Clear lines drawn in battle for Adelup

The republicans and democrats are drawing clear lines between each other in a race for governor of Guam.

Former Gov. Felix Camacho says he offers leadership, where all families can share in the wealth of tomorrow, while his opponent hordes federal funds for her cronies and only allows ‘the scraps from her table to fall’ for everyone else. The democrats, who want voters to keep them in power at Adelup, say Guam can’t afford to return to the fiscal precipice Mr. Camacho presided over, and point to their promise of unemployment insurance, universal healthcare, and higher wages in the future.

In a series of face-to-face interviews with Kandit, the chairmen of both parties, and the republican gubernatorial team of Camacho and his runningmate, Sen. Tony Ada, talked to us candidly about their vision for the future, why voters should choose them over their opponents, and the effort to win over the thousands of supporters of former gubernatorial contender Michael San Nicolas and his former runningmate Sabrina Salas Matanane.

Kandit made several requests to interview Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio. An interview was granted, but canceled the same day. That day, Kandit sent to the Lou & Josh 2022 campaign the foundational questions, which we would have asked the candidates at their interview. It has been nearly two weeks since we relayed those questions to campaign manager Rory Respicio. We also have followed up with Mr. Respicio several times. As of the publication of this story, which we have held back for nearly three weeks while waiting for the responses from the Lou & Josh 2022 campaign, no such answers were provided to the questions, which we publish throughout this story below.

The MSN vote

In almost every Guam gubernatorial campaign since 1970, the vanquished gubernatorial team in a primary election often plays a critical role in the election of governor in the general election. In essence, the person who loses the primary election has more-often-than-not enjoyed the unwritten perch of ‘kingmaker.’

In the November 8, 2022 general election, what Mr. San Nicolas and Ms. Matanane say and do may have an affect on whom their thousands of supporters vote for between Felix Camacho and Lou Leon Guerrero.

The republicans have been highly complimentary of Mr. San Nicolas, Ms. Matanane, and their campaign. The Monday after the August 27 primary election, in an exclusive interview with Kandit, both Camacho and Ada talked solemnly about their push to unify the San Nicolas-Salas Matanane movement with the Camacho Ada campaign.

“From Sunday, it’s been a constant stream of phone calls reaching out to people,” a tired but upbeat Camacho said Monday, highlighting his personal conversation with Ms. Matanane, messages between him and Mr. San Nicolas, and conversations he had with the congressman’s father. “I shared with Bri today,” the former governor recalled in his Monday conversation with Ms. Matanane, “I said, ‘Bri, I know the agony of defeat. In ’98 I ran with Joe Ada against Carl Gutierrez and Madeleine Bordallo and lost. The seasons of life are like peaks and valleys. The sun rises,’ I told her. There will always be tomorrow. Sometimes when one door closes, many other opportunities open up. They have tremendous talent and I said, ‘You know, hold your head up high. You did a great thing and ran a great race. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.”

Two days later, in an interview with Republican Party of Guam chairman Juan Carlos Benitez extolled the math history that underlay Mr. San Nicolas’s primary election performance as reason for the democratic team of Leon Guerrero and Tenorio to be worried.

“You saw something unprecedented in a primary election, where a sitting governor who spent a million dollars on her campaign had 40 percent of her own party vote against her,”  Mr. Benitez said. “People want change,” he said, adding that San Nicolas supporters will find themselves more welcome under the republican umbrella than under the Lou & Josh 2022 team that has yet to place a phone call to the congressman.

“Tradition, logic, and the spirit of election races dictate that a candidate who does not prevail in an election picks up the phone immediately and offers a concession to the candidate who prevailed in that election,” the governor’s campaign manager, Rory Respicio, told Kandit the week following the governor’s primary election victory. “And the candidate who prevailed will offer encouraging words and a pledge to find a harmony of interest, to combine forces to build upon the journey going into the general election. It’s a very delicate situation and since Delegate Michael San Nicolas has yet to call Governor Leon Guerrero to concede his race and offer his support to her for the general election, the collegial thing to do is to put that on pause and proceed to reach out to everyone asking for support for the general election. Both Governor Lou and Lt. Gov. Josh, as well as the entire Lou and Josh campaign organization have opened their arms to everyone to join the Lou and Josh campaign to keep our island moving forward. Delegate San Nicolas has publicly asked for time and prayer for him and his family to sort things out. And, Governor Lou is respecting his request.”

