not.
“Think about what would happen if you had to deal with a disability and you were living here. We don’t have the services that are given to those who live in the U.S.,” she said.
Senator Tony Ada argued that the military bases are one of the most secure in the world and Homeland Security should take this into account and grant a temporary China visa waiver program.
Ada also reminded the delegation that Guam residents, although U.S. citizens, can’t vote for the President of the United States, bringing a long standing issue on the perception of Guam being treated as second-class U.S. Citizens.
Senator Chris Duenas asked the delegation if they had read the programmatic agreement or Record of Decision.
“We don’t have to reiterate what we’ve presented to Congress. We only have to ask you to go in there and seek that information for yourselves.”
Duenas said this would build on the relationship between Guam and the U.S. Congress and how they must understand that this is a partnership.
Duenas also asked that the delegation bring back the message that Guam desires Congress to recognize the plight of Guam’s unique issues.
“On Guam, we are charged with having one message. You go back and brief your congressman on the issues; that Congress has one voice when it comes to Guam. They don’t have to agree on every point, but one point they can agree on is, “we understand Guam’s plight.”
Senator Sam Mabini told the delegation that the people of Guam are patriotic and its leaders are protective about their island and past and new issues need to be addressed since the world now recognizes a new global era.
As the U.S. focuses on the realignment of its military forces and Guam’s role, Speaker Won Pat said these fact finding meetings with lawmakers and their representatives are always productive and she thanked Delegate Bordallo for including the Guam Legislature in the dialogue.
The delegation said they would share the concerns with their senators and representatives and they hope that there will continue to be open dialogue with lawmakers.
The Staff Delegation who met with lawmakers were Military Legislative Assistant Joseph Jones, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA);, MLA Adam Telle, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS); MLA Theda Owens, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS); MLA Ty Mabry, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS); Chief of Staff Adam Sullivan, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA); MLA Stephanie Kalmbach, Rep. Peter Visclosky (D-IN); Legislative Director Matthew Hermann, Rep. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam); LD Lauren Gring, Rep. Charles Albert, “Dutch” Ruppersberger (MD); and MLA Sherman Patrick, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE).