My Adventures in Guam Politics

Seven thousand miles away, Mitt Romney was accepting the nomination for US President and bringing the 2012 Republican National Convention to its close. And while reporters from around the country had been spending the week questioning Paul Ryan’s marathon time and just what in the world Clint Eastwood was talking about, I spent my evening (and into the early morning) with Guam’s own breed of Republicans, as they watched the returns come in for the island’s primary election.

I was told before coming to Guam that politics here were entirely different from the politics on the mainland. For the most part, it seems about right. The issues here center around the economy, yes, but there’s also the military build up, in which the military would move a large portion of US Marines from Okinawa to Guam. There’s also the question of war reparations for World War II, visa waivers for international tourists and, of course, the standard issues of job creation and government spending.

This time around, Guam will be voting for their senators (Guam has a 15-seat legislature, filled with at-large representatives called “senators”), mayors, vice mayors and the congressional delegate’s seat. Being a territory and without a congressperson, Guam sends one non-voting delegate to Congress who serves a two-year term with no term limit.

Partisanship on island

In my work for the paper, I got a chance to chat with Republican voters as well as a couple candidates, all of whom were confident about a Republican takeover of Guam’s legislature in the November contest.

One voter told me that she thought the current delegate, Madeleine Bordallo had “slept on the job,” even going so far to say that she “failed the people of Guam.”

Bordallo has been criticized by some for not working fast enough on issues such as war reparations.

The woman I spoke with also told me that she was pushing hard for a Republican victory, saying she was “tired of Democrats spending money (Guam doesn’t) have and then sending in the Republicans to clean up their mess.”

Of course, other voters were less damning.

A second voter I talked to told me that, while he considers himself a Republican for fiscal reasons, he’s willing to look past the R and D next to a candidate’s name.

“I certainly look at the individuals,” he told me. “I look at each character and vote individually.”

This seems to reflect a bigger trend on the island. People would much sooner vote for someone they know and trust over someone that says they have a similar ideological bent. The candidates here are just as likely to show up at a local fiesta or christening as they are to show up to a political debate. And the weird thing is that they seem to do it out of a genuine sense of community and camaraderie over day-to-day political games.

Teamwork among parties

One of the most interesting things I’ve found about the island’s politics is the fact that legislative districts are non-existant on Guam. For example, on the Republican ticket this time around, there were 16 candidates for the senate. Each candidate had to run against the other 15 to win. Granted, the top 15 move on to the general election so only one gets dropped–on the Democratic side, only 15 candidates ran, meaning they al move forward to the November contest–but it’s still a big contest. Ultimately, only the 15 highest vote getters of the 30 candidates will win seats in the legislature.

When I first heard this, I thought it might result in some areas of Guam being more represented than others. But it seems that this way actually works better than districting. After all, the senator from Hagatna is no longer working just for Hagatna, but also for Umatac and Dededo and every other village throughout Guam. Every senator has a vested interest in making sure the system works for everyone.

Granted, I’m sure it has its kinks and, like every system, it’s not perfect. But it seems tor really work for Guam.

After the results came in, I asked a senator “what’s next.” He said that the party plans to group up in order to come up with its November game plan. It’s honestly one of the most interesting political systems I’ve seen, where an entire “army” of candidates is pitted against an army of others and having the voters decide which mix will represent the island. I’m honestly sincerely looking forward to November’s contest and can’t wait to see what’s next!

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