A few days later, and with the Camacho camp very obviously and aggressively picking up support from the San Nicolas camp, Kandit interviewed Democratic Party of Guam chairman Anthony “Tony” Babauta at Lou & Josh headquarters in Hagatna and asked him why the victorious and vanquished democratic teams could not pick up the phones to call each other.

“We’re trying to earn each person’s vote as we head into the general election,” Mr. Babauta said, adding that while the candidates themselves had not spoken, the democrats have been reaching out to San Nicolas and Matanane’s supporters. “I think, really, on primary election day, the fact that camps are located near each other at the polling sites, that’s really where some of the healing from the activities of the primary season start to get mended, right? People are sharing food with each other, they’re seeing each other from across the street. It’s no longer just a person on Facebook, or a call in to a radio station. You start seeing people. You start seeing your fellow democrats. And they start talking to each other. That’s where some of the healing begins.”

A little more than a week later, however, Congressman San Nicolas publicly spoke out for the first time about that so-called healing process. And by the words he spoke at an appreciation party for his supporters, where he directly addressed them, all indications were that he would not support the Lou & Josh campaign.

“What do you want to say to Michael San Nicolas and Sabrina Salas Matanane?,” Kandit asked the Lou & Josh campaign. “What message do you have for people who voted for and supported San Nicolas?”

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.

Progress or change: The future each party wants to bring, and a return to the Calvo-era economy

Mr. Babauta expressed hope that those who supported San Nicolas would see that it is the democrats who will bring about the progress San Nicolas voters wish to see.

“There’s still an effort from the bottom up to bring people together,” Mr. Babauta said. “There’s a sincere effort. There’s an effort on the village level with, I call it ‘salt of the earth,’ but our grassroots level. We’re friends. We’re friends, we’re family, and sometimes we’re together on elections, and sometimes we’re apart. This particular election, some of us were apart. In the end, we’re still friends. We still all know each other.

“Patience and optimism,” Mr. Babauta said of the hope the democrats have of uniting San Nicolas voters to the governor’s campaign for four more years, adding, “and hope that people remember the values that they run on. I’ve said this to all the candidates early on. You’re here as a democrat on some level that you all share a common value that is democratic in nature: the principles of giving people a hand up, fighting for the working families, higher wages, those sorts of things. And you just hope people come back to their base.”

Indeed, as congressman, Michael San Nicolas secured the billions in funding during the pandemic that helped people from the unemployed to the working poor to the biggest corporations on Guam to survive. As Guam’s federal representative, his role ended at placing those billions of dollars into the hands of his political opponent, the governor. He handed the ball to her, and it was up to her how to best distribute those funds while managing within the confines of sometimes vague federal guidelines on spending.

Mr. San Nicolas took his role a step further, publicly expressing how he thought the governor should use those funds, and sometimes chiding and admonishing her for the slow pace in putting programs together to get aid to those most in need. In the end – and with suspicion becoming reality that the local administration would rev up federal spending during election year – Ms. Leon Guerrero implemented almost every program Mr. San Nicolas pushed her to complete since mid-2020. From unemployment assistance to local stimulus aid to restaurant revitalization and even subsidies for power bills, both the governor and the congressman shared a programmatic agenda for Guamanians.

Mr. Babauta said if democrats are reelected to Adelup and to control the next legislature, voters may be able to look forward to a permanent unemployment insurance program, higher wages, a new hospital, and a push toward universal healthcare.

“We stand for small government,” Republican Party of Guam chairman Juan Carlos Benitez said in our August 31 interview with him. “We stand for education, safety, and a strong economy. So what we’re going to be looking at, and the issues we’re going to be talking about are how do we rebuild? And how do we bring back Guam to where we used to be.”

Prior to the Leon Guerrero administration were 16 years of republican rule at Adelup. From 2003 to 2011, Felix Camacho led the island from the brink of financial collapse in the government of Guam and economic collapse from the devastation of two supertyphoons in 2002 and the near-decimation of the publicly-owned utilities. A perfect storm of financial, infrastructure, civil, political, and federal circumstances conspired to place several locally-run programs and agencies under court-ordered federal receiverships, and to place GovGuam on the hook for longstanding obligations that, all of a sudden, were part of the balance sheet. Mr. Camacho and the legislature converted those liabilities into long term debt on the bond market, which the current governor is using against him in her campaign.

“Felix Camacho was governor through the worst natural disaster that’s ever happened [on Guam],” Mr. Benitez said. “He took an island that was similar to now — no tourism, no power, the fuel depots were burning, and brought it back, not just to preexisting standards, but to improved standards. He built five public schools, and he continued to improve the infrastructure of our land and island, and he left the island in better condition than he took it in.”

