Republican coalition needs to be careful not to become the politicians they claim to detest

Judith Guthertz

There really is no good reason all but one of the republican-led leadership coalition of the Guam Legislature should have voted against confirming Judith Guthertz to be a member of the Port Authority of Guam board of directors. None. But they did.

Earlier this year, Lou Leon Guerrero appointed the former senator and longtime educator and public servant to serve on the board. As required by the Organic Act of Guam, Ms. Guthertz’s appointment had to first be confirmed by a majority of members of the legislature in order for her to serve on the board.

Last month, all but one of the legislature’s leadership coalition made up of three democrats and six republicans, voted down her confirmation. Chris Duenas, a republican, was the only member of the coalition who voted to confirm Ms. Guthertz.

Governors appoint people they trust, who meet qualifications set by legislatures, to serve on boards and commissions that govern or somehow regulate executive agencies and functions. They are extensions of governors. And governors – whether we like them or not – are elected by voters to lead the executive branch. Generally, legislatures yield to gubernatorial discretion so long as a governor’s appointment is qualified, without substantial controversy, and is of upstanding moral character.

Ms. Guthertz is qualified, without a doubt. She is a multi-decade educator, a profession she continues at the University of Guam, where she is a member of the public administration and ethics faculty. She served for several years as an elected and appointed member of the board of education. She also was UOG’s academic vice president. Prior to all that, Ms. Guthertz was the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. She has served on several boards and commissions, not to mention the Constitutional Convention of 1977. There are very few people on this island as qualified as this professor, in public administration and public agency management, budgeting, finance, education, and ethics.

Arguably the most controversial thing Ms. Guthertz ever was embroiled in was a statement she made at the height of debate on the military buildup programmatic agreement. She was so upset with the U.S. Department of the Navy’s protocol of coursing all communication through Adelup and not directly with the legislature, the former senator said the legislature should mandate toll booths outside military installations. The public punished her all those years ago by not electing her back to the legislature.

As for her moral character, I cannot think of one instance of any credible accusation of misconduct or corruption committed by her. None.

The license plate on this woman’s vintage yellow Volkswagen Bug says “SMILE” for crying out loud.

Members of this coalition have voted to confirm gubernatorial appointments who clearly have financial conflicts of interest, to other boards and commissions. They have voted to confirm appointees around whom major controversy continues to linger. They have said yes to appointees whose moral character are questionable, to state the least. Hell, some of these senators have pushed the confirmations of cabinet members who are federally-convicted criminals. One of these senators, as the former manager of the Port Authority, hired a federally-convicted criminal who had an ankle monitor to work on the docks!

But they said no to Ms. Guthertz. Which begs the question, “Why?”

What is going on in the world of politics that is more here than meets the eye?

Republicans at Ms. Guthertz’s confirmation hearing made rather ridiculous accusations against her that had no foundation in reality. Among the insinuations made were that Ms. Guthertz and port manager Rory Respicio had a romantic affair. When that didn’t work, one senator accused her of buying land using Mr. Respicio’s wife as her real estate agent. It wasn’t true, but the crazy thing is, even if it were true, what would that have to do with anything?

The true controversy came down to Ms. Guthertz’s answers to Joann Brown’s questions regarding an issue that some republicans can’t seem to let go of: The Port 7 story.

In a nutshell: Ms. Brown, who was port manager during the Calvo administration, along with others, presided over the illegal firing of seven port employees in 2012, all but one of them women. The firings were based on an erroneous report prepared by an investigator attorney who has since been convicted of felonies involving the battering of his female staff. The illegal firings ended up costing port ratepayers millions of dollars in legal and back pay costs after Ms. Brown insisted for years on fighting the fired workers in the Civil Service Commission, the Superior Court of Guam, and the Supreme Court of Guam.

The government lost every single battle. The CSC and the courts sided with the workers every single time. And Ms. Guthertz, in preparation for her new role on the port board, reviewed every single document.

She told senators at her confirmation hearing that the Port 7 were rightfully restored to their jobs, a decision Mr. Respicio ended up making when he took over Ms. Brown’s job.

While I can see why that would cause Ms. Brown to be angry and to vote against Ms. Guthertz (not that it would be a reasonable conclusion, just that her decision would at least be transparent and understandable considering the circumstances), that fails to explain why the other republicans (aside from Mr. Duenas) followed suit.

And it is a mystery why the three democrats sided with the majority of republicans as well.

I smell politics.

I have generally sided with the republican-led leadership coalition in this legislature. I think they have stood for what is in the public interest and certainly against the politics that have led us down a path of destruction. Right now, though, their credibility is at stake. This can be a point of inflection, where no one wins. The sad part is there are so many lingering issues of grave public concern for which I and many others are counting on their cohesion and leadership.

But leadership has to be credible. And in order to be credible, those leaders have to have integrity. I’m not seeing that with this issue. Every senator who voted against Ms. Guthertz’s confirmation needs to provide their reasons. Those reasons need to make sense.

Mr. Respicio agrees and is calling on senators to reconsider their vote.

He raised concerns in a letter to senators that those who voted against Ms. Guthertz “seemed influenced by another sitting senator’s agenda, prioritizing political considerations over the welfare of the Port and the community. Such actions, Respicio noted, compromise the integrity and effectiveness of the governing body, referring to the Guam Legislature,” according to a news release issued this week by the Port Authority of Guam.

Mr. Respicio in his letter addressed to the no voters, strongly urged them to reconsider their decision, emphasizing the risk this poses to the seaport’s operations and its crucial role in the region. He said, “A favorable reassessment would not only demonstrate your commitment to the Port’s continued success and our community’s well-being but also ensure that the Port does not regress to the challenging times experienced under my predecessor.”

Unless senators can explain with reason why they voted against Ms. Guthertz, they absolutely need to reconsider that vote and confirm her to that board. Otherwise, their vote stains this coalition in a terrible way.

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