Nov. 26, 2002 – Setting the tone for Tuesday's formal announcement of the newly organized 25th Legislature, its new president, Sen. David Jones, predicted it will be "the best since the Organic Act created the first Legislature in 1954."
James O 'Bryan, Democratic Party territorial chair, said, "It's a great day for the Democrats and a great day for the Democratic Party." The 10 senators and senators-elect who will form the majority heartily agreed, pledging their determination to work together, an ethic notably absent in the 24th Legislature.
The event was upbeat, with the small meeting room at Palms Court Harborview Hotel overflowing with supporters, family, friends and more Democrats than you could shake a donkey at.
The eight-member Democratic majority elected Nov. 5 swelled to 10 with the addition of Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg and Emmett Hansen II, both of whom were re-elected running as independents.
Jones is the first naturalized U.S. citizen to be elected Senate president, a fact he described as a step in the right direction for the islands. He announced that the other officers of the new Legislature, which takes office in January, are:
Lorraine Berry, vice president.
Shawn-Michael Malone, legislative secretary.
Douglas Canton, majority leader and liaison to the White House.
Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, liaison to Congress.
Louis P. Hill, secretary for intergovernmental affairs.
Ronald Russell, charge d'affaires to Washington.
Jones, resplendent in a three-piece charcoal gray suit accented by a bright pink tie and handkerchief, underscored the unity theme. "Coming together is a beginning," he said. "Staying together is progress, and working together is success."
Noting that the 25th Legislature marks the silver anniversary of elected senates in the territory, he said it "will be one to remember, the epitome of democracy." Furthermore, he said, while the majority is in power in the next two years, "we will be observing the 50th year, the golden anniversary, of the Legislature. It is an awesome responsibility."
The organization of the new body reflects the majority's pledge to work together, not only among themselves but also with their fellow senators. Jones pointed out that for the first time, the formal resolution of organization includes an open invitation for any senator to "return to or join the Democratic Party."
Invitation gets two acceptances
Donastorg was the first to take Jones up on the offer. He stepped up to the microphone with a big smile and brought down the house with his opening words: "Good morning, fellow Democrats."
Although he is a registered Democrat, Donastorg has traditionally run as an independent — drawing the most votes of any Senate candidate in the last two elections — and remained unaligned in office. He is well known for his singular views on the Senate floor.
"I want you to know," he said after the applause and laughter had died down, "I am not back home, but at home."
Donastorg will chair the Finance Committee. He thanked his colleagues for granting him the powerful position, which he had publicly sought in recent weeks. "It will allow me to demonstrate my ability to work with my colleagues," he said. "You know, I have my ways."
"That's true," a voice in the audience replied.
Donastorg vowed to use the committee to develop programs that will put continuity in the government's coffers — but pointed out that he can't do it alone. He and colleagues in he 24th Legislature continually quizzed government department officials about their finances, with little success. "Corruption in government has to stop," he said, adding, "I don't mean to alarm anyone, but I've been told that help is on the way."
Hansen said, "It's the community's most ill-kept secret that Emmett Hansen is back with the party." To the surprise of many in the audience, the person he thanked for his alliance with the Democratic majority was Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The two have been at odds for most of the last two years over two bills Hansen submitted, one to toughen penalties for crimes involving guns, which the governor vetoed the first time around, then signed in a revised version, and the other the Infrastructure Act of 2001, which Turnbull vetoed.
"He extended the olive branch," Hansen said Tuesday of the governor, who also was re-elected in November, "and I took it. I've spoken more with the governor in the past two weeks than in the past two years."
He said Jones was the other deciding factor in his joining the Democrats. As a party lobbyist, Jones "was relentless," Hansen said.
Hansen ran as a Democrat in 2000 and was initially a member of the minority in the 24th legislature, but midway through the term he moved to the independent majority. In the 25th Legislature, he will head the Committee on Housing, Parks and Recreation, which he said will allow him to keep tabs on his first love, the infrastructure of St. Croix.
New committee to cover safety, security, justice
The new majority reconfigured some of the old Senate committees and created a new one, the Committee on Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice, which Berry will chair.
Smiling widely, Berry, now the body's only female senator, told her colleagues, "I want you to know, I'm not 'one of the boys.' I'm one of the gang."
She was enthusiastic about her committee, saying she welcomed the new challenge. "Years ago, we used to have a Public Safety Committee," she said, "and it was known as the 'hot seat.'"
She said one of the first things she plans to do is create a new board to monitor police performance. "Instead of an Internal Affairs Committee, I want to introduce a police civilian complaint review board," she said. While the idea may seem revolutionary, she said, it has worked well so far in the states because it offers citizens prompt and impartial help.