By measure of every audit, economic report, and U.S. Department of the Interior study, the ship of state indeed became steady, and by the time Eddie Calvo took over in January 2011, almost every audit of GovGuam agencies were clean and unqualified, with nearly zero questioned costs. Mr. Calvo’s ingenious vision for Guam led to a fiscal recovery within 18 months of taking office. He presided over the fastest economic growth and the strongest economy the island had ever seen, with unemployment tanking while thousands more Guamanians became employed and with the private sector posting the highest wages in Guam history. While the economy was growing, though, so was poverty, which was a cornerstone issue of Calvo’s tenure and one he hoped to address through a long-term strategy predicated on public education. Once his successor, Gov. Leon Guerrero, took office, her team had scrapped that plan.

“Under a republican administration, the state of emergency will end,” Mr. Benitez said, highlighting a sharp contrast between the two gubernatorial candidates and a shift back to a focus on education, crime fighting, and the restoration of economic prowess Guamanians found under the Calvo era. “It makes no sense why we shouldn’t reestablish our democracy,” Mr. Benitez said, accusing the present administration of utilizing the awesome powers of the Emergency Health Powers Act to give out lucrative contracts to cronies. “We will look at a lower GRT, and bring it back [to the lower four percent level], and bring in some sort of safety and assistance to the private sector economy of this island.”

The immediate priority for republicans, in order to stabilize the economy, is crime and security, Mr. Benitez said.

“Crime is one of the biggest issues the people are faced with right now,” Mr. Camacho said, at the start of a lament regarding the present situation of the everyday Guamanian. “We intend to bring in law and order. We can bring the best value to our people. That’s what drives me! Because of our love for our people! And what can we do to improve the common good of every man and woman out there: those that are homeless, those that are suffering, those that are drug addicted. The drugs that have infiltrated every aspect and every family. The violence. The fear of our people, of our children, of our wives to be out on the streets and you wonder, ‘are they going to be okay?’ So, that cannot be denied.”

“He’s experienced,” Sen. Ada said of his runningmate. “I mean, he came in to a government where the island was devastated by typhoons and a budget that was just a little over $300 million, and he was able to take our island from darkness back to light. And not only that, in that time he was able to build five schools! And he had our hospital accredited! Affordable housing! All these things, it shows the quality of leadership that Governor Camacho has.”

“You’re going to have our opponents saying things about tax refunds, but that was acquired from the previous [Gutierrez] administration,” Mr. Ada pointed out. The criticism of the Camacho years by the Leon Guerrero campaign crescendos with a claim that while Camacho left office with nearly half-a-billion dollars in tax refunds debt, Ms. Leon Guerrero solved the tax refunds problem.

The claim is only partially true. Mr. Camacho indeed left behind a multi-year debt of tax refunds, but it was no where near half a billion dollars, as surrogates of the Lou & Josh campaign have claimed. Before April 15, 2011, a report generated by the Department of Revenue and Taxation on the order of Gov. Calvo showed refunds payables north of $150 million, with an additional $115 million anticipated to be claimed by the time filing season was over in April, then an additional $115 million the law required GovGuam to deposit over a calendar year into the tax refunds account for payment the following tax season.

As for the claim that Gov. Leon Guerrero solved the tax refunds problem, that is categorically untrue. Mr. Calvo deserves most of the credit for the fiscal policies that led to the payment of refunds within a six month filing time frame. By the time Mr. Calvo left office, non-problematic tax refunds filings were paid mostly within weeks of filing. That time frame began to increase during Ms. Leon Guerrero’s first and second years in office, and only began to decrease after the island received federal funds for the pandemic. The tax refunds issue was eradicated by the first-ever reimbursement of the federal earned income credit; a reimbursement Congressman San Nicolas had championed in Congress.

“The leadership that Governor Camacho and I offer to the people of Guam is leadership by honesty, accountability, and transparency, and that’s what the people of Guam can expect from us,” Mr. Ada said.

Kandit asked the Lou & Josh campaign:

How will a Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration be better for struggling Guamanians than a Camacho Ada administration?

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.

Kandit also asked, “Governor Camacho, when asked how he will address criticism that tax refund payments languished during his administration, said it is not his record that is on trial here, it is yours. What do you have to say about that?”

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.

