July 17, 2001 – The Senate's "Millennium Eight" became the "Millennium Eight plus One" around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday as Sen. Emmett Hansen II's capitulation from the minority to the majority bloc was announced by the majority leader, Sen. Celestino A. White Sr.
The announcement preceded the start of a full session of the Legislature, which is to take up several nominations and a plethora of legislative and appropriation bills over the next three days.
The powerful majority began its courtship of Hansen, a freshman senator from St. Criox, almost as soon as the 24th Legislature convened. In one of its earliest sessions, White made it plain that the majority wanted Hansen and Douglas Canton Jr., the other first-year Crucian senator. "That's why we seated them on our side," White had said at the time.
Along with his new majority status, Hansen also has a new committee to chair. The majority split the Government Operations, Planning and Environmental Protection Committee into two, as it had been in previous Legislatures, with Hansen named to chair the Government Operations panel. Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, who had chaired the combined body, continues as head of what is now the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee.
The chairmanship was a winning point for Hansen. "There's only so much you can do from the outside," he said later.
Hansen said he had explored his options at length and ultimately decided that he could "serve the people that elected me better" in his new capacity. He said he had to make a "series of difficult choices."
Hansen has long championed St. Croix as his reason for being in the Senate. He recently was severely critical of the disparity in appropriations by district in the governor's supplemental appropriation proposal. "It's lopsided. It's not fair," he said last week. "St. Croix needs $5 million worth of sewage improvements, not the small emergency amount included in the measure." He said there are provisions for significant improvements to the island's infrastructure in an upcoming bill to redirect the appropriations for St. Croix.
His switchover had nothing to do with the minority bloc senators, Hansen said. "These are my friends, and I respect them and will continue to work with them," he said. But he made it clear the minority bloc didn't offer him enough teeth. As a minority member, he said, "You start in a hole, and you have to dig your way out."
Minority Sen. Lorraine Berry saw it another way: "It's an indictment of the process," she said, referring to the majority's clout by the numbers in accomplishing anything on the Senate floor. She wished Hansen well, however.
Sen. David Jones, the minority leader, called Hansen's move a "silent coup." He said, "The minority's loss is the majority's gain. He is a tremendous asset. However, his departure in no way will affect our ability to work together … for the people."
After the vote, which was split along majority/minority lines with Canton abstaining, Jones was more eloquent. "I vote no – please don't go," he said, a remark that elicited laughter from the crowded gallery, if not a change in the vote.
Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg took the opportunity to tell the majority that a nine-member Senate can work. "Now you finally have the nine," he said, a reference to his Senate referendum bill to reduce the Senate to nine members — a bill slated to come up in the current session.
A grinning White said later, "Hansen wants to work. He wants to best position himself to help. The olive branch has always been out."
Hansen said it was rare that a majority "would invite someone new this late in the game."
All senators had kind words for Hansen. Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen said she was glad her colleague of the same name had "finally corrected his mistakes." She added, "The only people who are not happy are those who wanted you to stay along the Democratic Party lines."
In response to a media question, the newest majority member said, "Yes, of course, I'm still a Democrat."
Several comments from majority senators indicated their quest for new blood is not complete. Sen. Norma Pickard-Samuel, in congratulating Hansen, said, "And don't worry, No. 10 is on the way." To a remark from Donastorg that the legislative body needs a facelift, Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd retorted, "It just got one, right out of your group." Then, he added, "The door was left wide open, and somebody is waiting."
Canton said later that he has no plans to change his alliance. All the innuendos "were just that, innuendos," he said.
A list of the new committees and members will be published in the Source Data section.


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