Another item high on her agenda is to give the V.I. Office of Inspector General the authority to prosecute wrongdoers. I.G. Stephen van Beverhoudt pleaded with the 24th Legislature to grant his personnel peace officer status, but with no success. Berry said she has been told that the V.I. Justice Department is "40 years behind the times" on this issue.
Newcomers, returnees united on unity
The four freshman Democratic senators — Louis Hill and Shawn-Michael Malone of St. Thomas and Luther Renee and Ronald Russell of St. Croix — talked enthusiastically about their commitment to an economic turnaround for the territory.
"I like to work," said Malone, who will chair the Government Operations Committee. "We have a dynamic group, and I want us to set the standard for technology and democracy throughout the Caribbean" — a goal he had cited in his campaign. He said being the youngest senator means he should be the most energetic too. With the party having worked hard to put so many Democrats in office, he said, "it'll help me keep them in check."
Hill, who stepped down from his post as St. Thomas-Water Island administrator to run for office, will chair the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee. He reiterated the unity theme. "The era of individuals has had diminishing returns," he said. "The time has come for teamwork."
Hill said he will concentrate on getting a land- and water-use plan adopted, something that has been an on-again, off-again issue for more than two decades. "Standing on the balcony of this hotel and looking out at the view strengthens my commitment to protecting this environment, this jewel we should be proud of," he said.
Renee, an economist, will head the Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protect
ion Committee, and Russell will chair the Education and Youth Committee. Both senators praised the united approach the majority is taking.
"We are so united that everything I could say has already been said," Renee quipped.
Russell hailed the "joyous occasion," vowing to focus on "collective" solutions for the territory's educational problems.
David will head the powerful Rules Committee, which must pass all bills from the other committees before they go to the full Senate for a final vote. He said his goal is to "reduce, if not eliminate, the rancor and contention that earmarked the 24th Legislature. He praised his colleagues on the Democratic Team 2002, which he headed and which was successful in placing a majority in the new Senate. "Next time, it will be 15 Democrats," he said with a nod to those party candidates in the audience who didn't make the cut.
Canton, who chaired the Health and Hospitals Committee in the current Legislature, has the same assignment, but the committee has been expanded to include Human Services. He said he welcomes the opportunity to address all those concerns, invoking the "24th Legislature as a good example of how not to proceed." Canton said he wants to "remove the veil of distrust" that has hung over the 24th Legislature.
In the preamble to the organizational resolution, Jones states that the majority caucus will operate "in the spirit of fairness, inclusiveness and transparency." Asked by reporters if the "transparency" would include providing the news media individual senator's staff salaries and budget allotments, Jones said it would. The media have never been able to get a full accounting of the 24th Legislature's budget.
Asked if he had any words for the incoming minority, Jones laughed and without skipping a beat, said, "Fear not."
Following are the committees of the 25th Legislature and their members.
Economic Development, Agriculture and Consumer Protection
Luther Renee, chair; Lorraine Berry, vice chair; Douglas Canton, Emmett Hansen, Roosevelt David, Carlton Dowe, Almando Liburd.
Ronald Russell, chair; Shawn-Michael Malone, vice chair; Norman Jn Baptiste, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Luther Renee, Raymond Richards
Adlah Donastorg, chair; Luther Renee, vice chair; Norman Jn Baptiste, Roosevelt David, Louis Hill, Shawn-Michael Malone, Ronald Russell
Government Operations
Shawn-Michael Malone, chair; Carlton Dowe, vice chair; Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton, Emmett Hansen, Louis Hill, Celestino White
Planning and Environmental Protection
Louis Hill, chair; Ronald Russell, vice chair; Roosevelt David, Adlah Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Almando Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone
Health, Hospitals and Human Services
Douglas Canton, chair; Lorraine Berry, vice chair; Norman Jn Baptiste, Adlah Donastorg, Emmett Hansen, Raymond Richards, Luther Renee
Housing, Parks and Recreation
Emmett Hansen, chair; Luther Renee, vice chair; David Jones, Raymond Richards, Celestino White
Labor and Veterans Affairs
Norman Jn Baptiste, chair; Louis Hill, vice chair; Douglas Canton, Raymond Richards, Celestino White
Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice
Lorraine Berry, chair; Emmett Hansen, vice chair; David Jones, Almando Liburd, Shawn-Michael Malone, Ronald Russell, Celestino White
Roosevelt David, chair; Ronald Russell, vice chair; Lorraine Berry, Douglas Canton, Carlton Dowe, Louis Hill, David Jones

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