Cronyism and corruption

“The current democratic majority that has been in existence the past four years during Governor Leon Guerrero’s term has been one that has provided the check and balance on the administration,” Mr. Babauta said, when asked how a democratic majority would fare in calling the administration to task regarding issues of impropriety. “If you look at the record, I don’t think this legislative body has been in any way a pushover for the administration. They’ve taken steps to hold oversight, bring in agencies, and ask some tough questions.”

Among those tough questions were whether the governor’s son in law and legal counsel during the first year of the pandemic illegally procured a hotel for government quarantine that had a multi-million dollar note with the bank the governor owns. The inquiry went nowhere, despite an audit from the independent Office of Public Accountability that all but accused the administration of illegal conduct. That formal accusation should have come from the attorney general, Leevin Camacho, who later decided there was nothing to prosecute. Mr. Camacho did not wall himself off from the decision despite public knowledge of his friendship with the former legal counsel, and his penchant for for never disagreeing with the governor.

What followed was a law by Speaker Therese Terlaje that required the disclosure of federal spending by the administration. That was followed by a cascade of reports, often buried by the media under an avalanche of public health news instead. These reports showed that while the everyday Guamanian was struggling to survive, and several went homeless under the crushing pressure of the economy, businessmen with close ties to the governor, and the governor’s business itself, were racking in the money and the contracts.

“What assurances can you give to voters that issues of public corruption, violent crime, and poverty will be better addressed in the next four years under your watch?” Kandit asked the Lou & Josh campaign more than two weeks ago.

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.

“We can’t forget how our freedoms were taken away, how there were mandates, how there were roadblocks, how schools were closed, how church was closed, how our lives were dictated through executive order,” Felix Camacho said in his interview with Kandit. “How is was managed and the flood of federal dollars that have come in and how it was spent under this emergency procurement and all, there’s a real need to understand, what’s the real story behind all of that? Where did all the monies go? There was a transfusion of cash, of federal dollars coming into this island; unprecedented. But there’s a lot of people still hurting out there. I think the middle class have been forgotten, those that didn’t qualify based on certain criteria. Many people have been left behind.”

“We don’t own a bank,” Mr. Benitez, the republican leader, quipped regarding the resources the current administration has to so-called gas light voters about its record and past the indications of corruption and cronyism, adding, “and we don’t have the marketing power of the state government the way it’s being used now.”

“Our biggest criticism,” Mr. Benitez said about the republican stance on the governor’s handling of the pandemic, “was the shutdown of the economy and the cherrypicking of businesses that could be opened and the way the procurement process was done. The emergency procurement process to benefit particular individuals — that for me are my concerns.”

Kandit gave the Lou & Josh campaign the opportunity, several times, to defend its pandemic record against the republican criticisms, asking them to respond to the following: “The pandemic rearranged everyone’s priorities. Your opponents have criticized both your handling of the pandemic, and the agenda you outlined in your 2018 campaign that you were unable to complete in this term. Talk to us about that.”

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.

“These next four years are going to be critical for Guam,” Mr. Benitez, a former high level official in the Bush administration, said. “The federal government is going through an economic crisis. We spend like there’s no tomorrow in addressing this pandemic. Those funding days are gone.”

The crumbs from the table that fall to the floor

Felix Camacho is a mild-mannered man, but a powerful and captivating orator. Asked simply about the problems he wants to fix in the government of Guam, he responded in part:

“It’s as if there’s this dark cloud over this island. And fear and aggression and drugs and crime and violence and desperation, depression of many of our children. The impact of shutting down of schools. The fact that we couldn’t build a church and worship our Lord in the sanctity of church. The freedoms taken away and government basically saying, ‘You follow me! And you do what I tell you! And I’ll provide for you. I’ll give you money. I’ll give you something for your children. I’ll give you food. I’ll give you money for gas. I’ll give you money for babysitting.’ You think of all the programs that are out there and how all those dollars are being spent and how the Office of the Governor and Public Health and Social Services, I mean — how many hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on advertising could have gone to the people of Guam? And how much is still left in the bank? And the interest that’s being gained there? And the crumbs that are being swept off the table for the people? We have to find ways that we can bring righteousness and equity back, and that everybody would have a chance again. We have to restore this island back to a sense of normalcy and give people hope that we’re going to work and we’re going to try to improve your lives. And despite all the challenges that are there, Tony and I are here for you.”

Kandit repeatedly posed the following question to the Lou & Josh campaign:

“Your opponents described your handling of federal discretionary funds as hoarding for your personal benefit and the benefit of your political allies and said you have only allowed crumbs to fall for the people to scavenge. May you respond to that?”

Neither the governor, the lieutenant governor, nor their campaign responded to the question.


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