Santos candidacy raises issues of AG independence and qualifications

Attorney Peter Santos defends his client, Rudy Quinata, in closing arguments to the jury in Quinata’s murder trial Monday in the Superior Court of Guam.

Both gubernatorial campaigns say they respect the non-partisan nature of the race for attorney general of Guam, but only one team is denying it attempted to manipulate the race for AG by trying to talk attorney Peter Santos out of running for the position.

Mr. Santos sent messages Saturday to AG candidate Doug Moylan following Santos’s announcement as a write-in candidate for the job against Moylan and incumbent Leevin Camacho. In the messages to Moylan, Mr. Santos claimed, “[R]epresentatives from both gubernatorial camps contacted me and asked me to lay off of Leevin. They don’t want you to win, and they are going to do everything in their power to make sure Leevin wins. I felt like I had to jump in, in order to try and take the guaranteed win from Leevin.”

Kandit yesterday asked the managers of both campaigns whether they had communicated with Mr. Santos about the matter. The republican team of Camacho Ada responded directly, stating, “The Camacho Ada 2022 Campaign, including the candidates and its Chairman, has never spoken with Peter Santos about ‘doing everything in our power to ensure Leevin Camacho wins’. The election of the Attorney General of Guam is a non-partisan election. Our Campaign will not endorse any candidate in a non-partisan race to include the Attorney General and Members and Commissioners of the Guam Education Board and the Consolidated Commission on Utilities, respectively.”

The campaign manager for the democrat team of Leon Guerrero Tenorio, Rory Respicio, wrote, “The AG’s race is a non-partisan race and, as such, the campaign won’t be endorsing any candidate.” Kandit asked Mr. Respicio to respond directly to the question of whether any senior campaign officials or the candidates themselves attempted to manipulate the AG race. He read, but did not respond to the follow up question.

Mr. Santos meanwhile maintains he did speak with campaign officials, though he was not sure how senior these officials are, and stating he would not break the confidentiality agreement he had with these yet-to-be-named officials. He wrote to Kandit, “When I was approached, I was asked to keep their identity confidential as a condition of having the conversation.”

Mr. Moylan says it is crucial to the democratic process that Mr. Santos disclose his sources. “Elections must remain free, democratic and open,” Mr. Moylan wrote, adding, “Any ‘dark room’ deals trying to affect the integrity of an election for a position as important to the voters as their non-partisan attorney general need to have the light shown on any allegation. Who knows if Mr. Santos is telling the truth or manipulating voter sentiment? If true, why doesn’t he simply tell the voters who in these gubernatorial teams is playing games with this election for AG. The voters deserve an answer.”

“Mr. Santos is the linchpin to the dark meeting he is alleging supports his actions and run for political office,” Mr. Moylan said, before calling on a deeper review of the matter. “He needs to be summoned and asked under oath who is trying to improperly influence the voters in this important race. The U.S. Department of Justice did just that with President Trump on allegations of Russia’s influence upon voters in a previous presidential election.”

Meanwhile, the island’s first elected attorney general, pointed to the arguments Mr. Santos has made in the controversy as proof he is the only candidate capable of being independent and divorced from both the democrat and republican contenders for Adelup.

“Apparently it’s neither Mr. Leevin Camacho nor Mr. Peter Santos that the 2 Gov. teams allegedly are afraid of, according to Mr. Santos,” Mr. Moylan wrote. “One must ask, if one believes Mr. Santos, why would a gubernatorial team be afraid of an AG Moylan administration? I believe that I can offer the voters the most to fight Guam’s out-of-control-crime problems, and be the most independent AG, compared to the other two candidates, from any government official influences. I remain the toughest AG on crime.”

The controversy comes days after Mr. Santos’s announcement of his write-in candidacy, and has prompted Dr. Ron McNinch, a former election commissioner, to write to the Guam Election Commission against Santos’s attempt. Dr. McNinch wrote to the GEC opining that no write-in candidates should be allowed on the general election ballot for attorney general, because Guam law is clear that one qualification to be on the ballot is to place first or second in the race in the primary election.

“The controlling law for electing the Attorney General is a specific and distinct statute and can be found in 5 GCA 30101b,” Dr. McNinch said. “In 2006, Public Law 28-128 changed how we elect the attorney general and the public auditor. The senators did not want a plurality, they wanted a majority. They proposed two policy ideas to this end. The first idea was to only use the general election with a runoff between the top two if there wasn’t a majority. The second idea was to adopt a qualifying process to forward two candidates to the general election ballot. The top two candidates with the most votes would then be named at the general election ballot. ‘Write in’ was not one of the top two candidates. If only one person ran at the primary, ‘write in’ might be the second. In the 2022 case, we had two named candidates receive substantial votes. These two should face off to ensure a majority.”

Mr. Santos responded to Dr. McNinch, writing:

“McNinch is plain wrong about whether or not a write-in candidate for AG is permitted in the general election. He has stated that it is opinion that the legislature did not intend to allow a write-in candidate but that is just his interpretation. Under canons of statutory construction the “plain meaning of the statute” is the strongest argument. We are not to infer meaning. If the legislature wanted to disallow a write in for AG in the general election, it could have, would have and should have said so. In our judicial system, it is not best practice to rely solely on the legislative history because the record, although may shed some light on the issue, is not comprehensive and the present issue inevitably contains factors that were not considered back at that time, and other laws that affect the consideration as a whole may have been enacted, modified or repealed.

“The danger is exactly what McNinch is doing. He is imposing his own particular interpretation. He is asserting things that must be inferred and is not in the plain language of the statute.

“It is merely his belief and desire that the law allow a write in for the primary election but not the general. He has many beliefs that are just not supported by law.

“Elections have write-in lines precisely to avoid what McNinch advocates. The electorate must have the opportunity to select a candidate of their choosing, notwithstanding a primary. (McNinch himself has advocated getting rid of the primary. What then?) The electorate cannot be confined to just two candidates chosen in a primary. Yes, two may be certified as “qualified” and enjoy the status of being the top two vote getters in a primary, but a PRIMARY election is not a GENERAL election which historically turns out much more voters than the PRIMARY. What McNinch advocates is ill advised and not supported by common sense or the law.

“Suppose a write-in candidate garners the most votes. There is exceedingly ample time to get him certified as to the qualifications for the office. If there is an infirmity, then the next top vote getter wins.”


  • Here we have one statute that provides that the two candidates in the Primary for the office of Attorney General who receive the most votes advance to the General Election, and another, subsequently enacted, statute, requiring a space be provided for write-ins beside EACH office on the ballot (except for the Guam Education Board). On its face, the latter statute is applicable to ballots for all offices (including the Office of Attorney General), except for the Guam Education Board, in both the Primary and General Elections.
    How is the latter statute to be implemented without frustrating the intent of the former statute?
    Peter J. Santos refers to the canons of statutory construction. The canons to which he refers provide that statutes shall be construed as to avoid an unreasonable result. Here, providing space for write-ins for the office of Attorney General in the General Election, when the Primary Election has already winnowed the field of candidate to the top two would lead to an unreasonable result, inasmuch as it would frustrate the legislative intent that there be only two candidates for Attorney General in the General Election.
    As McNinch states, “[i]f only one person ran in the Primary, ‘write-in’ might be the second [in the General]” Limiting the application of the latter statute to the AG race to instances wherein only one person ran in the Primary would be a reasonable construction of the latter statute.

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